Memorial of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest

Introducing my freshman students to the Society of Jesus, I pointed out to them the centrality of the cross in the imagery of the order. A cross rises from the “IHS” of the Seal of the Society of Jesus. The foundational “Formula of the Institute” begins with the lines “Whosoever desires to serve as a soldier of Christ beneath the banner of the cross…”  At the time of their vows, each Jesuit is given a cross he carries with him throughout his life. At one level we can say that this devotion to the cross of Christ springs from the vision of Ignatius where the Father placed him beside the Son, underneath the cross.

At another level, we can say that a devotion to the cross seems to occur wherever high sanctity is found. Today we celebrate the feast of Padre Pio, the famous Italian Capuchin whose commitment to the cross was, like St. Francis, born upon his body.

Why this dwelling upon such a painful symbol as the cross? Is such devotion a relic of a bygone era? Let’s consider two meanings that remain as relevant today as before. First, the sacrifice symbolized by the cross arises from the fact of our fallenness. Creation, instead of treating itself as a gift to be returned to its creator, has grasped the world for itself. Our sin has sent ripples throughout creation. Having been ripped from its original homeland, our world will not be returned without some degree of pain. Sacrifice is the necessarily painful process of returning the fallen world to God.

The second meaning we find within the cross is the amplification of love. Those who knew Padre Pio marvelled at the peace and joy which radiated from his person. Such is the character of someone whose love extends so far as to undergo personal pain and renunciation for the good of others.  So we reach out for the cross Christ offers us today, knowing that rather than destroying us, his yoke is easy, his burden light, and his cross is the true key to joy.

September 23rd, 2013