Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love.
— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
Two weeks ago, I picked up my five year old son (child #3) from CCD (the Catholic version of Sunday school). He exited the classroom with a huge smile and a little six inch wooden cross in his hand. His cross had been colored and scribbled on. Some of the sides were colored in broad strokes of color, pink, purple, blue, yellow. Some of the faces were scratched with ugly deep thin lines of black and green, over and over in a weak attempt to fill some space with color. Overall, it was very colorful and beautiful in its own way. It was a style of art that is only truly appreciated by the artist and his parent.
My first reaction was, well, I’m not sure if this is a proper thing to do to a cross considering what it represents. But then my next thought was, maybe it is. What does a five year old know about carrying his cross? Maybe it should be glorified with color? For that matter, what does a forty year old really know about carrying his cross? How many times have I tried to cover up it up, paint over it, or just plain ignore its presence because it was too painful to look at, or too heavy to carry? How many times have I scared it with my nails of sin? How many rocks have I thrown? How many cuts and bruises and scars have I placed upon my wooden cross that I must hold and carry and even embrace? The Cross of Jesus became His glory, His wounds His shining jewels of love. Maybe my scars, my beat up cross will become my glory too. All things are made new through Him.
As we walked to the car, my son held his colorful cross by the top, as if it was a sword. Again, my first reaction was that was not the proper way to hold a cross, not like a sword. And again, my next thought was, maybe you should. Only the Cross of Christ is a sword that can pierce the hardest of hearts. Only the Cross can break through the walls I have built between myself and God, between others, and between my real self. Maybe the Cross is the only true sword?
As we got in the car, my son picked up his favorite toy, a posable Spiderman figure and said, “I want to tape Spiderman to the cross.” Oh no, I thought to myself, that has to be sacrilege. But then again, my very next thought was, maybe not. Spiderman was a real, tangible hero for my son, a hero that he could touch, a hero that he could see, a hero that was present to him now in the flesh, sort of. My son knew the story of Jesus, and now he wanted to honor Jesus by sacrificing his favorite toy like Jesus was.
We got home, and instead of tape, we rounded up three plain hair twisties from his older sister. I showed him how to double up the twisty like a rubber band as I tied down one of Spiderman’s hands. He did the other hand and the feet. Later he found another hair tie with a flower on it and placed it around Spiderman’s waist like a belt. Images from the sixties of flower power and flower children passed through my mind. There he was. Spiderman crucified, a crucifix of my son’s second hero, and now he wanted to hang him on the wall.
It made sense for my son to want to put something on his cross. To him and most Catholics, an empty cross seems bare, like a flag pole without a flag. The Cross not only represents the Resurrection, but also the person of Jesus. It is the mystery of the Incarnation, the humanity of Jesus that connects us with God. It is through his humanity that saves us, heals us, touches us—it was through His Passion, His one and true Sacrifice on the Cross, and His Resurrection. The Crucifix reminds us of all that.
Later that evening, when it came to setting the table for dinner, my son went to his room, grabbed his cross with the crucified Spiderman, and put it in a place of honor in the center of the table. My first thought this time was that this was proper. This is what Mass is about. Jesus is the Bread of Life, broken for us on the Cross. He should be the center of all we do. All is gift and it is right to give Him thanks.
My son and I see the Cross of Jesus differently. We both see a hero, someone who loved us so much to die for us. Although my son does not have a true concept of death yet, he does understand in his own way the importance of the Sacrifice. My son sees the Cross with the eyes of a child as something beautiful, something colorful and glorious, something joyful, honorable, and holy. I see the Cross as glorious and holy too, but through the eyes of sorrow, suffering, and sacrifice. The paradox is that both of these views are right. I think know the deeper insight belongs to my son.
The Lord looks on his servants with pity and not with blame. In God’s sight we do not fall; in our sight, we do not stand. Both of these are true, but the deeper insight belongs to God.
— Julian of Norwich
Footnote: I expected Spiderman to remain on his little colorful cross for only a couple days. It has been two weeks since Spiderman was crucified. He is still there, although, every now and then, I notice a temporarily empty cross.