Crosses, Crucifixes, Risen Christ on Crosses, OH MY!
I can't help but wonder why we have to see the image of the resurrected Christ on the cross. Surely, it has profound meaning, like the image of a serpent wrapped around a cross that many ambulances have all over the country. Some of us don't know the meaning of that symbol, so I'll give you one big clue. If you read the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament, you'll find an account of fiery serpents biting at the Israelites. Moses made a bronze serpent, placing it on a standard so that those who were bitten by the snakes could look upon the statue and live. (Numbers 21:4-9) Symbols such as the Bronze Serpent have meanings behind it, just like the Crucifix has profound meaning. When I look at a resurrected Christ presented on a cross, I know the meaning of His salvific death. I find the image of the resurrected Christ on the cross to be very beautiful, but for me, it brings no meaning during Mass. Many of our youth, whether in High School or College are duped into believing it is the norm of our faith to have a resurrected Christ instead of a crucified Christ. The reason for this is because theologians are saying, "We are a resurrected people." That's a good thought, but if I don't have an understanding of the crucifixion, how then can I know of the resurrection or life after death? It is like putting the cart before the horse. The resurrection is given greater importance then His death, when in fact it is His passion, death and resurrection together, that brings me to salvation. If we put the resurrection before His death, how can youth understand the purpose of a suffering Christ as a way to holiness?
What does the Crucifix mean to me?
You and I both know that what identifies us as Catholic Christians from Protestant Christians is the Crucifix; the meaning of our very existence and our salvation. It is truly the way that each Christian should see him or herself in the face of trials, tribulations and even in danger of death. The crucifix gives every Christian strength and understanding, totally pinning us to the passion of our Lord. He, taking our sins to Himself, delivers us from the clutches of the master of death, so that we may live in His very being. He made it known to us through our Baptism! It is no wonder the Christian, who says and does the sign of the cross, reminds himself that he is intimately united to Christ on the Cross. Nothing can separate this except for sin. Sin tears us away from God, leaving us to die. Confession plays such an important role in the life of every Christian because the priest, during absolution, makes the sign of the cross towards the penitent, forgiving him as well as reminding him that his life is for Christ alone.
No matter where we turn, hide, or run from the Lord, the meaning of the crucifix is in our being. We can't remove it, nor reject it; I am truly marked and crucified in Jesus. As He died on the cross, so did I. As He rose from the dead and into heaven, I too will enter with Him. The crucifix itself is a constant reminder to our youth and to all Christians that Jesus is truly present before us as well as in us. So it is, by understanding the Crucifix, we can understand our lives, which bear the mark of Christ through baptism. In this we become a resurrected people, but we can only understand this through symbols and images such as the Crucifix. Paul states firmly that: "At present I rejoice when I suffer for you; I complete in my own flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the body, which is the Church." (Col 1:24) Is this not what every Christian, young or old, is called to live for? He is to be united to that passion, so that the future of the Church may be "the Light of the world." (Matt 5:14-15) When I speak of the future, I mean the youth, who are the Soldiers of Christ; prayer warriors called by their sacramental life to defend the honor and glory of their Lord Jesus Christ. They are our future Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Religious brothers and sisters, married or celibate laity of the Most Holy Trinity. The Crucifix brings meaning to these life vocations; fostering in them a healthy search for holiness in Christ. Removal of the corpus from the cross would only murder the reality of what being Catholic is all about. It would kill the meaning of self-sacrifice for others, the desire to be holy, or would leave our youth in constant confusion regarding their vocation in life.
That is why it is important to foster a wholesome love for the Crucifix by teaching our youth and families the meaning of the signs, symbols and images which point to the crucifixion. How sad it is that some Catholic teachers in RCIA or CCD lead students in prayer without making the sign of the cross. To prevent the young from identifying themselves with the crucifixion weakens their walk with Christ. There are those whom we know to be good Catholic Christians, but are afraid to make a prayerful sign of the cross when passing a Church. They either look as though they are swatting flies from their face and chest, or they are paralyzed with fear to make the sign of the cross before people around them. This is why it is important to teach our youth the meaning of the crucifixion. If we are not given the strength to testify to our faith with the sign of the cross, how will we be able to testify to our faith in Christ on pain of death?
There are other fears, such as offending our Protestant brothers and sisters who consider us fools in having a crucifix. To them, the mere thought of Jesus on the cross is foolish and at the same time idolatry. How Satan picks and chooses the ignorant to manifest his confusion amongst the faithful in Christ! He uses those who hate suffering to consider the image of the crucifixion a sick idea; a silly idea to scare the young into ending their sinful lives, while at the same time, drawing them into worshiping an image. Yet the fallen away Christian, who confuses the faithful, suffers under the reign of the confused. He prides himself in the Resurrection alone, but finds it hard to understand suffering in the world. He wonders how can there be suffering if Jesus is alive. He has always been taught to ignore the image of Jesus' suffering on the cross and to look upon such an image is foolish, which may lead him into idolatry like the Catholics, whom he considers to be damned.
Catholics are bombarded with this idea and are left with confusion. But there is a simple defense to this madness. First, to have a crucifix is not idolatry. That means we do not worship the object as being God. It is an image of our Lord, like the picture I have of my Mom and Dad. I neither adore it as it being God, nor look to my Mom and Dad as both gods. I have the picture to remember them. Memory of them is like having them right in front of me. I can imagine the embrace they gave me every morning, the kiss good night before going to bed, and their blessing before leaving the house. The same is said of my Lord; I look to the crucifix and wonder at His Majesty, His Might, His Mercy, His Justice. I contemplate on who He is for me, and the price He paid for my salvation. These images help me to pray, to honor, and to adore Him as my Lord. It is important that every person who seeks the spiritual life understand it through the physical life, because it is logical for God to draw us to Himself through His creation. So what is wrong with having a Crucifix? Protestants have a cross; is that not a symbol or image? A symbol or image presents meaning and purpose. But for Catholics to look at a cross without a corpus provides us with no image of the Passion, while the corpus truly enforces the Gospel account, our Sacramental life, and our understanding of salvation through the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. There is no idolatry in reverencing a crucifix, or in calling a protestant minister "Reverend"; both are created things, representing the glory of God, but yet they are not God. Protestants who hold fast to this ignorant interpretation of ‘reverence’, believing that it means to adore an object, accuse us of adoring the crucifix. Meanwhile, by calling their minister ‘reverend’ they are committing the same sin. It is up to us, as Catholic Christians to defend the true meaning of the crucifix, which draws us to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
If you want to understand suffering and death then look to the crown of thorns that penetrate the sacred head of our Lord. If you want to know your life vocation and be willing to submit to the will of the Lord, look to His broken hands and feet, pierced by sharp nails. If you want to be a prayer warrior, courageous in battle against the evil one, look to His pierced heart that pours forth great fountains of blood and water. In these images, you will find comfort, humility and strength, but only through the Crucifix. Remove that from our Catholic worship, and you lose the whole point of being Catholic. There's nothing like a good old Crucifix, compared to the modern day Risen Christ on a cross. It makes a youthful heart a solid Christian. You don't have to ask me, ask the Saints of old; they're champs for the crucified Lord!
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