Raise the Crucifix to Strike Holy Terror in the Antagonist
But…Jesus isn’t on the cross anymore!
“Jesus isn’t on the cross anymore! The cross is empty!”
So what’s the deal with crucifix-wielding Catholics?
Don’t they know we worship a risen Savior?
St. Paul says that “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (cf 1 Corinthians 15:14). Without the Resurrection, there is no Christianity, end of story. The Bible says so and the Catholic Church ratifies it (CCC 991). We even have a major celebration in honor of Jesus defeating death (the Easter Vigil) and so glorious is this occasion that this is the time when the Church brings in her converts and gives them the first sacraments. It is to signify the Resurrection power – the saving power – of Christ defeating the grave and swooping up to the right hand of the Father, and his children experiencing that power by starting a life anew.
Yet while it is true that there is no Christianity without the Resurrection, neither is there a Christianity without the cross. I don’t mean the “empty cross” either. I mean the cross with the God-man hanging on it, in agony, suffering for you and for me. Catholics venerate the crucifix (the cross with Jesus on it) for several reasons.
Jesus told us we must take up our cross and follow him (cf Matthew 16:24). Taking up our cross implies that following Christ will not be an easy peasy-lemon squeezy, jolly ‘ol ride. A cross is burdensome, it breaks us and in the end we have to climb up on it and die for the One we love: just like Jesus did. We aren’t dying for all of humanity. Only Our Lord has accomplished this. But by taking up our cross we relate to Christ and we imitate him. We acknowledge that there is suffering in this life and sometimes the path to peace and happiness is through suffering (bearing a cross) and not around it. We experience resurrection only after death – the death of the cross.
Of course bearing our cross in this life is only symbolic – most of us, thank God, do not have to undergo physical, actual crucifixion. But we relate our sufferings in this present life with what Our Lord experienced in His passion. So Catholics raise the crucifix to be reminded of what the God-man did for us. How he loved us in the agony of the cross. We also raise the crucifix to remind ourselves that we have crosses to bear too, and that Our Lord will give us strength to bear them.
And of course, we raise the crucifix to strike holy terror in the Antagonist.
A wise philosopher once said that “Calvary is judo; the enemy’s own power is used to defeat him.”* Raising the crucifix – keeping it on the desk at work, above the door in the house – reminds the devils of the embarrassment of the cross. The devils thought they were winning when they got the God-man killed. They were, in fact, quite mistaken.
To make a final point: we raise the crucifix as a remedy to a Resurrection only Christianity in a Resurrection only kind of world. In an age where the “millennial mentality” is consistently making the news and finding its way into our social media milieu, it is a bastion of hope to be reminded that sometimes the long, slow, slog of life is what makes the greatest of saints. Holiness is born of adversity. The cross of the obscure “9 to 5” job, of simple living, of simply loving the wife and the kids and making sacrifices for them – this is the path to life everlasting.
It is the narrow road that leads to the narrow bridge of the cross, that leads to the loving Heart of the Savior and the glory of resurrection.
*Peter Kreeft in Making Sense Out of Suffering.
Art for this post Raise the Crucifix to Strike Holy Terror in the Antagonist: Christ en majesté (Christ in Majesty [Resurrection]) Isenheim Altarpiece, Matthias Grünewald (c.1470-1528), undated; modified sepia of Christ Crucified, Diego Velázquez, circa 1632; both PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; Wikimedia Commons. Art for Feature Image: Detail of The Crucified Christ, Peter Paul Rubens, between 1610 and 1611, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.