You will find that I refer to the cross of Jesus quite frequently when I preach. Maybe I have been profoundly influenced by St. Paul: I preach Christ Jesus and Him crucified. (See 1 Cor. 2:2 and 1 Cor. 1:23)
Typically, I will point to the image of the crucified Jesus. While some churches have an image of the resurrected Jesus in the sanctuary, as did one of my former parishes, I really must confess that I am not quite there yet in my own spiritual life. I relate better to the crucified Jesus who truly knew suffering and experienced death. Intellectually, I know that JESUS IS RISEN, and I certainly preach Him as risen from the dead. However, whether it be in my personal chapel in the rectory, or in the church itself, I look to the crucified Jesus—to the crucifix—more often than not.
Each day I see suffering in the world. When I turn on the evening news, read the newspaper or find an article on the internet, so many of the stories involve tragedy: a plane going down, a hurricane, a wild fire, a flood, war, violence, murder, etc. I see people suffering and dying. I visit the hospital and I find someone extremely sick with family members surrounding him or her in tears. I visit the homebound. I celebrate a funeral Mass. Get the picture?
Jesus knew suffering. Meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the Holy Rosary, making the Stations of the Cross, reading an account of Jesus’ passion in the Sacred Scriptures, looking at a crucifix, all tell me that Christ can relate to the pain and suffering of humanity.
I ponder the image of the Risen Christ and truly hope to be there someday. I also realize that resurrection and eternal life are still somewhere—with God’s grace and through His forgiveness, mercy and love—in the future for me.
However, I continue look at the crucifix. Maybe I do not receive immediate answers to all my prayers. Maybe I still have questions and doubts. But what I see is a God who loved me enough to suffer and to die for me. I see Jesus who willingly accepted suffering and experienced it to the depth of his being. I see a humble, vulnerable God who took upon Himself all of our sins—my sins. I see Jesus who died for me, for all of us.
At this point in time, you can see where I am in my personal spiritual life. I see myself at the foot of the cross. I hope someday for resurrection and eternal life. But I am, unfortunately, just not there yet.
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. (Mark 8: 34b-35)
Fr. Ed Namiotka