Good Friday – The Victory of the Cross

Photography © by Andy Coan

The terror of crucifixion

Terrorism is nothing new.  It’s probably as old as the human race.

In fact the cradle of civilization, now Iraq, was the home of the most infamous terrorists of antiquity, the Assyrians.  Their goal was to conquer their neighbors in a way that would minimize  initial resistance and subsequent rebellion.  To do this, they knew fear would be their greatest weapon.  Simple threat of death for those who resisted was not enough because many would prefer death to slavery.  So the Assyrians developed the technology to produce the maximum amount of pain for the longest amount of time prior to death.  It was called crucifixion.  This ingenious procedure proved to be very effective terror tactic indeed.

It was the policy of the Roman Empire to adopt from conquered peoples whatever appeared useful.  They found crucifixion an excellent tool of intimidation.  The humiliation of being stripped naked to die in a public spectacle was particularly loathsome to Jews for whom public nudity was an abomination.  Incidentally, crucifixion was deemed so horrible that Roman law forbade that it be carried out on a Roman citizen, even a traitor.  It was reserved only for slaves and conquered peoples.

The Cross is the Tree of Life

Non-Christians have often asked a very good question – why do Christians adorn their churches, homes, and necks with a symbol of abasement, terror, and torture?  Why build an entire religion around the cross?

St. Anselm (12th century) explained it this way.  Our first parent’s sin was all about pride, disobedience, and self-love.  Deceived by the serpent, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in defiance of God because they wanted to exalt themselves as His equal.  The results were catastrophic – loss of communion with God, each other, and the created universe.  The history of the human race has been a story in which each one of us, weakened by the impact of this sin on our nature, have followed its pattern, proudly refusing to obey God and love our neighbor.

Anselm pointed out sin constitutes an infinite offense against the goodness and honor of God.  Having been created free and responsible, bound by the law of justice, our race is obliged to offer acts of love, humility and obedience to God  powerful enough to cancel out the long legacy of disobedience, pride, and absence of love; and restore our friendship with him.

The problem is, our wounded race could not begin to attempt such a task.  So the Father sent His Eternal Word to become man and accomplish the task in our place, to substitute for us.  For the immortal, infinite God to empty himself and unite himself to a limited, vulnerable human nature was already a feat of unimaginable love and humility.  But for redemption to be complete, the hero would have to withstand the greatest fury that hell and fallen humanity could hurl against him – the cross.

Surely, after the crowds he had healed and fed cried “Crucify him!” and his own apostles fled, Jesus would realize it wasn’t worth it.  Surely he would curse the ingrates and use his divine power to free himself as many suggested in their taunts.  But no.  His was love to the end, love to the max (John 13:1).  His death was the clear and undeniable manifestation of the triumph of obedience over disobedience, love over selfishness, humility over pride.

Good Friday was the D-Day of the human race.  Since Pentecost, the power of Christ’s obedient, humble, unstoppable love has been made available to all who are willing to share it, producing martyrs and saints in every generation, down to the Maximilian Kolbe’s and Mother Teresa’s of our own era.

So the cross is not only victorious, it is fruitful.  It bore the fruit of salvation in the loving act of Christ but has kept bearing new fruit throughout the ages.  That’s why, if you go to the Church of San Clemente in Rome, you’ll see one of the most stunning mosaics in the Eternal City.  The ancient instrument of subjection and death, wrapped with verdant vines supporting fruit of every shape and size, the triumphant cross become the tree of life.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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2 Comments

  1. With the help of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, I’d like to share the following.

    The duality of life never ceases to amaze me. We live in a universe of good and evil where virtue and savagery constantly compete for man’s passion. As a child, a tarantula frightened me yet it’s a flawlessly engineered creation. Most remarkably, in God’s plan for man’s salvation, He walked among us as the Incarnate Word nevertheless He was rejected, vilified and mocked by scores. His reward as the Redeemer was crucifixion.

    I’m in my favorite leather chair, my legs and feet comfortably resting on the ottoman. My dog Lani is positioned as usual, snuggled between my legs. I’m looking out at the spectacular vista beyond my windows. I love these moments with her. They’ll be part of my memory forever.

    She stirs and moves to another of her favorite locations, the couch. She looks over at me for an okay and climbs on up. Three spins, situating herself perfectly, her eyes rolling back in her head, she slowly exhales and sleeps.

    I do seem to be on two paths; survival in this world and preparing for the next. I guess one could technically prepare for Hell, but I’m aiming more North.

    Lani – What are you thinking about?

    I guess her nap is over. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to us.”

    Lani – I’m glad you said us. Makes me feel good.

    “Something else as well. I had a vision.”

    Lani – Really?

    “Of Jesus.”

    Lani – Please tell me He had a dog.

    At one end of a sun-drenched meadow is a mountain trail that gently arcs as it descends to my level. Slowly, a figure comes into view. Shrouded in a red robe, walking pensively toward me, He is the most spectacular man I’ve ever seen. I’m transfixed. As the trail ends, He meanders through the earth colors of flowers and grass taking in the beauty of His genius. We watch him. His eyes land upon each of us, we number in the hundreds, but we stand apart.

    This perfect being, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, stops in front of a woman. He lays His hand on her trembling shoulder and searches her eyes. I can’t hear what He says to her but Jesus communicates with words and touch. Moments pass, He smiles softly, she stills and is overwhelmed with a sense of peace. She returns the smile and is radiant as she watches Him walk toward a man meters away.

    Christ stops in front of a man who seems agitated, a soul in turmoil. Jesus gently takes his hands in His and wonders why He sees defiance on this person’s face and rejection in his eyes. The man hesitates but then looks away from Jesus and toward a scraggly thorn bush at the edge of the meadow. Leering out from behind the bush, meeting the man’s gaze is a despicable creature, Evil himself. Jesus says something, the man halfheartedly twists back to Christ, but slowly shakes his head. Jesus observes, in this case, the damning exercise of free will. This newly lost soul slowly turns his back to the denied Christ. As Jesus walks toward me, His eyes glistening, the fallen man appears colorless and transparent.

    As Jesus stops in front of me, His piercing blue, sky-reflecting eyes are mesmerizing. His face is both human and divine. Authentic as creation. He’s the best of all of us yet the depth of His humanness and the breadth of His divinity are unfathomable.

    He places one hand on my shoulder. I take his other hand between mine and hold it gently, joy welling up as I experience my Father’s comfort. As I start to drop to my knees in reverence, He gently grabs my elbows, pulls me up and embraces me. His voice in my ear is both prescient and soothing. My forehead on His shoulder, my heart leaps knowing that eternity with my creator is a possibility.

    Jesus leaves me, He moves from person to person and the same patterns persist; there are those that surrender to His love and are accepting and those that deny Him. Those who refuse His grace of redemption and succumb to the deceit of the great Liar have a new god. He cowardly hides behind the branches and spines of a dying thorn bush.

    The last person Christ encounters is His mother Mary. She’s at the far edge of the meadow watching crude profane men prepare a cross for crucifixion. Mary, knowingly, hugs her child realizing her protective arms are but a brief respite to the horrors ahead. Jesus kisses His mother’s forehead, kisses her tears and whispers in her ear. Her color is as white as a corpse.

    Jesus leaves His mother and willingly walks toward the cold men who are well qualified for the torture ahead. His garments are torn from His back, and the scourging begins. For fifteen minutes, the men strike covering His body with black, blue and red marks; His blood trickles to the ground. He falls constantly but is always picked up.

    When the thugs begin to tire, more take their place. Their weapons penetrate to Jesus’ bone and tear off large pieces of flesh at every blow. One constantly strikes Christ on the face with a new rod. At this point, Jesus has been scourged for forty-five minutes. He falls to the ground, barely conscious, and lies in pools of blood.

    The executioners aren’t finished. They again begin to strike Jesus, coercing Him to rise and point to the cross. Without defiance, Jesus Christ raises himself with great difficulty, as His trembling limbs can barely support the weight of His body. They place a crown of thorns on His head.

    They order Him to lie on the cross. They seize His right arm, tie it down tightly with a cord and position His hand over the hole prepared for a nail. One has his knee on Jesus’ chest, another is holding His hand flat. A third takes a thick long nail, presses it to Christ’s open palm and with a great iron hammer drives it through the flesh and far into the wood of the cross. They do this as well with His left hand.

    Jesus’ knees are curled up in reaction to the violent manner in which His hands have been nailed to the cross. They flatten them out and tie them tightly with cords. They tie His arms and chest to the cross as well and fasten His left foot onto His right, first boring through His feet. They take a long nail and with imprecise aim, they drive it completely through to the wood below. Thirty-six blows they hammer; drunken exuberance is not precise. Then with ropes fastened to the cross, the murderers support it as it’s raised and positioned in the hole where it seats with a mighty shock. Jesus utters a faint cry, His wounds are torn open; blood spews and His half dislocated bones grind against one another.

    From my vantage point in the meadow, I see Christ hanging on the cross, a moment of anguish. His and mine. Occasionally, His blood filled eyes survey the meadow and over time, He sees us all.

    Jesus’ suffering lasts throughout the day until I hear Him say, “It is finished”; the most paradoxical words ever spoken. Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh dies so I may live. The meadow, previously a place of wonder transforms as lightning, tremors, rain and wind drive everyone away. The thorn bush crumbles to dust and Satan cowardly scampers away not realizing that this crucifying act, the greatest of all evil will deliver the greatest of all good, man’s salvation.

    Lani – So what does this vision mean to you?

    “Never could I have imagined that I’d make Jesus Christ the focal point of my life. The fact that I have is due to the host of blessings that delivered me to this point in time. Gifts from God.”

    Lani – Grace?

    “Divinely delivered and abundant.”

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