Behold the wood of the cross

Behold the wood of the cross
“There are burdens that we all carry, some are very obvious and others we take great care to hide…The invitation of Jesus on the cross is to hand over these burdens to him”, writes Fr Martin Delaney

A Jesuit friend shared with me his experience of ministering in a detention centre in Malta some years ago. My friend had gone into the prison on Good Friday to commemorate the passion of Jesus. He had made a wooden cross for the service and when it came to the veneration he described an extraordinary experience.

The prisoners came up in line but quite spontaneously when they reached the cross they began to write on the bare wood. They wrote something of their own story and their own cross. They were uniting their own suffering with that of Jesus.

A cross is not just a piece of wood; it is everything that makes life difficult. Jesus carried the crosses of his life without complaint, as a poor person and as an itinerant prophet. In the calm and courageous way, he put up with the threats of the Pharisees and the lack of understanding of his own disciples. In the way that he carried all the burdens of his life but, in particular, the way in which he carried this awful, final burden, he transforms the cross from a symbol of condemnation into one of liberation.

There are burdens that we all carry, some are very obvious and others we take great care to hide. There are the burdens of illness, pain and disability, of old age, dependence, and caring for someone who no longer knows who we are. There are the burdens of constant fear, of bereavement, of loneliness, isolation and of mental illness. The invitation of Jesus on the cross is to hand over these burdens to him.


I wondered how we might incorporate this idea in our parish as we prepared for Lent and Easter a few years ago. After some thought and reflection, a proposal emerged. The plan was to have the cross visit every home in the parish during the five weeks of Lent.

A local carpenter created a cross in five pieces all which slotted into each other. The five beams represented the five wounds of Christ. On the first Sunday of Lent the beams were presented at Mass to five ‘Cross Bearers’ who would guide the cross around the parish. The cross bearers were to begin the journey but each family or household was encouraged to pass on the beam to their neighbour.

Part of the message which accompanied each beam read as follows: “What is the cross that you bear today? As you reflect individually or together on that which represents the cross for you I invite you if you wish to write a word, a phrase, an event, a name on the wood.”

I have no way of knowing how exactly people experienced this rather unusual Lenten Journey but the level of engagement was quite extraordinary. During Holy Week the journey concluded and the five beams made their way back to the church in preparation for Good Friday. I was so moved to read and reflect on the many crosses which were being carried by the families in our parish. Some of these stories I recognised but most were personal, intimate cries from the heart known only to the writer.


During the Good Friday Liturgy when it came to the Veneration of the Cross, five parishioners who all had lost loved ones in the previous few months carried the beams up the church and assembled them into one cross for veneration.

As the choir chanted “behold, behold, the wood of the cross”, the people approached to kiss the bear wood now covered with burdens and stories of our community. Jesus’ story and our story, His cross and our cross were united in a way I had not experienced before.


Paddy appeared before St Peter at the pearly gates. “Have you ever done anything of particular merit?” St Peter asked.

“Well, I can think of one thing,” Paddy offered. “Once, on a trip to Dublin, I came upon a gang of fellas, who were threatening a young woman. I told them to leave her alone, but they wouldn’t listen. So, I approached the largest and most heavily tattooed fella and smacked him in his face, ripped out his nose ring and threw it on the ground. I then yelled, ‘Now, back off, or I’ll kick the living daylights out of all of you!’”

St Peter was impressed. He leafed through the great book he held. “When did this happen?”

“Just a few minutes ago…”


Marked by a cross

Marked by a cross,

Cherished and forgiven

We are travelling HOME

Called to be holy,

Called to be happy

We are travelling HOME

Across deserts,

Over mountains

We are travelling HOME

God in our hearts,

God in our lives

We are travelling HOME