Friday, February 06, 2009

The Cross is a Bridge over the Chasm of Sin

Step 3: God's Bridge the Cross (click to see original context)
I've always felt that the above illustration of salvation was a bit cold and mechanistic. So, imagine my surprise when I read something a couple of weeks ago from the medieval saint Catherine of Siena:

St. Catherine's Parable of the Bridge

St. Catherine imagined the Incarnation of Christ as a bridge that spanned the dangerous torrents of sin to enable a soul to walk from the shore of our humanity onto the shore of heaven where we could step into the presence of The Father. This alone is an interesting analogy, however the analogy is deepened by St. Catherine's layered analogy in which the structure of the bridge is the cross. As, we walk across the bridge, and advance in our spiritual life, we encounter the body of Christ as follows:

First Step: Takes us to the wounded FEET of Christ; here we are called to obey Christ, to accept the call to love. Often this obedience is first given more out of fear than out of love

Second Step: We come to Christ’s wounded HEART. Here, we accept the Christian life out of love however, due to a lack of perfect understanding, some selfishness still remains. In time it is here that we give our heart to Christ and understand that he is giving his heart to us. Catherine calls this an "Exchange of Hearts" as a fulfillment of the promise given in Ezekiel 36:26

Third Step: We encounter the MOUTH of Christ from which God speaks His Truth. It is also here that Christ claims his bride with a nuptial kiss.

Fourth Final Step brings us onto the shore of eternal life where we live forever in presence of God the Father and his love.


This is a great image, and when I sit in Church, I no longer need St. Catherine's words, but I can meditate on the crucifix and the humanity of Christ becomes for me a bridge and I can remember His obedience, His humility, His heart. The knees can remind me of how He washed St. Peter's feet. The belly reminds me of Christ's hunger for the happiness of human beings - and I beg for this hunger.

The image of the bridge is also the great central image from Fr. Giussani's talk, "Recognizing Christ" (which in turn draws upon Victor Hugo's poem, "The Bridge/ Le Pont"):

He imagines someone, a man, sitting on a beach one starry night, staring at the largest star, apparently the one closest to him, and thinking of the thousands and thousands of arches that would have to be built to construct this bridge, a bridge never fully defined, never completely usable. Imagine, then, this immense plain, crowded with attempts by groups large and small, or even individuals, like in Hugo’s image, each one carrying out his imagined, fantastic design. 
Suddenly a powerful voice is heard in the immense plain, saying: “Stop! All of you stop!” And all the workers, engineers, architects stop working and look towards where the voice is coming from: it is a man, who continues, raising his arm: “You are great men, your efforts are noble, but your attempt, albeit great and noble, is a sad one. This is why so many give up and stop thinking about it and become indifferent. It is great but sad, because it will never end, it will never reach its goal. You are not able to do it because you are impotent in front of this aim. There is an insurmountable disproportion between you and the farthest star in the sky, between you and God. You cannot imagine the Mystery. Now leave your hard thankless work and follow me: I will build this bridge for you, rather, I am this bridge! Because I am the way, the truth, the life!”
So, the bridge is a great illustration, suitable for catechism, and I repent that I recoiled from its simplicity. But, the bridge is not only a schema but an icon, a true window into heaven. A rich and fecund promise. 
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