Bruised Once More ‘Gainst the Wood of the Cross

They scarcely waked before they slept,
They scarcely wept before they laughed;
They drank indeed death’s bitter draught,
But all its bitterest dregs were kept
And drained by Mothers while they wept.

From Heaven the speechless Infants speak:
Weep not (they say), our Mothers dear,
For swords nor sorrows come not here.
Now we are strong who were so weak,
And all is ours we could not seek.

We bloom among the blooming flowers,
We sing among the singing birds;
Wisdom we have who wanted words:
here morning knows not evening hours,
All’s rainbow here without the showers.

And softer than our Mother’s breast,
And closer than our Mother’s arm,
Is here the Love that keeps us warm
And broods above our happy next.
Dear Mothers, come: for Heaven is best. – Christina Rossetti

I’ve been at this Cradle Catholic gig for nearly 35 years, so you’d think I’d have learned a thing or two by now. But no; it’s happened again, as it has every year for as long as I can remember.

I’ve been surprised by the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

This month’s tragic events put the suffering of innocents front-and-center. Yet the arrival of the latest bundle of Susanka joy (and mine own innate tendency to think of human suffering as little as humanly possible) renders this year’s feast even more jarring to me than it has been in the past.

What a strange duality dogs our Catholic footsteps. No sooner do we begin the celebration of one of the most joyous events of our past than we are brought hard-up against one of the most emotionally devastating events in all of Salvation History: an event that I find myself (grudgingly) accepting intellectually, but which remains as emotionally difficult as ever.

And the cyclical nature of the liturgical year means that I find myself in this conflicted state not once, or twice, but over and over and over again. It’s almost as though the Church is engaging in a brutal game of “psych,” holding out the joys of Christmas each year only to slap me down with the death of thousands of young babes as soon as I draw near.

Time and again, I reach out to cradle the Christ Child in His manger only to bruise myself against the wood of the Cross — a reality that lies always just beneath the surface of human existence.

Over at the Word on Fire blog, Father Steve Grunow’s Coventry Carol-themed reflection captures the day’s conflicting sentiments in a phrase: “Shadows lurked beneath the light of the star of Bethlehem.”

I can’t imagine a day when I will find myself comfortable with those shadows. But that’s not really why the Church reminds me of their existence, is it?

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.