Grant That I May Love Thee Always

Who am I to pick faults with a saint? I never had the pleasure of meeting Alphonus Maria de’ Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorists. He was a bit before my time (1696 – 1787), but I was an altar server in a parish very much influenced by his spirituality, especially during the season of Lent. There was no escaping the darkness and over-morbidity of his vision of the Via Crucis. Admittedly I have never had the pleasure of witnessing an execution, and I think that it is one of those dubious pleasures I will be happy to miss if the opportunity ever presents itself. Saint Alphonus was a man who lived in a time when horrific public executions were all the rage, and would have had a better grasp on the awfulness of the ordeal than I will ever hope to have, but I still fail to see how such imagery can edify our spiritual experience of the execution of Jesus. Having said this, I am not going to suggest that the crucifixion was a walk in the park. We can be quite sure that those who did witness such a spectacle never forget the experience. It was meant to be memorable.


As central as the image of the cross is to the Christian story, and as inseparable as it is from our theology of redemption, the point of the crucifixion is not the suffering and death of the man, but his vindication and victory over death. Resurrection – whatever this means to us – is hollow without the Way of the Cross, and so the Passion must play its part in the Easter mystery. Easter, however, still remains the point of the story. Through Lent Christians are invited to share in the sorrowful journey from the Pavement of Judgement to Golgotha, but this must be – if it is to have any transformative meaning – and interior journey where the idealised suffering of Christ meets with our own personal pain and suffering. God in Christ shares in our own suffering, as we share in his, and it is this relationship that becomes the place of transformation. Any pilgrimage to the cross that is done in the absence of our suffering is abstract and meaningless – it ignores the incarnational reality of God with us. We have enough pain and sorrow of our own without the need for an over-indulgent and fetishistic presentation of pain in the other.

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