Lent with St Edith Stein Day 38: In the Image of Christ Crucified

Lent with St Edith Stein Day 38: In the Image of Christ Crucified

“[St John’s Doctrine] can be likened to the wide-spread branches of a tree that has sunk its roots in the greatest depth of a soul and which has been nourished by the heart’s blood.

St Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross

               St John of the Cross had a particular devotion to the crucifix. He was skilled in woodcarving and carved crucifixes for his monastery and to give to others. In the image of Christ crucified, he saw the model of Christ we are called to imitate. He stressed over and over again the importance of suffering for the sake of Christ. He referred to this suffering as a pearl; the larger the pearl, the greater the value.

               In his instructions for the Carmelite nuns of Beas, he gave three precautions against the flesh. The first was to remember that they came to the monastery to be trained and to consider the other sisters to be tools for their training. He wrote that “One will belabor you with words, the other through actions, the third through thoughts that are directed against you. Submit yourself to them all as you would an image which would be carved by one, painted by another, and gold-plated by a third.”  On another occasion, St John warned one of the sisters to be friendly toward a layman she found unsavory. If an interaction is bitter and we commend them to God, the bitterness is small. If we bear ill will toward them, we double the bitterness of the interaction.

               These instructions were not only for the benefit of getting along with the other sisters, but conquering sensuality and sensitivity. We must be considerate of others, and sometimes they are right when they criticize us. But we must learn to take the barbs of those who speak against us, those who act against us, and those who quietly hate us. If we strive to make ourselves pleasing to God, anything others have against us that is justified will be conquered by purgation.

               The second precaution against the flesh is to not avoid tasks that do not appeal to you which serve God. The way of the cross was certainly unappealing to Jesus in and of itself, but he drank the full cup of suffering for love of us. We cannot expect to remain in our comfort zones if we wish to imitate him.

               The third precaution is similar in that St John warns against occupying ourselves only in that which we find appealing. He writes that “One should rather prefer what is burdensome….In this way one reins in sensuality. You will be unable to remove self-love nor will you arrive at the love of God in any other way.” If we carry burdens, we are following in the steps of Christ and he will hold us up. If we are unburdened, we are relying only on our own strength.

               St Edith wrote that “Whoever, in deep recollection, enters into the attitude of the Savior on the cross, into the love that surrenders itself to the limit, will thereby become united to the divine will, for it is the Father’s will to save that Jesus fulfills in his love and surrender as Savior. And one’s being will be united with the divine Being, which is self-surrendering love: in the mutual surrender of the divine Persons in the inner-trinitarian life as well as its outward activity. For this reason, self-fulfillment, union with God, and laboring for the union of others with God and for their self-fulfillment belong inseparably together. It is the cross, however, that gives access to all of this.”

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