ORLANDO, Florida — In the power of the cross is found God’s love and forgiveness, Edward Sri, a theologian, author and a founding leader of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, told participants in SEEK21, this year’s national FOCUS conference.
Forgiveness was the primary focus for Sri, one of two evening keynote speakers Feb. 5. The second speaker was Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of genocide in Rwanda, who told of her own journey toward forgiveness.
In their respective talks, they urged young people to examine and experience forgiveness and that while the path might not be easy to follow, it is the path that brings joy and freedom.
FOCUS hosted SEEK21 Feb. 4-7, a four-day virtual conference that gathered some 26,000 participants across the world to “encounter the heart of the Gospel.” FOCUS groups and its more than 800 missionaries are active in 180 locations, including on the campus of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton in the Orlando Diocese.
Sri offered his presentation “What Wondrous Love Is This: The Cross” from Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, where the first FOCUS missionaries served full time at a parish.
He likened the small gathering at that parish where he spoke and the hundreds of small gatherings around the country watching virtually to the “power of the early church as it celebrated in vibrant settings like this.”
When thinking of the passion of Christ, know that in Latin passion “is the suffering,” he said. But where should you go from that? Should Christians view God as a father who sent his only son to bear the wrath of our sins and suffer on the cross?
Sri said “no,” and borrowed the words of St. Catherine of Siena to explain how to view the suffering of the cross from a different angle: “The nails could not have kept Jesus on the cross if love had not held him there first.” Sri said the cross does not reveal God’s wrath; it reveals God’s “amazing love.”
When humans hurt someone they love, they want to express sorrow for the lack of love and offer a gift of love. That is what God did for his children on earth; offer the ultimate gift of infinite love.
“There is an infinite gap between us and God because of our sins. But God loves us so much … he sought us out even though we turned away from him. He came down and became one of us in Jesus Christ. He took on our humanity and as a true member of the human family, he could offer a gift of love on our behalf. He can represent all of all us and offer his gift of love to the Father,” Sri said.
“But his gift of love, because he is also divine, his gift has infinite value. This is how the cross works. The focus on the cross is not how much blood was shed but how much love was shared.”
He offered the example of the scene of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as an example of that “amazing love.” Even as Jesus lay prostrate in prayer, knowing he was on the brink of suffering and death, those were not the thoughts in Jesus’ mind. To describe Jesus’ thoughts, Sri recalled Sirach chapter 37: “Every friend declares friendship, but there are friends who are friends in name only. Is it not a sorrow unto death when your other self becomes your enemy?”
While Jesus surely was thinking about facing the nails, Sri said that “at the forefront of his mind he wasn’t thinking of himself, he was thinking about his friend who was coming to the garden to betray. The friend who is about turn to an enemy. Judas.”
He called Judas “friend,” just as he calls us friend.
“You see how much God loves us?” Sri continued. “Our God is not pointing his hand to accuse; he’s reaching out to call us friend. … He just wants us to come by and say, ‘I’m sorry,’ to confess our sins. … The power of the cross — whatever has been weighing you down, Jesus just wants to liberate you from that. He calls you by name and calls you friend. That is the amazing love of God.”
The agony in the garden also reveals Jesus as a model for humans. Because he was human, the thoughts of suffering no doubt brought thoughts of fear and grief. Yet, Jesus did not run away or delay. Instead, he said, “Jesus looks suffering square in the eye and he embraces it” out of love for us.
“Jesus models for us when we have to do hard things,” Sri said. “Jesus didn’t procrastinate. He saw the hard thing God wanted him to do and he embraced it. What is God asking you to do? Are you willing to do the hard (thing)? Are you willing to be like Jesus?”
This idea of forgiveness of sins is “only half of the Gospel,” Sri continued, saying God wants to transform hearts and unite us “heart to heart.” He urged his listeners to discover what God wants us to be.
“Jesus wants to do so much more in your heart than just forgive you of our sins,” Sri said. “He doesn’t just want to pardon you like a judge; he wants to heal you like a physician. He wants to heal weaknesses and wounds. He wants to adopt us as his children so we can become part of his supernatural family.”
Gonzalez is editorial/online director at the Florida Catholic, newspaper of Archdiocese of Miami and the dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach and Venice.