The Failure of the Cross

I want to talk about an expression that the Pope used: the failure of the cross. That is a very surprising expression to hear from the Pope, to say the least. I think I know what it means; I know what it means to me.

And I think I know what it meant to the disciples who were huddling in devastation behind closed doors after the crucifixion, hiding from the authorities and wondering what had happened and what they were going to do next. They were terrified by the failure of the cross. Everything they had been living for had failed.

It looked like Jesus had failed. He was so suddenly put to death, just like that. All in one day. A terrible death on the cross. Great shame, great pain and suffering. And what could have seemed a greater failure for them than that, with all of the hopes that they had had in following him for years. Learning and experiencing and growing, and yet they never understood.

The Gospels make it clear that the disciples never understood what it was all about before Jesus was crucified. They didn't understand. Peter didn't understand. That's made clear in the gospels. Peter didn't get it, even though he was the one that confessed, “You are the Christ.” So he knew that much. But that was really kind of a limited knowledge, because the Christ, the annotated one, was a concept in Judaism that didn't mean what it means to us today. Not at all.

So, the failure of the cross. We hear a lot about the glory of the cross. Yes, the glory of the cross. The glory of the cross, because through his sacrifice, Christ saved us; he became the means of our salvation and so there's nothing greater than the glory of the cross, especially for Catholics, because Good Friday has always been seen as a holy day as important as and maybe even greater than Easter.

Easter is almost an anti-climax. Oh yes, to us it's the resurrection and we have the hope of the resurrection, but I hope to God to get there we don't have to go through a Good Friday ourselves. But we have the hope of the resurrection, so that's what's important to us.

But the failure of the cross. Maybe the Pope has a deep understanding of the failure of the cross. Maybe he will explain it to us or somebody will explain it to us, some theologian. I would like to see that.

I guess here would be my explanation. It is based on the doctrine that Jesus Christ is both human and divine. So we could say that Jesus is human, Christ is divine, and yet they're one person. There’s a total connection, no separation between human and divine. But Jesus the man failed utterly, died on the cross. This is the failure of the cross. But Christ rose from the cross, rose from the dead, on Easter, and became the sign of our own hope for resurrection. So, again, there's a very close, intimate connection between Good Friday and Easter. The Church celebrates the Triduum, the Three Days, from the Last Supper through nightfall Easter Sunday. It is one act of worship, just as Jesus’ death through to Christ’s resurrection is one Act.

What happened in the space of those three days was a transition from human to divine. And we can't even say there was a transition, though again, that's thinking in our own terms. It's all one with God. Okay, so the failure of the Cross. What a deep, thought-provoking subject.