Category Archives: Gospel

The Loving, Great Physician Must Diagnose And Prescribe

Most of us have probably heard it said that the Church is like a hospital for sick people (sinners), not a mansion for healthy people (saints), or something to that effect.  The analogy is apt, especially in light of Jesus being the Great Physician and we all being sinners.  As Jesus said, the sick people need the doctor, not the well ones.

The good news of the gospel is that God loved us so much He gave His only Son to die for us and to call us to repentance.  That is where we find healing from our illness of sin.  The Church’s job is to spread this good news to the rest of the world.

In order for a hospital or the Church to provide healing, there must be diagnosis and treatment.  This is where things get tricky.  People want to be welcomed at the door, but they don’t always want to be diagnosed.  Even if they allow themselves to be diagnosed, they may be unwilling to follow the doctor’s orders.

The Church (like a hospital) also works against the spread of disease (sin).  Consequently, if a patient is spreading “germs” that may infect others, the Church has the obligation to try and contain the outbreak.  Some patients may be a “health risk” without even realizing it.  They need to be informed and instructed on what to do for their own health as well as the health of everyone else.  That’s why the Church puts boundaries on certain behaviors.  We all impact each other.

The Church has to balance her responsibility to welcome all sinners with her responsibility to diagnose and treat sinners.  Even if the Church is the most loving, warm, welcoming place on Earth, we still need to hear what our sins are.  We need the diagnosis.  Coming to Christ requires repentance.  We need to know what to repent of.  If the Church does not let us know what our sins are, she is not really doing her job.  The Great Physician is in the healing business, but, in order to heal, He must also diagnose and prescribe.  This is where many Christians lose the balance.

It does no good to get people in the door then refuse to call them to repentance.  It is even worse to draw people in by calling their evil deeds good, thereby robbing them of their need for repentance and healing.  Often, when people are told, “What you are doing is immoral” they will head for the door.  So, a lot of churches would rather say, “What you’re doing is fine,” or, say nothing at all.  Such churches may have  pleasant bedside manners, but they do people a disservice by failing to diagnose and prescribe.

Other churches are so determined to point out sin that they forget the importance of a good bedside manner.  People generally won’t hear the message until they feel a certain degree of trust and safety that can only be established through genuine, caring relationships.  When we sense how much the doctor cares, we are more likely to follow the prescription.

Jesus was welcoming to everyone.  He loves us unconditionally, but He also calls us to holiness.  Jesus pointed out sin, called for repentance and said, “Go and sin no more.”  He welcomed, He diagnosed and He prescribed.  Still, some people accepted Him, and some people walked away from Him.  So it is with the Church.  The doctor must be kind and honest with the patient, but the patient must cooperate with the doctor in order for healing to take place.

Regarding Catholics And Sharing The Faith

I’ve been pondering the reasons why Catholics tend to be so reserved when it comes to sharing the Faith with others.  There’s no way I can determine all the reasons, but I think I can pinpoint some of the obstacles.  When we know what stands in the way we have a better chance of knocking down those walls.  Interestingly, these reasons for not sharing the faith also relate to why many Catholics leave the Faith when approached by more evangelically-minded church goers.

1)      We are not generally taught to share our faith as individuals.  Occasionally, we may have a missionary priest speak as a guest at a Sunday Mass.  There will be stories of efforts to help people abroad along with an appeal for support.  We typically give the mission our financial support and prayers and that’s it.  Done.  Spreading the gospel is what missionaries are for, right?  Why should I as an individual ever have to open my mouth about my faith?  We don’t see each other witnessing the faith, so we don’t perceive such behavior as the norm.  We think it falls on a select few to openly share the Faith.

2)      The Catholic Church used to have lots of big families which kept the pews filled with new, baby Christians.  Why bother sharing the Faith with others when our numbers increase automatically?  The large, Catholic family is less frequent these days for various reasons.  Nevertheless, the same God that said, “Be fruitful and multiply” also said, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.”  We need both reproductive and evangelical increase in numbers.

3)      We can’t share what we don’t know.  There is a basic level of knowledge about the Faith that the average Catholic is woefully ignorant of.  Woe unto us if we don’t know the information.  Woe unto us, not just woe unto the clergy.  Each and every Catholic is responsible for knowing the Faith through self study.  We don’t have to be theologians or Bible scholars, but we have to know what we believe and why we believe it.  No school teacher ever expected students to learn without doing their homework.  Why do we think the clergy alone can magically teach us everything we need to know from the pulpit?  Do your homework, Catholics!  Read the Bible. Read the Catechism.  Read Catholic books.  Watch DVDs.  Listen to CDs and audio books on your way to work.  Look up information on reputable internet sites.  Stop the excuses and learn your Faith.  We are told to “be ready to give an answer to anyone that asks about the hope that is within you.”  The idea is to “be ready.”  If someone asks you a question about your faith, be ready with more than a deer-in-the-headlights expression.  Being ready requires forethought and education.  If you don’t know the answer, look it up and get back to the person later.

4)      Fear.  Ignorance of the Faith contributes to a lack of confidence about sharing the Faith.  We are afraid to speak up because we don’t want to reveal our ignorance.  Everyone has some degree of fear about taking the spotlight.  Every soldier experiences fear, but the ones with some training can at least form a plan of action.  Again, know your Faith.  You’ll still have some fear of speaking up, but at least you’ll have something to say.

5)      We’re polite and politically correct.  Never talk about religion or politics, right?  You might offend someone or start a big scene.  The problem is that most Catholics don’t know enough to simply say, “No, that’s not really what the Catholic Church teaches,” or “Here’s why the Catholic Church teaches that.”  You don’t have to have big, hostile arguments with people or long, drawn out discussions.  You simply need to plant some seeds.  People are fed a ton of misinformation about Catholicism by the media, by non-Catholic Christians and even by confused or “former” Catholics.  It can have a big impact for an informed Catholic to gently and charitably offer a seed of accurate information.  Give people something to think about.  Speak the truth in love and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

6)      We’ve bought into the spirit of Relativism.  Why should I spread “my truth” when “their truth” is just as valid as what I believe?  All truth is relative, right?  Wrong.  Jesus told us to go make disciples for a reason.  The reason is that Jesus proclaimed himself to be “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”  Jesus is not simply a way, a truth or a life.  If you don’t believe that, there’s ultimately no reason to be a Catholic.  Don’t sit there in Mass reciting the Creed and then claim that “all truth is relative.”  Again, we’re afraid we might offend someone who believes differently than we do.  Are you going to serve Jesus or relativism?  Make a choice.  You’re allowed to be smart about this.  No one is saying that you have to run through your work place screaming, “Convert to Catholicism or die and go to Hell, you heathens!  And I don’t care if you fire me!”  Scripture tells us to “be as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves.”  Be tactful.  Be kind and loving.  Be sensitive.  Be discreet.  Be quiet when necessary, but at least “be ready”.  Don’t be a relativist.

7)      Our personal, spiritual growth and conversion is stunted.  Conversion and holiness is an ongoing growth process, not a one-time decision.  When we feed our bodies poison, it can stunt our growth, make us ill or even kill us.  The same is true in the spiritual life.  Garbage in, garbage out.  Sharing our faith isn’t even on our radar because we are too occupied with everything else, much of which isn’t worthy of our precious time.  How many hours do we spend being indoctrinated by television, video games, the internet, etc?  How much effort do we put into pleasure-seeking activities?  What would happen if we replaced one hour of television per day with one hour of prayer and reading about the Faith?  Maybe we would actually have something of substance to share with others.

8)      We love lots of other things more than we love Jesus.  Even our lifestyles are often not a good witness for Christ.  What engaged couple is hesitant to tell others about their love?  Their priority is evident.  If we really love Jesus we will have a desire to introduce him to others.  Catholicism is all about a relationship with Jesus, but so many Catholics don’t even realize it.  No wonder other Christians often accuse Catholics of having “religion” but “no relationship with Christ.”  In many cases, the shoe fits.  We will not be able to fully appreciate and share Catholicism, the fullness of the Christian faith, until we fall head over heels in love with Jesus and forsake our idols in life.  Jesus has to be our first love.  That’s what it’s all about, folks!  Catholicism!  Learn it, love it, live it and share it!

What I Hear Pope Francis Saying

There’s been some controversy surrounding recent comments by Pope Francis.  I don’t know why, other than maybe because of people trying to spin his words to fit their political agendas.  But, like it has been noted elsewhere, there is no left or right, there is only Catholic.

Nothing the Pope has said even remotely suggests a departure from Church teaching.  He has said, “Heal the wounds.”  The only thing that heals the wounds caused by sin is the Gospel.  Spreading the Gospel is the Church’s primary mission.  Always has been, always will be.  Pope Francis is simply calling the Church to focus on the Church’s primary mission so that other desirable outcomes will follow.  He is essentially saying, “Don’t put the cart before the horse.”

How can we expect the world to understand certain moral principles if their hearts have not been transformed by the Gospel?  We can’t.  To use the Pope’s medical analogy, it’s like spiritual triage.  The hemorrhaging needs to be stopped first.  Then other treatments can be applied.  If a person is bleeding to death, the other treatments don’t matter.  If a person has not been saved and transformed by the Gospel, it does little to reason with them about morality.  When we don’t help people to see the Gospel we come across as legalistic moralizers.  Legalism does not heal wounded souls.

I also believe the Pope’s comments echo the old adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  He is calling Catholics to a higher standard of love and compassion that looks beyond the wounds and sinfulness and sees the face of Jesus in each person.  Each person needs the Gospel to heal their wounds.  Then each person can become another healer.

Pope Francis just wants every Catholic to be like Jesus.  Jesus loved people first and then helped them see what they needed to do better.  Catholics have faith.  Catholics have hope.  Catholics need to make sure we have godly love before all else, for it is the greatest of the three and the only one that remains for eternity.

I love Pope Francis.  There’s nothing wrong with a loving kick in the pants to keep us on track.  The Gospel is what the human heart fundamentally craves.  The Gospel is what will draw people to Christ and his Church.  Then, with transformed hearts, their lives will be open to Church teachings.  Thank you for your shepherding, Pope Francis.

For My Friends That “Don’t Get Anything Out Of Mass” Because It Is Boring Or Confusing

One of the most common complaints I hear from friends that left Catholicism is, “I just didn’t get anything out of going to Mass.”  Many of these friends now attend non-Catholic, Christian churches (if they attend at all).  Typically, the services they attend consist of music and a sermon.  No kneeling, standing up and sitting back down.  No confusing rituals or ancient traditions.  Just praise music, a sermon and some fellowship.  These days, there might be a video to watch, too.  Why complicate matters?

I have absolutely nothing against the old “K.I.S.S.” idea (Keep It Simple, Stupid!), although I don’t like the idea of calling anyone stupid.  That’s just rude.  But I do like for things to be straightforward and to-the-point.  I don’t like to complicate matters.  So, why do I like going to Mass when it seemingly complicates a very simple Gospel message?  It is because, although the Gospel is simple, it is also very deep and profound.  The Mass is also simple yet deep and profound.  The Gospel can be accepted by the simplest person, and it can also endlessly occupy and challenge the minds of the greatest theologians and philosophers.  In other words, the Gospel is for everyone, and so is the Mass.

The Mass proclaims the simple message to believe in Christ for the salvation of one’s soul.  The Mass also reflects 2000 years of deep theological reflection on salvation through Christ.  I would like to make an attempt here to explain the basics of the Mass in a way my friends can understand.  There is no way I can cover everything here, but the basics are enough for now.  All it takes to “get something out of the Mass” is an awareness of a few things.

 

  1. The simple message of the Gospel is typically right in front of you when you are seated in a Catholic church.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  This is the verse that folks hold up at sporting events on big signs, right?  “John 3:16.”  A crucifix is simply John 3:16 in “picture form.”  When you are in a Catholic church and looking at the crucifix you are “seeing” the reality of John 3:16.  That is why Catholics have an image of Christ hanging on the cross.  It is also because of 1Corinthians 1:23 which says, “We preach Christ crucified…”  Jesus died for you.  Take a look.  Pretty simple, eh?  Yet, so profound!
  2. The first part of the Mass is the “Liturgy of the Word.”  We start with the sign of the cross.  That shows we believe in the Holy Trinity (One God, three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  It also shows that we belong to God, not to ourselves.
  3. We ask God for forgiveness.  Ever hear people say, “Catholics don’t go straight to God with their sins?”  We do it all the time, at every Mass!
  4. Next, we read the Bible and preach from it.  There is usually a reading from the Old Testament, something from the Psalms, and the New Testament.  We stand up during the Gospel reading to reverence the story of Christ’s time here on earth.  Over a three year period, a faithfully attending Catholic will hear nearly the entire Bible.  Pretty simple, eh?  Catholics may not be good at quoting chapter and verse, but we hear God’s Word if we are listening.  Very profound!
  5. The second part of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  This is where we as Christians do what Jesus commanded us to do.  At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine, blessed it, said “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” and told his followers to eat and drink it.  So, that’s what we do.  The priest, being ordained by the authority of Christ’s Church, stands in the place of Christ, and Christ’s words make the change happen (“Jesus told his priests, “He who hears you hears me.” Luke 10:16).  The bread and wine become Christ’s flesh and blood.  This has been the belief of the Church for 2000 years.  John chapter 6 shows how important this Eucharist is.  Jesus said, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.  If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have eternal life and I will raise you up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” (John 6:53-55)  Now, if you actually have the glorified Jesus Christ in the flesh right in your presence, it makes sense to show some respect and reverence, right?  So, we kneel down in worship.  Pretty simple, eh?  When we go forward for Communion, we accept Jesus into our hearts and also into our bodies.  Jesus wants to occupy every part of our being.  Now, that’s what I call Communion!  How profound, yet simple to do!  Anyone who believes can be fully united with Jesus!

 

Throughout these major parts of the Mass there are various hymns and prayers, including The Lord’s Prayer (The Our Father).  We are supposed to participate with and actively listen to these prayers and enter into the whole process of the Mass, not simply observe it.  The Mass is not a show to watch.  It is the way Jesus told us he wants to be worshipped.  A baptized Christian is part of the priesthood of believers.  We are supposed to be joining in with the worship and sacrifice, not watching a performance (1Peter 2:5).  Jesus is the High Priest, the earthly priest stands in for him, and we are the “living stones” of the “holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”  There is only one spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God by Jesus Christ; the sacrifice of Christ himself.  That’s why we lift him up in the Mass (John 3:14, 12:32).  That is also why people bow or genuflect towards the fancy, gold tabernacle in the church.  Some of the bread that has been changed into the body of Christ is kept in there.

The Mass is dismissed with an admonition to “Go.”  Christians are not supposed to be huddled up in their churches hiding from the world.  We are supposed to go to Mass, be nourished by Christ himself, and then take Christ out into the world we live in.  That’s not so hard to understand.

Like anything else in life, you get out of the Mass what you put into the Mass.  Remember, it is not there to entertain you.  It is also not an evangelizing service for recruiting new believers.  The Mass is there because it is how Jesus told us he wants believers to worship him and be fed by him.  The basics of the Mass do not change with the times.  Jesus never changes, and the way he told us to worship never changes.  That’s why the Mass is so ancient.  It was started by the unchanging Jesus 2000 years ago.

If there are things you don’t understand about the Mass, you can learn.  Ask questions, buy books, look up information on Catholic websites, whatever helps you to understand it better.  If you ask a question and don’t get a good answer, ask someone else who knows more.  Like anything else, once you know the basics, you wonder why it seemed so hard before.  The Mass is also very deep and profound.  The more I learn about the Mass, the more fascinating it becomes.  Every little action and word in the liturgy has deep meaning and purpose.

If you quit going to Mass because you were craving more fellowship, remember that Catholicism has other avenues for socializing.  It’s not enough to chat a few minutes before or after Mass.  If you really want the social interaction, you can find it in Catholicism.  Either find a more social parish or start a small group or event.  I recently joined a men’s group in my parish and it is helping me to be more social and involved.  You don’t need to leave Catholicism to have fellowship or to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Just imagine how vibrant and social your local parish and the entire Church would be if all those “former Catholics” saw the light and decided to return home to be fed by Christ himself!

Catholic Show And Tell

When someone says, “Evangelization,” most people probably imagine some combination of preaching, door knocking, handing out Bibles and tracts, and asking people if they have accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.  Or, if one is less inclined to boldly approach people with questions about their inner spiritual life, there is always “lifestyle evangelization” which allows one to quietly go about living without all the awkward, confrontational aspects of talking to others about Jesus.  The hope is that someone will be inspired to turn to Jesus by observing a pious Christian life.  How do Catholics evangelize?

Saint Francis of Assisi is usually credited with having said, “Preach always.  Use words when necessary.”  We are to evangelize with a combination of lifestyle and words.  If we are not living a life of genuine, Christian love, then our words lose credibility.  We also need words to describe why we live as we do.  We need to be able to articulate Catholic Christian ideas.  We need to show and tell the world why it is important to be a Catholic Christian.  Anyone can be nice.  Atheists and Agnostics can be nice.  Why be a Christian?  Why be a Catholic Christian?  Now more than ever, it is necessary to use words.

Peter, our first Pope, said, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” (1Peter 3:15).  We don’t have to be out in the town square with speakers and a microphone, but we need to be ready to use words.  We need to know the Catholic Faith well enough to provide more than a blank stare or evasive maneuvers when someone asks us what we believe.  We need to know what we believe, why we believe it, and what difference it makes.

During my Evangelical Protestant phase things were a bit different.  All I needed to do was summon up enough courage to invite someone to church (not always easy for an introvert like me).  The preacher would generally take it from there.  The service was primarily focused on the sermon.  Most sermons contained at least some reference to the human need for salvation through Christ and, at the end, an invitation to pray “the sinner’s prayer” or come forward and “accept Christ into your heart” (like at a Billy Graham crusade).  The preacher did all the heavy lifting.  All I had to do was get a person to go to the service with me.

The Catholic Mass is not an Evangelical service.  Although the Bible is read and a sermon is preached, the focus of the Mass is the Eucharist.  Christ instituted Christian worship at the Last Supper.  The Last Supper was the first Mass.  Mass is the 2000 year old celebration of Christ’s sacrifice for believers to participate in, not an evangelical service designed to recruit nonbelievers.  Unless a Catholic is able and willing to explain the Mass to a visitor, that visitor is likely to be rather confused by the experience.  If more Catholics became adept at explaining the Mass, it would be more effective to invite people to church.  This, of course, necessitates Catholics themselves understanding the Mass.  Many simply do not understand.

Catholics need to get serious about living out the Faith.  As Pope Francis recently said, it does no good to simply wear Christianity as a label.  Catholics need to learn the Faith before we can live it out and effectively share it with others.  We are not ready to “give answers” if we don’t know the answers.  We can’t expect the clergy to do all the heavy lifting.  The Second Vatican Council was focused on getting the laity involved in spreading the Gospel, not just doing readings or distributing Communion or being ushers.  Catholics need to read the Bible and the Catholic Catechism.  We need to study our Faith either at home or in classes.  There are countless resources available to us in the form of books, DVDs, Bible studies and the internet.  We have no excuse for ignorance of our Faith.

We need caring and sharing.  We have to genuinely care about people and care about the Faith in order to share the Faith.  When we care about a person, we desire to know more about that person.  If we care about Jesus, we will seek to know Him more.  The best way to know Jesus is to know the Church.  As Saint Joan of Arc said about Jesus and the Church, “They are simply the same thing.”  Know the Catholic Church, know Jesus.

The best way for Catholics to evangelize is to begin by knowing what Catholics believe, why we believe it, and what difference it makes.  We can invite people to Mass, but first we must prepare to explain the experience.  If we have children, we must teach them what the Mass is about.  The best way to learn something is to teach it.  We don’t need to be theologians or clergy to evangelize others.  But we at least need to know the basics of what we are doing and why we are doing it.  Understanding the Mass is a good starting point.  By evangelizing others, we might find ourselves converted.

At the end of every Mass we are told to “go.”  Let’s go and make disciples.  Let’s do Catholic show and tell.

C’mon, Jesus, Cut To The Chase!

The Gospel is simple, right?  Just believe in Jesus and you will be saved.  Well, it may be simple, but it’s not simplistic.  After all, Jesus spent three years teaching His disciples what He wanted them to teach us.  Then, the Apostles spent years teaching others through oral Tradition and written letters.  So, there must be more to learn and do.  The new birth is just that…a birth.  After birth comes growing and learning.  In other words, maturing in the Faith is just as important as being born into it.  Having the faith of a child is not the same thing as remaining immature and ignorant.  Childlike faith is not childish faith.

It seems many folks leave Catholicism (or avoid converting to it) because they are turned off by the complexity of it.  They want to “simply believe” without all the “extra stuff” that seems to complicate matters.  Imagine the Apostles saying to Jesus, “Umm, Master, can you just cut to the chase, please?  Why is it taking you years to tell us what we need to know?  Isn’t it enough that we believe in you?”  Yes, it was a “simple” step to drop everything and follow Jesus.  No, it was not “simplistic” in the sense that nothing else would need to be learned or accomplished after that initial step.  As Paul said, “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33)

Take, for example, how Jesus healed a certain blind man.  The man believed Jesus could do it.  The faith was there.  Jesus could have simply said, “You’re healed.”  Instead, Jesus spit on the ground, made some clay, rubbed it in the man’s eyes and told him to go wash it off (John Chapter 9).  After following Jesus’ directions, the man was healed.  For some reason, Jesus “complicated” things.  Notice, the blind man did not object and say, “Forget all this mud and washing business!  Why are you making me jump through all these hoops?  Just heal me, for crying out loud!”  The blind man did not insist on simplicity at the expense of heeding Christ’s words.

Catholicism is about following the directions of Christ in some very particular ways that go beyond the initial step of the new birth.  If you are avoiding the Church because of “all the rules and extra stuff” what you are actually doing is dismissing the directions of Christ.  What the Apostles learned from Christ and handed on to us is filled with depth and richness.  It has also matured over 2000 years.  It takes a lifetime to scratch the surface.

Nevertheless, if you insist on focusing on simplicity, even Catholicism offers that.  Believe in Christ and then, like the blind man, “do whatever He tells you” (as Mary said in John 2:5).  In other words, go to Mass.  Go to confession.  Partake of the Sacraments that Jesus gave us.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  It’s really not so complicated after all.  Yet, at the same time, it is extremely deep and complex.  We just have to stop the excuses and all the attempts to practice Christianity on our own terms.  Let’s be honest.  Sometimes we demand simplicity because we are simply being lazy.

Why A Crucifix? Why Not An Empty Cross?

I have often heard complaints about the Catholic use of the crucifix.  The typical remark is something similar to, “Jesus rose from the dead and is alive.  Why do you keep Him on the cross?  We use an empty cross because Jesus is alive!”  There are also people who think that the crucifix demonstrates that Catholics believe in “re-killing” Jesus at every Mass, which is a misunderstanding of the Mass.

Catholics know very well that Jesus is alive, and we do not “re-kill” Him in the Mass.  In fact, for the six weeks of Easter, the crucifix in my parish church is replaced by an image of the risen Christ.  Throughout the year, every weekend is a “little Easter” as we are expected to acknowledge the soberness of Good Friday and the celebration of Easter Sunday.  Catholics do not minimize Christ’s resurrection.  After all, it is His resurrected, glorified body we partake of at every Mass.

The Romans put crucified people on display to frighten the population into submission.  Catholics put the crucified Christ on display to say, “We’re not afraid of death or of you.”  In his Catholicism television series, Fr. Baron points out that holding up the crucifix is actually a kind of “taunt.”  It’s an “in your face” way of saying, “Christ has conquered death.  Do your worst to us and we will still overcome because Christ has overcome.”

We can also point to the Apostle Paul’s statement that “we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1Cor 1:23).  The crucifix is a visual aid for preaching the Gospel.  It stands in stark contrast to worldly expectations of what power and leadership are about.  But, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1Cor 1:25).  The Romans crucified thousands of people, but only Jesus conquered death.  Only Jesus was crucified willingly and for our sake.  His “foolishness” and “weakness” show God’s true power and leadership.  Catholics are showing the world, not just any cross, but the cross of Jesus.  That’s the one cross that changes everything.  Like Paul, Catholics “preach Christ crucified.”

When we look upon the crucifix, we also see more than the cross of Jesus.  We are also reminded that we are not yet finished with our own crosses.  Jesus has risen, but we still have a cross to bear in this life.  The servant is not above the Master.  The servant follows the Master.  The crucifix is a daily reminder that Jesus does not remove all of our suffering in this life.  In this life, we are called to embrace whatever suffering comes our way for His sake.  The crucifix indicates that Christians are still called to follow His lead to the cross.  The empty cross is a bit too sanitized and easy to look upon.  Christ calls us to life as it is here and now.  Life is messy.

Catholics absolutely rejoice in Christ’s resurrection and we await the day when we can join Him in that blessed hope.  Yet, we also realize that we must presently be about the business of carrying our crosses.  We, like our Master, must die to self before we can live with Him.  So, we look upon the crucifix now and place our future hope in the resurrection.  We’re not finished yet.  We’re still running the race and fighting the good fight.  The crucifix reminds us.