The Resurrection Cross
Fifth Avenue was unusually crowded for a Tuesday morning. I had taken a train to Grand Central Station and was making my way uptown for a meeting at Rockefeller Center. It was my plan to detour at 46th Street where I hoped to find an artisan to repair my pectoral cross.
The cross had been given to me by the seminarians of the Diocese of Bridgeport on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of my episcopal consecration. It was made of gilded silver and embossed with an image of the Lord seated on a throne, His right hand raised in blessing. I had used it Sunday after Sunday for several months as part of my sermon in parishes throughout the Diocese on behalf of the "Faith in the Future" endowment campaign. Hidden in the back of it was a little chamber containing a tiny sliver from the true cross which Saint Helen, the mother of the first Christian emperor, had brought to Rome from the Holy Land in the fourth century A.D. As a result of frequent openings and closings in the course of my sermons, the cover of the chamber had come loose.
Forty-sixth Street seemed the logical place to find someone ready and able to repair the cross. As I turned off Fifth Avenue, peering into several stores selling gold and silver, I finally spied a likely candidate. He was seated in a booth close to the store window, meticulously repairing a gold pendant with the help of miniature binoculars attached to his eyeglasses. I entered the store with confidence.
The man gestured me toward a woman in the booth immediately next to his.
"Can I help you?" she inquired.
"Yes," I replied. "I need to have this little cover re-attached."
The woman took my cross in her hands and examined it carefully.
"How strange!" she exclaimed in a heavily accented voice. "Usually the Holy Lord on the cross is naked and suffering. Why is He this way on your cross?"
"Well," I began, somewhat taken aback, "this represents the Lord after his resurrection from the dead, when He had ascended into heaven to be with His eternal Father."
My response had a rather academic sound. As I went on, I struggled to do better.
"Both representations are proper," I explained. "The usual one reminds us that the Son of God died a terrible death on the cross for our salvation, and this one emphasizes that He rose from the dead and awaits our resurrection with Him after we die."
"Lovely!" the woman gasped. "Lovely, lovely!"
With that she turned to a man in the back of the booth whom I had not noticed up to that moment. He was quite short with thick eyeglasses and raven-black hair. The two of them spoke together at some length in a language I was not able to identify. All the while they were passing the pectoral cross back and forth, at times studying the image of the Lord up close and at times admiring it at arm's length. Finally, the woman turned to me.
"We think your cross most beautiful," she declared. "We both believe in the Holy Lord and hope to live with Him in heaven. We love the lesson of your cross."
The man interrupted and in an English considerably less fluent than the woman's announced, "Our friend in the next booth is being happy to repair your cross. We charge only for the work. No more. No more."
The friend in the next booth removed his miniature binoculars. Until then he had not seemed to have been following our conversation. Suddenly, however, he came alive. "Let me see the Lord-in-heaven cross," he pleaded. "Ah, most beautiful. I repair it. I too believe we will be raised up to heaven with the Lord if we be good." He hesitated slightly and added in a whisper, "Please pray for me, priest."
The woman thrust into my hand a calling-card on the back of which she had written, "Raised from dead cross. March 5th. Pickup: 3 o'clock."
At 3:30 I was back at the store on 46th Street. The man with the thick eyeglasses and raven-black hair greeted me warmly and invited me to be seated on a stool in front of his booth. "Our friend has repaired the cross," he reported. "He took it down the street to be specially polished. He wants it to be perfect."
"I want it to be perfect too," echoed the woman who had given me the calling-card. She was seated in the rear of the booth. "I showed it to everyone who came into the store and even to the men in the back," she proclaimed. "I told them what this lovely cross means. I told them that the Holy Lord is raised from the dead. I told them He is in heaven waiting for all of us. I told them everything."
While she was speaking, the man who was to do the repair work entered the store. With a bit of drama he lay the pectoral cross on the counter before me. It had been wrapped in a piece of light blue flannel, and it sparkled as it had never sparkled before. "See," he cried. "Beautiful! Perfect!"
Somewhat embarrassed, I paid the woman the meager amount that had been stipulated for the work. As she was making change, two men coming from the rear of the store passed behind me. The woman beckoned them forward. They spoke in her language. Thus I could not understand what was being said. Each of the men, however, inspected the cross with a reverence I would not have anticipated; and when they were finished, one took my hand to shake it lustily, while the other bowed repeatedly in my direction. The woman beamed. "See," she said, "I told everyone. I told everyone everything."
The next morning I chose the twenty-eighth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew for my meditation before Mass. The story is well-known. Women came to the tomb of the Lord on Easter morning. They were greeted by an angel who first informed them that the crucified Christ had been raised from the dead and then ordered them to proclaim the news far and wide. In the words of Saint Matthew, the women left the angel "quickly" and "overjoyed," and "ran" to tell the world what they had heard. In the past I might have wondered how it was that Providence had chosen women for the incredible task of first announcing the Resurrection. Now, of course, I fully understand. It all became crystal clear in a store on 46th Street one day in March.
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