I have a large and very old bronze Crucifix – pictured above – which I think is somewhere over one hundred years old. I suspect it was once in the possession of a member of a religious order, given the quality of it and also the heavy chain originally attached to it, indicating that it was to be worn around the neck – only a religious would have worn such a large Crucifix. I find myself wondering who that religious was and where they went with the Crucifix, what they did and how it inspired them.
This Crucifix takes pride of place in my little oratory, where it hangs above the altar which is there; it hangs on a slightly larger dark wood Cross and is attached in such a way that I am able to take the Crucifix down, leaving the wooden Cross in place. I like to contemplate this Crucifix at some length, to hold it and simply to consider precisely what it means. When sitting in the oratory to pray, my eyes find their way to it over and over. Most of the time, I leave this particular Crucifix where it is. When I go out, I generally have a smaller – but equally old – Crucifix in my bag. This is the travelling one, around six inches long.
Considering the Crucifix in this manner is not a practice confined to myself alone – I see there is something of an apostolate in what are referred to as “holding Crosses”. These are primarily small, simple, made of olive wood (which often comes from the Holy Land) and having rounded edges – they are designed to be held, especially in moments of prayer.
There is something deeply powerful about simply holding the Crucifix or one of these “holding Crosses”. This is a different action from simply contemplating the Crucifix on the wall, I find, where there is a physical distance between it and us. Holding it in our own hands, the object itself becomes in some way ‘real’ through the very tactility of touching it, which then encourages us to contemplate it in greater depth.
If anyone wishes to follow Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily
As well as those moments in which we hold the Cross, there is a far deeper reality at work here – the Cross is holding us. The Cross is holding the entire world and all of humanity.
Christ told us that when lifted up, He would draw all mankind to Himself; and it is upon the Cross that this takes place. This moment is the redemption of all the world, offering us salvation precisely through that Cross. We might hold the Cross – but never as much as it holds us.
The Cross is the sign of the faith we profess and of the Gospel message to which we are invited to respond. Pope Francis tells us – “The Cross is the holy sign of God’s love and a sign of Jesus’ sacrifice.. as a result, if we want to be His disciples, we are called to imitate Him, expending our life unreservedly out of love of God and neighbour”.
And so in this way, the Cross is not simply a visible sign nor just a reminder – it is, too, a call to action. It is a very visible reminder of our responsibilities as Christians – for this Christ whom we profess to follow, He was crucified for love of all of us; so, too, are we tasked with crucifying ourselves for love of Him and of neighbour.
Perhaps this is why the reverse of our Cross is empty – it is the space we ourselves are invited to occupy.