Crucifixion: Love in the Abyss

Crucifixion: Love in the Abyss

Crucifixion by Bella. The captions are her dictation to me. She also told me that all the red lines are blood. That was the first thing she said about this picture and she repeated it a couple of times.

“In the face of horror … there is no other answer than the cross of Christ: Love that descends to the abyss of evil.” — Pope Benedict XVI

Elizabeth Scalia shared the above quote from Pope Benedict today and then also wrote: “God help us. . . .God help us. There are no words. No one has new wisdom. All I can do is run to the crucifix and bend low before it and remember these parents, these children, in my prayers, and turn to Christ and his Mother, who understand.”

On Facebook Erin asks: “Discuss this proposition: ‘If you can’t figure out how to explain the existence of terrible things to children, then you haven’t adequately figured out how to explain those terrible things to adults.’”

Another friend asked me for my take on coping with fear as a parent. Fear of what could happen to our children.

All I can think of are Pope Benedict’s words. All I can think of is the cross.

And I remember a priest my dad has told me about who used to come into my parents’ Catholic book store and buy handfuls of the cheapest metal crucifixes. My dad was curious and asked what he did with them. Well, he was a chaplain at a hospital and he would give each patient that he visited a crucifix, whether they were Catholic or not. And he would tell them to look at Jesus.

How can I explain evil to my children? How can I as a parent face the idea of evil happening to my children?

if you’re a Catholic parent, then at some point, probably pretty early on, you’ve had to try to explain the crucifixion to your child. The crucifixion: I don’t think it gets more evil than that: God himself dead on a cross. We are just used to it and so we don’t see it with the eyes of a child hearing the story. It was so hard for me the first time I read a version of the Passion narrative to Bella. How could I expose her to such a horror? And yet how could I not tell her what Easter was really about: to explain the resurrection you have to explain the crucifixion.

I see my children playing the crucifixion story (they were doing so Wednesday and yesterday after we walked the stations of the cross when we visited our parish church on Wednesday) and think they are encountering the best explanation of terrible things happening that I can give them. Especially because it has the best answer: they know that the tomb is not the end. It ends with resurrection.

And perhaps this is why I hang a crucifix above each child’s bed (Anthony still needs one above his bed. I haven’t caught up since he moved out of our room this summer.) And why to combat night terrors I always try to see if handing them a cross will work. When Sophie was having temper tantrums I used to hand her a crucifix: I can’t reach you, but maybe Jesus can. He loves you.

Bella has drawn many variations of the cross. She has built it with blocks. She leads the other children in performing mini passion plays. This week I overheard her and Sophie playing crucifixion. Bella is narrating, Sophie is Jesus. Bella: “Pilate said to Jesus, are you the king of the Jews? Jesus answered, it it you who says this on your own? Then they go to get the cross.” Over and over they rehearse it. I see Ben and Sophie playing crucifixion. First Sophie stands against the wall, her arms outstretched. Ben pretends to drive nails into her hands. Then Ben takes his place against the wall and Sophie corrects him, trying to make him put his feet together, demonstrating the pose. Sophie pretends to be the soldier, driving the nails.

What is it they are contemplating in this so-serious play? Can these sweet, innocent games help to inoculate them in some way against fear, against evil? I hope and pray that in some sense they can. When my children come face to face with horror I hope that at least they will bear this image in their hearts, that this story will come to mind. I hope that when that day comes—and I have no doubt that someday it will come, such is the human condition—I hope on that day they will bring their horror to the foot of the cross and know that God is with them in the midst of whatever pain and suffering life has thrown at them. They will know that love, even in the depths of the abyss.

related: This World Is as Broken as It Is Beautiful


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  • I only got around to making our lussekatter this morning – Thursday was several levels of insanity – but I was determined not to skip, no matter how bad I felt, because I’d bought the saffron back at Thanksgiving.  I only made a quarter batch, since Mike didn’t know how well we’d like saffron buns and didn’t want to waste all the saffron in a treat we didn’t like.

    But like them we did, and 9 buns are not enough.  I’ll have to make more next year!

    Then David asked me if I was going to make the cross bread for Christmas, and was very disappointed that he had to wait till Easter.  He really remembers these one day a year breads – I’ll have to think of something different for Christmas.  Maybe stollen?

    (Hehe, my captcha is making29!)

  • Sophie was lobbying strongly for Lusskatter after we read the St. Lucia book. But Bella strongly remembered the bread I made last year. I suppose I can re-work the bread into an Epiphany tradition, I think some people mentioned it as a variant on King Cake. Maybe I’ll try the saffron buns for Easter, though, before I decide.

    I have no idea what I’m going to do for Christmas this year. I usually feel that between the candy and all the desserts with the extended family that I don’t need to make a special Christmas cake. Maybe if it was just us I’d do a Buche de Noel. Growing up we usually had one for my sister’s birthday, which is Dec 26.

  • I love making Buche de Noel, but we can never get the whole thing eaten.  It’s just so much cake and marzipan and meringue and chocolate.  At work, we used to have a dessert bar for our Christmas party, and my Buche de Noel was popular there.  But we don’t do the desserts anymore.

    The lussekatter were not exactly sweet, just nice and bread-y, with a lovely scent and yellow color.  I liked that about them.  And my bread of Easter brightness is much the same, and just heavenly hot from the oven.  I’d like something similar for Christmas, not really sweet but with the wholesomeness of homemade bread made special for the feast.

    hmmm Sorry, I get positively mystic about bread.  Its my weird little charism.

  • I confess I’ve never tried to make a Buche de Noel. It actually sounds a bit complicated for me. But there’s a first time for everything.

    Not exactly sweet—That’s what I liked about the Lucia bread too. The texture and flavor were very much like Challah, which is one of my favorite breads. Just a bit of orange thrown in and of course the glaze on top makes it feel like a dessert.

    What about something with cranberries and nuts? That always seems festive to me.

  • Favorite picture: “Anthony as Baby Jesus.”

    Favorite line: “It is enough.” Is the purpose of motherhood to teach us when to say, “It is enough”?

  • Erika, I keep going back to that picture and smiling. The little beads and cutout flowers are so precious. As if he were a Christmas tree. And my prayer this season has been to see Jesus in the faces of my children. They’re really trying to help me out.

    And yes, I think learning to say, “It is enough,” is one of the great tasks of motherhood. So very hard.