The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Inescapable Power of the Cross

Clipper, in Nichols, looking for chickens in the snow
Growing up as a youngster I lived first in rural Connecticut and then in suburban New York. I was only four years old when we made the move and suppose I was too young to notice much of a change between these two very different environments. Although I have many memories of those earliest years in Nichols, Connecticut, almost all center around our home and family. I can recall quite vividly every room of our house, and in my mind's eye can even picture the view from the window-seat in the living room. I remember well our dog, Clipper, a large German Shepherd who, despite his friendly, engaging nature, had developed one bad habit: a taste for a neighbor's chickens. For my brother and me, the highlight of our day was Dad's return from work. We would wait for him at the foot of our long driveway where he would stop so we could stand on the running board of his Packard sedan. He would then move up the driveway, at about two miles per hour, with the two of us joyously hanging on. I remember, too, our immediate neighbors, Dr. and Mrs. Scalzi, who with their children and their collie, Laddie, lived in a lovely Tudor-style home. And the can one forget the smells? It's the scents of the past that seem to linger longest in the memory. Even today, whenever I smell a wet dog, my thoughts rush back to a day when I helped my mom catch Clipper who stubbornly refused to come inside during a heavy rainstorm. I can still smell the ripening apples on the trees in our backyard as my brother and I watched Dad standing on his stepladder picking them. And when the wind was right, who could forget the ripe, tangy, homegrown odor of Parker's Dairy Farm next door? We lived in a wonderful place and I've often wondered how my life might have differed had we remained there.

But these and the many other memories of those early years in Connecticut never take me beyond our home and its immediate surroundings. I have no recollection of any other place at that time of my life. I know, for example, that I spent some months at a local nursery school, run I believe by a Mrs. Curtis, but can recall nothing of it. I'm also certain Mom took us on occasion to Beardsley Park in Bridgeport; I have photographs, but no memories. Indeed, my earliest memories of places outside the home are of school and church, later memories from our life in New York. I find this very odd, but I suppose memories, especially those of early childhood, are fickle, capricious things. Who knows? Perhaps, as I enter this last phase of my life, memories of those earliest days will come flooding back and overpower the recall of more recent events, like what I had for breakfast.

In the midst of all these, my earliest recollections, one other memory is remarkably clear. It's the memory of a cross, a crucifix really, over the altar of a church. It's a very early memory, a pre-New York memory, and so this crucifix might well have been in the church we attended in Connecticut. I'm not certain about this since I don't even know the name of that church. It could have been in another church somewhere else. I simply can't be sure. But the image, this visual memory of that cross, is very intense. I can picture it as if it were right here on the wall of this room. Strangely, I can see clearly every aspect of the image. I can see the expression on the face of our Lord, one of victory colored with extreme sadness. I can see the nails, the wounds, the crown of thorns, the rough wood of the cross. And I can actually recall my child-like thoughts as I gazed on this symbol of our faith, wondering why someone would do such a thing to Jesus, the one Mom had told me was my friend.

I think it interesting that the very first symbolic object I can recall is a crucifix, the Cross of Calvary. This is particularly pleasing to me. I'm happy that I was blessed with this early memory, a memory that has never faded. For some, as St. Paul reminds us, the Cross remains a stumbling block, and for others a folly [See 1 Cor 1:18-24]. But for the faithful, it is the overpowering sign of our faith and calls to mind St. Paul's wonderful words to the Christians of Corinth:
"For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified" [1 Cor 2:2].
Sometimes that's exactly the way I feel. When something triggers the early memory of that crucifix I can think of little else. The image fills my thoughts. The Cross exerts power not just over you and me, but over all of creation. St. Paul, of course, recognized full well the tremendous power of the Cross of Christ:
"But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" [Gal 6:14].
And I find myself  pitying those who reject the Cross, those who actually despise it; for St. Paul also address them in his unambiguous way:
"For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the Cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their 'shame.' Their minds are occupied with earthly things" [Phil 3:18-19].
More on the Cross of Christ in my next post; but in the meantime, pray for those who "conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ."

Pax et bonum...

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