While working on some other project I was skimming through Pope St. John Paul II’s wonderful work Veritatis splendor. The words “the cross” caught my eye, and I started reading. It made me consider something about these days of Holy Week and the Triduum.
Many years ago I read the fine book by Steven Mosher A Mother’s Ordeal, the story of a Chinese woman who at one time enforced China’s one child policy and then underwent her own forced abortion. Toward the end of her tale, we find her in America and at a church. Her husband, who had been in the States longer than she, asked if they could go. Neither of them had ever had a religious impulse, so thoroughly had the Marxist ideology been fed to them. But, if the Communists were against it, he confided in his wife, then maybe they should be for it.
So they went to church. She was struck by the oddness of all these people of varying backgrounds and skin colors all worshiping together. They didn’t have to be there. She was further struck by the image of Christ crucified. Who worships a dead god?, she thought to herself. Then these thoughts came to her as relayed by Mr. Mosher:
I remembered the hundreds of women I had forced to have abortions, how they had writhed and screamed and cried. And I remembered my own abortion, and how I had writhed and screamed and cried. If this tortured figure was God, then surely he understood the pain and suffering that I had felt and caused. Was there in his death some larger meaning?
The answer to that is of course “yes,” and Pope St. John Paul II makes a point of it in Veritatis splendor. The pain and suffering which this Chinese woman forced upon so many hundreds of women through forced abortions was all in the name of freedom, the freedom which the Communist state had to impose. The women who voluntarily go to seek abortion in our own country do so because of freedom, the freedom which the culture imposes on their wills dulled by entertainment. But they all end up broken.
This is the fate of a culture, whether Communist like hers or consumerist like ours, which gauges freedom by material means. This is what happens when the apex of moral reasoning comes up with the appeal to “rights” detached from responsibility or reality.
And so, writes John Paul II, the Church presents the world with a different vision. She points us to Christ the Lord. The Church preaches a Christ crucified. The Church presents a Gospel that is not so eloquent. We do not shy away from the difficult moral teachings. We are not so good at lulling humanity to sleep with promises of great wealth. “In his riches man lacks wisdom;” reads part of Psalm 49, “he is like the beasts that are destroyed.”
So we are not so persuasive “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power,” (1Cor 1:23) the power to convert the heart of a woman dying inside because of her many sins and her many hurts.
What happens this Holy Week, which starts in earnest today with Spy Wednesday, is a reminder that our true freedom is found in the cross that will lead to resurrection. It is a joyous ending, but one that must include the death on Friday afternoon.
The Chinese woman did begin taking instruction in the faith. She eventually entered the Church and went to Confession. For the first time in her life, she felt at peace. She lived in a different world, in a new country, in a new home, and in a new faith that told her forgiveness was possible. She finally had the freedom which Communism had promised her, but which it ultimately stole.
She was made a new creature. But we cannot forget the cross, for without it, we have no power to transform our lives and our world.
Omar Gutierrez writes from Omaha, NE. His new book, The Urging of Christ’s Love:The Saints and the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church can be purchased online and through your fine, local Catholic book seller.
Check out Omar’s audio series on Catholic Social Teaching at DiscerningHearts.com