We have accompanied Jesus from Palm Sunday and through his suffering and crucifixion to his rising from death. The Cross was not his final destination. It was the road to his goal of resurrection, and so it is with us.
We were not made for suffering. We were made for resurrection. We can get too caught up in the mystique of suffering. At first glance, it may seem that St. Francis and St Clare were too caught up in it. However, we should remember the joyful way that they lived and invited others to live. If we recall the way they died, we will realize how centred they were in the Easter mystery of resurrection. They understood the Cross as the way to their final objective, which was fullness of life in Jesus Christ.
Holy Week features the Cross as part of the "Paschal Mysteries." The Church is focussed on the relationship between the Cross and the Resurrection.
We are not dealing with some vague expectation or with only a future resurrection. We are living in a reality already present and active, already at work in our lives through our baptism. We are already mysteriously resurrected. At the same time, we are painfully aware that Easter still hasn't penetrated fully into our daily life. We are and we aren't resurrected. Between these two poles lies the path of our Cross.
Saint Francis incorporated the Cross into the Easter mystery in the experiences of his own life. On Alverna the winged Seraph appeared to him crucified, but radiant in glory. The vision filled him with immense joy. But because Francis was still on the road to his goal, the Stigmata caused him physical agony, in fact, a two-year crucifixion.
In those two years especially, Francis endured the test of physical suffering, went through terrible spiritual darkness, and suffered abandonment. But the agony was translated into a deep joy which never left him. Joy came from being made like Christ on the Cross and from knowing that he was travelling the path to resurrection with his Lord. At the end, Sister Death was only a transition from this life to eternal life, in the expectation of his bodily resurrection.
This integration of dying and rising is a powerful message for us today. It silences the deluded euphoria of Christianity without the Cross, of those who think that they should be beyond being tested, beyond suffering. It also corrects those who would make the cultivation of suffering the foundation of their spiritual life and their goal.
Suffering is an aspect of our journey, a condition of our earthly life. It is an instrument that corrects our imperfections and roots out the vices that afflict even the baptized as long as we live on this earth.
Not Good Friday, but Easter, is our goal in life. Let us feel it intensely, live it out faithfully, experience it joyfully, and proclaim it boldly.