Sometimes, being a Christian can be pretty dark. There are often times when God feels distant from us – what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul”. This feeling of dryness and separation has been felt by the most eminent of the Saints. In our own times, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta often spoke of the “emptiness” that she felt, even though her life was evidence that she walked closely with Our Blessed Lord every day.
But there are also other times when we can feel distant from God due to our own faults. In our broken humanness, we can say and do things that separate us little by little from the grace of God...until we reach a point where we don’t even recognise God anymore (or ourselves for that matter).
The week gone by has been one of these kinds of weeks for me. As I was examining my conscience last night in preparation for Reconciliation, I saw that little by little I had been guilty of distancing myself from God – an unkind word here, a bad thought there, and so on...and so on...and before I knew it I was looking back at a detestable wretch. But thanks be to God, this is not where things end for us Christians – despite how bad we, or things around us, might get. On my knees before God, I looked up...and before my eyes was the Crucifix.
As I knelt before that Crucifix last night, I realised something. I have crucifixes all over my house – almost one in each room. I am surrounded by them. But seldom does this really touch me. And this really convicted me last night. As much as I see crucifixes in our home and in our churches, I have been guilty of not truly seeing. As much as I encounter crucifixes in my day, seldom do I really encounter them. I dare say that this is probably true for many of us Catholics. Why is this? Is it because we are so surrounded by crucifixes that we take them for granted? Possibly...but, I think that there is something that goes deeper.
Kneeling before that Crucifix last night, I came to appreciate why the Crucifix is so important, and this is because I suddenly grasped the real message of the Crucifix – and realised that I have missed it. And missing the real message of the Crucifix is the root cause of why we are so prone to take the crucifixes that surround us so for granted.
What is the real message – the real CORE message – of the Crucifix? It is this: God loves us! Three little words – so easy to miss; but also three infinitely immense words – with equally immense consequences:
GOD LOVES US!
On the Crucifix we behold that Christ died for us. Why? Because GOD LOVES US! This is how St. Paul said it in Romans 5:8:
“...God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us”.
That is the message of the Crucifix! Look at the Crucifix again...what do you see? Do you see it? Do you see that God loves us?
Behold it in the face our Blessed Lord – GOD LOVES US!
Behold it in His nail-scarred hands – GOD LOVES US!
Behold it nailed to His beautiful feet – GOD LOVES US!
Behold how it flows from His open side and crown-pierced brow – GOD LOVES US!
This is why the Crucifix is so important for ALL Christians – not just Catholics. Sadly, Protestants tend to scorn the Crucifix in favour of an empty Cross because, they claim, the empty Cross tells us not only that Jesus died, but also that He rose again. Because this is true may empty crosses continue to abound! But, what an empty Cross is not able to do is portray God’s love in the way that the Crucifix does. So, may crucifixes abound even more!
As Christians, our calling is to love God and to love others...and the Crucifix helps us to do this. This is because it is only as we perceive God’s love for us in the crucified Christ that we can actually learn what it means to love. St. Paul reminds us:
Behold, O good and sweetest Jesus, I cast myself upon my knees in Thy sight, and with the most fervent desire of my soul I pray and beseech Thee to impress upon my heart lively sentiments of faith, hope and charity, with true repentance for my sins and a most firm desire of amendment. Whilst with deep affection and grief of soul I consider within myself and mentally contemplate Thy five most precious wounds, having before mine eyes that which David, the prophet, long ago spoke concerning Thee, “They have pierced My hands and My feet, they have numbered all My bones." AMEN
“...be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 5:1-2)
As we walk through our homes, or into our churches, and whenever we behold the Crucifix, may we be reminded afresh of God’s infinite love towards us.
And, if the image of the Crucifix that surrounds us every day isn’t continually changing us, may we take some time to remember again the message of God’s love that we have missed.