You can’t walk into the magnificent Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Mount St. Vincent without coming face to face with Constantino Brumidi’s imposing painting of the Crucifixion in the apse. Many times I’ve wished the artist had chosen to portray another moment in Jesus’ life – a story from his active ministry of healing or teaching, perhaps, or the call of his disciples, or the Last Supper.
When the Mount Chapel was enlarged and renovated in 1874, the Brumidi painting was added. I wonder whether Mother Mary Regina Lawless, who was in office, requested this particular scene for the Chapel. If so, why the focus on the Crucifixion and its pain? What message did she want to place before the generations of Sisters of Charity and students who would pray in this sacred space?
Was Mother Regina thinking the three Sisters who left the peace of their Maryland valley in 1817 to care for orphan immigrant children in crowded, violent, dirty New York City? Was she recalling the wrenching events of 1846, when the Sisters on mission in New York were given a choice, either to leave the orphans in obedience to their superiors, or to remain and cut themselves off forever from their Emmitsburg roots? Was she perhaps reliving the more recent heartbreak in 1856, when the community had to relocate not only its barely 10-year-old motherhouse, novitiate and academy, but its just-completed chapel as well, from land that the City Council wanted for a proposed Central Park?
I wonder what went through Jesus’ mind and heart as he prepared to enter Jerusalem to the acclaim of the crowds. The week that began with the event we mark today – Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – ended, as we know, with a very different feel. Hopes were crushed, power was brutally wielded, and an innocent life was destroyed.
A friend and I spent a weekend recently at a retreat house. Their chapel was uncluttered: the Scriptures and the tabernacle on either side behind the altar, a single vase of flowers before it, and on the center wall, a simple, modest crucifix. My friend remarked that she couldn’t take her eyes off that crucifix. It said to her, “In the end, we all have to go through our own crucifixions.”
Indeed. We all must go through our own crucifixions, whatever shape they take – illness, loss, betrayal, disappointment, misunderstanding, dashed hopes, unfulfilled dreams. Lent reminds us of this sober truth. It reminds us as well of the God who walks with us on our own unique way of the cross, the God who carries us and our crosses, every step of the road.
We know that Palm Sunday is not the end of the story. Neither is Good Friday. God’s power is at work, even in painful and tragic times. And that power is strong enough to break the chokehold of death. During these holy days of the Triduum, may we receive the grace to look upon our own crucifixion moments with new and grateful eyes, and to experience again the life-changing power of the Cross of Jesus.
–Sr. Regina Bechtle
Sr. Regina, a retreat leader, speaker, writer and spiritual director, serves as Charism Resource Director for the Sisters of Charity of New York.