A Pilgrimage West—The Way of the Cross

About 19:00 hours on Sunday night, "Team Lambert" fell-in to battle formations and headed into the eye of the promised apocalyptic storm. We were heading West, far West, As West as it gets. We were heading home to Mayo.

Unusually, we haven't made it back over for about 12 months, so this trip feels long overdue, and it is always an emotional experience to be here.

One of the first things we always do is rush down to the family grave where Ruth's ashes are interred. Lou really feels drawn here and coming to the grave is a real need.

For me, it does not make me feel closer to Ruth. It is somewhere peaceful, with long association with my family, where I can pray and think about Ruth. I always think about her a lot, but on family holidays it is always particularly difficult, because you feel that she should be here and yet she is not. You feel a gaping hole inside and you know that you can't plug it. You will never be able to plug it.

Seeing the grave and looking out across the water towards Bertra Strand and the islands of Clew Bay somehow lends a physical dimension to the internal dialogue and emotion of loss.

I am so glad that we had this place to lay Ruth, because as a result, that physical reminder is always associated with somewhere beautiful for us. In my mind, when I think about Ruth, I associate the memory with Murrisk Abbey; somewhere you can just stand and look. Somewhere that sets your soul at peace.

I always thought I would love to be buried at Murrisk Abbey, it's the sort of place that is conducive to visits. It's not hard to go and sit and pray, or to talk a while about what is going on and how you feel. Or just sit quietly and be.

Mayo is so beautiful and it feels so much a part of me. Every sight and smell evokes my childhood. I feel like every rock and stream are familiar and a part of who and what I am. Being here feels like home more than home. Ruth was so beautiful as well, not just what she was, but who she was. She was beautiful inside and out, and the love we shared as father and daughter was full of that beauty, and it always made me feel so grateful that she was mine and I was hers.

This reflection on the physicality of the grave has taken on a new dimension recently in the light of a series of conversations I have ben having with Fr. Jeff Woolnough. We have been talking about the significance of statues and imagery; the Cross in particular, and the act of venerating the wood of the Cross on Good Friday.

In the shadow of the death of a child, which Jeff has also experienced in his family, he articulated the idea of the Cross, as the instrument of salvation, being something we should cling to even more after such a situation. The Cross saves us and represents the threshold of suffering and death that we experience. Sanity comes from clinging to the knowledge that it is through the wood of the Cross that we will be reunited, and it is through Sacrifice that we are formed into who we are.

Hans Urs von Balthazaar said "Who we are is God's gift to us, who we become is our gift to God."

Fr. Jeff put our conversation in the context of the Second Station of the Cross, where Jesus receives the instrument with which He will redeem the world:
John 19:16-17: The soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
How does Jesus feel at this moment? He knows what is to come. He must be shrinking; withdrawing from the suffering He will endure, yet He knows that this instrument of torture is the means by which He will redeem the world. Some reflections even suggest that the Cross was made from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the tree in Genesis which was part of the Fall.

In Acts 5:30 we read, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree"; and again in 1 Peter 2:24, "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree." Now the thoughtful reader will naturally inquire, Why should the Cross of our blessed Lord be spoken of as a "tree"? Surely there must be some connection with Genesis 2:9?

Consider for a moment that both of these trees were planted in a garden. The first in the Garden of Eden, the second in a garden which is unnamed.
"Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden’’ (John 19:41). 
Both are trees of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And we learn the knowledge of good and evil most potently at the foot of that second Tree—the Cross? There we see Goodness incarnate. There we behold the Holiness of God displayed as nowhere else. There we discover the unfathomable love and matchless grace of Deity unveiled as never before or since.

Jesus says to us "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Matthew 16:24

He embraces the Cross and asks us to do the same. Why? Is it not true that as soon as you cease to be afraid of the Cross, of what people call the cross, when you set your will to accept the Will of God, then you find happiness, and all your worries, all your sufferings, physical or moral, pass away?

Truly the Cross of Jesus is gentle and lovable. There, sorrows cease to count; "I find my pleasure in doing thy Will, my God, and thy law dwells deep within my heart." (Ps 39:9)

The more you embrace the Cross, the more you belong to Christ, the more grace you obtain to be effective in this world and to be happy in eternity. But you must make up your mind to follow the way of self-surrender: you must shoulder your Cross, with a smile on your face, and a light in your soul.

As I stood at the grave yesterday, I felt as though it were my Cross...and I clung to it.


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