Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus predicts his being handed over to men—that is, his crucifixion. Here is the point I want to make: we are meant to see on that cross our own ugliness. What brings Jesus to the cross? Stupidity, anger, mistrust, institutional injustice, betrayal, denial, unspeakable cruelty, fear. St. Peter puts it with disquieting laconicism: the Author of life came and you killed him. In the light of the cross, all of the vermin are revealed. This is why we speak of the cross as God’s judgment on the world.
So far, so awful. But we can’t stop telling the story at this point. Dante and every other spiritual master know that the only way up is down. When we live unaware of our sins, we will never make spiritual progress. So we need the light, however painful it is. Then we can begin to rise. Once Dante makes it all the way to the center of hell, he suddenly finds himself climbing out.
On the cross of Jesus, we meet our own sin. But we also meet the divine mercy, which has taken that sin upon himself in order to swallow it up.