Category Archives: Cross

Story of the cross at Ground Zero

9/11 memorials: By Sally Jenkins, Published: September 8
NewYork — The shape was oddly identifiable in the blasted wreckage of the World Trade Center, standing upright amid beams bent like fork tines and jagged, pagan-seeming tridents. A grief-exhausted excavator named Frank Silecchia found it on Sept. 13, 2001, two days after the terrorist attacks. A few days later, he spoke to a Franciscan priest named Father Brian Jordan, who was blessing remains at Ground Zero.

“Father, you want to see God’s House?” he asked. “Look over there.”

Father Brian peered through the fields of shredded metal. “What am I looking for?” he asked. Silecchia replied, “Just keep looking, Father, and see what you see.”

“Oh my God,” Father Brian said. “I see it.”

As Father Brian stared, other rescue workers gathered around him. There was a long moment of silence as he beheld what he considered to be a sign. Against seeming insuperable odds, a 17-foot-long crossbeam, weighing at least two tons, was thrust at a vertical angle in the hellish wasteland. Like a cross.

Ever since the two jets had slammed into the twin towers on Sept. 11, leaving 2,753 dead, Father Brian had been asked by countless New Yorkers, “Why did God do this?” He would reply tartly, in his Brooklyn-born accent: “It had nuttin’ to do with God. This was the actions of men who abused their free will.” Now here was God explaining Himself. It was a revelation, proof that “God had not abandoned Ground Zero,” even as the awful excavations continued.

Silecchia said worriedly, “Father, they might put this in some dump heap.”

“Frankie, no,” Father Brian said. “No, they will not.”

Instead, as the 10th anniversary of the attacks nears, the “World Trade Cross” continues to occupy a central if controversial place at Ground Zero. Shortly after its discovery, Father Brian persuaded city officials to allow a crew of volunteer union laborers to lift it out of the wreckage by crane and mount it on a concrete pedestal. They placed it in a quiet part of the site, on Church Street, where on Oct. 3, 2001, Father Brian blessed it with the prayer of St. Bonaventure. “May it ever compass Thee, seek Thee, find Thee, run to Thee . . . ” When he finished, the crane operators sounded their horns, a choral blast.

Each week, Father Brian held services there. He became the chaplain of the hard hats. Whenever crews working to find the dead needed a blessing or a prayer or absolution, Father Brian would offer it. Sometimes victims’ families came to pray. The congregations grew from 25 or 35 to 200 and 300.

Men cut replicas of the cross out of ruined steel and carried them in their pockets. Even Rich Sheirer, then New York’s director of the Office of Emergency Management and a self-described “short, round Jewish guy,” appreciated the cross. “Intellectually, you knew it’s just two pieces of steel, but you saw the impact it had on so many people, and you also knew it was more than steel,” he says. Sheirer has a picture of it standing in the wreckage, as well as a small steel cutout given to him for a keepsake by the September 11th Families’ Association.

Father Brian says: “We had Jews, Muslims, Buddhists. People who believed or didn’t believe. It was a matter of human solidarity. Whether you believed was irrelevant. We needed some type of fellowship down there, other than working.”

“Truly, This Man Was the Son of God”

Father Cantalamessa’s Good Friday Homily

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 22, 2011 ( Here is a translation of the Good Friday homily delivered today in St. Peter’s Basilica by Father Raniero Cantalamessa during the liturgical celebration of the Lord’s Passion, presided over by Benedict XVI.
* * *
In his passion, writes St. Paul to Timothy, Jesus Christ “has given his noble witness” (1 Timothy 6:13). We ask ourselves: witness to what? Not to the truth of his life or the rightness of his cause. Many have died, and still die today, for a wrong cause, while believing it to be right. Now, the resurrection certainly does testify to the truth of Christ. “God has given public proof about Jesus, by raising him from the dead”, as the Apostle was to say in the Areopagus at Athens (Acts 17:31).
Death testifies not to the truth of Christ, but to his love. Of that love, in fact, it is the supreme proof. “No-one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). One could object that there is a greater love than giving your life for your friends, and that is to give your life for your enemies. But that is precisely what Jesus has done: “Christ died for the godless,” writes the Apostle in the Letter to the Romans. “You could hardly find anyone ready to die, even for the upright; though it is just possible that, for a really good person, someone might undertake to die. So, it is proof of God’s own love for us that Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:6-8). “He loved us while we were enemies, so that he could turn us into friends”[1], exclaims St. Augustine.

A certain one-sided “theology of the cross” can make us forget the essential point. The cross is not only God’s judgment on the world and its wisdom; it is more than the revelation and condemnation of sin. It is not God’s “no” to the world, it is the “yes” God speaks to the world from the depths of his love: “That which is wrong,” writes the Holy Father in his latest book about Jesus, “the reality of evil, cannot simply be ignored; it cannot just be left to stand. It must be dealt with; it must be overcome. Only this counts as true mercy. And the fact that God now confronts evil himself, because men are incapable of doing so — therein lies the ‘unconditional’ goodness of God.”[2]
* * *
But how can we have the courage to speak about God’s love, with so many human tragedies before our eyes, like the disaster that has struck Japan, or the shipwrecks and drowning incidents of these last few weeks? Should we not mention them at all? But to stay completely silent would be to betray the faith and to be ignorant of the meaning of the mystery we are celebrating today.

There is a truth that must be proclaimed loud and clear on Good Friday. The One whom we contemplate on the cross is God “in person.” Yes, he is also the man Jesus of Nazareth, but that man is one person with the Son of the Eternal Father. As long as the fundamental dogma of the Christian faith is not recognized and taken seriously — the first dogma defined at Nicea, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and is himself God, of one substance with the Father — human suffering will remain unanswered.

One cannot say that “Job’s question has remained unanswered,” or that not even the Christian faith has an answer to give to human pain, if one starts by rejecting the answer it claims to have. What do you do to reassure someone that a particular drink contains no poison? You drink it yourself first, in front of him. This is what God has done for humanity: he has drunk the bitter cup of the passion. So, human suffering cannot be a poisoned chalice, it must be more than negativity, loss, absurdity, if God himself has chosen to savor it. At the bottom of the chalice, there must be a pearl.

We know the name of that pearl: resurrection! “In my estimation, all that we suffer in the present time is nothing in comparison with the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us” (Romans 8:18), and again: “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain. The world of the past has gone” (Revelations 21:4).

If life’s race ended here below, we would have every reason to despair at the thought of the millions, if not billions, of human beings who start off at a great disadvantage, nailed to the starting line by poverty and underdevelopment, without even a chance to run in the race. But that is not how it is. Death not only cancels out differences, but overturns them. “The poor man died and was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s embrace. The rich man also died and was buried … in Hades” (cf. Luke 16:22-23). We cannot apply this scheme of things to the social sphere in a simplistic way, but it is there to warn us that faith in the resurrection lets no-one go on living their own quiet life. It reminds us that the saying “live and let live” must never turn into “live and let die.”

The response of the cross is not for us Christians alone, but for everyone, because the Son of God died for all. There is in the mystery of redemption an objective and a subjective aspect. There is the fact in itself, and then awareness of the fact and our faith-response to it. The first extends beyond the second. “The Holy Spirit,” says a text of Vatican II, “offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery.”[3]
One of the ways of being associated with the paschal mystery is precisely through suffering: “To suffer,” wrote John Paul II in the days following the attempt on his life and the long convalescence that ensued, “means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ.”[4] Suffering — all suffering, but especially that of the innocent and of the martyrs — brings us into contact with the cross of Christ, in a mysterious way “known only to God.”
* * *
After Jesus, those who have “given their noble witness” and “have drunk from the chalice” are the martyrs! The account of a martyr’s death was called “Passio,” a passion, like that of the sufferings of Jesus to which we have just listened. Once more the Christian world has been visited by the ordeal of martyrdom, which was thought to have ended with the fall of totalitarian atheistic regimes. We cannot pass over their testimony in silence. The first Christians honored their martyrs. The records of their martyrdom were circulated among the churches with immense respect. In this very day, in a great Asian country, Christians have been praying and marching in the streets to avert the threat hanging over them.

One thing distinguishes genuine accounts of martyrdom from legendary ones composed later, after the end of the persecutions. In the former, there is almost no trace of polemics against the persecutors; all attention is concentrated on the heroism of the martyrs, not on the perversity of the judges and executioners. St. Cyprian even ordered his followers to give twenty-five gold coins to the executioner who beheaded him. These are the disciples of the one who died saying: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” Truly, “Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation.”[5]

Even the world bows before modern witnesses of faith. This explains the unexpected success in France of the film “Of Gods and Men,” which tells the story of the seven Cistercian monks slain in Tibhirine on the night of the March 26-27, 1996. And who can fail to admire and be edified by the words of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic politician in Pakistan who was recently killed for his faith? His testament is a legacy to us, his brothers and sisters in the faith, and it would be an act of ingratitude to allow it to be quickly forgotten.

He wrote: “I was offered high government positions and asked to quit my struggle but I always refused to give up, even at the cost of my life. I do not want popularity; I do not want any position. I just want a place at Jesus’ feet. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and indicate that I am following Jesus Christ. Because of this desire, I will consider myself most fortunate if — in this effort and struggle to help the needy and the poor, to help the persecuted and victimized Christians of Pakistan — Jesus Christ will accept the sacrifice of my life. I want to live for Christ and I want to die for Him.”

We seem to hear again the martyr Ignatius Antioch, when he came to Rome to suffer martyrdom. The powerlessness of the victims doesn’t however justify the indifference of the world toward their fate. “The upright person perishes,” lamented the prophet Isaiah, “and no one cares. The faithful is taken off and no one takes it to heart” (Isaiah 57:1).
* * *
Christian martyrs are not the only ones, as we have seen, to suffer and die around us. What can we believers offer to those who have no faith, apart from the certainty our own faith gives us that there is a ransom for suffering? We can suffer with those who suffer, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

Before proclaiming the resurrection and the life, with the weeping sisters of Lazarus before Him, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). At this time we can suffer and weep, most of all with the Japanese people, now recovering from one of the most devastating natural disasters in history. We can also tell those brothers and sisters in humanity that we admire the example of dignity and composure that they have given to the world.

Globalization has at least this positive effect: the suffering of one people becomes the suffering of all, arouses the solidarity of all. It gives us the chance to discover that we are one single human family, joined together for good or ill. It helps us overcome all barriers of race, color or creed. As one of our poets put it: “Peace, you peoples! Too deep the mystery of the prostrate earth.”[6]

But we must take in the teaching contained in such events. Earthquakes, hurricanes and other disasters that strike the innocent and the guilty alike are never punishments from God. To say otherwise would be to offend both God and humanity. But they do contain a warning: in this case, against the danger of deluding ourselves that science and technology will be enough to save us. Unless we practice some restraint in this field, we see that they can become more devastating than nature itself.

There was an earthquake also at the moment when Christ died: “The centurion, together with the others guarding Jesus, had seen the earthquake and all that was taking place, and they were terrified and said: ‘In truth, this man was son of God'” (Matthew 27:54). But there was an even bigger one at the moment of his resurrection: “And suddenly there was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone, and sat on it” (Matthew 28:2). This is how it will always be. Every earthquake that brings death will always be followed by an earthquake of resurrection and life. Someone once said: “Only a god can save us now” (Nur noch ein Gott kann uns rette”).[7] We have the sure and certain guarantee that he will do exactly that, because “God loved the world so much that he gave His only-begotten Son” (John 3:16).

Let us, then, prepare to sing the ancient words of the liturgy with new conviction and heartfelt gratitude: “Ecce lignum crucis, in quo salus mundi pependit (See the wood of the cross, on which hung the savior of the world). Venite, adoremus (Come, let us worship).”

A Physician Analyzes the Crucifixion

By Dr. C. Truman Davis

(Click ‘go back’ to see other Holy Week articles)
(This discription of the crucifixion was presented as a homily during Holy Week by Father John Sullivan at Our Lady of Hope Church, Daytona Beach, Florida.)

This article was copied by permission of Mark G. McNutt, from the Calvary Chapel of Santa Maria website.”

   In this paper, I shall discuss some of the physical aspects of the passion, or suffering, of Jesus Christ. We shall follow Him from Gethsemane, through His trial, His scourging, His path along the Via Dolorosa, to His last dying hours on the cross.

    I became interested in this about a year ago when I read an account of the crucifixion in Jim Bishop’s book, ‘The Day Christ Died.’ I suddenly realized that I had taken the crucifixion more or less for granted all these years – that 1 had grown callous to it’s horror by a too-easy familiarity with the grim details – and a too distant friendship with Him. It finally occurred to me that as a physician I didn’t even know the actual immediate cause of death. The gospel writers don’t help us very much on this point, because crucifixion and scourging were so common during their lifetime that they undoubtedly considered a detailed description totally superfluous – so we have the concise words of the Evangelists: “Pilate, having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to them to be crucified, and they crucified Him.”

    I am indebted to many who have studied this subject in the past and especially to a contemporary colleague, Dr. Pierre Barbet, a French surgeon who has done exhaustive historical and experimental research and has written extensively on the subject.
    The infinite psychic and spiritual suffering of the incarnate God in atonement for the sins of fallen man I have no competence to discuss; however, the physiological and anatomical aspects of our Lord’s passion we can examine in some detail … what did the body of Jesus of Nazareth actually endure during those hours of torture?

    This led me first to a study of the practice of crucifixion itself; that is, the torture and execution of a person by fixation to a cross. Apparently, the first known practice of crucifixion was by the Persians. Alexander and his generals brought it back to the Mediterranean world – to Egypt and to Carthage. The Romans apparently learned the practice from the Carthaginians and (as with almost everything the Romans did) rapidly developed a very high degree of efficiency and skill in carrying it out. A number of Roman authors (Livy, Ciceri, Tacitys) comment on it. Several innovations and modifications are described in the ancient literature: I mention only a few which may have some bearing here.

    The upright portion of the cross (or stipes) could have the cross-arm (or patibulum) attached two or three feet below its top – this is what we commonly think of today as the classical form of the cross (the one which we have later named the Latin cross); however, the common form used in our Lord’s day was the Tau cross (shaped like the Greek letter Tau or like our letter T). In this cross the patibulum was placed in a notch at the top of the stipes. There is fairly overwhelming archeological evidence that it was on this type of cross that Jesus was crucified.

    The upright post, or stipes, was generally fixed in the ground at the site of execution and the condemned man was forced to carry the patibulum, apparently weighing about 110 pounds, from the prison to the place of execution. Without any historical or biblical proof, Medieval and Renaissance painters have given us our picture of Christ carrying the entire cross. Many of these painters and most of the sculptors of crucifixes today show the nails through the palms. Roman historical accounts and experimental work have shown that the nails were driven between the small bones of the wrist and not through the palms. Nails driven through the palm will strip out between the fingers when they support the weight of a human body. The misconception may have come through a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words to Thomas, “Behold My hands.” Anatomists, both modern and ancient, have always considered the wrist as part of the hand.

    A titulus, or small sign, stating the victims crime was usually carried at the front of the procession and later nailed to the cross above the head. This sign with its staff nailed to the top of the cross would have given it somewhat the characteristic form of the Latin cross.

    The physical passion of the Christ begins in Gethsemane. Of the many aspects of this initial suffering. I shall only discuss the one of physiological interest; the bloody sweat. It is interesting that the physician of the group, Luke, is the only one to mention this. He says, “And being in agony, He prayed the longer. And His sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44).

    Every attempt imaginable has been used by modern scholars to explain away this phrase, apparently under the mistaken impression that this just doesn’t happen.

    A great deal of effort could be saved by consulting the medical literature. Though very rare, the phenomenon of Hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented. Under great emotional stress, tiny capiIlaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat. This process alone could have produced marked weakness and possible shock.

    We shall move rapidly through the betrayal and arrest; I must stress again the important portions of the Passion story are missing from this account. This may be frustrating to you, but in order to adhere to our purpose of discussing only the purely physical aspects of the Passion this is necessary. After the arrest in the middle of the night, Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas, the high Priest; it is here that the first physical trauma was inflicted. A soldier struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when questioned by Caiaphas. The palace guards then blindfolded Him and mockingly taunted Him to identify them as they each passed by, spat on Him, and struck Him in the face.

    In early morning Jesus, battered and bruised, dehydrated, and exhausted from a sleepless night, is taken across Jerusalem to the Praetorium of the Procurator of Judea, Pontuius Pilate. You are, of course, familiar with Pilate’s action in attempting to pass responsibility to Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Judea. Jesus apparently suffered no physical mistreatment at the hands of Herod and was returned to Pilate.

    It was then, in response to the cries of the mob, that Pilate ordered Bar-Abbas released and condemned Jesus to scourging and crucifixion. There is much disagreement among authorities about scourging as a prelude to crucifixion. Most Roman writers from this period do not associate the two.

Many scholars believe that Pilate originally ordered Jesus scourged as his full punishment and that the death sentence by crucifixion came only in response to the taunt by the mob, that the Procurator was not properly defending Caesar against the pretender who claimed to be the King Of the Jews.

    Preparations for the scourging are carried out. The prisoner is stripped of His clothing and His hands tied to a post above His head. It is doubtful whether the Romans made any attempt to follow the Jewish law in this matter of scourging. The Jews had an ancient law prohibiting more than forty lashes. The Pharisees, always making sure that the law was strictly kept, insisted that only thirty-nine lashes be given. (In ease of a miscount, they were sure of remaining within the law.)

    The Roman legionnaire steps forward with the flagrum (or fagellum) in his hand. This is a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each. The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’ shoulders, back and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles.

    The small balls of lead first produce large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the beating is finally stopped.

    The half-fainting Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with His own blood. The Roman soldiers see a great joke in the provincial Jew claiming to be a King. They throw a robe across his shoulders and place a stick in His hand for a scepter. They still need a crown to make their travesty complete. A small bundle off flexible branches covered with long thorns, (commonly used for firewood) are plaited into the shape of a crown and this pressed into His scalp. Again there is copious bleeding (the scalp being one of the most vascular areas of the body). After mocking him and striking Him across the face, the soldiers take the stick from His hand and strike Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. Finally, they tire of their sadistic sport and the robe is torn from His back.

    This had already become adherent to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds, and its removal, just as in the careless removal of a surgical bandage, causes excruciating pain … almost as though He were again being whipped – and the wounds again begin to bleed.

In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans return His garments. The heavy patibulum of the cross is tied across His shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves and the execution detail of Roman soldiers, headed by a centurion; begin its slow journey along the Via Dolorosa.
In spite of His efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss, is too much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of the beam gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond endurance.

The centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selects a stalwart north African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus follows, still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock. The 650 yard journey from the Fortress Antonia to Golgotha is finally completed.

    Jesus is again striped of His clothes – except for a loin cloth which is allowed the Jews.

    The crucifixion begins. Jesus is offered wine mixed with Myrrh, a mild analgesic mixture. He refuses to drink. Simon is ordered to place the patibulum on the ground and Jesus is quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood.

The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement.

    The patibulum is then lifted into place at the top of the stipes and the titulus reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of The Jews” is nailed in place.

    The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim is now crucified. As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrist, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain – the nails in the wrist are putting pressure on the median nerves. As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet, Again, there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.

    At this point, another phenomenon occurs. As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. It was, undoubtedly during these periods that He uttered the seven short sentences which are recorded.

    The first, looking down at the roman soldiers casting lots for His garments, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

    The second, to the penitent thief, “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”

    The third, looking down at the terrified, grief-stricken John, (the beloved Apostle), He said, “Behold thy mother,” and looking to Mary, His mother, “Woman, behold thy son.”

    The fourth cry is from the beginning of the 22nd Psalm, “My God, My God why hast Thou forsaken me?”

    Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber; then another agony begins. A deep crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. Let us remember again the 22nd Psalm (the 14th verse). “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.”

    It is now almost over – the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level – the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick sluggish blood into the tissues – the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain.

    Jesus gasps His fifth cry, “I thirst.”

    Let us remember another verse from the prophetic 22nd Psalm: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.”

    A sponge soaked in Posca, the cheap, sour wine which is the staple drink of the Roman Legionnaires, is lifted to His lips. He apparently doesn’t take any of the liquid . The body of Jesus is now in extremis, and He can feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues. This realization brings out His sixth words – possibly little more than a tortured whisper. “It is finished.”

    His mission of atonement has been completed. Finally He can allow His body to die.

    With one last surge of strength, He once again presses His torn feet against the nail, straightens His legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters His seventh and last cry, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

    The rest you know. In order that the Sabbath be not profaned, the Jews asked that the condemned men be dispatched and removed from the crosses.

The common method of ending a crucifixion was by crurufracture, the breaking of the bones of the legs. This prevented the victim from pushing himself upward, the tension could not be relieved from the muscle of the chest, and rapid suffocation occurred. The legs of the two thieves were broken, but when they came to Jesus they saw that this was unnecessary.

    Apparently to make sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance through the fifth interspace between the ribs, upward through the pericardium and into the heart. The 34th verse of the 19th chapter of the Gospel of John; “and immediately there came out blood and water.” Thus there was an escape of watery fluid from the sac surrounding the heart and blood from the interior of the heart. We, therefore, have rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that our Lord died, not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation but of heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.

Thus, we have seen a glimpse of the epitome of evil which man can exhibit toward man – and toward God. This is not a pretty sight and is apt to leave us despondent and depressed. How grateful we can be that we have a sequel, a glimpse of the infinite mercy of God toward man – the miracle of the atonement and the expectation of eternal life.

    C. Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus. The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View,” Arizona Medicine 22, no. 3 [March 1965]: 185) Dr. Davis was a graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. He was a practicing ophthalmologist, a pastor, and author of a book about medicine and the Bible.

    “A Physician Analyzes the Crucifixion by Dr. C. Truman Davis was copied by permission of Mark G. McNutt, from the Calvary Chapel of Santa Maria website”

The Physical Passion of our Lord on the Tau Cross

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The Configuration of the Tau Cross of Christ

Cross drawn by St. Francis

    In Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions, as told in the book “The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, it is revealed that:

  • “The executioners put the arms of the crosses, which were a little curved and not yet fastened to the center pieces, on the backs of the two thieves, and tied their hands.”
  • “The middle parts (stems) of the crosses were carried by slaves, as the transverse pieces were not to be fastened to them until just before the time of execution.”
  • “Many soldiers, under arms, walked by the side of the procession, and after Jesus came the two thieves, who were likewise led, the arms of their crosses, separated from the middle [stem], being placed upon their backs, and their hands tied tightly to the two ends.”
  • Saint Francis’ understanding of how the cross of Christ was configured, put the “TAU” symbol in chalk on the gardener’s frock which was his habit after his conversion.
  • Indications are that our lord carried the “Cross (beam), but not the “Stem” (the vertical portion of His Cross).

San Damiano Crucifix

By Ruth Vogel, S.F.O. from her book, Reflections of a Secular Franciscan

This crucifix you see above is very important to us, as Franciscans, because it had such a profound influence on St. Francis during his conversion process.

As Christ came to life and opened His lips and spoke to Francis at San Damiano, so should we let Him come alive in us, and speak to us.
Christ’s mouth is small, and to me, it shows great tenderness and compassion. His great eyes seem almost to be pleading and seem to be drawing us to Him.
Jesus does not appear to be nailed to the cross, but rather to be standing out from it.

If we could, for the moment, remove His arms from where they are placed, we would see behind them the empty tomb.
You’ll see, underneath His hands on either side, two angels; you can see that they are talking animatedly before the empty tomb. They are gesturing with their hands towards Jesus. These represent the angels who spoke to the holy women on the morning of the Resurrection.

Some figures are drawn small, some larger; this indicates their importance in this tableau. The small soldier with the lance on the left is the one who pierced Christ’s side. On the right, a small figure in blue is a mocking Jew.

Painted much larger are: on the left, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the Apostle John. On the right is Mary Magdalene; Mary the mother of James, and the Roman Centurion. Note the centurion’s two fingers raised as he proclaims, “Truly this is Christ, the Son of God.” This was the first great acknowledgment by a Gentile that Jesus is the Son of God.

Above the shoulder of the Centurion is a small face, which is believed to be that of the artist himself, who sought a bit of immortality by sneaking his face into the picture.

Below, and obscure, is a painting of a rooster, if you look hard you can see his legs. I used a magnifying glass on the figure. This cock represents the one that crowed when Peter denied Christ, and it tells us, “Don’t be too sure of yourself.” Even Peter, who swore he would never leave Christ, denied Him three times before the cock crowed.

At the bottom, very obscure because of the antiquity of it, are some of the Apostles with upturned faces gazing at the ascending Lord. Remember the Gospel passage, “You men of Galilee, why do you stand there idle? This Jesus, whom you have seen ascending, will come again.”

So, now look away up above Jesus’ head to the red circle where Jesus is, indeed, ascending to heaven. In His hand He carries a slender cross, holding it as a scepter of triumph. Surrounding him is a choir of angels, singing His praises. (Fr. Kenan Morris, O.F.M., however said, this group are saints in heaven. He cited the two figures on either end of the cross shaft as figures of angels.) Father said there are 33 figures in the tableau. He said there might have been jewels at one time studded about the halo over Jesus’ head.

On the Cross of Christ, above the halo, was placed the titulus, in which was written: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Above the circle with the ascending Jesus, in a half circle, is the right hand of the Father — see His two fingers outstretched.

At one of the churches, when I was in Italy we saw another crucifix that looked at first glance just like this one, but a second look showed it was not, because that one was of the dead Christ, his head sagging against His breast.

This one, the San Damiano Crucifix, is a cross of triumph; of victory over death and sin; over that empty tomb. It is the triumph of the risen Christ — Christ ascending into Heaven, into the Presence of His Father.

The entire redemptive process of Jesus is in this Crucifix of San Damiano.
“Go and repair my church,” He said to Francis. He is saying the same thing to us right now.