Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The scandal of the cross

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO | Published October 2, 2014

It is not at all unusual these days to see photographs of various celebrities wearing pieces of jewelry in the shape of a cross. Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Prince and most recently, Joan Rivers at one time or another wore crosses as fashion statements. The wearing of crosses in the entertainment world apparently passed the litmus test of cultural stargazers or slipped beneath their radar. I do not think there has been much, if any, negative commentary.

There have been other times when the usage of a cross created a tsunami-sized wall of protest. The erection of crosses at the World Trade Center site and at a Carmelite convent in Auschwitz provoked a severe backlash of criticism.

And so it is that the cross finds it way on the lapels of the rich and famous as well as the desolate and silent places where death once triumphed. The cross is a universal symbol, serving as some kind of a language that bridges the worlds of the sacred and the profane. One can wonder if such a widespread appropriation of a powerful religious symbol somehow waters down its meaning. The question might be raised as to whether we have lost the true meaning of the cross when it has become a popularized adornment for promotional photo shoots or captured in a photograph taken by some celebrity-crazed paparazzi.

It seems to me that the cross is for everybody. I do not think there is any scandal involved when it is worn by a person of dubious moral character, for we all fall into that category in one way or another.

Nor do I think that there is a problem when people wear the cross as an added sparkle to their adornment. I think many of us do that too, to some extent.

The thought that occurs to me when I think about all these usages of the cross is that we are what we wear. Every person on the face of this earth will know that suffering is an inescapable part of life. The more enlightened among us will know that the maturation of love goes hand in hand with hardship, with sacrifice, with suffering. The less enlightened in our midst will shy away from rough roads but will eventually learn to realize that truth is inseparable from the pain of birth, of new life.

The discovery of God at the level of language and theory will never happen. God has sealed off that road as a possible route to the realization of his true self. But God has given us a closer and more intimate way to know him. God lives within us, somehow beneath our words and our thoughts while yet living as their true fire, their inspiration, the source of the desire to know, to be happy, to love.

The mystery of the cross—the reality of redemptive suffering in this world—is God’s way of perfecting all that he has made. He laid down his life for us and lives within us that we might share and know what a miracle really is—the power to raise our hearts and voices in hope when death claims to have the last and final word.

We exalt the cross this day. We celebrate its triumph and yet still stumble through the mystery that we are and that it is. The cross lives within each of us, and we can help each other carry it. And we can also be patient with those who may buy it in a boutique and pin it on for the bright lights of a concert or a photo shoot. If we look closely, we will see that they, too, bear within themselves this same object of their affection and will someday know that the cross is God’s gift to them—freely given as a living presence of his affection.

The scandal that is the cross makes a home amidst the scandal that is human life, and out of that indwelling comes a blessing.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at