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 | By Mark Landers | Columnist

Contemplating the mystery of the crucifix

Our Catholic churches prominently display crucifixes. Why do we insist on a representation of Christ’s body on a cross? In part, so we will be shocked both by the horrible death that Christ endured, but also so that we will remember that he was crucified for us. He made the ultimate sacrifice for us!

We can’t get to the joy of Easter without going through sadness and despair of Good Friday. God sent his Son to conquer sin, pain and evil (not eliminate them), to show his love for us and to demonstrate the inherent union that exists between God and us.

There is an innate tension in our dealing with the mystery of Jesus as fully human and fully divine, but that is at the heart of the Paschal Mystery - Jesus was born naked and bloody, placed in a manger as food for all creation, he died naked and bloody, offering his body and blood to nourish us and after three days he rose from the dead. I have heard mystery described as infinite knowability. I love the idea that we can grow deeper in our faith through contemplating this mystery rather than excusing ourselves from even trying to understand it.

A Christian is one whose faith is rooted in Christ. In his letters, St. Paul used the expression “in Christ” more than 150 times. As Catholics, when we make the Sign of the Cross, we surrender ourselves to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the priest prays at every Mass, “Through him, with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.”

Similarly, when we take up our crosses, we embrace God’s love and the challenges in our lives – just as Jesus did when he carried his cross. When we suffer in life, and we all do in our own ways, we do so in Christ and with Christ. At some point we will be accused, shamed and condemned, and we will fall, suffer and die to many things -- and ultimately, we will be transformed. The question is will we be dragged kicking and screaming to our crosses, or will we pick them up knowing that we are not alone and knowing Christ is with us?

When we see a crucifix, may we be shocked and allow ourselves to contemplate the Paschal Mystery. And each time we make the Sign of the Cross, may we surrender our will to God’s.

Mark Landers is a parishioner of St. Austin Parish in Austin and a member of the Diocesan Fine Arts Council. He and his wife, Christina, own and operate Landers’ Studio, a woodworking shop and design studio. They design and construct custom furniture and high-quality architectural piecework.