Three crucifixes have been part of my life almost as long as my memory allows. Two are affixed to the walls of my rectory quarters; the other is on a bedside table.
The crucifix on the small table dates from my First Holy Communion. It was given to me by my godmother, a faithful, hardworking resident of New York City where she worked in the fashion industry. The small crucifix which she gave me in the early 1930s has been with me since, even when I was at St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester, and all through every parish I have served since priestly ordination in 1953. (She died during my diaconal year, 1952; I was able to assist at her funeral Mass at a well-known Jesuit Church in Manhattan.) Obviously, this small crucifix has been a constant, precious reminder of my faith and of those who helped me ascend to the altar of God via Holy Orders.
A second crucifix, affixed to the wall in my room, where I can see it just before retiring, was a Christmas present from my pastor when I was an altar server in grade school – fourth grade. It occurred during the height of the Great Depression; my pastor, at St. Charles Borromeo in Bridgeport, was Msgr. John McGivney, whose older brother was Father Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, whose Cause for Beatification is currently under way. (Msgr. John died in 1939; I wrote an editorial on his death for a small newspaper I was editing then, when I was only 11 years old. I have kept a copy of that issue.)
Every time I see or pray before this second crucifix, I immediately recall Msgr. McGivney and St. Charles Parish and my service as an altar boy, and, most important, the other good priests and the people of St. Charles – and, of course, the privilege of having grown up in the Catholic Faith, thank God.
The third crucifix is a simple reproduction of a famous painting by Salvador Dalí. My sister Beatrice (a superb educator and the mother of six) had discovered it some years ago on the floor of a food store. It was apparently thrown there, among a huge collection of depictions of gardens and pastoral scenes. My sister could not bear to see it so irreverently discarded among the other reproductions, all intended as premiums for purchases made. She acquired it and gave it to me.
So many lessons can be drawn from these three crucifixes.
First, of course, is the need for a crucifix in one’s living quarters as a constant reminder of our redemption in Christ. Surely, every Catholic home ought to display this emblem of Faith in an area that is truly prominent – as a shrine, in a sense, reminding everyone who enters that he or she is living in or visiting what Christianity traditionally calls a home; namely, a “little church,” where marrieds exercise quasi-sacerdotal functions and children learn to embrace God, whose only-begotten son, Jesus Christ, guides and walks with us in life’s journey. (The Latin word is “Ecclesiola,” literally meaning a “little church.”)
Second, every Catholic should possess a small crucifix capable of being held – in a hospital bed, for example, and especially as a source of spiritual strength at difficult moments in life. Such a cross should be among the religious gifts given by godparents or family members to children and teenagers at various stages of their Christian growth.
Third, what better a gift can be chosen for a new home than a crucifix, especially in the context of the chaos in which the world is immersed today? A crucifix is not only a reminder of the ugliness of sin, but also a sign that Christ our Savior has redeemed us.
This is the season for contemplating all of the above. In our secular, materialistic, often atheistic environment, built upon myths, entertainments and absurdities, the crucified Lord Jesus is for many but a slight distraction. Yet Christ crucified is really, and ultimately, the sign of our Faith’s triumph over the powers of evil, a sign that blossomed forth in the Resurrection; a sign that death, which results from sin, can be overcome by virtue of the love Jesus exemplified toward the Father, and that the Father poured forth upon his Son. Because of the Cross of Calvary, Satan, the Father of Lies, has been conquered in principle. Although he is still at work in our world, he is on a leash, and cannot possibly win. Christ, the Son of God Incarnate, has been victorious; he leads us and protects us against Satan and his cohorts. Christus vincit!
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.