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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: A blessing for the crucifix at St. Bede's

November 14, 2012

In the 12th Century, Peter of Damascus wrote, “...Then we should also marvel how demons and various diseases are dispelled by the sign of the precious and life-giving Cross, which all can make without cost or effort.”

I never paid attention to the crucifix or the ritual of signing the cross. In March 1970, that changed after Sgt. Wolfgram signed the cross, praying, “God hide us from a superior enemy force hunting us.”

North Vietnamese regulars walked right by us. We could smell the tobacco on their breath. How did they not see us? Wolfgram said it was nothing short of a miracle.

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I was a doubting Thomas, rationalizing our fortuitous luck to serendipity. In war, you look for something to believe in. In the midst of peril we turned to God. It’s the way a soldier holds his crucifix when he's praying in a foxhole.

At St. Bede Church’s 61st birthday party this fall, I met Monsignor Antonio Cacciapouti. I was curious why people were drawn to him. After we were introduced, I understood Joseph Campbell’s assertion, “A person with vitality vitalizes others.”

Monsignor was excited to show me St. Bede’s new crucifix. Why did the crucifix, its symbolism, and liturgy fill him with euphoria? What did he see that I couldn’t? I had a million questions and I would ask them all.

Initially I believed the image of a lifeless, pale body glimmering on a dark night carried a whisper of defeat. I didn’t understand why Christ didn’t summon angels to rescue him. But he chose not to because of us. I never heard God crying out to humanity, “I love you.” At Calvary, God accepted his own unbreakable terms of justice.

The crucifix at St. Bede, sculpted by Otello Scatolini, is a replica of the original crafted by an unknown artist in the 14th century. On Nov. 24, Archbishop Gomez will bless Saint Bede’s crucifix at the 5:30 Mass.

The original hangs in the Sistine Chapel. When Monsignor was in Rome he was drawn to this crucifix; it reminded him of God’s love.

“As a child I was captivated by the Crucifix, the idea that Jesus died on the cross for me,” he told me. “I wanted to be priest to give back in his name.”

I was curious about the liturgy of the crucifix. The secret to its significance would lie in that realm. Monsignor explained, “It is symbolic of joy and suffering. It gives us purpose.”

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