This weekend Catholics are being exhorted to wear a cross every day as a way of witnessing to their faith and countering the perceived marginalisation of Christians in public life and the work place.
In the space between Good Friday and Easter, the cross looms largest in the lives of Christians. We reflect on the tragedy of God coming to live amongst his people and their rejection of him. The cross is the place where Jesus wrestles with death and sin, exhausting them of their eternal power. The cross is a mysterious place where the mechanics of salvation are employed, but not explained.
When I walk around the streets of my town I see lots of crosses around people’s necks. Not for a moment do I believe that all those people are telling me about their faith. If they were the churches of our town would be packed.
What I do know is that for some reason the cross makes a nice decorative item. It may have the added dimension of being seen as a talisman that makes you feel “protected” when you wear it. I wouldn’t say it was an expression of faith any more than watching “Deal or No Deal” makes me a believer in Cosmic Ordering.
The reality is that for a lot of people the cross is a sign of failure. It reminds them of approaching a community of faith and being rejected or finding those people unreasonable and unthinking or that their gospel came with a lot of strings attached. It may be as oppressive today as it was when the romans used crucifixion as a sign of their power over those they conquered.
I’m not saying that a cross is a bad thing and should be hidden away. I’m saying we cannot assume that the cross conveys good news just by sight. We know from Jesus’ presence on earth that God believed more in sharing good news through people than symbols. If people want others to know they are followers of Jesus, He gives them a imple formula: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”.
That is always daunting to Christians as God did not give us a manual of how to do it. We work it out, in the power of the spirit, in the midst of real life. It is in how we accept the stranger, how we listen to others, how we are quicker to forgiving than we are to condemning, how our hope is not founded in things and money. Jesus described the life that flowed from that commandment as “bearing fruit”.
Maybe the better advice from the Cardinals would be: “Go and bear fruit in a world that is yearning for love and meaning”. Maybe they need to get better at explaining why a roman method execution can bring hope and salvation. Maybe they need to understand that a lapel pin can’t take the place of a witnessing life.