Mirror of the Cross

January 07 2016 | by

HOW MIGHT Anthony have preached on the Passion of Christ? His sermon notes on the Passion are more like an actual sermon than notes. Can’t you almost hear him preaching the following?

“Let us lift up our eyes, then, and let us look on Jesus, the author of salvation [cf. Heb 12.2]. Let us consider our Lord hanging on the Cross, fixed with nails. . . .

He hangs before you, so as to invite your compassion for him, as it says in Lamentations 1: O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see if there is any sorrow like to my sorrow. [Lam 1.12]

Truly, there is no sorrow like his sorrow!” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals IV, Messaggero di Sant’Antonio-Editrice, pp. 225-6)

We recognize that Anthony is calling us to contemplate the phyiscal suffering of Christ. But he asks us to go further. He has us contemplate the ingratitude Christ feels despite his sacrifice.

“His Passion was sufficient for the redemption of all. But behold! Almost all are heading for damnation. What sorrow is as great as his?... we should greatly fear lest he say (as he did in the beginning), it repenteth me that I have made them [Gen 6.7], as though to say now, “It repenteth me that I have redeemed them.” (Sermons IV, p. 226)

Do we ever consider that Christ might regret saving such an ungrateful race? We know that God would not yield to that temptation as God is Love. Nevertheless, our human nature marvels at God’s great love that overcame our ingratitude and still willingly redeemed us at the price of his life. Anthony has us see ourselves as hanging on the cross with Christ and realizing our worth.

“So, thy life shall be hanging before thee, as you look at yourself in it as in a mirror. There you will recognize how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine could cure, except the blood of the Son of God. If you have looked well, you will have been able to recognize how precious and excellent you are, for whom such priceless blood was shed.” (Sermons IV, p. 226)

Knowing our worth is not enough. We must convert. Anthony tells us how: “No man can better understand his own worth then in the mirror of the Cross, which shows you how you should bring low your pride, mortify your unruly flesh, pray to the Father for those who persecute you, and commend your spirit into his hands.” (Sermons IV, p. 226)

Yet will we actually change?

“So we, too, gaze at the Crucified, in whom we see the image of our redemption, and in thinking of him for a little while (a very little while), perhaps we sorrow. But straightaway, as soon as we turn our eyes, we are changed in heart and turn to laughter.” (Sermons IV, p. 226) Contemplation is useless if it does not cause us to change.


Narcissus myth


In St. Anthony’s era, the common man had heard the tale of Narcissus from Greek mythology. Narcissus was so proud of his beauty that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis, the spirit of divine retribution, noticed this behavior and, therefore, attracted Narcissus to a pool where he fell so in love with his image that he wanted to unite with it and drowned.

Anthony calls us to unite with Christ in His image and live.


St. Clare’s letter


St. Clare of Assisi also exhorted others to gaze at the cross of Christ as if it were a mirror, to see themselves there, and to convert. In her Fourth Letter to Saint Agnes of Prague, Saint Clare writes, “Because the vision of Christ is the splendor of eternal glory, the radiance of eternal light and the mirror without stain, look upon that mirror each day, O queen and spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually study your countenance within it.”

Note that Clare urges Agnes to meditate daily on the cross. Why should she do so? “… so that you may clothe yourself inside and out with beautiful robes and cover yourself with the flowers and garments of all the virtues.”

Clare sees every virtue mirrored in the crucified Christ. “Indeed blessed poverty, holy humility, and ineffable charity are reflected in that mirror… see the poverty of Him who was placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes… dwell on the holy humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labors and burdens which He endured for the redemption of all humankind… contemplate the ineffable charity which led Him to suffer on the wood of the Cross, dying on it the most shameful kind of death.”

Humility. Poverty. Charity. These mirror Anthony’s words that the cross will help us “bring low your pride, mortify your unruly flesh, pray to the Father” (Sermons IV, p. 226).

Clare concludes her meditation with the same verse from Lamentations that Anthony used, making us wonder if she heard this from him or another Franciscan preacher. “Therefore, that mirror hanging on the wood of the Cross urged those who passed by to consider, saying: “All you who pass by the way, look and see if there is any suffering like My suffering!”

Saint Francis of Assisi gazed at the ‘mirror of the cross’ at San Damiano and, through prayerful contemplation of Christ crucified, received a message that revitalized the world: “Go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruin.” (Thomas of Celano, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, Chapter VI). Many other saints have, through contemplation of the cross, received spiritual direction from the Holy Spirit.


Gaze at the crucifix


As a Lenten exercise, try gazing at the crucifix and pondering what you see. Ask God to give you direction through your contemplation.

Imagine yourself united with Christ on the cross. Christ descended from heaven to unite with human flesh so that he might become one of us. Therefore, we are to unite with him in grateful appreciation and allow Him to change us. Some soul-searching questions to ask are:

·         Am I truly united with Christ in his sufferings?

·         Do I open not my mouth when I suffer?

·         How do my poverty and humility compare to that of Christ’s?

·         Do I understand the great sacrifice of love which God has given to me?

·         How do I make the message of God’s love and sacrifice known to others?

·         How much gratitude do I show to God for his gifts to me?

·         What does the crucifix show me about where I need improvement in my spiritual life?

·         What is God trying to teach me through this contemplation?


The best book


Saints Anthony, Clare, and Francis of Assisi considered the crucifix to be the best ‘book’ to read for spiritual growth. This Lent, ‘read’ the book of the cross by contemplating the image of the crucified Christ as you would an image in a mirror. Can you find your reflection there?


Updated on October 04 2016