Friday, January 30, 2009

Lift High the Cross

At the time when the Roman empire ruled the world, crucifixion was the symbol and means by which Rome exerted her power and might. Crucifixion was used for slaves, rebels, pirates and especially-despised enemies and criminals. Therefore crucifixion was considered a most shameful and disgraceful way to die. Condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion (like feudal nobles from hanging, dying more honorably by decapitation) except for major crimes against the state, such as high treason. The goal of Roman crucifixion was not just to kill the criminal, but also to mutilate and dishonor the body of the condemned. In ancient tradition, an honorable death required burial; leaving a body on the cross, so as to mutilate it and prevent its burial, was a grave dishonor. For many decades after Jesus was crucified Christians did not use the crucifix as a symbol, it had too much painful baggage with it. In fact because of the horror of it there has always been from the beginning of the early church some doubt as to whether God could "lower himself" to the state of man. There have been of course heresies (of which I won't go into detail) that have in some way or another deny either Christ's humanity or divinity. There are Protestant preachers today whom I have heard who whether they realize or not deny some aspects of both. St. Anselm, who lived in the 11th century, was a Benedictine monk and became the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote a dialogue on incarnation and atonement called Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man). In it he explains this dual nature of Jesus that is central to the Catholic Church's understanding of God's salvific plan. He wrote:
"They who speak thus do not understand our belief. For we affirm that the Divine nature is beyond doubt impassible, and that God cannot at all be brought down from his exaltation, nor toil in anything which he wishes to effect. But we say that the Lord Jesus Christ is very God and very man, one person in two natures, and two natures in one person. When, therefore, we speak of God as enduring any humiliation or infirmity, we do not refer to the majesty of that nature, which cannot suffer; but to the feebleness of the human constitution which he assumed. And so there remains no ground of objection against our faith. For in this way we intend no debasement of the Divine nature, but we teach that one person is both Divine and human. In the incarnation of God there is no lowering of the Deity; but the nature of man we believe to be exalted."
Catholic Churches show Jesus in his crucified state to remind us what God was willing to do for us. Jesus felt, the scourging, he felt the nails being driven in his hands and feet, the crown of thorns, the piercing of his side. The Mass is this Paschal Mystery being brought to us through space and time. It is not Jesus being being crucified again and again as those who would argue that Jesus died once and only one time for our sins. And so the crucifixion which one was once the very symbol of arrogance and horror, fear and power, debasement, dishonor, and disgrace, is now the quite the opposite, demonstrative of God's boundless love and the only source of our hope and salvation. Those who feared the cross now lift high the Cross and as St. Louis de Montfort wrote "Love the Cross, Desire Crosses, contempt, pain, abuse, insults, disgrace, persecutions, humiliations, calumnies, illness, injuries. May Jesus prevail, May His Cross prevail!

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