The greatest conqueror the world has known, and shall ever know, did not wield the sword or swing the battle-axe; did not lead men in marches upon famous cities, reducing them to famine or rubble; did not parry and thrust his way to the leadership of an empire, commanding the men he reduced to wards of the state to call him their benefactor and to pray for his continued success; did not file his wit to become the chief of a school; did not write a word that we know of, except perhaps the sins he traced in the sand, sins of the men who wanted to trap him.
I meditate upon his terrible beauty, as he hangs upon the cross. He was mocked, scourged, crowned with thorns, and led away to the death of a criminal, of one who was to sink below the dignity of a human being; the death of a no-one, of the ultimate victim. He was innocent, and because he was innocent, men could not abide him for long. They found a way to hate him; hate can always find its reasons. Yet he gave up his life for his persecutors, praying that they might be forgiven, for they did not know what they were doing. Nor do we, sinners as we are.
His body was broken open, but he had always been broken open — his very being was only for the Father, and, therefore, only for us his brothers and sisters. In his sacrifice we see the mystery of being itself, which is also the mystery of love. For God who created a world that was good redeems man who falls away from the good. It is his extravagant love for us that we see emblazoned upon Jesus, on the cross, giving himself away, giving himself forever in the sacraments that flowed from his pierced side. Here is the secret of greatness that the world had always overlooked; the greatness of Jesus who became as nothing, so that we might become something, even sons and daughters, sons in the Son.
The world is old, and stupid. It wears the sniggering leer of the demagogue, the avid glance of the privateer of finance, the smug half-smile of the professor in the know. It does not want to understand the Cross, and Jesus who suffered upon it, because it is afraid of the new life that springs from Him; because that new life can take you where you do not know you want to go. But Jesus, who died for us, conquers by dying, conquers by giving of himself utterly. If we would be conquerors, if we would be as God himself, we must make ourselves one with Jesus, and give utterly. That cross, we feel, is too heavy for us to bear. It is too heavy; we cannot carry it. Then we must confess our nothingness, our weakness, and, as Therese of Lisieux says, let the cross carry us. We would be soldiers alongside our captain; first let us be as nothing, acknowledging that without Him who emptied Himself for us, we too are empty, like wooden idols, or like the waste and void before God said, "Let there be light."
I look upon Jesus, crucified, and see that once the Lord has come, there is no choice but either to grasp after the delusions of power, or the sillier delusions of pleasure, or to be carried forth with him on the adventure of being, the adventure of love.