Why a crucifix?

Why A Crucifix

The cross is the universal Christian icon, yet there are two common forms. The empty cross focuses on Jesus’ resurrection and is preferred by most Protestants. The crucifix focuses on Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice and is preferred by Catholics. Both Protestants and Catholics alike have deep reverence for either form.

A crucifix may be found wherever there are Catholics – on rosaries and necklaces; in our classrooms, hospitals, and of course, churches. When you visit a Catholic church, a crucifix is prominently displayed. At my church, it is imposing – maybe 6 feet tall – and suspended in the air high above the altar. It is an integral part of every Mass. The GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal – the document for the conduct of Mass) states that a crucifix is required during the celebration of the Mass:

There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations.

GIRM 308

I feel closer to our Lord in its presence. I not only remember Jesus generally, but especially his ultimate and undeserved gift to us.

A crucifix is certainly an “uncomfortable” image. It shows us, in a very mild form, a portion of Christ’s Passion. It is the greatest reminder of His infinite love for us, accepting the full consequences of our sins. Our focus throughout the year is therefore on our redemption through His sacrifice on Good Friday even more than His resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Father Vincent Serpa, a Dominican Friar and Catholic Answers Apologist offers this excellent reflection on the Passion of Our Lord:

The agony in the garden was really the agony in His mind. He suffered the passion in His mind before He suffered it in His body – to the point of actually affecting the latter by sweating blood. But from then on, it was His bodily suffering that affected His mental suffering.

At the base of all His suffering was the one thing that human beings dread the most: rejection. He was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter and abandoned by all the rest of His Apostles; those He had hand picked as His closest intimates. He was most rejected by those who put Him to death. They not only wanted Him dead, they wanted Him to suffer. They not only considered Him to be worth nothing, they considered Him to be worth minus nothing! This significance was not lost on Him. He felt fully the rejection as each physical agony reminded Him.

So we thank Him for joining us on our human journey and actually choosing to experience what we fear the most.

We thank Him for enduring the arrest and the cruelty of the guards and the Sanhedrin. We thank Him for enduring the cruelty of Pilate who allowed Him to be executed rather than risk his own political ruin – and for the cruelty of Herod who wanted to be entertained by having Him work a miracle. We thank Him for all the time He spent satisfying their preoccupation with themselves, just delaying His ultimate death. We thank Him for the anxiety of that night in a cell.

The next morning He was brutally scourged with such intensity and violence that He became as an aged man in a matter of minutes. His multiple wounds bloodied His entire body. The loss of so much blood not only severely weakened Him; it also caused a severe, throbbing headache that remained with Him for the duration.

We thank Him for this and for the mockery He received when they put a purple cloth on His shoulders and pushed a crown of thorns down into His head which intensified His headache. They blindfolded Him and slapped Him, insisting that He “prophesy” who had hit Him. They spat on Him and beat Him. But it was they who were blind. He knew who they were. This is what we do when we sin. We blot him out of our consciousness as if He can’t see us. But it is we who choose to not see.

He stood at the praetorium in utter disgrace according to the attitude of the crowd — while in reality, He stood in utter glory: almighty God, being present to every person who has ever suffered rejection, joining them in their moment of pain. It was there that He was sentenced to death by crucifixion. As a further humiliation, He was forced to carry His instrument of execution. He revealed to St. Bernard that carrying the cross was His most painful agony. He was so weak, He could hardly walk. So the weight of the cross on His shoulder was unbearable. It most likely dislocated His shoulder. It is not surprising that He fell down on the stone streets that were filthy with animal dung &ndash with the cross on top of Him. And He got up each time.

It was only with the help of Simon of Cyrene that He made it to the top of Calvary. There they drove the nails into the carpal tunnels of His hands, causing pain throughout His upper body. The nail in His feet registered great pain through all the sensitive nerves there. When the cross was righted, His up-stretched arms squeezed His lungs and He began to pant for lack of oxygen. So He had to push down on His crucified feet to push His body up in order to fill His lungs with air. This took great effort because He was so weak. Yet He managed to maintain such effort for three hours of agony which increased gradually as He became weaker moment by moment.

By the end of the third hour, His agony was at its peak and His self-gift was exquisite. He had come to the point where His strength simply gave out and He suffocated. In this eternal moment as He died, He gave us His life. Transcending time, this moment of divine love is present to us in the tabernacles of the world.

Thank you, Lord. We adore you O Christ and we praise you. By your holy cross, you have redeemed the world!

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Through the eyes of faith we see the glory of the crucifix. Good Friday wishes to you all.

Being Catholic

Being Catholic

I have been thinking lately about what it means to be Catholic.

It is not primarily about membership but of heart; not of church buildings but of actions; not of organization but of obedience. One can be Catholic technically, but not in practice, to one degree or another. In fact, one can be other than Catholic yet lead a faith driven life more consistent with Catholic beliefs than some who are Catholic.

I am not concluding from these observations that it is therefore unimportant to embrace our faith. However being Catholic in name, of itself, does not lead to salvation any more than not being Catholic prohibits it.

Being Catholic is a tremendous opportunity and great gift to participate most fully in the Church founded by our Lord and Savior. That opportunity includes Christian truth passed to us by Sacred Tradition and Holy Scripture, interpreted and taught by a Magisterium protected by the Holy Spirit. That gift also includes the sacraments, administered by those with authority from Jesus flowing all the way from the Apostles. Church teachings gives us reliable catechesis and we receive blessings and graces through the sacraments.

We are free to turn away from God and his Church, fully or in part. Nothing pleases Satan more. Satan has a window of opportunity – our mortal life – to pervert us. He succeeds not only when we sin, but when we question and seriously doubt our faith, or when we create personal theologies — Catholic but…   There is a long list of of exclusions some have embraced, to Satan’s delight, such as ignoring holy days of obligation, contraception, premarital sex, remarriage, homosexual acts, misguided “causes” such as women priests, non-Christian beliefs such as relativism, and even abortion.

To Satan’s dismay, most Catholics remain faithful. They study, pray and seek guidance when they have doubts. They work to live free of sin, but when they fail they truly repent and seek absolution through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Their faith is the Catholic faith without personal modifications. I believe faithful Catholics share in blessings of peace, joy and happiness that elude – and will always elude – those in prideful arrogance who follow their own hard heart.

Satan is not satisfied to just tempt individuals. He is determined and thinks big! Through his efforts our human failings are wildly exaggerated in the press (so called mainstream media). We are mocked. Myths are spread. Some are led by apostasy to schism and heresy. Being Catholic means we are steadfast none-the-less, now and forever. We have complete confidence in Jesus’ promise that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail.”

If you are seeking the fullness of the Christian faith, learn more about Catholicism. We are Satan’s number one target for good reason. If you are a lapsed Catholic, come home! The answers you seek are, and always were, right here. Time in our mortal lives is running out.

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.”

View more thoughtful, heartfelt testimonials at Catholics Come Home .org.

Catholics and politics

Catholic Politics

I had some other ideas for today’s post, but feel this would be a good time to reflect on Catholicism and politics. For some months now we have been in the jaws of the healthcare “debate.” Players in this saga include politicians at its center, plus all of us on the fringe. Venues ranged from congress to the dinner table.

This bill was especially important to Catholics for two reasons: its social justice and abortion aspects. Catholics were, and will remain, an integral part of this continuing issue.

Catholic bishops have spoken clearly, repeatedly, as a group and as individuals, on the healthcare bill. Abortion is a grave evil and is not outweighed by other potential benefits. The Senate bill – which became the President’s bill – has deep flaws in abortion funding and conscience protections. It is not acceptable as is and must be modified. No one who is objectively informed doubts that it introduces serious new abortion perils nor that a presidential executive order is more than political cover.

One of the things that I noticed in various discussions is the direction people are coming from. I have often read or heard arguments that begin with political party talking points and follow with selective Church teaching to justify them. Those taking this tact are tempted to skip or reinterpret teaching that does not support their position and push it aside. In doing this, they put their political party ahead of their faith. That is a serious mistake and at times we are all tempted to loose focus and priorities.

Public Catholic political and non-political figures have been repeatedly in the news. Some Catholic politicians were in support of the Senate bill and others opposed. Those supporting expressed a viewpoint that the abortion restrictions were sufficient. Those opposed expressed the opposite viewpoint, gave detailed reasons why and supported the bishops’ priority of life above important, but lesser considerations.

It certainly was discouraging to witness politicians who, as professed Catholics, supported this bill with flaws so serious that it will ultimately expand abortion. Both the House version and Senate versions of the bill were seriously flawed in this regard. In the House, Brad Stupak was able to form a coalition of enough pro-life Representatives to force it to be corrected. In the Senate however, Ben Nelson proposed the same corrections but was defeated. To be clear, the Senate overtly and purposefully rejected these corrections. It is the Senate’s version that became the President’s version and was passed.

The bill did not pass easily and until the very end, did not have sufficient votes. In addition to every Republican Representative, a dozen pro-life Democrat Representatives held-out against the bill. Most of them gave-in to the extraordinary pressure and threats, settling not for changes to the bill or even corrections via the following “fix” bill – but simply an unsustainable Presidential order. Pro-abortion groups are sure to sue in order to neuter it. They will prevail by well established case law. Everyone knows this.

The most immediate failure of Catholic politicians was for some not to join the coalition against the bill and for others to eventually cave. The latter would not have been possible without the actions taken by two Catholic organizations that weakened their public support. First was the Catholic Health Association, hospital administrators basically, that publicly backed the bill in opposition to the bishops. Later a small group of activist sisters religious did also. Leaders of both groups met privately with the President, published press releases and gave interviews.

Other Catholic groups remained steadfast to Church teaching and the explicit guidance from our bishops. The Catholic Medical Association (physicians) and other women religious did their best to counter, but the damage was irreversibly done. The mainstream media delivered exaggerated claims and made it seem like Catholics were generally divided on this issue. We did not speak with a unified voice and our voice was therefore marginalized. Political interests had expertly played those of us who were vulnerable for their own ends.

That is what happened and there are lessons to be learned. It would lack charity to conclude that certain politicians, the CHA, or sisters acted with evil intent. It is appropriate, however, to work for change. We can support new candidates in November, regardless of their political party, who are pro-life to replace those who have been tested and failed. We can pray that the Vatican’s investigation begun last year into US women religious will bear fruitful results.

As always pray for our political leaders, that their eyes and hearts are opened to the full repercussions of their actions. Pray to Mother Mary that her Church will be strengthen and united.

Update – for more information see:

Eucharistic Adoration

Eucharistic Adoration

Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion (see Communion, like no other). Consecrated bread and wine become the true, literal body and blood of Christ preserving only their former appearance. This is what Jesus taught at the last supper and we do not doubt Him!

At Mass we are in the direct presence of our Lord and have the opportunity to speak to Him through prayer – or just to listen. His literal presence makes this distinctly different than when we pray elsewhere. For this reason parishioners come to Mass early, or stay after, for additional prayer in His presence in the tabernacle (where the undistributed Eucharist is reserved between Masses).

Many Catholic churches offer Eucharistic Adoration where the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance — a special cross that holds and displays the Eucharist at its center. Many of those parishes have small chapels for this purpose, as does mine. Parishioners go there for quiet prayer, reflection or inspirational reading in Jesus’ direct presence.

It is highly fitting that Christ should have wanted to remain present to his Church in this unique way. Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence; since he was about to offer himself on the cross to save us, he wanted us to have the memorial of the love with which he loved us “to the end,” even to the giving of his life. In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us, and he remains under signs that express and communicate this love:

The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease. — John Paul II

CCC 1380

Parishes with Adoration go to significant effort to insure someone is always with our Lord. To that end parishioners sign-up as Adoration Guardians for specific hours at all times throughout the day and night. Some hours are committed by individuals while others may be covered by a group of people.

The guys at my Men’s Fellowship table have signed up for Thursday mornings from 3:00am to 4:00am. Some have the honor regularly while others may offer as needed. Since one of the Lenten suggestions is increased prayer, I signed up for yesterday morning (my first time).

I went to bed early but it was still a small struggle to wake up at 2:20am! There was a very light rain, but virtually no traffic so the trip took little time. Outside the adoration chapel is a large sign reminding passers-by of adoration and asking for silence. A table holds a log book for guardians which I signed.

Inside the door are holy water fonts and sufficient space to genuflect before taking a seat (the chapel seats up to 35). There were 3 other people there when I arrived. Two, including Trish whom I know, were covering the prior hour and left after a while. The chapel itself is small, very quiet, beautifully designed and appointed.

For a few minutes I just took it all in, rested and focused. It is very peaceful and easy to pray. Without rush or distractions, and in the close presence of our Lord, prayer felt deeper and more personal than usual. It was easier to both express myself and to discern guidance.

After praying, I read a short article on the Luminous Mysteries (The “Mysteries of Light” introduced by Pope John Paul II in 2002). Then, surprisingly, it was 4:00am. It is always amazing to me how fast time passes when praying and studying.

Tony had arrived for an hour he was covering by then, so I left and returned home. The clock read 4:30am when I turned the light off – about two hours after waking up. As I again laid in bed, in the darkness, I suddenly sensed a taste in my mouth. I recognized it as the faint taste of communion wine. Non-believers have all manner of ways to dismiss such, but I believe God speaks to, and encourages us, in many ways.



No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Lent has begun. During this part of the liturgical year we prepare ourselves for Easter through reflection, repentance, prayer and conversion. Conversion of our hearts away from sin and to God. Marcel LeJeune has a nice FAQ over on the Aggie Catholic blog summarizing the Lenten season.

Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat on all Fridays during Lent. These acts of penance increase the self-discipline needed toward holiness and bring us closer to God.

Lent is a season full of tradition and a rich liturgical calendar. Important dates include Ash Wednesday, the Sundays of Lent, Feast of St. Patrick, Feast of St. Joseph, The Annunciation of the Lord, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter. Many parishes also offer a wide variety of special programs and activities.

Every day in Lent is important but a few are extra important to me: Ash Wednesday because it marks the beginning, Holy Thursday because it remembers the last supper from which Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Communion, Good Friday because it remembers the high price paid for our salvation and of course, the resurrection of our Lord on Easter.

This year I also have a special interest in the Easter Vigil Mass during which the Catechumens from my RCIA class will be baptized and confirmed. After Easter these folks, together with those of us who were recently confirmed, will again meet for several weeks of mystagogia. It is a special time of reflection on our journey and sending as fully active and participating members of the Catholic Church. I am looking forward to it.