There is a very central concept theologically that is epigrammatically stated in Latin: Ave Crux Spes Unica or “Hail O Cross, Our Only Hope”. It gives us a paradoxical truth: that in this Crucifixion it is only hope that perdures.
This very concept is in direct contradiction with the pleasure/pain principle. We try to avoid pain at every turn, seeing it as evil in itself, and we seek to maximize pleasure. Much of the modern world is built on this foundation.
The doctrine of the Cross is very different. It states that, by not being afraid of the pain, we dare to enter into sacrifice for a higher good. We actually do this also very unconsciously as well; for instance: we go to an unpleasant job for the good of our family. We put off buying that fancy new car so that my child can have a Catholic Education. I exercise every Morning so that I may live a longer life.
We enter the matrix of the Cross (Sacrifice) for the benefit of a higher good. We have all met people who never sacrifice anything and end up shadows of what they could have been.
One of the attributes of this time of Pandemic is that it has no definable boundaries. How it will end and when it will end is not something that can be even imagined. When can we truly say that COVID-19 is a thing of the past and it is truly over? Even vaccines are only partially effective. The lingering fear of contamination and of setting-off another round of contagion with perhaps an altered virus that has learned how to bypass our best thinking and solutions may always be on the horizon. While we have a memory of how things used to be, it is at least possible that a time that is free of worry may not come.
Maybe that was always the case. Scientists have been warning us for many years of the disruptive power on the human community of a virus such as COVID-19, yet now it is clear to us since we are living through this and it is a reality and not a conjecture. And what of the possibility of a ‘COVID-22’, or a ‘COVID-25’ (the numbers being the years that it emerges)?
No, it is so clear that we must learn to live with uncertainty and that we must have clear and universally understood and respected protocols to minimize the impact of new strains. And more than that.
We are moving into the sphere of the Cross.
In one sense, the Cross is unavoidable. We all will suffer, either in the present or sometime in the near future. Our hope to be free from suffering and pain all the time is a mirage, an impossible dream, that is ever frustrated by the daily circumstances of life. If we are not suffering, we are engaged in striving and struggle to avoid future suffering or to be healed of the pain of the past.
What we do with this reality makes all the difference in the world. Buddhists also see this unavoidable reality and seek to transcend it through insight and meditation. It is never seen as a good, but as an avoidable blockage to a human being’s attempt to enter the paradisal state of Nirvana.
In the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Son of God, Incarnate, we have a very different paradigm. It is in the acceptance with love of this common destiny that helps us to use the struggle, not merely for our sanctification, but through Christ for the redemption of the world. This article of faith is proclaimed every time we enter the houses of believers, or Catholic classrooms or Christian Churches. There hanging on the wall are pictures and sculptures of a tortured man in agony. We see it so often we do not advert to the strangeness of this Christian custom.
We have not begun to understand the power and efficacy of the doctrine of the Cross. If seen as part of God’s plan and an invitation to see this present life as transitional and as an opportunity to increase our interior soulful and personal acceptance of God, even this Pandemic can be part of God’s plan. And not just part of the plan, but an essential part of our growth as Christians.
Suddenly this coronavirus can be part of the Crown given to us (corona means crown in Latin). While it may be one of thorns, it can be truly redemptive if we approach its reality with an embrace instead of flight. I do not mean to say that it is good, but that we can make use of it for our good and that of the rest of humanity.
“But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).