This Sunday’s preface prays: “For after he had told the disciples of his coming death, on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory, to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets, that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection.”
In chapter 16 of St. Matthew, Jesus announces the Passion for the first time to the Apostles: “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Mt. 16:21). In today’s gospel the evangelist shows us the glory of Jesus with the testimony of Moses and Elijah.
There is a deep connection between the Passion and the Resurrection. This connection is very well expressed by the traditional phrase “per crucem ad lucem,” through the cross towards the light. In a word, it is necessary to pass through the cross to get to the Resurrection.
Two things come immediately to my mind. One is that the purpose of Lent is not penance itself but Easter. The cross is generally a means to a renewal of the spirit, to union with God, but not an end in itself. There is absolutely no meaning at all in the cross if it is not because of the Resurrection.
The second thing is that the cross is a necessary means to get to the Resurrection. If there was a better path to the Resurrection, Jesus would have told us so. Instead, he tells us we must take up our cross daily and follow him.
Let’s look at these concepts in the lives of two famous saints. For instance, Saint Therese of Lisieux, also known as the Little Flower, embraced the cross as a means of growing in holiness. She saw every small act of sacrifice and suffering as an opportunity to offer it up to God and unite it with the sufferings of Christ on the cross. She once said, “My God, I choose everything; I will not be a Saint by halves; I am not afraid of suffering for Thee, I only fear one thing, and that is to do my own will.”
Besides offering up her daily struggles, she was also visited by a grave sickness, tuberculosis. For over a year, her body gradually broke down. But even worse than the physical illness was the desolation she experienced. During most of this time, her faith was attacked. St. Therese wrote, “While I do not have the joy of faith, I am trying to carry out its works at least. I believe that I have made more acts of faith in this past year than all through my whole life.” Her absolute trust in God in times of small or big crosses made her one of the most beloved saints of modern times.
Saint Padre Pio, who bore the stigmata (wounds of Christ) for most of his life, lived a life of intense suffering and physical pain. He embraced the cross as a means of participating in the sufferings of Christ and offered his pain as a sacrifice for the salvation of souls. He once said, “Fear nothing. On the contrary, consider yourself very fortunate to have been made worthy to participate in the sufferings of the Man-God.” His deep spiritual life and profound devotion to the cross inspired countless people to turn to God in times of trial and adversity.
He also said, “The more bitterness you experience, the more love you will receive.” Here he emphasizes the connection between the cross and union with God. The link is so tight that suffering and glory are directly proportional.
We’ve just looked briefly at two great saints, but indeed every single saint has lived in one way or another the meaning of the phrase “per crucem ad lucem.” Let’s put our eyes on the Resurrection and embrace valiantly the cross this Lenten season.