The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Christian koan

"Through Jesus, God was pleased to reconcile to himself
all things, whether on earth or in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of his cross."
Colossians 1:20

Apse mosaic in the Basilica of Sant' Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna, Italy.

NOTE: Wednesday this week the Church celebrated the Feast of the Holy Cross (or "Exaltation" or "Triumph" of the Holy Cross). Although the feast day itself is over, the message it presents for all Christians is relevant year-round. In fact, it is integral to our faith. Fr. Harry Hagan, O.S.B., is the celebrant this week for the conventual Mass at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, and on Wednesday he delivered a very succinct and insightful homily on the message of the Cross, how it triumphs and exalts us. I thought it was worth sharing, and he graciously agreed to supply me with a copy of the text to post here.  -- Br. Francis

Feast of the Holy Cross – September 14, 2011

Numbers 21:4b-9
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

In Zen Buddhism, a novice is given a koan to meditate on. A koan is a story or question which cannot be understood by rational thinking. The most famous of these koans, at least in the West, is the question: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

The answer is obvious, but typically the novice tries to manufacture some kind of answer. The sound of one hand clapping is rain. The voice of a friend. Thunder. With each wrong answer, the novice is sent back to meditate more.

The true answer is nothing. Although one can ask the question, it is an absurd question because one hand cannot clap, and so one hand cannot make a sound. So the answer is nothing.

The point of the meditation is not really the discovery of the correct answer. Rather the Zen monk should, as I understand it, come to accept the cold reality of the way things are. According to Zen, there is great peace for those who can accept reality, accept the way things are.

The Cross of Christ, it seems to me, is the Christian koan. To accept the Cross is to accept the way things are. The Cross is not about the way things should be. The Cross is about the stark reality of what happened to Jesus of Nazareth—the ignominy and injustice, the betrayal and inhumanity, the fear and the sin of it all.  To accept the Cross is to accept this cold reality.

However, unlike Zen Buddhism, as I understand it, Christian believes that if you accept the cold reality of the Cross—whatever that may look like in a person’s life—if that reality is embraced, then we believe that redemption and reconciliation and salvation will flow from the Cross and bring us communion with the Risen Christ.

Therefore,  the Cross appears in the apses of the basilicas in the early Church not as an image of ignominy but as a great, jewelled Cross. We see this in Sant’ Apollinare in Classe where a gold cross studded with great jewels floats in a radiant blue sky filled with luminous stars. The cold reality of the cross reveals this glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ if we but embrace it.
-- Fr. Harry Hagan, O.S.B.
Saint Meinrad Archabbey

No comments:

Post a Comment