What the Crucifix Teaches Without Words

“With these two things you have the action plan: the Beatitudes and Matthew 25,” said Pope Francis. “You do not need anything else.”

The Church has a handy way to sum up Matthew, Chapter 25: the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. As Dorothy Day put it, “Everything a baptized person does every day should be directly or indirectly related to the Works of Mercy.” That’s the model for Christians after the pandemic, and the answer to the world’s problems.

But the Church also has a handy way to sum up the Beatitudes. It is placed before you in every church and is probably there on your wall: the crucifix. Every since you were a kid, the crucifix has been silently teaching you the Beatitudes without you even knowing it.

Jesus, stripped, says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

There is Jesus on the cross having left everything behind. He has been stripped even of the seamless garment that he had on. The key, though, is that he doesn’t miss them, and his dignity is no less without them.

To be poor in spirit means to refuse to give your heart to possessions, but to give it to God’s will instead.

Jesus, dying, says: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

When we look on the crucifix, we have all felt, and are meant to feel, profound sadness. Why are we sad for someone we know died for us and is risen from the dead? Because we know it is our sin that brought death.

To be one of those who mourn, recognize the sadness of every death, even Christ’s, and be comforted that love is stronger.

Jesus, surrendered, says: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Jesus on the cross has lost every battle. He was not the conquering kind of Messiah some of his followers hoped he would be. He did not argue his innocence or answer the taunts hurled at him.

To be meek, be like Jesus — willing to lose battles knowing that God will win the war.

Jesus’ saving act says: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

The crucifix shows just how far our hunger and thirst for righteousness should take us. We should do the right thing even when it costs something, even when it is embarrassing, even to the point of sacrifice.

In fact, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, we should pursue what’s right even if, like police officers, members of the military, service workers, and martyrs, we someday have to give everything.

Jesus taking on our sin says: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

The crucifix is an icon of mercy. It shows Jesus, the Son of God, being put to death by those he created and lavished with gifts all their life — and being put to death for them, also.

To be merciful we have to say what Jesus said about those who hurt us: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus, pierced, says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Jesus is so pure of heart that we celebrate his heart, all on its own, on the feast of the Sacred Heart. The image of his Sacred Heart is the image of the single-minded burning love for God that fueled his passion and death.

To be pure of heart, ask to see everyone you meet from the point of view of Jesus on the cross, worthy of an infinite love.

Jesus’ open arms say: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Jesus on the cross is dying with his arms wide open, raised between heaven and earth, calling everyone to unite in him.

We are peacemakers when we would rather help our foes be more right than show them up as wrong — and when we would rather see our foes correct their worst tendencies than see them suffer from them.

The crucifix always says: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This Beatitude sums up the crucifix: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,” Jesus says with his death.

Only by drawing close to Christ in his Beatitudes and Works of Mercy can we gain the trust we need to “Rejoice and be glad,” when we are called to suffer a little of what he did.

This appeared at Aleteia.
Image: The candlelit Underground youth prayer service
at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

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Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II, The Fatima Family Handbook and What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He lives in Atchison, Kansas, with his wife, April, and has nine children.