One of my childhood memories is of Catholic homes and Catholic school classrooms having a crucifix positioned in a prominent place. Crucifixes would often be given to children as gifts especially when they received Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
But in recent years I have noticed fewer crucifixes. Sometimes the figure of a bleeding crucified man hanging in agony on a Roman instrument of torture has been replaced with more artistic and less gruesome representations.
The figure of Jesus in agony on a cross is the ultimate hope for us since Christian faith is not about the power of positive thinking or striving to look on the bright side of difficult situations. Faith is knowing that Jesus is with us especially in the moments when we taste death, and because of this relationship we have the courage to face the reality of life knowing that even death is not an obstacle to the life we seek.
We need something to look up to, to lift our gaze beyond the loss of perspective that can overwhelm us when we become preoccupied with the things that are important but not essential.
Remember the Genesis account of evil entering the world after the temptations of the serpent? Well in today’s first reading serpents are causing trouble again, biting the people journeying through the desert and causing death. Moses prays for the people and the Lord instructs Moses to lift up a serpent on a pole for those bitten to gaze upon. Those who looked up lived.
Sometimes we need to face the thing we fear to be free and to find life. This is why so often when we take time to be still and silent in prayer our fears flood our minds. This is a sign of our health, the life of our heart comes into our consciousness. This is not distraction in prayer. This is God at work.
This is why prayer with the crucifix is helpful since we are helped to face our own fears and are reminded that for us who stay close to Christ death is not an ending but a transition into the depth and breadth of life we seek.
We need something to look up to, to lift our gaze beyond the loss of perspective that too easily comes when we live superficially. We are helped to live well when we focus on Jesus on the cross.
In today’s gospel we hear: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realise that I AM.”
Pope Francis reflected on this a couple of years ago.
“Those who seek to know Jesus must look within the Cross where his glory is revealed; to look within the Cross, inviting us to turn our gaze to the Crucifix which is not an ornamental object or a clothing accessory — abused at times! Rather, it is a religious symbol to contemplate and to understand. Within the image of Jesus crucified is revealed the mystery of the death of the Son as a supreme act of love, the source of life and salvation for humanity of all ages. We have been healed in his wounds.
I may think: “How do I look at the Crucifix? As a work of art, to see if it is beautiful or not? Or do I look within; do I penetrate Jesus’ wounds unto the depths of his heart? Do I look at the mystery of God who was humiliated unto death, like a slave, like a criminal?”. Do not forget this: look to the Crucifix, but look within it. There is a beautiful devotional way of praying one “Our Father” for each of the five wounds. When we pray that “Our Father”, we are trying to enter within, through the wounds of Jesus, inside his very heart. And there we will learn the great wisdom of the mystery of Christ, the great wisdom of the Cross. Pope Francis 18 March 2018
- Stay close to Jesus on the Cross. Know that as you gaze on the crucifix, looking within it, you will receive from Jesus the courage to face your own suffering, knowing that human suffering, when faced with Jesus, is the pathway to life.
- You might decide to place a crucifix in the rooms where you spend time at home and at work, and in your car, and to carry a crucifix with you in a pocket, to hold when you need to remember that Jesus brings life from everything that feels like death.