The Cultic Cross and the Christian Cross.  Which One Will Give You Peace?

Write in your journal what you hear Jesus asking you to do for others so that the Christian cross becomes your reality and your source of peace.I join you in prayer these holy days hoping that you will move to an Easter of great fulfillment having taken on the Christian cross.

I’ve been wrestling with the spiritual meaning of the Cross in the Christian faith.  Like many of you, my childhood and young adult years made Lent more of a contest than a theological, spiritual time requiring reflection for its real meaning.  A naturally competitive child, I would mark on a calendar whenever I busted my resolve to be holy and stole a piece of candy or a cookie, both of which I had ‘given up’ for Lent.  The year we got our first television I was in the eighth grade.  Suddenly, a tube had blown in the TV right around Ash Wednesday, a sure sign said my mother that we were to ‘give up’ television that Lent.  Worn out with six children at that time and a fervent Catholic, she insisted she heard God’s words ascribed in the scriptures to her: “This is my beloved daughter.  Listen to her.”  (I came pretty close to crying about that just thinking of not watching anymore episodes of I Love Lucy or Lucky Strike Song of the Week.)  As the years wore on I took a more dystopian approach to Lent.  I read that one could skip meals on the pretext of not feeling well; this was doing the Lord’s bidding for more suffering.  And not too bad for a teenage girl worried about her figure!  I also tried to sleep on my bedroom floor instead of the comfortable bed.  That was the closest thing to the Trappist monks who slept on straw over a hard board.  I was no longer a cheater; I wanted the real thing.  Denials were lifting me toward the self-imposed suffering of ‘giving.’  What was wrong with that?  All the saints I read about did that and many of their well-practiced denials must have helped when it came time to hoist themselves on the platform for the guillotine; they were ready, whip lacerations and all.  Ah Lent!  The great preparation for more suffering to come and eventually heavenly peace.  (But sleeping on the floor lasted about three nights.)

Thankfully, my adult years led me to look at these attitudes toward Lent and more importantly, the cosmic circumference of the Cross in a Christian’s life and spirituality.  First, I must say: personal denials are deeply affective in our spirituality for the grace they offer.  So, don’t stop your favorite denials; they are loved and appreciated by our understanding God.  Just don’t take on too many and do not seek to suffer for the Cross.  I still make certain personal denials and I find with age they get harder.  So keep it up.

Hans Kung, in his great work, On Being A Christian, says we need to accept the Cross as a Christian Cross, not a cultic Cross.  A cultic Cross is one in which we see only a dying Christ and begin to beat our breasts that His suffering is only for my sins and woe is me to have brought this on to this Christ.  Woe is me.  Yes, woe is me—and Christ as well.  The cultic cross is a cross we worship.  It inspires us to heap on pointless self-inflicted suffering in reparation for our sins and Jesus’ great suffering.  The problem is that the cultic cross keeps us at the foot of the cross beating our breasts.  Is it any wonder that when spirited emotions became uncontrollable over such reparation, we have people hallucinating that they experience visions surrounding this cross.  And if we still don’t feel forgiven enough, we add more personal suffering as we adore this cross.   

The Christian cross, however, has Jesus saying to us: how can this suffering help you to help others?  ‘This suffering,’ the suffering of Jesus and my own suffering.  If you look deeply enough into your soul, you will locate some suffering.  It could be anxiety over something or someone in the family.  It could be a little knot of discomfort such as lacking assurance about your health.  And so on.  Once you determine the authentic suffering inside yourself, you might consider that there are others who have much greater suffering and your insight will help you see where that suffering is and most important, what you can do about it.  Knowing your own suffering, you will be able to help those who suffer perhaps even more.

The Christian cross, says Kung, means we have to resist the power of suffering, not let it get the best of our souls.  Face it head on and sometimes fight it with holy resolve.  Use it, says Kung, for within it is grace.  We can share that grace with those who are suffering more than we. Leave the foot of the cross to help the suffering of others.  That is the message of the Christian cross.


There are many hymns that are actually theologically profound concerning the cross of Jesus.  I have not listed any here and I really should but perhaps you can find some on YouTube.  They can provide reflection for you this Lent. 

Reflect on the importance of the Christian cross as opposed to the cultic cross.  Do not let the reflection on the cross become a symbol of worship this Lent. Jesus never asked us to worship him; he only asked us, numerous times, to follow him.

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My Inner Light

Spiritual reflections through self-development, nature, meditation and dreams

Kimberly Novak, Author

Creating Gems of Inspiration - All for the Glory of God

CSJLife | All Things Vocations

with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis

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