Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The True Cross

So there was someone in my prayer group who mentioned that someone was coming to our area with a piece of the True Cross, the cross that Jesus died on. I know a lot of people who would be very excited about that sort of thing.

I'm not one of them. 

I didn't say anything at first, but the man I was talking to is both perceptive and willing to follow up, so he asked me about it and I got into listing all my reservations. Really it boiled down to 
  1. There's no way such a thing could be tracked accurately across so many centuries, and 
  2. The saying goes around that "there are enough relics of the cross to make up three crosses" [or ten crosses or whichever other version you prefer]. 

A week or two later, my parish printed the following in the Sunday bulletin1:

I know you can't read the article from this webcam photo... the title should give it away though.

It was a heck of a coincidence. "Yeah," I thought, "maybe God's trying to tell me something."

I looked through the article and thought about what my friend in the prayer group had said. It turns out, that saying about all the pieces of the cross adding up to more than a cross is just a saying. There's no concrete evidence behind it. The only person who is known to have tried to catalogue every known piece of the True Cross found that they all added up to less than a third of a cross.2

And the story of St. Helena finding the cross caught me, too. I mean, she was the Emperess, the mother of Constantine. She doesn't sound like a dummy or a sentimental fool, to be taken in by the nearest person trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge. She sounds like a powerful, generous, and determined woman. She was trying to find something that was 300 years old; she dug up where she thought it would be and found three crosses. She determined which was Jesus's by seeing which one produced a miraculous healing.

And here's the thing; I believe in miracles. AndI believe that when we ask God those things that only He can know with certainty (like which van to buy), He often tells us. Helena did everything exactly right; she put her God-given reason to work on finding the cross as well as she could. When she thought she might have found it, she asked God to confirm it.

And He did.

Who am I to contradict God? If He says it is his cross, I will brush aside all the voices telling me that only ignorant and superstitious fools believe things like this3, and I will put my trust in Him.

1. If your mind works like mine does, you're wondering if the man I was talking to arranged it. Let me just point out that in order to get that article in that week, he would have had to submit it to the parish before our conversation and then convince the priest to sign it - the priest at a parish he doesn't even go to. So, no.

2. I even looked it up on Wikipedia, which more or less said the same thing. That was back in the 1800s when Mr. Whoever catalogued them... but still, that was after the medieval period when people would most likely have been expected to go crazy with "finding" pieces of the True Cross for the purpose of selling them.

3. He did, after all, say ""I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike." Luke 10:21.


  1. The pieces of the cross adding up to more than a cross is a comment that is directed to the unscrupulous vendors in the area. I saw a documentary once where they had interviewed some of the vendors and they admitted that "some of them" (not admitting to it themselves of course) just got pieces of wood and sold them as pieces of the cross. Someone who truly has a piece of the real cross would not likely be selling it to tourists, they would be keeping it.

  2. Well, ok, I wouldn't ever *buy* a supposed piece of the cross. In this case, someone was travelling around the country with their piece of it, allowing it to be used in prayer ministries and such, not selling pieces off.

    Although I don't know what kind of documentary you could have seen... I don't know of any vendors selling off pieces of the True Cross? That would be simony. (It happened a lot in the Middle Ages, but they cracked down on it after the council of Trent, I believe.)