Hey, Father! Why do Catholics have the crucified Christ in their homes and churches and even sometimes wear it around their necks?
St. Paul opens his most mature theological writing, his Letter to the Romans, with a curious phrase: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes… .” (1:16)Why would Paul begin his letter by saying he was unashamed of its message?
Because you would expect he would be.
Others were, and how can we blame them? Paul and the early church held up for their worship a convicted criminal said to be the Son of God cruelly executed and allegedly raised from the dead. The ancients (and we moderns) have found this horrific suffering become merciful salvation not only outrageous but disgraceful and even repulsive.
Paul, is this your Gospel? Is this your Good News?
The great missionary firmly assents, explaining that God must go to the very limits of our sinful disfunction, he must dive down into its most terrible condition to provide the counterweight necessary to shift us away from it and toward salvation.
The crucifix, then, in its very strangeness and offensiveness shockingly reminds believers and nonbelievers alike of two important facts: the undeniable seriousness of the condition of sin and God’s unreserved determination to affect a transformation of his people out of it.
We place the crucifix in our homes and wear them around our necks as provocative reminders of these truths. The problem arising from such familiarity is that the crucifixion of Jesus may become domesticated. By growing used to seeing it so frequently and in so many places, it may lose its awful power to confront us with these verities.
We wear them too for a more personal reason: that we have profoundly experienced firsthand a taste of Jesus’ transformation and we fervently desire him to continue it. Those of us who bear the image of the humiliated, crucified God on our bodies and in our homes proclaim that he has entered into my disfunction and has begun the work of salvation in me.
We hang crucifixes in prominent places in our parishes, then, because that transformation is realized and furthered at every celebration of the Mass. There, under the crucifix, we participate sacramentally in Jesus’ paschal mystery. The same Jesus depicted on the cross, we receive at Mass.
This is our Good News, our Gospel and like St. Paul, neither are we ashamed of it; for it is truly the power of God for the salvation of those who believe.
Father Seth Brown is pastor of St. Mary Parish in New Berlin, Sacred Heart Parish in Franklin, Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Alexander, and St. Sebastian in Waverly.