The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 3, 2017
Fr. José Maria Alvim Cortes, F.S.C.B.

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Sunday Reading Meditations

The same Peter we saw last Sunday confessing the divinity of Christ is the person we see today trying to convince Jesus to avoid the Cross.

Peter hears very harsh words from Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23).

Peter did not understand the Cross. He would only come to understand with the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. It is very hard to understand Jesus’ Cross.

Last Wednesday, on my day off, one day after the strong emotions aroused by the 5.8 earthquake, I went to the National Gallery. By chance, I entered a room where a work by Barnett Newman, The Way of the Cross, is exhibited, consisting of fourteen paintings, each representing one of the Stations of the Cross. The artist was a twentieth-century American painter from New York. His abstract expressionistic style is not easy to understand immediately. Every painting shows different areas of color separated by vertical lines, called “zips.” My first reaction was to think that the work was nonsense. At the same time, there was something sublime that attracted me and made me pay more attention to what I saw. The work is a meditation on human suffering. The artist started work on The Way of the Cross when he was released from the hospital after suffering a heart attack.

The thing that impressed me the most in this work was the idea of glorification. Almost all the stations are painted in black and ivory. However, after the Ninth Station, Jesus Falls the Third Time, we have only ivory and white until the Crucifixion; there is no black. In the most painful moments, there is only very soft color. This is to show that the crucifixion is the glorification of Jesus. As Jesus says in Saint John’s Gospel: “Now the hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified” (Jn 12:23). Then, when Jesus dies and is removed from the cross, everything is almost black. The Fourteenth Station makes a stark contrast because it is painted in a very impressive soft blue, full of light that only talks about Heaven and Resurrection.

It is not easy to understand the work of Barnett Newman. It is not easy to understand the Cross. As Peter did not understand, neither do we. There is a great mystery inside the Cross. We should prefer things to be different; we want to avoid the Cross.

Jesus says: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25). The way that Jesus helps the disciples to understand the Cross is by showing its positivity. There is a hidden glory inside the wood of the cross. We follow Jesus on his Way of the Cross because it is the way to achieve glory and fullness. As Saint Irenaeus says: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

We ask for the intercession of Our Lady of Sorrows to help us understand the Cross as the Way for the glory of our lives.  Amen.