Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Good Friday Veneration of the Cross: Why We Wear Crosses
The cross. Most of us are wearing a cross right now. We do this not to display jewelry but to remind ourselves of what happened and of whom we are.
What happened was the death by torture on a cross of Jesus the Messiah. The Anointed One died not just because he was a victim of politics, the political clash between the Jews and Romans. Nor did He die just because He upset the leaders of the Jews by confronting them with the shallowness of their lives. These were just the surface contributors to His death. Far deeper, Jesus died to forgive sins. He took our sins upon Himself and redeemed us with His blood.
Redemption. That is a difficult concept to grasp. Perhaps an analogy would help. 180 miles south of here there is a popular vacation destination called Captiva Island. Perhaps you have gone to the South Seas Plantation or some other resort there. But this island was not always a place where a person wanted to be; in fact, it was quite the opposite. You see, back in the early days of Florida, young girls, the daughters of rich Spanish merchants and other wealthy families living in the Tampa Bay area were kidnaped by pirates, buccaneers, and held on Captiva Island until their families could raise enough money to redeem them.
We were held captive, not by Pirates, but by Satan, and not on Captiva Island, but in a world that the devil had won through deception. Our slavery to sin was our own doing. We chose the materialism of the world over the hope of spiritual life. We still do. We choose evil and are held captive by our own sins. If it were not for Christ, we would remain in the grasp of the devil. But Jesus Christ paid the price with His own blood. He ransomed us. He redeemed us. He destroyed hatred with love, a love so great that He bled to death for us.
He suffered and died for all of us, even though we have so often rejected Him with our sinful ways. None of us would be excluded from redemption unless we remain frozen in our choice of evil.
The breadth of Jesus’ call to His Father for mercy for all people was captured in a marvelous poem by a member of our parish and choir about twenty years ago, the late John Ericson. He wrote:
All were included: the indifferent, those who slapped His face,
The Chief Priests, hidden by the cruel Centurion’s chariot.
In the distance, an incredible ultimate grace
Was besought for the self-hung Judas Iscariot.
There is nothing that we have done or that we have failed to do that would not be included in the ransom of the Blood of Christ. There is no one excluded from His prayer, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
And so we wear our crosses as a reminder of what happened and of whom we are. We are people whom Jesus loved so much that He willingly died for us. We were purchased, and at what a price! In early Florida, families scraped together money to save their daughters. Jesus gave everything he had to save us. He suffered for us. He embraced the cross. He gave up His very life for us. St. Paul reminds us of this in 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23. We were purchased! We were redeemed. So we pray today, “Behold, behold the wood of the cross on which was hung the salvation of the world.”
And we come up to venerate the cross. We kiss the cross as a public act of gratitude for the One who died for us.
“Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.”
It was His hands that created the world and separated the water from the land.
It was His hands that fashioned human beings and gave them the capacity to love.
It was His hands that delivered the people from Egypt and sent evil into the sea.
It was His hands that carved the law and provided a path for His people.
It was into His hands that Jesus sent His Spirit after He had completed His work, the work of the Father.