This is one in a series of Lenten reflections.
By Fr. Robert Byrne
Special to The Catholic Weekly
One of the most powerful moments in the liturgy on Good Friday is the showing of the Holy Cross and the repeated chant, “Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.” Everyone in the assembly is then invited to come forward and reverence the simple wooden cross, a kind of “sacrament” of the cross on which Jesus Christ died for our salvation. I am always moved by this humble expression of our belief in God’s great love for us.
Hopefully, the Good Friday liturgy is not the only time during the year that Christians remember and honor the cross and meditate on its profound meaning.
On the walls of my office at Blessed Trinity Church in Frankenmuth are 54 crosses I have collected over the years. There are crosses made of wood and metal and glass and clay. There are crosses of many different sizes. Some of the crosses have a corpus/body of Christ and some do not. The shapes and colors of the crosses reflect many different cultures. Each of the crosses is a little different from all the others.
After the morning Mass one day, a visitor was walking past my office, happened to glance through the open door and saw a whole wall of crosses. He stood in the doorway and asked: “Is this the gift shop?” Who would expect to see such a display in any place except a religious goods store!
I have been developing this collection over the past 20 years or so because the beautiful diversity of the crosses reminds me of the wonderful richness of our Catholic tradition. We profess one faith but that one faith has been expressed through the centuries in a marvelous diversity of languages, music, architecture, poetry and artistic forms. The 54 crosses on my office walls remind me of the mystery of our faith in Christ that has been woven into so many cultures in our world.
When visitors or parishioners stop in the office to look at the crosses, I often ask them which cross is their favorite. Some point to the “St. Brigid’s cross” made from rushes. Some prefer the bronze cross from Germany with the tree of life impressed on the front. Many are fascinated by the cross that was made by wiring three large iron nails together. Some are drawn to the more traditional olive wood crucifix from Italy.
The cross that is mentioned as the favorite more often than any other is from Kenya in Africa. There is technically no “cross” at all — just a black wooden figure with arms stretched wide, crowned with thorns, showing the wounds in his hands and feet. The face and body are elongated and the figure is clearly an African form. However, no one is confused about the identity of this figure. It is the Christ who gave His life on the cross for people of every race, every language and way of life.
I recently spent a week on vacation in California at a beautiful home provided for my friends and me by a generous family. It was a large house, beautifully decorated and very comfortable. After several days in the home, I felt uncomfortable about something but couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Then I realized what was bothering me — there were no religious symbols in the home. There was not a single cross or statue or picture or religious symbol of any kind. There was no indication that a Christian family owned the home.
I do not know the owners personally, but I am thinking of sending them a cross as a token of gratitude for their generosity. I certainly could select one from the wall in the “gift shop.”
I would not expect that home or any Christian home to look like my office with crosses covering the walls but all of us need symbols of our faith, especially the cross, to remind us every day of God’s enduring love for us and for all people. Some people wear a cross every day as a necklace or a pin. Some have a cross attached to the visor in their cars or hanging from the rear view mirror. From time to time I have seen a tattoo depicting a cross. It’s all good.
We don’t have to wait until Good Friday each year to venerate the cross. Behold the cross, touch the cross, kiss the cross each day of the year. Praise and thank God for the gift of the Son who was obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
Fr. Robert Byrne is pastor of Blessed Trinity Parish in Frankenmuth and vicar for education for the Diocese of Saginaw.