Why Fix our Gaze on the Crucifix?

One Easter I was asked by some Methodist friends why Catholics have the Crucifix.  Their pastor had emphasized that Jesus is not dead.  He is risen.  Why look at a crucifix?  He is no longer on the Cross.

 So, why do we have the Crucifix?  Why do we have the Stations of the Cross?  Why do we mediate on the Sorrowful Mysteries?  Why did so many Catholics and Protestants go to see The Passion of The Christ?  Why do all these things if, after all, Jesus is alive, He is risen?   We seem to be obsessed with His death.

First it should be understood that we also mediate on the Glorious Mysteries including His Resurrection, Ascension, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Any priest will tell you that Easter is the most important feast in the Church calendar.  We celebrate Easter liturgically for seven whole weeks until the Feast of Pentecost which is the fiftieth day after Easter.  We do know and celebrate that Christ rose from the death.  Without the Resurrection our faith is meaningless.

But we also remember the Crucifixion.  Our salvation came at a great cost, the Cross.  The crucifix reminds us that there is a price that was paid for our salvation, that our sins have an effect.  We remember that Jesus endured the Passion for us personally, that His suffering and death were caused by our sins.  We remember that there is such a thing as sin and that sin causes pain.  We can not forget that there is a consequence to sin.

On Palm Sunday we face the reality that it is our sins that cry out for Christ to be crucified; we remind ourselves that Jesus went through this each of us personally.  He died for me.  He loved me enough to die the most painful death known to man.  What love He had for me!  We need so often to be reminded that He loved us that much, that we are loved that much.

The crucifix reminds us of His love but also His pain.  What terrible pain He endured because of our sins!  We don’t want to forget that because we live in a world full of sin.  Almost every time we turn around there is an opportunity to sin.  We are not called to be like the rest of the world, pursuing pleasure and wealth.  We are called instead to pursue souls for Him to tell the world about His love and mercy.  We are called to imitate the sacrifice He made for us.

So often we hear the call to take up our own cross and follow Jesus.  Our cross is the suffering we endure to follow Him.  Part of it may be ridicule and rejection for being His follower.  How many suffer because their family members reject the faith?  Part of our cross may be the economic problems we encounter because we do not violate His commandments.  Part of our cross may include getting up early or going to bed late in order to pray.  Our cross involves many sacrifices but when we look at a crucifix we know His sacrifice was so much greater.

We want to remember His Sacrifice, how far He went for our salvation, how much He loved us, how valuable we are to Him.  We live in a world that degrades us, where we are valued mostly for our money, where the bottom line is all that matters and when the money is gone so does our value to society.  The crucifix tells us that we are always valuable, intrinsically worthwhile, always worth the Sacrifice He made for us.

The crucifix reminds us that we are sinners in need of His Mercy.  We still sin and cause Him pain.  Our sins hurt other people or ourselves and Jesus feels the pain.  He told us in Matthew 25:40 that whatever we do to the least of our brothers we do to Him.  When our sins hurt others we hurt Him.  When we look at the crucifix we remember how important it is to resist sin.

Easter will be here very soon, but this is the time for the crucifix.

Ron Quinlan is a former teacher in the Archdiocese of Newark, now living in South Carolina.