Growing up, the crucifix always struck me as–well, gross, graphic, and unnecessary. It simply didn’t make any sense. Why did Catholics insist on displaying such gruesomeness? Wasn’t it better to look at the clean and less offensive empty cross, and remember that Christ rose from the dead?
However, upon my conversion, I quickly gained a deep appreciation for the crucifix. There is “no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends,” and Christ loved me so much that he died for me in this terrible and incredibly painful way. To see it so clearly depicted before me served as a constant reminder of just how great his love was for me, a sinner, and for all sinners.
When I read and understood Numbers 21:4-9 for the first time, my love for the crucifix grew as the beauty of scripture filled me with awe. Once again, we see how the New Testament is contained in the Old, and the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New. The Israelites complained against God, even as they should have thanked him for freeing them from slavery in Egypt. God sent serpents among them, and many Israelites perished. Moses prayed for the people, and, upon God’s instruction, made a bronze serpent and mounted it upon a pole. Whoever was bitten by a snake had only to gaze upon that serpent atop that pole, to receive healing.
Likewise, we who experience the bite of sin can look upon the likeness of Christ, mounted upon the cross, to begin the process of healing. That image, which calls to mind his death and love for us, will drive us to true contrition and sorrow for our sins, and a desire to be worthy of such sacrifice. It will lead us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we are blessed to hear those most beautiful words of absolution.
Thus cleansed of our sin, we find ourselves gazing more lovingly upon our Lord, emptied and broken, longing to love him as he loves us. The desire to be close to him, to be concealed within his wounds, leads us to ever closer union with him as we seek to love him through loving our fellow man.
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