While the national flag is a symbol of a nation, the cross is the most important and powerful symbol of Christianity. Like all symbols, it evokes more than what we can understand. It is the very heart of our Christian faith. While the cross reminds us of Jesus’ suffering and death, it also reminds us of His victory over death and His glorious risen life. 

The power of the sign of cross is beautifully expressed in many of our Catholic rituals. In baptism, for instance, the parents and the sponsors trace it over the candidate’s ears, eyes and other parts of the body. We make the sign of the cross at the beginning of a liturgy or prayer and before the Gospel is proclaimed.

We find the cross on mountaintops around the world and on the walls of Christian homes, on church tops and dangling around our necks. We find rugged wooden crosses and ornately jeweled crosses, images of the suffering Christ and images of the risen Christ affixed to the cross. The cross speaks to what we believe about Jesus and about how we understand our lives in relation to Him.

For many centuries in which the cross has been revered as a sacred symbol, it is difficult for us to imagine the utter horror associated to it. It is the world’s most hated instrument of torture, the most horrible form of punishment. It expresses some of humanity’s deepest fears: pain, betrayal, abandonment, and death.

Crucifixion was an early form of capital punishment, comparable to our electric chair, gas chamber, or lethal injection. By intent, it was cruel and unusual punishment. Yet, our Christian faith has turned this disgraceful instrument of torture into something that we Christians are proud of. 

The cross is also the symbol of humanity’s greatest hope – that suffering and death are not the end; that life does arise from death and that better life is yet to come. The passion and death of Jesus on the cross is the heart of our belief. Jesus humbled Himself, becoming like a slave and obedient even to death. His death was stupidity in the eyes of the world, a scandal for many, yet it is God’s way of wisdom and power.

The cross reminds us that God is with us even in pain, tragedy and seemingly hopeless situations. Many of us consider our suffering an opportunity to be united in the love that Jesus showed us. Though suffering is often senseless and irrational, many of us believe that we do not suffer alone. Such realization allows us to endure and accept what is part of our human condition and the pain that comes in every life; it gives us hope that God is true to His promise of a better and happier life. 

Oftentimes human suffering is not inevitable nor irrational; it is the result of human wickedness. People are oppressed by others and by the human systems that prevent us from living with dignity. We often hear the words exploitation and undue influence in our surroundings. They simply mean abuses, all for the sake of self-centeredness, struggle for power and self-recognition which in most cases, destroy the love and harmony among us.

Cross is a wonderful symbol of human resistance to abuses; to the choice of living happily in spite of life’s hardships, to the hope that suffering will be transformed into something better.

His death on the cross was not just His final act; it expresses Jesus’ entire life of sacrifice for others, of laying down His life out of love. Our life as Christian is following in His way: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

The logic of the cross seems to fly in the face of common sense. Why are suffering and death the way to life? Why is the dreaded cross a clearest sign of hope which inspires many people? What does the call of Jesus to take up the cross imply for life?

The cross is a great paradox and we will never fully understand it. But certainly it symbolizes God’s triumph over sin, death, meaningless existence and clearly, His unconditional love for us.

By Tim Pedrosa

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; character, hope. Romans 5:3-4