HE BORE OUR PRIDE IN HIS BODY ON THE CROSS
by Fr Raniero Cantalamessa
The cross is the tomb which absorbs all human pride:”Come thus far; I said and no farther: here your proud waves shall break” (Job 38:11). The waves of human pride break against the rock of Calvary and they can go no further. The wall God erected against them is too high and the abyss he dug before them too deep. ‘We must realize that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body’ (Romans 6:6). The body of pride — for this is the sin par excellence, the sin that gives rise to all other sins. ‘He was bearing our faults in his own body on the cross’ (1 Peter 2:24). He bore our pride in his body.
But what concerns us in all this? Where is the ‘gospel’, the good and joyful news? It is that Jesus humbled himself also for me, in my place. ‘If one man has died for all, then all have died’ (2 Corinthians 5:14); one has humbled himself for all, therefore all have humbled themselves. Jesus on the cross is the new Adam obeying for all. He is the head, the beginning of a new mankind. He acts in the name of all and for the benefit of all. As ‘by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous’ (Romans 5:19), by one man’s humility, many will be made humble.
Pride, like disobedience, is no longer part of us. It is part of the Old Adam. It has become old-fashioned. The new thing now is humility, which is full of hope because it opens up a new existence based on giving, love and solidarity and no longer on competitiveness, social climbing and taking advantage of one another. ‘The old creation has gone and now the new one is here’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Humility is one of these marvelous new things.
What, therefore, does it mean to celebrate the mystery of the cross ‘in spirit and in truth’? When applied to what we are celebrating, what is the significance of the ancient maxim: ‘Acknowledge what you are doing, imitate what you are celebrating’? It signifies that you should implement within yourself what you represent externally; put into practice what you are commemorating in the liturgy.
…I must give Christ ‘the sinful body of my pride’, so that he can destroy it de facto just as he destroyed it by right once and for all on the cross. When I was a boy, the people of my region used to light a bonfire in the country at nightfall on the eve of certain feasts which could be seen over the hills. ach family would bring some wood and vine branches to keep the fire going while, around it, the rosary would be recited. Something similar must take place here this evening in preparation for the great feast of Easter. Each one of us should throw, in spirit, his load of pride, vanity, self-sufficiency, presumption, haughtiness into the great furnace of Christ’s passion.
We must imitate the saints in heaven as they adore the Lamb, for this is the model for our adoration here on earth. Revelation tells us the saints approach the throne in procession and fall down before him who is seated and they ‘threw down their crowns in front of the throne’ (Revelation 4:10). They cast the real crowns of their martyrdom and we cast the false crown with which we have crowned ourselves. We must ‘nail all feelings of pride to the cross’ (St Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 2,7,9).
On the cross Jesus did not just reveal or practice humility; he created it too. True Christian humility consists in participating in Christ’s inner state on the cross. St Paul says, ‘In your minds you must be the same as Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 2:5); the same mind and not a similar one. Apart from this, many other things can be taken for humility which are really either natural inclination or timidness, or a liking for understatement, or simply common sense and intelligence, when they are not a refined form of pride.
Once we have put on Christ’s humility, it will be easier, among other things, to work for Christian unity, for unity and peace naturally follow humility. This is also true in families. Marriage starts with an act of humility. A young man who falls in love and who on his knees, as was once the custom, asks a girl to marry him, makes the most radical act of humility in his life. He begs and it is as if he were saying, ‘Give me yourself. Alone, I am not sufficient to myself, I need you!’ We could say that God created humankind male and female to help them to be humble, not to be haughty and self-sufficient and to discover the blessing of depending on someone who loves you. He inscribed humility in our very flesh. But, unfortunately, pride too often takes over again and the person we love has to pay for the initial need we had of him or her. Then a dreadful wall of pride rises between the two partners and their incommunicability extinguishes all joy. This evening, Christian spouses are also invited to place all resentment at the foot of the cross, to be reconciled to one another, embracing each other for the sake of Christ who, on this day on the cross, ‘killed the hostility’ (Ephesians 2:16).
(Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap. is an Italian Catholic priest in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin and theologian and writer. He has served as the Preacher to the Papal Household since 1980, under Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.)