Contemplating the Crucified Christ

During his apostolic visit to Tuscany last Sunday, Pope Benedict hoped to ascend to La Verna where Saint Francis received the stigmata. The weather did not permit this. But here is the reflection the Pope prepared for the pilgrimage:

The contemplation of the Crucified has an extraordinary efficacy, for it causes us to pass from the order of things thought, to that of experience lived; from hoped-for salvation to the sweet and blessed homeland. St. Bonaventure affirms: "He who gazes intently [upon the Crucified] makes the Passover with Him that is, the passage (Itinerarium, VII, 2). This is the heart of the experience of La Verna, of the Poverello of Assisi's experience here. On this Sacred Mount, St. Francis lived in his own person the profound unity of sequela, imitatio and conformatio Christi. And so he tells us, too, that it is not enough to call ourselves Christians to be Christians, nor is it enough to seek to perform good works. We need to conform ourselves to Jesus through a slow, steady commitment to the transformation of our being to the image of the Lord, so that through divine grace, every member of His Body, which is the Church, might show forth the necessary likeness with its Head, Christ the Lord. And we begin this journey -- as the medieval masters teach us on the basis of St. Augustine -- with self-knowledge, with the humility of looking within ourselves with honesty.To bear the love of Christ! How many pilgrims have climbed and continue to climb this Holy Mount in order to contemplate the love of the Crucified God and to allow themselves to be enraptured by Him. How many pilgrims have ascended in the search for God, which is the true reason for the Church's existence: to be a bridge between God and man. And here they encounter you as well, sons and daughters of St. Francis. Always remember that the consecrated life has the specific task of bearing witness -- through words and by the example of a life lived in accordance with the evangelical counsels -- to the enchanting love story between God and humanity, which transcends history.

Robert P. Imbelli, a long-time Commonweal contributor, is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. A book of essays in his honor, The Center Is Jesus Christ Himself, edited by Andrew Meszaros, was published this year by The Catholic University of America Press.

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