Fr. Serretti: Christ’s Cross a ‘sign of unity for Europe broken by war’
By Fr. Massimo Serretti
Two images of two realities of apparently unequal and disproportionate weight are placed side by side: one is that of the military offensive of one sovereign State against another; the other is that of two members of those two peoples, standing together under the cross.
In both images, blood and death are present. In the first, it is the blood of other men who are slain; in the second, there is the Blood of Christ which is shed for all humanity.
On the cross, under which the two members of the two peoples walk for the stretch of one station (13th), is affixed a tablet (titulus crucis) in which there is an inscription "in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek" (Jn 19:20). The plurality and extent of the three languages indicates the plurality of peoples involved in the event that was consummated on the cross. In fact, it is written of Him who hangs on the Cross: "I will come to gather all peoples and all languages" (Is 66:18) and "the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all peoples" (Is 11:10). Of Him who is nailed to that cross an ancient hymn states that He "reigned from the wood of the cross" and the scroll itself calls Him 'King'. "For the Kingdom is the Lord's, He rules over all nations" (Ps 21:29). He is the Lamb "the Lord of lords, the King of kings" (Rev 17:14), "He has a name written on his cloak and on his thigh, “King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev 19:16). And the final proclamation is that "All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord; All the families of nations will bow low before him" (Ps 21:28).
Though the blood spilt by the oppression of war increases divisions, the Blood offered by the Lamb unites and pacifies. The whole history of the peoples of Europe is included within this drama. For Christians, it is not a matter of the dialectic between "war and peace", as Tolstoy put it. Peace, rather, for Jews and Christians is a divine name and attribute, and as such cannot be legitimately placed in an equal (dialectical) link with any human action.
But let us return to Europe. All European nations were born historically from different ethnic and even linguistic entities that have found their unity in Baptism. Baptism was the factor that favored the formation of national unity and identity. Up to a certain point in European history, the Christian genesis of nations allowed them to recognize themselves in a reality that transcended their different identities: the Church as a place of supranational unity and composed, from the beginning, of all peoples, according to the divine plan and the mandate of Christ: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). Saint Augustine, along with other Church Fathers, recognized with great astonishment how the adherence of different peoples, languages and cultures to the one Church was an irrefutable indication of its uniqueness, truth, and transcendent origin.
The schism of the East and the division of European Christianity in the sixteenth century therefore provoked a correlative "crisis of European consciousness". This gave rise to an ideology, so much opposed by John Henry Newman, which shifted the point of wider unity to political power, since religion had been shown to be a divisive factor (consider the "Act of Supremacy"). Even up to our own day, Europe has not found, and has not wanted to find, its true point of unity, the only possible point of unity: that from which it was born.
If we go back from this macro-scenario to the chronicle from which we started, we find that the fact that two members of two peoples at war (one attacked and the other aggressor), are together under the Cross of Christ, while appearing as irrelevant from the point of view of the game of powers, turns out to be decisive as an indication of the way forward. It is still under the Cross that we are shown the way and the secret of a quality of unity not subject to fractures.
It is exactly while hanging on the cross that Jesus, as the Gospels tell us, prays a Psalm (21) in which, besides prophesying the Lord's dominion over all peoples and all nations (vv. 28-29), the birth of a "new people" (32) is announced. The grain that dies "bears much fruit" (Jn 12:24) and in this "people to be born" the peoples defined by their histories, cultures, and different languages find a point of superior unity and, at the same time, the ability to reverse even their own specificities. This is due to the birth-point of the "people who will be born" mentioned in the prayer that Jesus pronounced on the cross. Pope St. Paul VI said that the people of God is "a people sui generis," and 'sui generis' literally means that it is distinguished and defined in relation to its genesis, to that, or rather, to the One who generates it. Here the "new people" (Ps 101:19) is generated by the cross of Christ, by the Lamb who offers Himself by shedding His blood "with an eternal Spirit ... without blemish to God", to the Father (Heb 9:14). The Father generates Him anew "according to the Spirit of sanctification by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom 1:4) and all men and women, of all peoples, are called to share in this generation of the Son in the virginal womb of the Church which is the baptistery (St. Leo the Great). Since the origin of this birth is holy, so also holy is the bond that binds those who are born from here, and the quality of this perfect bond is such that it cannot be broken because its nature is divine (sacramentum) and it is kept in Heaven.
From here and only from here can the shattered unity of European peoples return to life. From here and only from here can a unity of the human family be affirmed which is not a harbinger of violence and death (see Encyclical Fratelli tutti).
As long as Jesus hung on the cross, the action was all divine, between the Son and the Father and between the Father and the Son; after His death, in the deposition, it is man who is called to resume the action and the first action is the acceptance of His body. This is the way, He is the way, His unity is the way: "pass through the man and you will come to God" (St. Augustine).
The deposition (13th Station) is the removal of the body of Christ from the cross. In Communion, we now receive that Body, in Communion with the Body of Christ which is the Church and in Eucharistic Communion which is participation in the Body and Blood of Christ. Now, among Christian confession there is no true unity precisely on these two modes of reception. And this is a European problem for the true unity of the true Europe.