Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Crux of the Matter: The Crucifix in My Living Room Reminds Me That God, Too, Has Known Agonizing Pain

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Crux of the Matter: The Crucifix in My Living Room Reminds Me That God, Too, Has Known Agonizing Pain

Article excerpt

I HAVEN'T ALWAYS HAD A PERSONAL CONNECTION WITH the crucifix. This is somewhat surprising considering that, like many of us, I've spent quite a lot of time with crucifixes over the years. As a child I sat for hours in various Catholic school classrooms, each one with a bronze crucified Christ nailed over the blackboard. My childhood church featured a massive mural of Calvary behind the altar, looming above the priests as they celebrated Mass. It was impossible to ignore that tableau of suffering and pain.

But the crucifix wasn't always such a central part of Catholic worship, For the first few centuries after Christ's death, neither crucifixes nor plain crosses were common images; in a culture where crucifixions were still practiced, it was too horrifying a symbol to celebrate, But with Constantine's fourth-century recognition of Christianity and the gradual ending of the practice of crucifixion, the cross began to be used in liturgies, In 692 the Council of Constantinople affirmed the importance of depicting Christ's body on the cross, and the crucifix became a prominent and highly recognizable symbol of Catholicism.

As a child the crucifix was so central to my religious experience that I rarely thought about it. It was only as a young adult that I began to find it disconcerting. The image of a crumpled Jesus nailed to the cross seemed to represent all the things I was questioning about my faith. Suffering, dying, sacrificing--I found the Catholic viewpoint to be far too negative, too depressing. There's enough grief in the world, I thought. I don't need to be reminded of it every time I walk into church.

Several years later my attitude has changed. It's precisely because there is so much grief in the world that we need the crucifix.

Sadness is an inevitable part of the human story; not one of us will walk through life without losing someone we love. Through my own personal experiences of grief--the death of family members, the loss of an early pregnancy--I've come face-to-face with the various stages of mourning. I've learned that although healing comes eventually, first comes the period when the suffering is so complete there's no way to see beyond it. These are the times when words simply won't comfort, when there is nothing to do but to live in the middle of the grief, to walk through it as if through a storm. …

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