The wood of the Cross became the vehicle for our redemption, just as the tree from which it was fashioned had occasioned the Fall of our first parents. Suffering and death, which had been a consequence of sin, were to become the very means by which sin was vanquished. The innocent Lamb was slain on the altar of the Cross, and yet from the immolation of the victim new life burst forth: the power of evil was destroyed by the power of self-sacrificing love.Kieron and Paddy and I are close to the end of Return of the King now. (don't read this if you haven't read the book and don't want spoilers). It is like a sleight of hand. At one moment Sauron was looking triumphantly towards the army of the West, which he thought had overreached itself and fallen. Meanwhile, a couple of parched and weary and miserable hobbits are toiling up to the Crack of Doom. Sauron becomes aware ... but too late. He is defeated in the fullness of his power.
The Cross, then, is something far greater and more mysterious than it at first appears. It is indeed an instrument of torture, suffering and defeat, but at the same time it expresses the complete transformation, the definitive reversal of these evils: that is what makes it the most eloquent symbol of hope that the world has ever seen. It speaks to all who suffer – the oppressed, the sick, the poor, the outcast, the victims of violence – and it offers them hope that God can transform their suffering into joy, their isolation into communion, their death into life. It offers unlimited hope to our fallen world.
Everything that looked so bad has not changed, but suddenly takes on new and reversed meaning.
During the last Easter Triduum I wondered exactly when it was that Satan became aware that his very triumph of evil -- the killing of God, the unjust execution of the one good Man -- became his utter defeat. No change in circumstances, everything stayed just the same, only the reversal of meaning.
In a certain way, all the old childhood stories are true, more true in some ways than the modern ones that replace them in your reading when you get to college age. I'm reading Heidi to Paddy right now -- we're almost at the end (you probably don't want to read this if you haven't read the book and don't want to know plot details). There is a sort of pocket "miracle" at the end. It's attributable to natural causes but as the book makes clear, also to loving-kindness and to prayers. And though miracles like an invalid being restored to health and mobility don't always happen, there's still a way in which such things are always truer than the truncated modern stories in which the protaganist is overwhelmed and defeated by the forces arrayed against him, or somehow learns to compromise with them. The modern story ends too soon -- it doesn't show the whole thing. Or perhaps it does, in a way, but it's only a small sliver of the bigger picture. It's as if you wrote a novel from the point of view of Denethor, seeing ruin and despair and acting accordingly, even as the white-sailed ships sail in and the course of affairs changes in a moment. Or perhaps, the story of one of Sauron's lieutenants, triumphant and complacent until the moment of realization of utter defeat as the most insignificant of pawns suddenly achieves the checkmate.