The Meaning Hidden in the Construction
Fr. James Chelich, 1995
A cross is constructed of two beams: an upright or vertical beam, and a horizontal beam. Each beam “says” something. It possesses a psychological meaning. The upright or vertical beam says, “God controls.” the horizontal beam says, “I control.”
G O D I C O N T R O L C O N T R O L S
Fixed together to form a cross, they express the inner conflict with God experienced at one time or another by every woman or man: “God does not control the way I want things controlled.” “God does not control according to my wants, my expectations, my demands.” The cross expresses our fundamental problem with God: God is not the god I would be. Our wills are sharply opposed to God’s at a number of critical points, on a number of issues. This creates an uncomfortable, even painful tension. We resolve this tension in our favor philosophically by saying, “If there is to be true freedom, I must be in control.” We resolve the problem theologically by saying, “After all, were we not created to ‘be like gods?’”(Gn 3:5)
Why People Stand at a Distance from Crosses
Getting too near a cross is painful. Not only does it express too clearly the conflict with God we carry within us, it brings to memory too well the past (and present) consequences of our controlling: the opportunities for growth and change we shut down by our need to be in control, and the people we crucified with the words and actions we used to take control. Somehow, down deep, a man or woman knows that if they get too near a cross they might see all this and have to admit: “I am out of control!” At the cross our most cherished illusion is shattered and we are challenged to embrace the most fundamental and painful of all human truths: “I am not God.”
Cross or Crucifix?
For a Catholic there is no such thing as a cross without someone hanging on it. The only cross we know is the crucifix. This does not mean that it is any easier for us to get near the cross, face the consequences of “I control”, or embrace the truth that our lives are out of control. It does mean that when we find the courage to approach the cross or discover that the cross has found us, we need only look up and we will see our God, hanging there, waiting for us.
God’s Presence Makes a Difference
God’s presence on the cross makes the cross an expression of something new and very different. It now says: “You are loved, you don’t have to control.” Once you open your heart to hear this, the entire psychological meaning of the cross is transformed. The two beams take on an entirely new meaning. The upright or vertical beam now says: “God initiates.” The horizontal beam now says: “I respond.” The beams joined together to form the cross now express a whole new pattern of relation-ship with God, others and the world around you:
“God initiates, I respond” The tremendous pressure in me to “fix” and make everything right is broken. “God initiates, I contribute” I contribute out of my gifts and talents, out of who I am and what I have to offer in the moment. “God initiates, I embrace” With human hands and heart and mind I embrace what God is doing in my life, in the life of another or in the world around me.
What was a symbol of endless conflict, crucifixion and death now becomes an expression of being loved and the expression of a new pattern of life. We can now come back to our original question:
How do You make the Sign of the Cross? G O D I C O N T R O L C O N T R O L S
G G G O O O D D D I R E S P O N D I C O N T R I B U T E I E M B R A C E I I I N N N I I I T T T I I I A A A T T T E E E S S S
“May I never boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! Through it the world has been crucified to me and I to the world… All that matters is that one is created anew. Peace and mercy on all who follow this rule of life.” Galatians 6:14-16