Children violated in their innermost being, migrants who are victims of collective indifference, Christians persecuted in different parts of the world, Jews exterminated in concentration camps, broken families and the powerful who flaunt their supremacy over the weakest — these are the tragic images that alternate in the meditations drawn up by Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti for Good Friday’s Via Crucis. Fourteen meditations in which the words of Saint John Paul II, Don Primo Mazzolari, Father David Maria Turoldo also return, which accompany the thought-provoking 14 evening stations at the Colosseum.
The title that the archbishop of Perugia has given his reflections is “God Is Mercy,” to highlight that mercy is the channel with which He reaches man. At the same time, however, the cardinal asks: “Where was God in the extermination camps? Where is God in the mines and factories where children work as slaves? Where is God in the barge of the sea that sinks in the Mediterranean?”
“There are situations of suffering that seem to deny the love of God,” he observes. But these are not the epilogue: “Jesus falls under the weight of the cross, but He does not remain crushed,” writes Cardinal Bassetti in the third station. “Christ is there, discarded among the discarded, last with the least, shipwrecked among the shipwrecked. God takes charge of all this; a God who out of love does not show His omnipotence, but in this way moreover, in fact this way, God fallen to the ground as a grain of corn, is faithful to Himself: faithful in love.”
In the fourth station the Cardinal stresses that God “soils His hands with us, with our sins and our fragilities,” with our suffering that, “when it knocks at our door, is never expected.” It always seems to be a constriction, sometimes even an “injustice,” which “can find us tragically unprepared.”
As, for instance, a sickness that “can ruin our plans of life.” “Unwanted tribulation knocks, however, arrogantly at man’s heart,” says the Cardinal. Then, “how do we behave in face of the suffering of a loved one? How attentive are we to the cry of one who suffers but lives far from us?”
In fact the fifth station, which recalls the scene in which Simon of Cyrene helps Christ to carry the cross, gives the answer. “The Cyrenean helps us to enter the fragility of the human mind and brings to light another aspect of Jesus’ humanity. Even the Son of God was in need of someone to help Him carry the cross,” says the cardinal. The Cyrenean is, therefore, “the mercy of God that makes Himself present in the history of human beings – who makes Himself present also in the darkest moments, in the meanest sins, because He is “not ashamed of us, and does not abandon us.”
God, writes the Umbrian archbishop in the sixth meditation, “always manifests Himself as a courageous rescuer.” For whom? For all, in particular for “the millions of refugees and evacuees, fleeing desperately from the horror of wars, of persecutions and of dictatorships.” “How can one not see the Lord’s face” in their faces?
“Faces disfigured by life’s afflictions,” which “come our way,” but we “too often turn our eyes away,” because “we are instinctively led to flee from suffering, because suffering causes loathing,” observes Archbishop Bassetti. Placed before us in the Via Crucis, then, is Veronica’s gesture. “The love this woman embodies leaves us speechless,” reflects the Cardinal. “Love renders her strong to challenge the guards, to go beyond the crowd, to approach the Lord and carry out a gesture of compassion and faith: to stop the blood of the wounds, to dry the tears of sorrow, to contemplate that disfigured face, behind which is the hidden face of God.”
Of great impact is the tenth reflection, in which the cardinal comments on the moment in which Jesus is stripped of His garments. “That body that the Father prepared” for the Son” is “scorned, mocked and martyred.” In it, however, “the divine will of the salvation of the whole of humanity is fulfilled,” in it is expressed “the love of the Son for the Father and Jesus’ total gift to men.”
“That body stripped of everything except the love that encloses in it the immense sorrow of humanity and tells all its wounds,” says the archbishop, especially the “most painful” wounds, such as those “of children profaned in their innermost being. That silent and bleeding body, scourged and humiliated, indicates the way of justice – God’s justice, which transforms the most atrocious suffering in the light of the resurrection.”
The cardinal speaks of children again in the ninth meditation, thinking of all the little ones who many, too many times “suffer because of a broken family.” Suffering together with them are so many men and women that “fall,” that “think they no longer have dignity because they do not have work,” or the many young people that are “constrained to live a precarious life” and “lose hope for the future.”
“The man that falls and that contemplates the God that falls, is the man that can finally admit his weakness and impotence without any more fear or despair, precisely because God also felt it in His Son,” adds the cardinal. Out of mercy, “God abased Himself” to the point of “lying in the dust of the road.” “Dust bathed by Adam’s sweat and Jesus’ blood and that of all the martyrs of history; dust blessed by the tears of so many brothers fallen because of violence and man’s exploitation of man,” he stresses.
2 different ways to be on the cross
“The Lord has reserved his last embrace to this blessed, outraged, violated and despoiled dust by human egoism. It is the same embrace he gave to one of the evildoers crucified next to Him. Those two thieves, probably two murderers of which the eleventh station speaks, address “the heart of every man because they show two different ways of being on the cross,” explains the Cardinal.
“The first curses God; the second recognizes God on the cross. The first evildoer proposes the most comfortable solution for all. He proposes a human salvation and has his gaze turned below. For him salvation means to escape from the cross and eliminate suffering.” This is “the logic of the throwaway culture” that “asks God to eliminate all that is not useful and is not worthy of being lived.”
Instead, the second evildoer “does not bargain for a solution” but “proposes a divine salvation and has his eyes turned to heaven. For him salvation means to accept God’s will including in the worst conditions.” In this case, we witness the “triumph of the culture of love and forgiveness,” to the “folly of the cross in events of which all human wisdom cannot but vanish and fall silent.”
This silence, in fact, is rent by “Jesus’ cry,” which “is the cry of every crucified one in history, of the abandoned and humiliated, of the martyr and of the prophet, of the one calumniated and unjustly condemned, of one in exile or in prison.’ “It is the cry of human despair that leads, however, to the victory of faith that transforms death into eternal life.”
Jesus dies on the cross, but is this “the death of God”? “No, it is the highest celebration of the witness of faith,” says the Cardinal. That same witness of “immense light” manifested in the many martyrs that populated the 20th century, such as Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein, and that makes itself present again in the 21st century in all those “apostles of the contemporary world” in which ”the body of Christ is crucified.”
“Faith is enkindled in the great darkness,” remarks the Archbishop of Perugia. And in the fourteenth reflection he addresses God directly: “man blinded by lights that have the color of darkness, pushed by the forces of evil, has rolled a large rock and closed you in the sepulcher. However, we know that you, humble God, in the silence in which our freedom has placed you, are doing the greatest work ever to generate new grace in the man you love.”