“Faithful Cross! Above all other,
One and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be.
Sweetest Wood and sweetest nails,
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee.”
(Sequence on Good and Holy Friday)
When I was banished from Loyola Marymount University, one of the conditions of my punishment was that I was never to contact any of my classmates again. This included telephone, e-mail, and so on. A wall had been thrown up where none previously existed. Suddenly, I found myself back where I had started: alone and abandoned.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, most of the people in my program at LMU were good people. With the exception of D., none of them wished me ill. Rather, I was treated as one of their own. I was invited to parties and bars. I was praised for my quirky sense of humor and style of dress (three piece suits in class every single day). While there was certainly inequality in terms of professionalism, age, and experience, I felt completely at home.
From Orientation Day, I felt that I was a member of a family. Yet that feeling was never more palpable than when I attended a class on literature and politics in the Renaissance. Rather than sitting in rows of desks facing the professor, the students and Dr. R. sat around a table in such a way that everyone could see everyone else. It created a sense of community and created memories that I have not been able to forget four years after the fact. For someone who spent his entire life being a lone wolf, the graduate English program at LMU was a God-send.
Yet as I sank deeper and deeper into demonic oppression, I found that I was excluded from that same family. Dr. R. told me that under no circumstances should I come to class if I was experiencing “hallucinations” (my terminology, not hers) and that she would tutor me. Not only this, but I sensed withdrawal on the part of my friends. Whether they were afraid for my life or not, I could not tell, but I could sense a distance growing between us.
When the verdict finally came down that I was never to speak to any of them again, it was a crushing blow. To be deprived of all human contact is a punishment that is meted out to the worst offenders. Men are placed into solitary confinement in prisons because they are so violent or so “mad” that they will hurt someone or themselves. In the Gulag, prisoners were placed in solitary to break down their humanity. I felt the same way. A part of my humanity had been taken away by the administration.
I understood, of course, that there were reasons why I received the punishment I did. One of these was that I had talked too much about my condition. In order to understand this, you need to know that I am a person who thrives on human contact. With close friends, in particular, I tend to share many things. At LMU, this was nothing extraordinary. I was merely continuing what I had done for years: when crises arose, I talked.
I also gathered after the fact that my abandonment was due to the fact that stories about me and my bizarre behavior had circulated all the way to the top. To get rid of a public embarrassment and a potential suicide, it was decided by the powers that be to send me away and to block any access that I had to my friends. That reasoning I can understand although it still angers me a great deal.
As the years have gone by, I have continued to keep in touch with some of my friends. I have made phone calls and sent e-mails to stony silence. As I have done this, I have slowly come to the realization that my breakdown was probably the last straw for many of them. They could put up with me when I was happy-go-lucky, eccentric, and quirky, but they could not deal with a lunatic. So is the way of the world, as Ecclesiastes wrote.
During the many months and years that have followed, I found Someone that could supplant the abandonment that I felt. I felt close to Him because He was the most abandoned of all. When Our Lord was nailed to the cross, there was no one there to comfort Him except Our Lady, St. John, and some women. Everybody else had scattered in different directions. No one wanted to be near Him because they believed that it was all over.
Christ’s abandonment on the Cross has been a focus of meditation for me. During Good Friday this year, I meditated on each of the seven last words He uttered as I read the appropriate Hour from the Divine Office. In my mind, I could see Him wounded and carry the cross. I could hear Him rebuking Heaven with, “Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani!” I could see His head drooping with his last breath. I saw His side being opened with the spear of St. Longinus and the blood and water flowing out.
The Crucifixion is one of the central moments of our redemption. It is that moment when we see for ourselves the supreme sacrifice that Our Lord made to save us. We see Him there on the Cross completely abandoned by all. Alone, He can do the only thing that He can: speak to those that can hear Him.
Our Lady also participated in her Son’s sacrifice. More than any other human creature, she sensed the sword of sorrow piercing her heart through and through. Many Doctors of the Church believe that since Our Lady was spared pain in childbirth, she experienced that pain when she watched Him die. The fact that she watched Him die and could not help Him only makes the scene more tragic. A mother who watched her Son die and could do nothing.
Our place also is at the foot of the Cross with Jesus and Mary. He suffered all of this for you and for me. His precious blood is the price of our redemption and with what do we repay Him? Indeed, what gift can you and I offer to Him to ease His pain? We can only do that which He showed us and that is to carry our crosses as He did His without complaining and saying a word.
Like Him, we are to carry our crosses to our Golgotha and be crucified there in union with Him. While our sufferings in this life cannot compare with His, we are constantly united with Him. His sufferings become our sufferings and His pain becomes our pain. St. Francis and Padre Pio both received the stigmata as a special sign of God’s grace. Padre Pio bore the stigmata for fifty years before he died and, in this way, shared Our Lord’s physical pain.
There are moments in our lives when each of us feels abandoned and lonely. Death comes and takes away a loved one. A war in a far off country deprives us of a child. A young woman not knowing any better has become pregnant. In all of these moments of darkness, there is Someone there who experienced it all and who is calling out to us to listen. He calls us to Him and He speaks to us with those most consoling words, “Come to me all of you that are burdened and heavily laden and I will give you rest… Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”
When He extends that invitation to you, dear reader, and asks you to join your sufferings with His do not refuse Him. Rather embrace the wood of the Cross as He did and kiss it. For through His wounds, He will heal you.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, pray for