Our Attitude Towards the Crucifix

     This morning, as we take time away from our busy schedules to spend time with Christ at the foot of the cross I think its important for us to look at the crucifix and ask ourselves what our response to it is. As we continue our meditation on that saving action of Christ, I can’t help but think back to the first time I had the privilege of vising the Holy Land. As I finished walking the stations of the cross and arrived at the exact spot where our Lord was crucified, I found myself simply kneeling before the cross. To this day, I’m not really sure what kept me at the foot of the cross, after all, the next logical step would have been to walk across the basilica to the tomb, but there I was stuck up on Calvary. It was only later when I was praying with the biblical account of the crucifixion that I realized we as Catholics are called to live at the foot of the cross, so that we too, one day, may rise with Him to eternal life.

     On my flight home from that trip to Isreal, my cabin was located right across from a very kind Protestant gentleman who wanted to know why we as Catholics uses a crucifix and not a cross in our churches. He wanted to know why we have images of the bloody and beaten Christ while Protestants only have images of the risen Christ. He asked that if we, as Christians, are called to be an Easter people, why do we need to display the passion.  He wanted to know why we don’t simply display the resurrection.

     Certainly, we are an Easter people, in fact, this whole season of lent leads up to the 8 day celebration of Easter which is the greatest feast of the Church year. Yet, we who are undertaking our fasting, penances and mortifications are well aware that there is no resurrection without the passion and so there is no need to run from Christ on the Cross. In fact, St. Paul reminds us that we are heirs to Christ and if we want to rise with Christ, we must first die with Him. In his letter to the Philippians he says he wants “to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”[1] Simply put, just as Christ freely endured His passion and death, so too we are called to endure suffering and death so that we may rise with him. Friends we can never forget “the cross alone is a symbol of absurdity: the contradiction of the vertical bar of life by the horizontal bar of death. Only by putting someone on the cross who can make death the contradiction of life does one ever escape the absurdity of life.”[2] The cross by itself is simply a horrific instrument of torture, but the cross with Christ becomes the instrument of our salvation.

     Friends, while there are many people out their who want to forget about Good Friday and think only of Easter, the cross is a reality that we cannot escape. When faced with the reality of the cross there are only three possible attitudes we can take.[3] The first option is to become like those who stood at the foot of Christ and said “let the Messiah, the King of Israel come down from the cross that we may see and believe.”[4] These people want the creed without the cross. They are ready to believe, but they are not willing to embrace the cross. They are not looking for proof or an explanation of the faith, they are simply refusing the command to be crucified with Christ Sadly, this attitude of apathy is common in our world today. Look at how many Christians like the Gospel message when it suits their comfort, but “the ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.”[5]

     The second attitude is one of apathy. Like those who sat around the cross and cast lots for our Lord’s cloths[6] many people today want to be spectators to the cross rather than follow Christ to the cross. Faith for them is a nice thought or some kind of cultural tradition that they may engage in every now and then, perhaps at Christmas and Easter, but fail to take seriously. If we truly believe that God suffered His most painful passion, as a pure act of love, and rose from the dead to save us, our faith simply cannot be regulated to the sidelines of life. The attitude of those who cast lots for our Lord’s cloths is simply illogical. We cannot accept the truth of the crucifixion and not allow it to radically transform our lives. The sacrifice of Christ demands a response. Either we can recognize His great sacrifice for us and follow Him through the cross to life or we can go off on our own and fumble around as we try to figure this life out. The cross of Christ calls us off the sideline and into the game of faith.

     The third and proper attitude toward the cross is the attitude of the Blessed Virgin and the women who stood at the cross, the attitude of empathy. There is no doubt that these holy women were looked down upon for standing at the feet of our savior on the cross, but they were willing to stand up for the Truth even in the face of controversy.  The attitude of empathy calls us then to attach ourselves to Christ on the cross, to share in His passion and death so that we might also share in His resurrection.

     While people may try to run from the cross, the experience of our lives shows us that this is impossible. Friends, we have no option “everyone in the world is either on or underneath the cross. No escape is possible. Some are on it through actual physical suffering or because they are identified with the suffering of others in Christ’s name sake … Others are beneath it, demanding His crucifixion, ridiculing sacrifice or being indifferent enough to play games under its shadow.”[7] What then is your attitude towards the cross. Are you on the cross or are you underneath it? Will you look at Christ on the cross from afar or will you follow after Him and join Him on the cross?

     How you answer that question will change your whole outlook on life. For when we, as Catholics, take the attitude of empathy, the problem of pain and suffering no longer seems like a problem. For we understand that suffering came into the world as a result of sin[8] and while God could have left us alone to our own device, He does not stand off in the distance to watch man suffer; rather He enters into the midst of our suffering. Christ experienced the many hardships of suffering, in fact His suffering on the cross far exceeds any suffering that we can ever imagine suffering. It is really simple, “without Jesus, suffering is meaningless evil. But with Him we find consolation and more.”[9] The image of the crucifix thus invites us to enter into suffering for our own salvation and reminds us that even in the midst of our suffering Christ is present with us.

     While the crucifix may appear to be a moment of weakness for God, our own participation on the cross shows that His suffering is epitome of strength not weakness. For it was on the crucifix that Christ transformed what appeared to be the moment of His greatest physical weakness into His greatest act, the act of redemption. This paradox of course applies to us as well. Even in the midst of our greatest sufferings we can offer them to God and they can become the cause of our redemption. While every life, has moments where we are called to endure any hardships, we can have the confidence that if we enter them in faith with Christ, we will be victorious because Christ has already won the battle through His resurrection from the dead. For if we look at our own experience of suffering we see that ultimately, “God makes use of evil in such a superb way and with such skill that the result is better than if there had never been evil.”[10]

     This is why St. Paul exhorts us that we are to glory in the cross of Christ when he says “but far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”[11] When we unite our sufferings to the suffering of Christ on the cross we are blessed to participate in the suffering of Christ and can cooperate with His suffering for the salvation of souls. So, we are called to participate with St. Paul who tells us “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”[12]

     Let’s be frank. The world seems to be getting darker and darker. The news of Christians being burned alive in the Middle East, politicians directly attacking the sanctity of marriage and the family, and confusion with some of the faithful over fundamental teachings of the Church is cause for great concern. In the midst of such evil it can be easy to lose hope, but rather than loose hope, the cross reminds us that God has redeemed us. He has taken our suffering and made it the means of our salvation. No matter how dark things get in our lives, we can never forget that “Christ took our painful condition and made of it, the way of true life.”[13]

     Gazing at the crucifix we see that Christ’s greatest act of love came at the price of the greatest human suffering. That crucifix teaches us that to love we must suffer. It is a stark reminder that “God is a sufferer because he is a lover; the entire theme of the suffering God flows from that of the Loving God and always points back to it.”[14] While we can often fall into the trap of believing that suffering is a bad thing, the crucifix reminds us that our Lord has transformed suffering into the means of our salvation. The fact that God allowed His son to die “shows two things very clearly. The first is that suffering, and even total ruin do not signify a lack of love on the part of the Father. The second is that suffering is not in vain; it bears fruit and has redeeming power.”[15] This understanding of the truth of the crucifixion shows us that a rejection of the crucifix only leads to a radical change in the meaning of Christianity.

     While suffering is by its very nature painful, we must realize the necessity of suffering. Yes, we are called to be people of hope, but without suffering we cannot know what hope is and a superficial desire for a hope, a hope without suffering, is a superficial desire for happiness. For you see “far from ruining Christian hope, suffering is advantageous for it; it is even necessary. Without it, hope would be vague, an ill-defined yearning for happiness.”[16] Through suffering we can learn to place our complete trust not in the things of this world, but in God. For it is through suffering that greatness shines through. God then permits suffering and works greatness through it so, “suffering is never a reason for discouragement or lack of confidence in God since it proves the truth of his love for us.”[17] Rather “suffering is a pre-requisite to happiness in a fallen state.[18]

     This lent then is a season for us to suffer with Christ on the cross. For our fasting, penance, and almsgiving, is an opportunity to participate in the graces of Christ poured out from the cross, for our salvation and the salvation of others in the Church. This lent is a time for us to recognize that it is only because we suffer that we can hold out hope for eternal life. Since God came into this world to suffer for us we need to follow His example and rigorously undertake our acts of fasting, mortification and almsgiving. It was Christ’s suffering that lead to His resurrection. Why should it be any different for us?

     Often when we are faced with evil and suffering we try to come up with an explanation or an excuse as a means of escaping the pain. We try to have the triumphant cross of Easter without the crucifixion of Good Friday. “In the face of suffering and death, human beliefs and ideologies are all, more or less, explicitly doctrines of escape … No doctrine of escape is worthy of God.”[19] My friends, the crucifix is not a curse to run from, but a witness to hope. Calvary is the highest point in the world, from which we can see everything with new eyes, the eyes of faith, love and martyrdom; the eyes of Christ.”[20] So as we continue this season of lent let us run from the crucifix through our fasting, penance, and almsgiving. Let’s use our Lenten practices to run through the cross to light.



[1] Phil 3:10

[2] Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Those Mysterious Priests. New York: The Alba House, 2005. Pg 102

[3] Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Those Mysterious Priests. New York: The Alba House, 2005. Pg 100 – 101

[4] Mk 15:32

[5] Pope Benedict XVI. Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the German Pilgrims who had come to Rome for the Inaguration Ceremony of the Pontificate. (April 25, 2005). Accessible at http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/april/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050425_german-pilgrims.html

[6] Mt 27:36

[7] Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Those Mysterious Priests. New York: The Alba House, 2005. Pg 101

[8] Rom 5:12

[9] Charles Chaput. Strangers in a Strange Land. New York: Henry Holt and Company. (2017). Pg. 175.

[10]Wilfrid Stinssen. Into Your Hands, Father Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us. San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2011. Pg. 15.

[11] Gal 6:14

[12] Gal 2:20

[13] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe, Our Priest is Christ (1969) pg 20.

[14] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Behold the Pierced One. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (1986) pg 33.

[15] Wilfred Stinssen. Into your Hands Father, Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg 15.

[16] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg 57.

[17] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe, Our Priest is Christ (1969) pg 56.

[18] Jeffrey Kirby. Kingdom of Happiness. Charlotte: St. Benedict Press.(2017). Pg. Xxi.

[19] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) Pg 56.

[20] Robert Cardinal Sarah. God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith with Nicolas Dias San Francisco: Ignatius (2015). Pg. 25 – 26.

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