The Sweetness of the Cross

13th-century_painters_-_Psalter_of_Blanche_of_Castile_-_WGA15846    “Now, what sweetness was your heart able to imbibe when, with your inner eye, you saw the Lord carrying his cross? Who can appreciate that humility, that meekness, that patient endurance?  Indeed, he was led like a sheep to the slaughter, like a lamb before its shearers he was silent and did not open his mouth. [Isaiah 3:7] How sweet it was to reflect on that, as it were, still fresh wounds of Christ, to stand as it were by his cross, to see the tears of his mother; to hear that sweet voice [say]: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. [Luke 23:34] What hope for the forgiveness of our sins does not surge up in us when we hear him praying so sweetly even for his enemies.” Aelred of Rievaulx, “Sermon 11: For the Feast of Easter” in Aelred of Rievaulx: The Liturgical Sermons, trans. Theodore Berkeley and M. Basil Pennington (Kalamazoo 2001), p. 189. [Italics in original]

The twelfth-century Cistercian abbot, Aelred of Rievaulx, preached to his monks on tasting the Lord’s sweetness (I Peter 2:3).  This work reflects the Cistercian emphasis on the meditation on Christ’s human suffering as a means to transform the soul.  In the same manner that Christ’s suffering and death changed into glory and life, so meditation on the Lord’s passion transforms the affections of the Christian.  This meditative sweetness is like wine instead of milk, because its sweetness has a bite.  Aelred concludes:

“You should not be able to look at those sweet hands being pierced with the nails so hard without sadness, albeit sweet.  Nor, similarly, on the piercing of his feet with the iron and the wounding of that most tender side with the lance.  Nor should you be able to behold those dear sweet tears of our Lady without compassion, however sweet.” Ibid.

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