Family Crosses

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The design of our church interior  includes multiple symbols of the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Like most Catholic churches, it also includes a representation of another important trinity in the Sanctuary: the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. But our church has an interesting symbolic variation.

When Jesus was crucified on the hill at Golgotha, he was not alone: two other people shared his fate on crosses beside him.

Like Golgotha, our church features three crosses in the sanctuary — but  here, their placement has a different meaning. The central image in our sanctuary is a magnificent glass mosaic of the crucified Christ. The other two crosses are simple marble outlines behind his earthly parents — the statues of Mary and Joseph.

Think about the symbolism. Mary and Joseph each stand, prayerfully, in the shadow of a cross. Very humanly, they both had crosses to bear. Joseph, as an elderly parent in an unsettled age, had to fend for his family in an era without Social Security or other safety nets. Frustratingly, perhaps, his son Jesus was not destined to be his helper and carry on the family business. Youthful Mary may have felt isolated and apprehensive – especially in a dangerous pregnancy. Giving birth in a stable and then fleeing as a refugee, her special child was a great and lonely responsibility. She experienced widowhood that left her a single parent, and then she witnessed the death of her son.

The symbolism of family crosses might have been especially meaningful to our original congregation. Our church was finished in 1911 – just when electricity, radio communication, and  the automobile were rapidly changing the world; but medicine was primitive, with few vaccines and no antibiotics, so mortality  was a constant theme. The nation still remembered the terrible upheaval of the Civil War: several parishioners were veterans. Others were immigrants from abroad, seeking to escape famine and a  roiling global unrest that would erupt in 1914 as the first “War to End All Wars.”  The three crosses in our sanctuary quietly reminded parishioners that life could be tumultuous for even the most blessed of households. The Holy Family’s steadfastness is built into the fabric of our church.

 

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