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Drawing on faith: a friend's scribbled crosses illustrate the difficult road to Easter hope.

Every so often my wife Ann, or I will keep a greeting card we receive: a special birthday or anniversary card from a dear friend, a handmade card from one of our nephews, or a card that is uniquely beautiful or touching. Some cards are displayed on our refrigerator, a few will be kept in that special place we all have to preserve our most precious memories.

But this past Christmas, I saved a particular envelope. The writing on the address side looks like a child's scrawl. Clearly the writer labored mightily to form each crooked, uneven, broken squiggle that barely resembles our names and address. On the card itself is scrawled one word: Daniel.

The sender is Father Daniel, a classmate of mine from St. Anselm College who entered the Benedictine abbey after graduation. Five years ago, at the age of 48, he suffered a stroke. It has been a long, hard road of hospitalizations and therapy ever since. While his speech has pretty much returned, he needs a cane to tool around the monastery. But the stroke has left him unable to use his right hand and arm.

Daniel has always had an exceptional ability with pen and ink (another card I have kept over the years is a triptych of scenes from the Christmas gospel he drew during his novitiate year). During our undergraduate days Daniel designed all kinds of posters and flyers for college events; over the years he has illustrated and illuminated many abbey liturgy booklets and publications, and one year, in an emergency, he hand-painted the abbey's paschal candle.

The sight of our names on that envelope, scratched out with a left hand Daniel must now learn to use in new ways, filled me with incredible sadness. I couldn't bring myself to throw it away. "Go, Daniel!" I prayed as I put it near a cross on my bookshelf.

As Holy Week approaches, the envelope has become a powerful image of Easter hope for me. It is an icon of the cross Daniel has borne these years, a cross he has taken up with the same determination, generosity, and sly, just-under the-radar sense of wicked humor that he has brought to his work as a teacher, campus minister, and dorm director.

Despite his physical limitations, he remains a constant presence of joy and hope, of support and affirmation to the college community. He is always available to students in need of a sympathetic ear or a faculty member in search of a sounding board. His unwavering faith and enduring sense of whimsy are an inspiration to his confreres and friends.

In fact, Daniel is now doing the most effective preaching of his priesthood. He is teaching all of us the lesson of the cross: that our challenge as followers of Jesus is to trans form the crosses we all have into vehicles of resurrection.

We all have crosses to bear. We tend to think of our particular cross as a burden, something--or someone--that demands much time and energy from us. We consider whatever weighs us down, causes us pain and anguish, traps us in lives of desperation and despair as the "crosses" we have to bear. We dream of the day when we can lay our crosses aside, never to pick them up again.

But many of our crosses are opportunities to be sources of hope, of joy, of discovery, of healing, of life--for ourselves and others. The challenge Christ calls us to take up is to transform our crosses, as he did. God lays on able shoulders the strength to cope, the ability to listen and console, the faculty to lead and lift up. These crosses, when taken up in the same spirit of humble compassion with which Jesus took up his, are the first light of Easter dawn.

The Easter gospel is retold in our midst by the volunteer who picks up her "cross" of kettle and ladle to feed the homeless who gather at the downtown soup kitchen; by the teacher who takes up the "cross" of textbooks and lesson plans to open up new worlds of possibilities to his students; and by the mother who bears the "cross" of her child's murder to become an activist for neighborhood child watch programs. In this way, every one of our crosses can become a moment of grace, a seedling of the tree of life.

Daniel is showing us that. I have it in writing.

JAY CORMIER, adjunct professor of communications at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hamspire, and editor of Connections, a newsletter of preaching and homiletics.
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Author:Cormier, Jay
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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