Now we turn to some of the lessons Christ poured out for us while He drained that cup of suffering for our sakes. St. Augustine brilliantly observed: “The tree upon which were fixed the members of Him dying was even the chair of the Master teaching.”
St. Thomas Aquinas admirably provides us with one of those lessons that Augustine gleaned from that teaching chair of the Cross. “Not without purpose did He choose the class of death, that He might be a teacher of that breadth and height, and length, and depth, of which the Apostle speaks (Eph. 3:18).”
As for the breadth, Augustine declares that the crossbeam of the Cross represents good works, since Christ’s hands were spread out upon it. The length of the Cross from the crossbeam to the ground, where it is planted, stands, and abides, represents the virtue of longanimity (bearing suffering patiently), which bears all things over time.
The Cross’s height from the crossbeam to its top held the head of the crucified Christ, who is the supreme desire and hope of believers. Finally, the depth of the Cross, hidden in the earth from view, holds it fixed like the root from which the entire tree grows, and this represents the depth of God’s gratuitous grace. Of course, Jesus taught us not only metaphorically through the wood of the Cross but also through the words that He spoke from that most painful teaching chair.
For centuries Catholics have pondered the rich meaning of Jesus’ seven last words from the Cross. These “words” are the seven brief sayings Jesus uttered while He hung on the Cross in utmost pain and loneliness. Let’s look at them, consider their Source and their context, and ponder how they might console and strengthen us as we bear our own immeasurably lighter crosses.
1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Christ’s first words from the Cross, in the earliest throes of His agony, are to ask God to forgive the very people who placed Him there. How many of us are lonely because of estrangement from someone once close to us whom we have refused to forgive or who has been unforgiving of us? Can we make a gesture to reach out to that person while our arms remain free to move? Even if we should be rebuffed, can we do as Christ did and pray that God will forgive that person — and us, too?
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