April 10, 2020

Reflection / John Shaughnessy

The unexpected invitation

John ShaughnessyThe unexpected invitation came on a Good Friday, leading to an overwhelming response from teenagers and adults alike.

The invitation was tied into a high school’s touching dramatization of the Stations of the Cross a few years ago.

As each Station was shared, a student portrayed one of the people who helped, watched or harmed Christ on the path to his crucifixion—Simon of Cyrene, Veronica, the women of Jerusalem, a Roman soldier, John the Apostle, the Blessed Mother. Each shared how interacting with Christ in his journey to his death moved them, and even changed them.

When the powerful presentation ended, the unexpected invitation followed. The high school students and adults who had been watching were invited to approach the full-size cross and attach their handwritten notes to Christ on it—to ask him for anything. The crowd, mostly teenagers, kept approaching the cross in waves.

Many asked God to protect their friends and families. Some asked for forgiveness of their sins. Others asked for blessings for the poor, the homeless, the suffering and people who have lost loved ones. Then there were the more individual requests. One asked for prayers “for those who struggle with who they are.” Another pleaded for “my dad’s faith. He’s falling away from God and his family, and it scares me.” Another simply noted, “Help me.”

By the time the last teenager affixed a plea, the wooden cross was transformed by the various colors of the notes: orange, blue, yellow, lime green and hot pink. Even more, the trust and hope of the students became attached to the cross—and the sacrifice it represents.

One of the great gifts of friendship comes when we reach a point where we realize we can’t do something by ourselves, when we know that our burdens are too much to bear alone—and then a friend comes through for us, sharing the burden, lifting it from us. The greatest symbol of that gift of friendship is the cross. In accepting the agony of his crucifixion, Christ showed he would do anything to share our burdens, to lift them away for us.

The burdens connected with the coronavirus weigh constantly on us now. So do the fears associated with it, and the news that people we know are getting it and dying from it. Focusing on these burdens, fears and tragedies, Pope Francis used his recent address to the world to offer a source of hope to people everywhere: that Christ is still with us, and still willing to take our burdens on his shoulders.

“We have a hope,” Pope Francis said. “By his cross, we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation, when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up—and we experience the loss of so many things—let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and living by our side.”

If you had the opportunity, what message would you leave for Christ on the cross? What fear would you ask him to help you overcome?

During this unsettling time, let us accept Christ’s invitation to bring our burdens and our fears to him, knowing he will lift us up, knowing that the heartbreaking suffering of Good Friday and the eternal promise of Easter Sunday show us how much he loves us.

(John Shaughnessy is the assistant editor of The Criterion and the author of Then Something Wondrous Happened: unlikely encounters and unexpected graces in search of a friendship with God.)

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