look up

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

An Invitation:

  • 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.

11 Responses to "look up"
  1. Thank you heaps. This is wonderful, I can now recall having positive growth in faith and prayer at a time when I used to spend considerable time in front of the Crucifix. Must start that habit again.

  2. I appreciated today’s reflection of all days it inspires me in my role that Christ love reflects in what I do for others

  3. I am reminded of the scripture in song ‘If I am high and lifted up I will draw all to me I will draw all unto me”

  4. The Crucifix in my bedroom is simple, but the meaning it holds is complex beautiful and divine. A treasure to behold.
    Thank you for the blessing of your wisdom today Fr John

  5. Fr. John, many thanks for a beautiful reflection and the devotion from Pope Francis. “Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim”

  6. My back porch is my prayer room it is now going to have a crucifix on the wall.
    And I remember the crucifix given to me at my 1st communion, I treasured it

  7. Thank you John for the wonderful reminder of the value of the crucifix to inspire us to face the hardships in life and the hope in facing death itself. Not so long ago crucifixes were seen as having a psychological, detrimental affect on people especially children. Many were swayed by this modern opinion and crucifixes were removed from our walls even in our catholic homes and religious houses so as not to offend non-believers. Perhaps we did not have the clear understanding you have given us today and missed opportunities to talk about our faith. I pray many crucifixes will be once again hung on our walls.

  8. In the early 80’s the late Father Pat Holland led his people in the
    rebuilding and renovation of the parish church.
    Above the altar one is greeted by a resurrected Christ, no longer
    crucified but risen.
    Is that not what St. Paul was getting at?
    We are an Easter people……


  9. I have never thought of looking beyond the figure on the crucifix, I have reflected more on the suffering of the Christ and the wounds. A far more powerful prayer now I see is to look beyond the figure and see the Resurrected Christ and the Glory of Easter Day.

  10. Fr John, thanks for the invitation to meditate on Christ crucified.
    It took the Church several centuries to get comfortable putting a Christ in agony on their crosses – the early Church used empty crosses, or crosses with a resurrected Christ. It seems they were afraid of downplaying the divine nature of Christ too much.
    I think the modern discomfort with a Christ in agony on the cross, stems more from our discomfort with any sort of suffering than from a fear of offending God! I appreciate the people here in this forum who point towards the resurrection of Christ, and indeed, we are resurrection people more than Good Friday people. But suffering *is* a part of our lives, and the cross reminds us that Jesus suffered too, fully human as He was. We shouldn’t jump too quickly to Easter Sunday.

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