Power From the Cross
by Fr. Fio Mascarenhas, S.J.
We hail Thee, Saviour and Lord; thy cross ever be adored!"
With these words, the chorus of a popular hymn expresses well the sentiments of
millions of believers through the ages who, instead of revulsion at the sight of a cross,
in fact feel great consolation and devotion. And rightly so, for together with "blood"
and "death," the "cross" has become one of the most popular terms in Christianity,
calling to mind the salvation and new life Jesus has won through it for humanity.
Paul expressed the normal, spontaneous reaction of every man and woman to the cross
in the words, "a scandal (or stumbling block) for the Jews and nonsense (or folly) for
the pagans" (1 Cor 1:23). Crucifixion was a punishment reserved for slaves-it was not
only a cruel death, but was considered a disgrace (see Heb 12:2; 13:13) and a curse (see
Gal 3:13). Yet, the cross was meant to become, someday, in God's providence, the
instrument of redemption for mankind. Therefore, Paul could write, "for us who are
being saved, it is " (1 Cor 1:18).
The cross, therefore, contains within itself a great mystery, and an awesome power,
which we can by faith. Innumerable blessings have come to human
beings in and through the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. "Come to me, all you who
labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest!" (Mt 11:28), said Jesus, and He
could say it confidently because He knew that in His being "lifted up" on the cross one
day, He certainly would receive the power to "draw all men to himself" (Jn 12:32).
1. Forgiveness and Reconciliation The greatest blessing the cross brings is our
. Before the death of Jesus, God in His mercy
"overlooked" people's sins. The Old Testament puts this in a picturesque way: "You
have cast all my sins behind your back" (Is 38: 17), or, "As far as the east is from the
west, so far does he remove our sins from us" (Ps 103:12), or, "You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea" (Mi 7:19)!
The New Testament then tells us, "In the past, God was patient and overlooked
people's sins; but in the present time their sins" (Rom 3:25, TEV). Jesus'
body, hanging on the cross "in the likeness of sinful flesh" now enabled God "to
condemn sin in the flesh" (Rom 8:3). God "reconciled all things to himself, whether on
earth or in heaven, making peace " (Col 1:20). God forgave us "all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond that stood against us with its legal
demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Col 2:14). Hence, John confidently
asserts, "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; He is the
expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1
As people gaze gratefully at the crucifix and put their faith in the saving death of Jesus
on the cross, they can grow in personal confidence and become able to face life with
courage and inner peace. Paul knew how great a sinner he was, yet his confidence in
was so great that by "forgetting the things of the
past" he could always "press on toward the goal" (Phil 3:12-14).
As he himself revealed, "the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). We, too, must learn to hold fast to
this grace, so that what we sing about in our prayer time of "praise and worship"
becomes, in fact, the basic orientation of the whole of our lives.
Full reconciliation is achieved by the cross of Jesus not only between humanity and
God, but also within humanity between groups of people. Talking about the Jews and
the Gentiles, Paul asserts, "he is our peace who has made us both one, and has broken
down the dividing wall of hostility . . . that he may create in himself one new man in
place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body,
" (Eph 2:14-16). Again, he insists, "As many of you as were baptized
into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free,
neither male nor female; for you in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:27f).
This power of the cross to transform society is communicated to believers in baptism,
establishing for each person the absolute foundation of personal dignity and intrinsic
worth, and removing all cause for discrimination on every level. May Christians
everywhere not "rob the cross of its power" (1 Cor 1:17, TEV) or "live as enemies of the
cross" (Phil 3:18), by discriminating on the basis of color or race, but allow the blessings
of the cross to radically transform our culture!
2. Freedom From Fear
A second major blessing we receive he cross is . G. K. Chesterton
put it well when he said, "Those signed with the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark!"
"Ballad of the White Horse".
Paul tells us the reason why- because by Jesus' death on the cross, God "disarmed the
principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them
in him" (Col 2:15). Explaining this still more, Paul writes, "Christ humbled himself and
became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. . . . every knee must bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!" (Phil 2:5-11).
Consequently, the disciples of Christ can pray with confidence, in the words of the Our
Father, to be "delivered from evil," and in the words of the Mass, to be "protected from
all anxiety," for it is absolutely sure that "the kingdom and the power and the glory" is
irrevocably HIS. The lives of the saints and martyrs, and of millions of ordinary
Christians, bear striking testimony that this grace is actually received God
has granted them, "that being delivered from the hand of their enemies, they might
serve him , in holiness and righteousness, all the days of their life, in his
presence" (Lk 1:74). We, too, need to mature in this respect, so that in all the difficulties
and storms of life, we continue to receive strength and peace from being "signed with
3. Abundant Life
All the other blessings of the cross can be included under the title "abundant life" (Jn
10:10). The cross is the new "tree of life" (Rv 22:2,14), from which comes the healing of
the nations. Already , Jesus founded His Church to be the sacrament of new
life, for the "blood and water" that flowed from His pierced side (see Jn 19:34)
symbolized the gift of the Spirit soon to be given through the Church, in baptism and
Physical and inner healings, character gifts pertaining to the fruit of the Holy Spirit
(love, joy, peace, goodness, self-control, etc.), dynamism for the apostolate and
motivation or inspiration for fruitful service of humanity are all part of the "abundant
life" resulting from the cross.
4. Opportunity to Share the Cross Finally, like Paul, we must "never want to boast of
anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified
to me, and I to the world" (Gal 6:14). This means that we must not only (rightly) seek
the blessings of the cross, but we must also be ready to share in the shame and the pain
of the cross ourselves, whenever the Lord gives us the opportunity for it. And
opportunities will be plentiful, for Jesus said, "If any person would come after me, let
him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Lk 9:23). Those who only
seek the power of the cross in terms of signs, wonders and blessings, but refuse to share
in the sorrowful mysteries of Jesus and so to be "conformed to his image" (Rom 8:29),
are not true disciples and friends of the Lord. There is a hidden mystery present in the
cross that gives it new meaning, as Jesus explained on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:25).
All of us must discover this, and live it joyfully, for His glory.
Father Fio Mascarenhas is a Jesuit priest who writes from Bombay, India.
This article appeared in the February 1996 issue of "New Covenant" magazine. To
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