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Behold the Wood of the Cross - What Love Looks Like
A Reflection on the Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion (Jn 18:1—19:42)
(Hornik et al. Crucifixion, by Matthias Grünewald)
And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your king!” They cried out, “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. (John 19:14–16 NABRE)
When we think of love, we often conjure images of hearts, romantic sunsets, or a time with the person or persons we enjoy being with the most. When I think of love, the faces of my wife and children come to mind. But is that what true love looks like?
Once, a friend shared one of his most difficult moments with me. My friend, Mike, told me that a few years earlier, his sister called him and told him that his father had had a stroke. Mike needed to come home. The stroke was completely debilitating. Mike’s Father, who had always been larger than life, an indomitable wall and support, a “presence” in any room he entered, now needed round the clock care. He could not speak or walk. Mike told me that he could see the frustration and pain in the eyes of his Father as he struggled to break out of the body that had so failed him.
After several weeks in the hospital, the doctors recommended that Mike’s father go to a rehabilitation center. Mike’s mom refused. She knew that her husband would want to be at home. The doctors and nurses all told her that it would be difficult for everyone, but especially for her. Mike’s mom was steadfast. Quickly, in-home nursing was arranged, and Mike’s father went home. Mike flew back home and went back to work.
Later, Mike called his mother once or twice a week and he could tell that the strain was getting to her, but she was determined. Finally, he purchased a ticket and flew home to visit his parents. When he got home, he found that his father was in a hospital bed in what used to be the dining room. Over the bed hung the old family crucifix which hung in the dining room as long as Mike could remember. Walking into the room, Mike’s mom was just finishing the preparation of his father’s dinner and soon placed a tray on the bed. She began to lovingly spoon-feed her husband. Once the meal was complete, Mike’s mother took the tray away. Moments later, Mike’s father threw up all that he had just eaten. Mike, who admits to a weak stomach, immediately withdrew from the room. Embarrassed, he came back a few minutes later and found his mother patiently cleaning up the mess. He watched and helped for several minutes. Finally, he asked if this happened often. Mike’s mother said, “yes.” Mike was shocked. He asked his mother how she could do this day after day? His mother gazed at the crucifix above the bed, then down at her husband, and very quietly said, “Mike, you just have to understand, this is what love looks like.” Mike immediately understood the depth of his mother’s love.
Today is Good Friday. The origin of calling the day of our Lord’s passion, crucifixion, and death as, “Good,” is unclear; however, some say it derives from the Germanic, “Gottes Freitag” or “God’s Friday”. Whatever you call the day, incredibly, it is a good day for all creation. At the moment of the death of our Lord on the cross, all creation is redeemed, bought back at a terrible cost. It is in this sense that the cross, so hideous a form of execution, intended to scare anyone away from defying Rome, becomes a symbol for every Christian of unbridled love. Jesus, the suffering servant, takes upon his shoulders the Cross, which represents the weight of all humanity’s sins, and fulfills by his death on the cross the work of our Redemption. Jesus crucified, is the image of God’s infinite mercy for every person. The crucifix is what real love looks like.
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At Mass, in the sanctuary of every Catholic Church, there is supposed to be a crucifix. Traditionally, it is the image of a tortured Christ on the cross. Some Parishes have lessened the “offense” to our eyes and dressed Christ as a King on the cross, others have Jesus with arms raised to heaven, one Crucifix I saw, with his feet and arms free from the cross, looked like Jesus was fleeing to heaven to escape the cross. Those images miss the point! When you gaze at the crucifix you are intended to see exactly what love looks like. You are intended to see, in Christ’s arms spread wide with hands and feet nailed to the cross, the horror of crucifixion; so that you,
“may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of God’s love] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18–19)
On Good Friday, Catholics unveil and venerate the cross. It is a beautiful tradition. It always brings tears to my eyes. Today, come and venerate the depth of God’s love for you. As you stand or kneel, touch, kiss, or embrace the cross before you, recall that this is exactly what love looks like! Everyday, begin and end the day with the sign of the cross. What greater prayer could there be? By invoking the persons of the Blessed Trinity and signing yourself with the cross, you are wrapping yourself in the Love of God.
The crucifix, that is exactly what love looks like.
“Behold, because of the wood of a tree, joy has come to the whole world.”
(Roman Missal, Chants to Be Sung during the Adoration of the Holy Cross)
Hornik, Heidi J., and Mikeal C. Parsons. “Crucifixion, by Matthias Grünewald.” On Art, The Christian Century, 27 Dec. 2016, https://www.christiancentury.org/article/crucifixion-matthias-gr%C3%BCnewald.
New American Bible. Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
The Roman Missal: Renewed by Decree of the Most Holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, Promulgated by Authority of Pope Paul VI and Revised at the Direction of Pope John Paul II. Third Typical Edition. Washington D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.