Venerating the Crucified People

by Jen Owens

I almost didn’t go to the evening service at my parish on Good Friday this year. I had attended the Stations of the Cross and had led musical worship at the Seven Last Words service that afternoon, and the practicalities of the everyday worked together to mount a pretty good argument as to why I deserved a night in to rest. Maybe I should just chalk it up to Catholic guilt, but something made me feel like it wouldn’t be quite right, like I wouldn’t be quite right if I didn’t attend the evening service.

I slid into the pew next to my spiritual director just a few moments before the service started, and I noted an absence. Throughout this Lent, there has been an urgency to my experience of prayer, especially when I am worshipping alongside my community. I’ve been praying for healing and reconciliation, in myself, in my family, in the communities to which I belong, in my church, and in the world. And every day the concerns seemed more pressing than the day before, on small scales and large—with my Mamita just out of the hospital and my Grandma needing surgery, a beloved mentor recently home from a procedure to remove the cancer that had begun to attack his body, the earthquake in Chile, the sex abuse scandals in Ireland and Germany—it was almost overwhelming. But I believe in the power of prayer to change things. I believe that sending that positive energy out into the world changes the world, changes us, changes God.

However, that day, my heart felt quiet. And when it came time for me to venerate the cross, the spiritual clamor that characterized this Lent subsided, and I felt the words, “Thank you. Amen,” push themselves forward. I knelt down, pressed my hand against the base of the cross before me, and bowed. Only a few seconds passed, and it was over.

When I returned to my pew, I realized that I was one of the first in our small community to touch the cross at the center of the church. I watched as the parishioners of St. Augustine shuffled forward, said their prayers, and shuffled back. At first it felt voyeuristic, almost inappropriate to do so, but it’s a public action, a communal one, venerating the cross. If it were meant to be private, it would take place in a confessional, somewhere else, a place to which only you, the priest, and God are privy.

As I prayed over the pilgrims passing by, I was struck by the profound reverence with which each person treated the wood of the cross before them. One of the older members of the choir is in a wheelchair, and I was moved to tears when she insisted on standing, with the support of those around her, when it was her turn. What would it be like, I wondered, if we treated the crucified people of the world, as Ignacio Ellacuría called them, those broken by systematic injustice and oppression, with the same kind of reverence we reserve for just this holy day? Is that not the act to which we are called by the crucifixion of Jesus? To be a people of resurrection? To bring it about in the way we live each day? Entering into the season of Easter, I pray for the strength to work with others to be vessels of this kind of resurrection love.

Jen Owens is a co-editor of From the Pews in the Back and a doctoral student in systematic and philosophical theology at the Graduate Theological Union. She is also one of the newest members of St. Augustine Church in Oakland, CA.

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