The Baptism of the Lord officially marks the end of the Christmas season. Time to put away the tree, lights, stockings, and nativity. Images of the Baby King now fade from view, allowing the crucified Christ to once again take center stage. Lent is, after all, right around the corner.
It’s been said the crucifix is the Church’s most powerful visual aid. As the little girl in the cartoon underscores, looking at the crucifix can be tough at times. Baby Jesus in the manger is a lot easier on the eyes, but Christ on the cross is just as much a part of the reality of our salvation. The nativity doesn’t mean anything without the crucifix. The manger and the cross are inextricably linked – life and death, joy and suffering, working together for our salvation.
Many priests recommend having a crucifix in every room of your house. Consider the power of having one in the marital bedroom. It should serve as a powerful reminder to husbands and wives that they are called to give up their bodies for each other in the sacrament of marriage, just as Christ did for his Church. This is the heart of the Ephesians 5 reading that makes the many who misunderstand it squirm. You know Ephesians 5 … the one about wives being subordinate to their husbands (Eph 5:22). Somehow people tend to miss the part just three verses later about husbands being called to die for their wives (Eph 5:25).
One of the places this theology is lived out most clearly within marriage is in the struggles of fertility and pregnancy. Openness to life can also mean openness to heartache.
- One couple we know is struggling to discern family size. The mother has potentially life-threatening medical issues that could be exacerbated by pregnancy. Not exactly what they expected. How precisely are they called to give up their bodies? By accepting the potential health risks corresponding to future pregnancies? By accepting a different plan for their family than they had envisioned? Something else, perhaps?
- Another couple recently buried their 9-month stillborn son. Not exactly what the parents would have chosen. The priest who celebrated the funeral Mass mentioned that as the grieving father cradled his son’s tiny casket on the ride from the church to the burial site he remarked, “This child has done more for my family’s faith than I could ever have done.”
Both couples get the crucifix –– life and death, joy and suffering, working together for our salvation. It’s probably not the way any of us would have designed it, but His ways are not ours. What a better way to remind ourselves of that, and to trust in the love and mercy of Jesus, than by having a crucifix in every room of our homes?