We turned off the windy country road onto a gravel drive. As we started up the hill I looked around at my surroundings. I would be spending the next three days at this retreat center. The driver was telling us about the old retreat center across the road, but I had stopped listening as I noticed a large crucifix at the top of the hill ahead of us.
This was my first impression of the retreat center. As we ascended the hill, the life-size crucifix dominated the view in front of us. Only once we turned the corner did I notice the retreat center and the other people arriving.
As a cradle Catholic, I have been around crucifixes all my life. I remember the one that hung in our house (still hangs in the house) growing up. I always saw one at Church and in all the classrooms and other rooms around the parish. Being around them all the time, I never really thought much about the crucifix.
On that retreat I attended, with the life-size crucifix out in front of the retreat center, I experienced that crucifix come to life. On our first night together we did the Stations of the Cross. A group of approximately 40 women, we followed a path around the main meeting room, outside on the front porch, and then over to the crucifix.
It had rained that day and, for being the end of April, it felt chilly. As we headed out of the warmth of the meeting room it was still sprinkling and by then it was dark. Very dark since the stars and moon were hidden by the clouds. We had a few flashlights with us and we all huddled together as we made our way across the front porch praying a couple of the Stations.
I remember heading out from the front porch toward the crucifix. By this time we had become a prayerful and solemn group. We could have been the women who accompanied Mary to the cross on that Good Friday two millennia ago. Already, this retreat group was bonding together as we helped each other through the dark over the uneven, damp ground. We were uniting together in our love for Jesus as we experienced his death together.
We stopped just short of the crucifix to pray the 11th Station together (Jesus is Nailed to the Cross). One person held an image up while another pointed her flashlight on it for us to see. Then we shuffled across the gravel driveway to stop directly in front of the crucifix. At that moment, I had never been so moved by the site of a crucifix. As we prayed the 12th Station (Jesus Dies on the Cross), I had tears in my eyes. And I wasn’t the only one. I could hear my fellow retreatants holding back tears, sniffling, and muffling little cries as we stood in silence and contemplated the crucified Christ before us.
For an instant it really was like we were there. Jesus felt more real to me hanging on that cross than I had ever felt before. Huddled together in the damp darkness on a gravel and dirt road at the top of a hill, we could have been at Golgotha at that moment.
Eventually, we turned the flashlights back on and headed onward to finish the Stations of the Cross and move back inside to a warm, dry room. The moment was gone, but the emotions lingered.
I often think about that experience when I find myself before a crucifix. The crucifix is such a powerful reminder of God’s love for us. Christ was crucified, an incredibly brutal way to die, because of our sins. The only way the Messiah could go through the torture and brutality of such a death would be for the love of all of us. That is true love. A love beyond anything I can ever imagine.
I am reminded of this each and every time I sit before a crucifix. All for love. God’s love. God loves me. And God loves you. Is it any wonder that we call today “Good” Friday? There is joy to be found in the crucifix.
As we commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion today on this Good Friday, let us be reminded that even in our sin Jesus loves us unconditionally. As we adore the cross, let us be reminded of the deep joy the crucifix brings us Christians. As we conclude this Lenten season, let us go forth with renewed vigor for proclaiming the saving graces of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Prayer Before A Crucifix
My good and gentle Jesus,
I humbly kneel before You
asking You most earnestly
to engrave upon my heart
a deep and lively faith, hope, and charity,
with true repentance for my sins,
and a firm resolve to make amends.
As I reflect upon Your five most precious wounds,
and dwell upon them with deep compassion and grief,
I recall, good Jesus, the words the prophet David spoke
long ago concerning Yourself:
“They have pierced My hands and My feet,
they have counted all My bones.”