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The Colors of the Cross: Conference
Offering It Up
- Participating in Christ’s Cross
- The Four Pillars of St. Peter’s Basilica
- St. Helen: Finding Our Crosses
- St. Longinus: Staying Close to Christ’s Heart
- St. Andrew the Apostle: “Fix your gaze on Jesus”
- St. Veronica: Comforting the Body of Christ
- Conclusion & Questionnaire
Participating in Christ’s Cross
We have meditated on the value of Christ’s Cross for our salvation: through the Cross, Jesus reversed the evil of original sin and showed us the totality of his love — those were the first two colors of the Cross.
But now we need to get practical and ask how we can carry our own crosses as courageously and fruitfully as Jesus carried his.
Here is where the third color of the Cross comes
into play — the skin-flesh-and-bones color of Christ’s humanity. Jesus, hanging on the cross, was fully human. For this reason, we know that he understands everything we go through; we never have to suffer alone.
All we have to do is identify our crosses — to name them and accept them — and then unite them to Christ’s Cross by “offering them up,” as the old saying goes.
We have to turn our crosses into a participation in Christ’s Cross, that’s what “offering it up” means.
It’s not really that complicated: it’s simply a question of activating our faith when we feel the weight of our crosses, and lifting our hearts to God through a little prayer of self-surrender.
When we do that, our crosses become channels allowing God’ saving grace — which began to flow into the world through Christ’s Cross — to continue flowing and spreading into our lives and the lives of those around us.
The Four Pillars of St. Peter’s Basilica
The Church gives us a beautiful and powerful illustration of this inside one of its most magnificent buildings: St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This Basilica was constructed over the tomb of St. Peter.
The main altar is located above the tomb, and the 157 meter high dome that rises above that altar was designed by Michelangelo and completed in 1590.
The inside of the dome is decorated with blue and gold mosaics depicting angels, Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, the Twelve Apostles, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, all surrounding Jesus: it is a portrait of heaven.
This colossal structure is supported architecturally by four huge pillars. Niches were carved in each of those pillars, and large statues of four saints were sculpted to fill those niches.
One common theme connects these four saints: They all participated, in some way, in Christ’s passion, in the drama of Christ carrying and dying on his Cross. This is not just coincidence. The message is clear: in order to climb to the heights of holiness, to reach the glory of heavenly light, we have to pass through the sufferings and sorrows of the Cross.
The monks of Middle Ages created a phrase summarizing this theological lesson: per crucem ad lucem — through the cross, to the light.
That theological truth is embodied architecturally in the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and the four statues placed in the pillars supporting that dome. Let’s look at these statues, to learn better how we can offer up our sufferings and carry our crosses.
St. Helen: Finding Our Crosses
The first sculpture is of St. Helen.
Helen was a Roman empress — mother of the great Constantine, who legalized Christianity in the year 313, ending almost three centuries of Roman persecution of the Church.
Her son was a good emperor in many ways, and he died as a baptized Christian. But along the way, he fell into a lot of the same sins that seem to beset powerful men of all eras: jealousy, anger, infidelity, murder…
At a certain point, Helen decided to do penance for her son’s worst sins. She made a vow to go to the Holy Land and search for the True Cross — the wood of the actual cross on which Jesus had been crucified.
Local traditions had long held that the wood of that cross had been hastily thrown into a ditch near Calvary during the frightening aftermath of Christ’s crucifixion.
She traveled to the Holy Land to find it. With the help of St. Macarius (the bishop of Jerusalem at the time) and a miracle, she found it. After finding it, she venerated it, and had the whole Christian world venerate it with her.
A relic of the True Cross used to be kept in the little chapel built into the pillar just above this statue of St. Helen.
We can learn a key lesson from St. Helen: we don’t need to be afraid of our crosses. We should uncover our crosses, name them, and face them, and see in them our share in Christ’s Cross.
The Cross can take so many forms: physical pain, moral or emotional pain, financial hardships, betrayal, even our own weaknesses and failures can be crosses.
Following the example of St. Helen, we should bring them to light, identify them, find them, name them, embrace them, and venerate them as a privileged opportunity to be more united with Jesus.
The first step to offering up our sufferings to God is always identifying them, naming them, and accepting them.
Per crucem ad lucem.
St. Longinus: Staying Close to Christ’s Heart
The second sculpture in the pillars of St. Peter’s Basilica is that of St. Longinus.
Longinus was the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus’
side with a spear to make sure he was dead. St. John’s Gospel tells us that as the spear entered Our Lord’s breast, “immediately blood and water flowed out” (John 19:34).
Some early Christian sources tell us that the blood and water worked a miracle on Longinus, curing an eye ailment that he had, and paving the way for the gift of faith.
Longinus’s spearhead was preserved as a relic by the early Christians, and used to be kept in a small chapel built into the pillar above this statue.
St. Longinus was close to Jesus as he died on the cross — so close that he was able to pierce Our Lord’s Sacred Heart.
Staying close to Jesus as we carry our crosses; allowing his grace and his love to flow over our weaknesses, our blindness, our desperation — this is another way to make our crosses fruitful, to “offer up” our sufferings to God.
When we feel weak, confused, hopeless — that’s when we need to immerse ourselves in God’s grace and love, just as Longinus plunged his spear into Christ’s heart.
We can do this especially through the sacraments of the Eucharist and confession. The blood and water that flowed from Christ’s wounded side symbolized and prefigured the sacraments of the Church.
Jesus wanted his heart to be pierced, so that we would know that he is always open to us and waiting longingly for us to take shelter in his wounded heart.
It is no coincidence that Jesus chose to remain with us in the Eucharist under the appearance bread — bread is a source of strength for our bodies, and Jesus wants to be the source of strength for our souls.
We need to let him do that: per crucem ad lucem.
St. Andrew the Apostle: “Fix your gaze on Jesus”
The third statue in the pillars of St. Peter’s Basilica depicts the Apostle St. Andrew — Peter’s brother.
After spreading the Christian faith through northern Greece and southeastern Europe, Andrew died a martyr’s death by being crucified on a cross in the shape of an X.
Some of his relics used to be kept in the chapel built into the pillar right above this monumental statue.
St. Andrew fled from Calvary on the first Good
Friday, the day Jesus was crucified. He was weak and frightened, like all the other Apostles, and watched the crucifixion from a distance.
But after the victory of the Resurrection, and after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, his love was strengthened, and he stayed faithful to Jesus to the point of martyrdom.
The striking thing about this sculpture is where St. Andrew puts his attention. Even as he wraps his arms around his own cross, he is gazing upwards, seeing Jesus, either in a vision or in prayer.
Andrew knew that he was not going to be alone
on his cross. He knew that Jesus had suffered the same hideous death before him. This gave him hope, confidence, and peace. And it can do the same for us.
Whatever shape our cross takes, whatever sufferings come our way, we know that Jesus can identify with them, that he suffered in the same way.
And so, no matter how heavy our crosses get, we know that we never have to carry them alone; Jesus is always with us, if only we will lift our gaze to see him, if only we will look at his cross while we feel the weight of ours.
Maybe we are experiencing physical suffering — Jesus knows what physical suffering is like; he is there with us.
Maybe we are experiencing loneliness, misunderstanding, criticism, rejection, betrayal — Jesus on the cross experienced all those same things.
Maybe we feel the weight of failure, of frustration, of helplessness — Jesus on the cross felt the same.
Maybe we suffer because someone we love is suffering — Mary felt that too, as she stood on Calvary watching her son’s life ebb away.
As we feel the weight of our crosses and wrap our arms around them, we should keep in mind that Jesus knows what we are going through; that he is with us; that he is not a distant, abstract God.
Like St. Andrew, we can offer up our sufferings by linking them, through a simple act of faith, to Christ’s sufferings — per crucem ad lucem.
As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.
St. Veronica: Comforting the Body of Christ
The fourth statue built into the pillars of St. Peter’s Basilica is that of St. Veronica.
An ancient tradition describes Veronica as a Christian disciple who comforted Jesus as he carried his cross up to the hill of Calvary. She used her veil to wipe away the blood, sweat, and grime from his Holy Face. Jesus, in gratitude, comforted her by leaving on that veil an image of that Holy Face.
Veronica’s veil used to be kept in the little chapel built into the pillar just above the statue.
This incident is very revealing. It shows us that Jesus wasn’t a Lone Ranger, and that his Kingdom is not made up of Lone Rangers. It shows us that Jesus allowed himself to be comforted by the gentle courage of a fellow human being, and comforted her in turn.
Likewise, as we know from Scripture, he allowed himself to be helped in the carrying of his cross by St. Simon of Cyrene.
In Christ’s Kingdom, we are meant to lean on each other and assist each other in the same way — we are meant to be connected, not isolated.
We can comfort one another directly by helping others bear their crosses, and by letting others help us, as St. Veronica and Jesus comforted each other on the road to Calvary.
And we can also comfort and strengthen each other spiritually, by offering our sacrifices to God for the benefit of others who are in need.
Just as Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice in order to win graces for us, so we can offer up our sacrifices – our crosses – to obtain graces for our brothers and sisters in the Church.
This is possible because we are mystically united to Jesus through our baptism, through grace; therefore our sacrifices can share in the redemptive value of his.
This opens up new dimension of meaning in all of our sufferings — per crucem ad lucem.
Here is how St. Paul put it in his Letter to the Colossians:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…
This is what St. Veronica teaches us, to offer our love and our sacrifices for the benefit of the whole Body of the Church, to stay connected, to give and receive comfort in and through our crosses.
Conclusion & Questionnaire
Jesus was fully human; the third color of the cross is the color of his flesh-and-blood humanity.
By suffering in all the ways we suffer, he opened up to us the possibility of turning our crosses into instruments of grace and pathways of divine light.
Through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ (as we say during the Mass), our sufferings can build up Christ’s Kingdom of humility, love, and trust in our own hearts and in the hearts of others.
All we have to do is:
discover, face, and name our crosses, like St. Helen;
stay close to Christ’s heart when we feel the weight of the cross, like St. Longinus;
keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, like St. Andrew;
and allow ourselves to comfort and be comforted by others in the Mystical Body, like St. Veronica.
“Offering it up” is a simple thing, really, even it is isn’t a crystal-clear mathematical formula.
It just means fertilizing our crosses with faith and prayer, so that they can become the “Tree of Life” that God wants them to be.
Take a few minutes now to reflect on how you carry your crosses, and how, with God’s help, you may be able to carry them better.
The following questionnaire may be useful. It’s not a test, but a springboard for reflection and prayer.
1. What are the most common crosses of my daily life (name them — no matter how small or petty they may seem)?
If you are having trouble identifying your crosses, you may want to try the ComplaintTest. Ask yourself: What are my most common complaints? The things you complain about are your common crosses.
2. How would my daily life change if I were to carry those crosses with more faith, hope, and love, “offering them up” more consciously and intentionally?
3. How firmly do I believe that I am not alone in
my sufferings, that Jesus is truly with me, that he knows and understands and cares about what I am suffering?
4. When have I experienced spiritual comfort in the midst of my sufferings? Remember, savor, and learn from that experience.
5. Looking back on my biggest crosses from the past, would I change them if I could? Why or why not?
6. When I am in the midst of my Good Fridays, what usually makes it hard for me to remember that Easter Sunday will be coming?
7. Which of my crosses do I try to carry alone? Why?
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼8. Who in my life is carrying a heavy cross right now, and what can I do to help comfort them and lighten their load?
9. When was the last time I purposely made a small sacrifice in order to unite myself to Christ and to obtain graces for his Mystical Body?
10. What role do crucifixes play in my life, if any? What role should they play?