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 | By Dr. Tom Dorsel

A personal experience of connecting with the cross

Today at Mass my eyes were immediately drawn to the large crucifix hanging behind the altar. A swath of sunlight from the skylight was sweeping across Jesus’ body on the cross. The light was like a banner of glory, as wide as the cross beam and as high as about half of the cross.

At the beginning of Mass, the light stretched from Jesus’ chest to the top of the cross. It illuminated his arms painfully stretched out on the cross beam, as well as his crown of thorns.

The light then gradually moved down the cross in the opposite direction of the rising sun. By the offertory, it had descended to a point on the cross where it accented Jesus’ tilted head. A small circle of light seemed to caress his radiant face.

By the consecration the light had dropped below Jesus’ face and outstretched arms and zeroed in on his sacred heart. Quite fitting for the unbloody sacrifice of the cross that was presently transpiring on the altar.

As the Mass continued so did the descent of the illumination on Jesus’ body. By communion, the banner of light was at Jesus’ knees, as we knelt in adoration and joy of having just received his body, the same one as on the cross, in the Eucharist.

By the end of Mass, his body was no longer illuminated at all, only the lowest part of the wood of the cross remained in the banner of light. The unbloody sacrifice of the cross had come to an end, and now it was as if the focus turned to his resurrection.

Why today?

The Gospel for Mass on this given day was about Jesus taking up his cross. Did God, perhaps, choose to grant a special blessing of the illumination of Jesus’ crucified body?

The celebrant’s homily in accord with the readings was, of course, about the cross. As he began his homily, I wanted to lean out in the middle aisle where I was sitting and alert him of the beautifully lit cross behind him. Had he known, he might have turned around, spread his arms in adoration of the illuminated Jesus and cried out, “Behold,” letting that be his homily for the day. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Making the cross even more personal

Despite experiences like this, if we still feel that Jesus is a distant figure that can’t be related to at a gut level, perhaps we might think about someone we know, someone we love, someone contemporary like a spouse, child, parent, best friend or other long-revered figure in our lives.

Think about that person hanging on the cross right before your very eyes, and you can’t do a thing about it. Even worse, you might have done something that contributed to putting them on the cross, or not have helped them when you could have, or even denied knowing them for fear the connection could endanger you. I mean, this is a deeply loved person in your life, and there he or she is hanging on a cross, and you are down here with nothing you can do but look at them and mourn to the core of your being as you watch them die.

Then, imagine your loved one appearing to you later in the flesh, as plain as day. They forgive you and reassure you that they still love you as much as ever!

All your loved one asks is that you remember them in the breaking of the bread, while you wait to be reunited in heaven.

Thomas Dorsel, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of psychology and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. He lives on Hilton Head Island with his wife Sue and is a parishioner at St. Francis by the Sea Church. Visit him at