Online Edition – Vol. VI, No. 2: April 2000
The Controversial Sign of Redemption:
A Lenten Meditation
by John B. Manos
Saint Thomas Aquinas would complete all of his works while meditating upon a Crucifix. It is said that after he finished writing the words to the song, Pange Lingua, the Corpus on his cross came to life and said, "Well done, Thomas".
At the end of his life, while Saint Thomas was meditating again on the crucifix, Our Lord revealed such great mysteries to him that he commented that all his previous works were but a pile of hay next to what had been shown him — all of it coming from the image of an infinite God, who died as a finite, criminal man.
Beaten, bloody, and pierced, His Image on the Cross reminds us of the contradiction that the all-powerful, all-knowing God would gratuitously save man by making Himself helpless in the hands of men for the sake of restoring justice. Although man did all the wrong, although justice would demand that the transgressor, man, be punished, Jesus, the God-Man, took the blame and the burden of reparation, even to the point of becoming a man Himself to be punished as a man in the ultimate act of love.
Even the act of reparation itself — putting an innocent man, Jesus, to death — was a transgression warranting reparation in the Divine Court of Justice. God took it all upon Himself, for His love for us is so great that He would do anything to save us, and so it is that He did the "anything". This contradiction is the heart of the mystery of redemption and the sign of God’s infinite love and infinite justice.
As a sign of God’s love then, the Crucifix serves as a reminder of man’s duty to God. That if the fact that God didn’t prove His love in sustaining our creation, He went to the extreme, totally zealous to prove to each man that He loves man so much that He not only made him, but died for him. So great is this Divine Love, that when man had exercised his will to choose death, God would trade places with each and every man, thereby giving man divine life and taking from him death. This in itself warrants a duty upon man to God beyond man’s debt to God for existence alone. Oh, lest it be forgotten that God did this gratuitously, even the corrupt justice of man must recognize the obligation to thank the gracious Giver of such a gift.
And so it is that this sign of God’s love stirs within the soul of man a call to responsibility and duty to God. If it is then that the simple act of looking at the Crucifix calls into one a deep sense of responsibility, it can be understood why some today do not want to see the Crucifix at all. If one is evading duty, then one also evades anything calling one to duty. Oh, the excuses for this evasion can be anything, but the heart of the matter is that when we want to sin, we do not want to be reminded of the true cost of sin, the Crucifix.
Can it be any surprise, then, that in some churches the Crucifix is replaced with an image of Christ detached from the Cross, un-bloody, un-pierced? But in cheapening the duty of the law, we would cheapen the price of transgression. We do not want to think that the only just response to the no-holds-barred action of God can only be a no-holds-barred response.
This all-out response of God to man demands no shame, save that of repentance. And the sign of this all-out response should not be hidden, for it calls each man to continual repentance. It should be the proud sign of a Catholic to display the Crucifix, for the crucifix rightly and fully shows the love of God. And when those around a Catholic ask the question, "What would Jesus Do?," the right and just answer is "what Jesus did" — the Crucifix.
John Manos, a native of Cincinnati, is a chemical engineer who works as Corporate Safety Director for EWTN. This is his first contribution to the Adoremus Bulletin.