The Colors of the Cross: First Meditation

The Color of Humility

  • The Cross was Central to Christ’s Mission
  • Untying the Knot of Eden
  • The Color of “Humus”
  • The Beauty of Humility
  • Conclusion & Further Reflection

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The Cross Was Central to Christ’s Mission

God, all-powerful and all-wise, could have chosen an infinite number of ways to redeem the fallen human race.
And from all those possibilities, he chose the incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Because of this, we know that the Cross was not a mistake.
The events and prophecies of the Old Testament were pointing towards the Cross.
Jesus himself explained that the Cross was the necessary centerpiece of his redeeming mission.
Talking to his Twelve Apostles, he explained that
The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised
– Luke 9:22
And later, as the fateful day of the crucifixion was drawing near, and Jesus was beginning to feel the pressure, he made the same point again when he said,
I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.
– John 12:27
There is simply no doubt about it. The Cross was absolutely central to the Mission of Christ. But why?


Untying the Knot of Eden

The answer to that question is vast, and mysterious, and inexhaustible. But we know for certain at least one of the reasons.
To understand that reason, we need to go back to the beginning.
God’s original plan for the human family was spoiled by original sin.
Through original sin, our first parents rebelled against God and separated themselves from his friendship. That brought evil, death, and suffering into the world.
At the root of that sinful and destructive rebellion was an act of arrogance, of diabolical pride, by which Adam and Eve tried to take over the place of God.
Here is how the Catechism describes it:
In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good.
– CCC 398
After original sin, God had a choice to make, so to speak:
He could abandon the human rebels and let them suffer to the full the consequences of their actions, or he could save and redeem them.
He chose the second option. He sent a Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
And Jesus, to repair the destruction caused by original sin, reversed the act of diabolical pride by committing an act of heroic humility. Instead of elevating himself, as Adam and Eve had tried to do, he humbled himself.
Here’s how St. Paul puts it:
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
– Philippians 2:5–9
By being obedient to this extreme of absolute humility, Jesus untied the knot of original sin. He rebuilt the bridge of communion between God and the human family, between heaven and earth.

The Color of “Humus”

And that humble sacrifice is why the first color of the Cross is the brown earth-color of the wood.
The word humility comes from the Latin root word, “humus,” which means earth or soil. The same Latin term is at the root of our word for “humanity.”
An act of humility always involves keeping ourselves in our place as created human beings, as earthly.
That’s just the opposite of sin, which follows the example of the builders of the Tower of Babel, who tried to force their way into the divine realm, leaving their earthly origins behind and transforming themselves into gods.
And the color of the earth is brown: the same as the color of the Cross.
The Cross is the stage of the greatest act of humility in human history, which repaired for the monstrous act of pride at the dawn of that history.

The Beauty of Humility

The Cross was central to Christ’s mission because he came to atone for all sin, and only absolute humility could do that. And only Jesus, true God and true man, could make an act of absolute humility.
For the rest of us, humility — being earthly, created, close to the “humus” — is a natural state; that’s what we are supposed to be; pride and arrogance are the aberrations.
But Jesus was the Divine Word of God become man: he deserved to be revered, and worshipped, and elevated. And yet, for our sake, to redeem us from our sins, to fix what we had broken and could not fix ourselves, he chose to be scorned, rejected, and humiliated, to the extreme.
If Jesus hadn’t humbled himself, we would have no hope of recovering the abundant, eternal life that we lost because of original sin, and that we long for in the depths of our hearts.
Humility is the soil from which true happiness springs, just as “humus” is the soil from which all earthly plants grow.
Picture a high mountain, a snow-covered mountain.

Conclusion & Further Reflection

When we look at the crucifix, is this beautiful humility what we see?
When we look at the crucifix, do we let ourselves be amazed by God who goes to such extremes to ransom his rebellious sheep?
When we look at the crucifix, do our hearts fill with gratitude for such
a gift?
When we look at the crucifix, are we moved to repent from our self-centeredness and arrogance and to follow Christ’s example of loving humility?
Let’s take some time now to gaze at our Lord on the cross, to meditate on the first color of the Cross, the brown, earth-color of absolute humility, which opened the door of hope and laid the groundwork for our salvation.
Where would you rather live, on the peak of that towering mountain, or in the valley at its foot? The peak is far away, magnificent, impressive — but there is no life there: only snow, rocks, and cold wind. Nothing can grow in those harsh conditions.
The valley is closer, less visible, and less impressive from a distance. But it is teeming with life — the sun melts the snows on the peak, and the waters flow down the mountain and irrigate the valley, giving it glorious life.
Pride is like the peak of that mountain, and humility is like the valley.
Jesus, by humbling himself and accepting death on a cross, melted the pride of our fallen human family, and renewed the flow of grace in our hearts, giving us new life, new hope, new strength.
1. When was the last time I looked at a crucifix and thanked Jesus for what he did for me on that first Good Friday? What do I usually think of when I look at the crucifix?
2. When Jesus was dying on the cross, he was thinking of me — as the Catechism puts it “Christ did
not live his life for himself but for us” (CCC 519). What was he thinking? If he could have spoken
to me from the Cross, what would he have said? Converse with him as he hangs there, opening your heart to him, and letting him open his heart to you.
3. When I think of the virtue of humility, what comes to mind? What place does this virtue have in my own efforts to grow spiritually? What place would I like it to have?


Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

– Philippians 2:5–9
But he bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds.
– James 4:6–7
Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom
of heaven.
– Matthew 18:4
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves.
– Matthew 11:29
And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for: “God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble.”
– 1 Peter 5:5
Good and upright is the LORD, therefore he shows sinners the way; He guides the humble in righteousness, and teaches the humble his way.
– Psalm 25:8–9
Thus says the LORD: The heavens are my throne, the earth, my footstool. What house can you build for me? Where is the place of my rest? My hand made all these things when all of them came to be — oracle of the LORD. This is the one whom I approve: the afflicted one, crushed in spirit, who trembles at my word.
– Isaiah 66:1–2
For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
– 1 Corinthians 1:22–25

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