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Spiritual Life

The mystery of the Cross

When I was just a newly ordained priest, my pastor tasked me with the responsibility of forming a committee to research and identify a new crucifix for our sanctuary that was about to have some much needed renovations done. It took a number of meetings and conversations, but we eventually found one that our pastor and parish council agreed would work for our worship space. We ordered it and then waited close to six months for it to arrive. Then, we waited a bit more for the renovations to be completed and were finally able to install the crucifix and bless it at our rededication ceremony. It was a glorious day.

The new crucifix was installed and it was only a few days before a parishioner demanded that it be taken down and a resurrected Christ be put in its place. The parishioner said, “What do I tell my granddaughter when she asks me why Jesus looks like this?” I was puzzled by the question because the parishioner obviously knew the answer, but I told her anyway. “Simply tell her, because he loves us so much that he was willing to die for us so that we could be with him in heaven.” To say the least, my answer did not suffice.

On September 14 we will celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Our Church has celebrated this important feast day since the year 326, when the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was dedicated in Jerusalem. Once the emperor Constantine became a Christian, he abolished crucifixion and adopted the Cross as a sign of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. Constantine’s act allowed the faithful to publicly venerate the Cross and exalt it in their minds and hearts, as well as with their voices.

The early Christians understood what we have either forgotten or whitewashed with history. They knew the true power of the Cross because they lived through a time of persecution and witnessed its victory once again in the world when they were finally able to move their worship of God from the secrecy of their homes to the openness of the public square.

The way we are saved from death and brought to eternal life is paradoxical. It’s counterintuitive to believe that an instrument of such torture became for us an instrument of our salvation. “We look at Christ’s Cross, and we first contemplate God’s love expressed there, witnessing how deeply God loved us to take on the form of a slave and die terribly for us, and then we move on to acceptance or embrace, taking the Cross to ourselves, accepting it as our own, embracing our suffering in union with Jesus” (Bergsma 394).

Maybe we find ourselves in the same situation as the concerned grandparent I met two decades ago. We do not fully understand the mystery of the Cross and why we, as a Church, venerate it so passionately (pun intended). God’s love is incomprehensible. We do not deserve it. We have done and can do nothing to earn it. He simply offers it to us. It is pure gift. When we embrace the truth of his love poured out for us from the Cross he embraces our broken and wounded humanity and heals it. When we contemplate his Passion he brings us a deeper understanding of its mystery and prepares our hearts for eternal life.

Everything is gift. Ask for the gift of understanding his Cross. Take 15 minutes a day this week holding a crucifix in your hands and gaze upon his love for you. Then end your quarter of an hour of prayer by saying, “Thank you, Jesus.”

Father Walter Nolte is pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Fremont, St. Lawrence Parish in Scribner and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Hooper.