“God forgives us our sins, all of them, every time we ask!
“Yay” they all shout.
He forgives, yes, of course, but there is more to it than that.
If we are not careful, if we don’t take the time to peer deeply into the mystery, we miss the point, which is this: God bases his cosmic right to forgive the unforgivable not on a whim, nor on dotardly permissiveness, not even because He’s the boss and He says so, but upon the bloody sacrifice of his Son.
If we will not be led astray into the shallowness of a crossless Christianity, we must take the time to contemplate the Cross. If we ever want to internalize the truth of forgiveness, if we want it to be real to us, if we want to know it ever more deeply and, most importantly, if we want it to transform us, then we must put other thoughts aside and visit the garden of Gethsemane; we must compel ourselves to count the lashes at the gruesome scourging; we must not turn away as His blood trickles from each thorn with which He is crowned; we must allow ourselves to become part of the weeping and wailing throng of women on the Via Dolorosa, watching Him silently carry His own cross—helped only by a reluctant foreigner; ridiculed by those who stripped Him naked and cast lots for his clothing. We must not flee but stand with the three Marys and John at the foot of the Cross and watch Him bleed to death. We must silently weep with Jesus’ Mother at the brokenness of His Body, holding His bruised beaten corpse most lovingly. And we must linger here, not advancing to the Resurrection prematurely. The Cross must be where we cast our gaze.
This meditation, called the Way of the Cross, is depicted on the walls of every Catholic Church in what are called Stations of the Cross. It says something, it makes a statement. “Look!” “Meditate!” “Absorb!” “Hey you, yeah you over there, come here! This is important enough that we put it in every one of our buildings.” Don’t run, don’t hide.
It points to the center of our faith.
And indeed, when we look from the back walls to the front of the church, there it is, the Crucifix, in its appropriate centrality, with the savior hanging there. We do well to often look upon Him who was pierced (Zechariah 12:10 and John 13:27), to daily belong to those people before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. (Galatians 3:1).
Forgiveness is glorious, but it doesn’t go “poof” and “yay!” should not be our only reaction.