A symbol often misunderstood
There is a video by Fr. Fernando Armellini with English subtitles
commenting on today’s Gospel reading:
The cross is the symbol of which Christians show their faith. Yet, for three centuries, they intentionally did not use the cross as a symbol of their faith. They were recognized in other symbols—the anchor, the fish, the loaves, the dove, the shepherd—but they were reluctant to depict the cross. It evoked the infamous death of their Master, death reserved for slaves and brigands, and that was one of the motives they were ridiculed by the pagans.
Around 180 A.D., the polemicist Celsus—who knew the mythological stories in which the gods always appeared beautiful and clothed in splendor—objected to the Christians: “If the spirit of God became incarnate in a man, he must at least excelled among all in built, beauty, strength, majesty, voice and eloquence. Instead, Jesus had nothing more than the others. He was an overstrained wanderer; he is seen stunned, bewildered, traveled through the country in the midst of publicans and sailors of ill repute. We know how he ended, we recognize the defection of his disciples, the condemnation, the abuse, the insults, the sufferings of his torture … and his scream from the top of the scaffold before expiring.”
The graffito found in the Palatine school, where pages destined to serve in the imperial court were taught, is famous. It dates back to 200 A.D. and depicts a young man in the act of worshiping a crucified man with a donkey’s head; the inscription reads: “Alexamenos adores his God.” An obvious caricature of Christian worship, probably made by a slave who wanted to mock a colleague who converted to the new faith.
“We proclaim a crucified Messiah. For the Jews, what a great scandal. And for the Greeks, what nonsense”—wrote Paul (1 Cor 1:23). But the Christians were reluctant to translate this truth into a symbol.
An exact date marks the transition to the worship of the cross: on September 14, 335 A.D., a huge crowd of pilgrims flocked from all over the world in Jerusalem. They celebrated the feast of the dedication of the basilica built by Constantine on the site the holy sepulcher. On the rock of Calvary, the emperor had placed a wonderful jeweled cross to mark the place of Christ’s sacrifice. From that day the cross became a Christian symbol par excellence. They started to manufacture it with the most precious metals, was embedded with pearls, appeared everywhere, on churches, on banners, on the helmet of the Prince, on the coins….
Throughout the centuries, unfortunately, from an emblem of love and a sign of the rejection of all violence, it was commuted to, at times, a banner to impose by force the “political” rights of God and often was reduced to amulets, necklaces, superstitious gesture.
Today’s feast wants to remind us of the true meaning of the cross. For seventeen centuries the Christian community loved this symbol, but not idolized it. They are aware that, the showing of crosses does not make a society Christian, but the life of Christians does. They are “crucified” and persecuted because they refuse to idolize money and power and become peacemakers.
To internalize the message, we repeat:
“May whoever meets a Christian always see in him the Crucified One willing to offer his life.”.