Can we take a minute to talk about crucifixes and why Catholics use them so much more often than empty crosses?
A crucifix hanging on a living room wall immediately informs visitors that this is a CATHOLIC house. Why is that so important? What’s the big difference?
“He is risen! Get over it!”
“Why do you Catholics revel in Jesus being on the cross? It’s so negative.”
Do we? Do we really revel in it?
I’d be hard pressed to find any Catholic that gazed on a cross to think… “Yep, that is a beautiful image I could look at all day.”
It’s the exact opposite. The crucifix evokes from us a visceral reaction. The sorrow and contrition I feel when I look at a crucifix is soon followed by gratitude for His sacrifice. This is not a reaction that wears off with more exposure to the same image.
How can one’s heart not be affected by the image of a flesh and blood man in such agony? If one’s first response to that image is “why?” follow through to the answer… for us! That’s why! He died for us because His love for us is so deep that He would do anything to save us. That pain and suffering, the rejection and humiliation… why would you want to forget that?
Because that’s what’s easy. It’s hard to look at a cross and empathize. Or maybe it’s too hard to look upon and feel worthy of that love.
Jesus’s crucifixion should not be minimized, swept away or forgotten. He sacrificed for us. An act that was impactful enough to be remembered for millennia and powerful enough to defeat sin can’t just be skipped over because it makes us feel uncomfortable.
And if through that discomfort we are drawn into the sacraments of the Eucharist and confession, then all the better.
So yes, an empty cross is a powerful reminder of Christ’s victory over death. But a crucifix reminds us of the cost of our redemption. It’s the price that was paid for our sins that we should never, ever forget.
Not long after I posted this, a priest friend of mine stated that yes, indeed the crucifixion is beautiful. Here is his comment in full (Thank you for watching out for me all your sheep, Fr. Dana Christensen!)
There is one thing that is bothering me though, and I think it’s important for our understanding of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. The quote from the post is: “I’d be hard pressed to find any Catholic that gazed on a cross to think… “Yep, that is a beautiful image I could look at all day.””
Many of the saints and mystics of the Church talk about the beauty of Christ upon the cross. The beauty comes not from the horror of what we see, but from the complete gift of self out of love that is there under the horror.
As a priest, I often have the privilege of being with people as they suffer horribly at the approach of death. There are times where the sadness and the pain are mingled with a mystic beauty that his hard to describe. There is a beauty in the way that they are “birthed,” through pain, into eternal life. I also see it at funerals, where maybe a man who normally is very stoic loses it and weeps openly. There is deep sadness and grief, but there is a beauty that lies beneath it.
So, should Catholics gaze on upon a crucifix and say that is a beautiful image? YES! There is a great, deep, heavy beauty there – the beauty of self sacrificing love. Another way express this might be the words of St. Paul when he says “we glory in the cross of Christ.” Indeed, we do glory in the cross and the love that is expressed there.
Thus endeth my theologizing for today.