The pandemic hit the U.S. right as I was finishing my mission in the local area near my university. Although it was definitely a shock to not be coming back for the rest of my last semester, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my time at this school than this mission. While I was serving the community, I was also able to spend much-needed time in prayer. And during my last holy hour of the week (an hour of prayer before Christ in the Eucharist), I sat in silence and asked the Lord to show me one word, thought, or image that He wanted me to focus on. After a moment of closing my eyes and clearing my mind, I got what I asked for.
The Image: the Doorway of the Cross
An interesting image came into my mind: a cross, split open down the middle like a door, opening and pouring out light—and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Then, something really strange happened, which at first made me question if this was all just part of my weird imagination, but upon further reflection I have gleaned some insight from it. In the image, the door of the cross actually closed, cutting off the rays of light, and the dove fell to the ground, lifeless and turned to stone. Finally, after I pondered on this image for a while, a final image came to mind: the same cross, but now with Jesus on it, with His body breaking as the cross breaks open for the light to pour through. Crazy, right? How is that not symbolic?
Now, let’s break it down. Here’s some of the reflections I have on these images.
The Open Cross: The Holy Spirit
First of all, the open cross pouring out light is obviously symbolic of the Holy Spirit poured out from Christ’s sacrifice. His sacrifice became our doorway to Heaven, from whence He pours down His Holy Spirit, His love, and His grace upon us. Jesus also opens “doors” in our lives for us to walk through and find His healing.
The Closed Cross: Spiritual Death
The cross closing, on the other hand, may represent spiritual death. It is the soul that cuts itself off from Christ and the Holy Spirit. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the symbol of the dove becomes just a symbol—lifeless. The dove itself is only the vessel, transformed and given life by the Spirit. Similarly, we, also, can be bearers and symbols of the Holy Spirit living in us; but without the Spirit, we are spiritually dead, like a lifeless stone.
This also reminds me of Narnia and the White Witch who turned animals and people to stone. Since the witch is commonly known as a symbol of the devil or of sin, so too the dove turned to stone may be a symbol of sin. Just as the dove, when deprived of the light of the Holy Spirit, turns to stone and falls dead to the ground, so too, sin deprives us of the Holy Spirit and brings spiritual death. We need the Holy Spirit!
Without the Spirit, we have no true life in us. We can only live as Disciples of Christ by the acting of the Holy Spirit, just as the Apostles needed the Holy Spirit to come upon them at Pentecost. Before this, they were too afraid to go out and preach and fully live the Christian life. This was a reminder to me—to all of us—to keep calling on the Holy Spirit to live in us, every single day of our lives.
The Crucifix: A Breaking Open
The Crucifix, on the other hand, with Christ upon it, represents something even deeper and more profound. It represents a breaking open. When the cross opened, Christ was broken open, just as His Body was broken open, battered and bruised and pierced with nails on the cross. He finally had His side pierced with a sword, and out of it flowed blood and water (symbols of His sacrifice and the cleansing of our sins). In the image of the crucifix broken open, Christ Himself is the door for us to Eternal Life. And not only does He offer us this, but He also offers us Himself—for Catholics, His literal Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
Christ shows us that love and the outpouring of grace requires one to be broken open. It requires us to take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”) It requires one to open oneself up to sacrifice for others, to suffer. A Resurrection requires a cross, a death to self. It requires going to the painful places, the suffering of the cross and the death of the tomb. We must suffer and die with Christ in order to be raised with Christ: “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). It will not be easy. To live in new life with Christ, we must die to sin, pride, and fear, and pick up our daily cross. That is why we need the Holy Spirit to empower us to break ourselves open in love.
Why the Empty Cross?
As I was reflecting on these images, I asked myself: what’s significant about the emptiness of the cross in the first image? The most commonly-known meaning of the empty cross is as a symbol of the Resurrection (since Christ is no longer on the cross, but has resurrected from the dead and ascended into Heaven). The empty cross broken open also reminds me of the stone table in Narnia. The table was cracked, indicating that Aslan had conquered the curse and come back to life–just as Christ rolled away the stone when He rose from the dead. Similarly, this image of the open cross is a symbol of Christ’s Resurrection and the gates of Heaven broken open.
The stone of the tomb, the stone dove, and Aslan’s table are all also symbols of the power of Christ over sin. Christ rolled aside the stone of His tomb—if this is a symbol of sin, just like the bird turned to stone, then it is a symbol of how Christ “rolled” sin away when He rose from the dead. Following this analogy: It is a stone too heavy for us to move. Such a heavy stone would leave us trapped, dead in that tomb, just as sin leaves us trapped and spiritually dead without God’s saving grace. But with the grace of His cross, Resurrection, and Holy Spirit, He rolls the stone of sin away, rises from the dead and can bring us back to life with Him.
On the other hand, I realized another interesting interpretation for the empty cross: as a symbol of the sacrifice of priests before Christ. The cross is a symbol of sacrifice, and here it is empty; thus, perhaps this might be a symbol of the sacrifices in the Old Testament, before Christ offered Himself as the final sacrifice. In the Old Testament, man would continually make sacrifices to God in atonement for sin. These sacrifices were limited; they brought about grace, but were offered by sinners, who closed off God’s grace again and again by sin. Just as the dove, once the cross closed, left the bird a dead stone on the ground, so too man’s souls became lifeless once they ceased making sacrifices and turned away from God. These sacrifices were only temporary, forerunners to the final sacrifice: Christ Himself. Only His sacrifice, His offering of Himself to atone for our sins, brought about eternal grace and Eternal Life. Now, we no longer have to continually make such sacrifices to God; rather, if we offer up our sufferings in union with His sacrifice, our sacrifices now have eternal value.
As a conclusion to these reflections, I invite you to pray this with me:
Stay alive in me, Holy Spirit! Keep the door of Your cross, the stone of Your tomb, open wide to me! Pour out Your shining grace upon me, and upon my family and friends.
Remind us, Lord, that to receive Your grace, we must be open to Your Holy Spirit to transform us, to bring us new life. Remind us that we must break ourselves open as You did on the cross—giving of ourselves and sacrificing for others out of love. Help us to live our lives here on earth filled with the Holy Spirit, abounding with spiritual life and love for You.
By the grace of Your Sacrifice, Resurrection, and the outpouring of Your Holy Spirit at Pentecost, You conquered death and will bring us into Eternal Life with You. May our sufferings in this life, offered in union with Your cross, have eternal value in the next life. Amen!
May the Lord bless you and keep you,