When I was a child, my aunt took me one day to a monastery close to where I lived: the monastery at Sambata de Sus, Romania. A blind monk lived there, Father Teofil; he had fame among people. Some were saying that he had clairvoyance and that he sensed characters, seeing what people did. I was really afraid because of that. I was a child, but there was something of which I was ashamed. I do not remember what it was, but I clearly know that I did not want my parents to find out. I went to the monastery wondering how much this monk would see through me. In fact, I did not want to go there and I did not want to see him. Of course, I did not confess my fear to my aunt–why would a good Christian boy be afraid of going to a monk?–but I was quite uncomfortable. Father Teofil was sitting on a chair outside the small church. My aunt told him something, and then I saw him opening his arms largely, calling for me. I went towards him slowly, without opening my arms but rather keeping them close to my body, as any shy boy would do. When I reached him, he held me strongly at his chest. I quite remember the feeling: it hurt. I don’t remember what he said to me, and I don’t remember whether I said anything back, but I strongly remember the feeling of being held in his arms. I could not resist, so I melted down, and then it hurt no more.
After that moment, I always longed to see Father Teofil. Whenever I met him, he looked like a joyful grandpa, ready to have a good laughter. Have you actually noticed how grandparents embrace their grandchildren? They open their arms largely and wait on that position until the child comes to them and embraces them back. Their open arms are the image of a gift–their own surrendering to the child. But it is an active and joyful surrender which is seen in the opening of their hands in the form of a cross. The grandparents wait like that on a cross until the child runs to them and embraces them back.
I think it is always this way when we embrace people. If we really do it genuinely, without any rest, we open our arms largely, as if we were on a cross. Any genuine embrace begins on a cross, in giving ourselves to the other. And perhaps our lack of ability to embrace others may just be the reason Christ still is on the cross. He waits for us to embrace Him back, and so He remains with His arms open to embrace the whole humanity. It is a gift of love that does not depend on our response. What depends on us is His descent: our embracing Him back would make His hands come round us.
If we are made in the image and likeness of God, then each one of us is made to be on the cross for the other. We were made to be our brothers’ keepers. We were made to be on the cross for our brother. But the being together of these brothers (“How good it is for brothers to be together”) brings all crosses in a universal embrace. In fact, Christ waits for me on the cross in every person I encounter. Whenever I judge and so refuse the other, I refuse to take Him down from the cross. Regardless of how buried He is in him or her, He waits for my embrace so that He can come down.
St. Peter and Paul, two embraced crosses.
The path toward Christ goes through the other, any other I encounter. I cannot embrace Christ alone. Who am I to ask Him to come down only for me? He cannot embrace me at the expense of the world or at the expense of any other human being. He needs to remain on the cross for them. If I truly want to take down Christ from the cross, I need to bring the entire world to Him in me. This means I cannot embrace Him unless I am also on the cross, for each and every one of my neighbors.
I am a nobody for whom Christ is on the cross. And I am a mighty nobody, for I have the power to bring Him down from the cross. May I have the weakness to accept it.