Finding the True Cross

“Daddy, where is the cross Jesus died on?”

My four-year old daughter had been tucked in, hugged and kissed goodnight, served her glass of water, and the lights had just been turned out. “Wait, daddy! I have a question.”

“What is it, sweetheart?”

“Daddy, where is the cross Jesus died on?”

I’ve been asked this question, by this little girl, at least ten times now. She’s asked her mom too. She’s asked us in the morning, and in the afternoon. She’s asked us in the evening, and obviously, as related above, underneath the moon. Clearly our answers are not satisfactory.

A fragment of the True Cross from the Imperial Treasury in Vienna. Not exactly what Addie has in mind.

Worse, there is literally no way to answer this question in a manner satisfactory to her. The “true” answer would require explaining the “True Cross.” This invovles a complicated and contentious account that, on its most generous and credulous reading, involves the mother of the first Christian emperor finding the three crosses of Good Friday over three centuries after the fact. After determining which one belonged to Jesus, His cross was split up and dispersed in the form of small fragments all around the Christian world as sacred relics. And then some of those relics have since been re-carved into miniature crosses or placed in fancy gold boxes.

Addie doesn’t want to hear about bits and pieces of wood scattered throughout the churches and monasteries of Europe. She just wants to know where “the cross Jesus died on” is today. She knows it’s not the one behind the altar, and it’s not the big blue one out in the field by the church, so “Daddy, where is it? You’re the priest daddy, tell me where it is.”

I’ve even tried bailing out entirely, but “We don’t know…” is not an answer that will suffice. Lord help me if I ever tell her we’re not even quite sure what shape it was.

I share this during Holy Week in part to encourage all you parents and grandparents who will face questions this week about Jesus’ death and resurrection that you feel unqualified to answer. Even priests get stuck without good answers. So take heart, muddle through, and mostly just take those questions seriously.

But I also share this story because you’re adults, and to you I can give the answer that I can’t give a four year old, namely, “Bless your heart, you’re worried about finding the wrong cross.”

The cross that Jesus wants us to find is the one to which he referred when he said, “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Rather than worry so much about finding His, worry about finding yours.

I know a lot of Christians (from time to time I am one) who can’t quite remember what their cross looked like or where they set it down.

So where is your cross? Where is the thing in your life that forces your arms open to the world when you’d rather hold them close and protect yourself or your stuff? Where is the thing that puts to death your self-centered desires? Where is that great thing to which God was calling you that got so burdensome and heavy you set it down off to the side a while back?

That’s your cross. What do you need to do today to pick it up and follow after Jesus?

What Jesus said after his “take up your cross” line reminds us that the cross isn’t the end itself: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

There’s been a lot of effort spent in the last 1700 years finding and venerating the True Cross, “the cross Jesus died on.” Much of this effort has been good, faithful, and fruitful. The True Cross has been kissed, processed, raised in triumph, and buried as treasure.

When we find them and carry them, the same will be true of our crosses. They won’t be our torture, but our triumph and our treasure.

Right now I’m thoroughly annoyed that I cannot answer my little girl’s question, “Daddy, where Jesus’ cross?” But I’m going to be absolutely heartbroken if one day she asks me, “Daddy, where is your cross?” and I cannot answer her.

— Fr. Dad

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.