Catholicism and the Cross

e5040d090f668330_large-1St. Peter was riding high. Jesus had just asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” While the rest of the disciples stumbled around in confusion, Peter hit a home run. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then, moments later, Jesus blesses him and entrusts him with the keys of his kingdom, giving him far more authority than he could imagine. Whatever you bind in heaven will be bound? Oh yes, Peter was feeling fine.

But then, as they continued their journey, Jesus began talking strangely, predicting his own suffering and death at the hands of the priests and Pharisees. The disciples were worried and puzzled—but Peter was downright upset. What was Jesus saying? He couldn’t mean it. He had just affirmed that he was the long awaited Messiah, the Son of God! Surely he was only moments away from ushering in a glorious earthly kingdom; a kingdom in which, he, Peter, son of Jonah, would occupy a very prestigious position. Jesus couldn’t mean it, and Peter felt he had to set him straight. “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Then something happened that shook St. Peter to the core. Jesus, his meek and gentle master, turned to him with an angry fire in his eyes. “Get behind me, Satan!” he exclaimed. “You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” Peter was stunned, humiliated, and grief stricken. Had Jesus just called him…Satan?

But Jesus wasn’t finished. He turned to the rest of the disciples who were still reeling from this sudden zeal on the part of their Master. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” Jesus continued passionately. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The Cross

As we read this account in Matthew’s Gospel, we are compelled to ask: Why was Jesus so angry? Wasn’t St. Peter simply looking out for him? The answer is quite simple. Jesus loved the cross. His death was not an accident of circumstances or the outcome of a successful plot on behalf of the Pharisees, but rather the longing of his heart. Jesus Christ came to earth for one reason only—to redeem fallen humanity—and the cross was his chosen instrument of redemption. His whole life was like an arrow shot towards Calvary. The cross was always before his eyes.

The disciples, on the other hand, were appalled by the idea that their Lord could be killed. They did not listen to Jesus’ warnings and calls to sacrifice everything. They were interested only in the easy road, the smooth road. They longed for glory and a high place in the Messiah’s restored earthly kingdom. To them, their journey could end in no other way. The cross? Far from loving it, they were horrified by it, repelled by it.

Jesus looked into their hearts and saw their empty ambition, their pride, their love of comfort, their vain envy of one another. His infernal enemy, Satan, had been cast from heaven for the very pride and ambition his closest friends were now displaying. And it made Jesus angry. He turned to them and assured them that if they did not embrace the cross as he did, they had no part with him. The cross that so horrified them became the one condition of their salvation.

Hiding the Crucifix

Far too often, Catholics are embarrassed by the cross. The crucifix is removed from sanctuaries. The Mass, once known as an unbloody sacrifice, the re-presentation of Calvary, is reframed as a community meal. Priests, we are told, do not offer a Victim to God the Father, but rather preside like congenial hosts at a dinner. Homilies, instead of issuing calls to self-denial, rather exhort us to a mild and tolerant affability. Talk of sin and hell and God’s justice is scoffed at and is replaced by a vague and cheerful universalism.

In short, many Catholics prefer the wide and smooth road. They do not see the bloody sacrifice of Christ as central to the faith—they are horrified by it like the disciples before them. To them, niceness, friendliness, and tolerance are at the heart of the Catholic faith.

Jesus Christ is repelled by this weak-kneed, milquetoast faith, and to it he thunders, “Get behind me Satan, you are a hinderance to me.” For Christ still loves his cross. He still bears in his hands and in his side the wounds that purchased our salvation. To all those who would follow him, he still offers the same condition: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

The Narrow Way

As we begin this Lent, we must again hear and heed the call of our Lord and Savior, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Strive to enter the narrow gate. Take up your cross and follow me.” We must reject easy and comfortable Catholicism, a Catholicism that demands nothing of us. We must not hide the crucifix, but rather gaze lovingly upon it, recalling the words of St. Paul, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” We must turn from the sin of our complacency and begin again to embrace the cross, for it alone is the sure way to true joy and life eternal.

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11 Responses to “Catholicism and the Cross”

  1. Wonderful Sam, wonderful, as we begin our journey with Our Lord towards Calvary. Thanks so much for posting this and keep up the great work.

    Ellis

  2. Wow. Well put. This is the lenten message that no one wants, but we all need. Christ was surely with you when you wrote this one.

  3. The crosses of modern men seem to be many but only one is ‘True’.

    We are beset on all sides by people who ‘disrespect’ us, even to the point of shedding our blood, incarcerating us, berating us, bearing false witness against us etc etc. Even our chosen woman can abandon us with the encouragement of powerful allies in Courts and media and only a calumny left to our name. And we feel the pain.

    That pain can be bourne. It can be offered to Christ. We can join Him.

    If we bask in the warm glow of self-regard, enjoying our misery, we will take it to the grave and down into eternal pain.

    It is but the pain of life, continued.

    But pain suffered FOR Chist can be a blessing. He can take the earthly suffering and turn it to His use and Glory. We can shoulder it and carry it IF we do so from Love of Christ rather than hatred of our enemy.

    That does not mean we must not fight the injustices. Even to take up arms against it. But we must choose our weapons carefully and prepare for battles appropriately.

  4. This is a truly wonderful article. If only more Catholic men would be manly about being Catholic. Pray openly, especially the Rosary. Say grace with the Sign of the Cross before and after meals, even in restaurants. Wear a crucifix. It’s time to stop being timid about the Faith.

  5. Brent Henning Reply

    Thank you Sam for deepening my faith. Some of your articles are light hearted, but this one really touched the depths of my own heart. God designed man’s & woman’s hearts with an infinite amount of room for expansion through the Holy Spirit. Jesus provides the perfect sacrifice so that we may one day live an eternal life in the kingdom of God. Your words have surely helped my heart expand and helped me grow even closer to God, our Lord, and the Holy Spirit.

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