The power of God was shown most clearly at the resurrection of Jesus. God defeated death.
The love of God was shown most clearly on the cross of Christ. God poured out his life for us. And Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13.34) We stand at the foot of the cross, looking up, and many things come to mind, including, “This is the model of how I’m supposed to live. This is how I am to be. This is how I get to be. This is what Jesus invites me to do.” He said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15.12) His love was cruciform, it took the shape of a cross. His was cruciform love. WWJD? Love all the way. (Phil. 2.5-11)
Several years ago had the opportunity participate in a fabulous retreat in a fabulous place. It was offered by The Transforming Center and gave me the opportunity minister with my sister and brother, teach on a favorite topic (“Mother Teresa and Theosis”), and to hear a man whose words have given many of us the best definition of “spiritual formation”, Dr. Robert Mulholland from Asbury Seminary, who has since died.
In his 1993 book Invitation to a Journey, he writes simply “Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” It was this last phrase that was the focus of the retreat and Mulholland’s teaching, reminding us that our growth is most deeply for the good of others. To pay deep attention and expend much energy on our own spiritual growth and formation is not to be self-absorbed or narcissistic when done rightly. We always have a view to allowing ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit to be like Christ not simply for own self- actualization, but rather so that we can more and more be the presence of Christ for others. We seek with great earnestness our own growth in Christ so that we can live like him and love like him. And Jesus’ love at its full flower took the form of the cross.
In a more recent book, The Deeper Journey, Mulholland deals more with this goal of spiritual growth and explicitly works with that arresting phrase, cruciform love. “The deeper journey is a cruciform path from a pervasively self-referenced life into a thoroughly Christ-referenced life, a life of cruciform love in the world, a Christlike life for others….This, then, is the deeper journey. It is a journey into the unfathomable wholeness of a life in loving union with God, a life of inexpressible joy, a life of unshakable peace, a life of world-shaking power, a life of infectious integrity, a life of healing grace, a life of transforming love.” (163) This description of the deeper life is at the same time thrilling and sobering. Who wouldn’t want that kind of life? But, a cross is, well, a cross. Yet to begin to see that the crosses we’re called to bear may actually be God’s way for us to love others like his Son, then we can begin to find them easier to carry. We can become people who live like Jesus as a lifestyle, so that we can be people who love like him, even in the hardest moments.
The place where this retreat was held made this point powerfully. We met at the National Shrine for St. Maximillian Kolbe just outside of Chicago. Maximillian Kolbe is a famous martyr of the Holocaust. At Auschwitz in 1941, as retribution for the supposed escape of one of the prisoner, the Nazi guards selected ten others to be killed by slow starvation. One those selected, Francis Gajowniczek, broke down in sobs when he was chosen and blurted out, “My wife! My children! What are they going to do?” Kolbe, a priest, heard this, and stepped forward and said to the commandant, “I want to die in his place”, and the commandant agreed to it. Francis stepped back into the line, and Kolbe was led to a starvation bunker. He died two agonizing weeks later. Francis survived.
Reflecting back on this many years later, Francis said, “For a long time I felt remorse when I thought of Maximilian. By allowing myself to be saved, I had signed his death warrant. But now, on reflection, I understood that a man like him could not have done otherwise.” Kolbe’s decision in a moment was entirely consistent with the way he had lived his whole life. He could love like Jesus dramatically in a key moment because he had loved like Jesus consistently in many small moments.
May we do the same. May we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, arrange our lives for spiritual formation, that we may become more like Christ so that we can love like Christ. May we, like Jesus, be cruciform love, for the sake of others. This is the path and this is the point.