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I was born on September 14, the Feast of the Triumph (or Exaltation) of the Cross. Perhaps this is what drew me to reflect on the cross from an early age.
As a child, I remember looking up at the large crucifix hanging in the church sanctuary. It seemed like a representation of a story from long, long ago. A Jesus who suffered and died—but I wasn’t sure why or what for. We had a crucifix in our home. We said rosaries and there, on the end of the long chain of Hail Marys and Our Fathers, hung Jesus. I heard the Scriptures year in and year out, and I believed that what they said was true. But what did the cross mean for me?
Then, on a retreat as a teenager, I gave my life to Jesus. I felt his love that day and knew he was really real and had a plan for my life. I could no longer question or deny. I knew it deep in my heart: Jesus knew me and loved me. What an amazing day! After that, my conscience was heightened. I couldn’t be okay any more with doing and thinking things that weren’t what Jesus wanted for me.
A short time later, on a trip to an amusement park with my youth group, I had a revelation of the cross that has stuck with me all these years. While riding the bus home that night, I became keenly aware that some of my thoughts and actions during the day had been marked by insecurity, lust, resentment, jealousy, and self-centeredness. As I realized this, the wave of “good” guilt convicted me; the nagging “bad” guilt condemned me. Turning my heart to Jesus, I simply prayed, “This is not who I want to be. Please forgive me.”
A picture of the cross came into my mind. I didn’t think it up—it just appeared. It wasn’t the carved Jesus I had seen for years in church. It was the real, bleeding Jesus, as if I were standing at Calvary itself on the day he suffered and died. He looked at me, my eyes met his, and I experienced the truth that his blood and death were for me. The revelation overwhelmed me. I wept quietly, right there on the bus in the dark, while others slept, chatted, and sang. What love! What power! I would never be the same.
There have been many more encounters with Jesus over the years. But the message of this first one continues to resonate within me, growing deeper and deeper.
“You are forgiven because of the cross. You are clean because of the cross. You are mine because of the cross. You are a new creation because of the cross. Nothing can separate us, because of the cross. Satan has no more power, because of the cross. Sin has no power, because of the cross. You can overcome evil because of the cross. You are healed because of the cross. You are free because of the cross. You don’t have to strive, because of the cross. You are changed because of the cross. You have eternal life because of the cross. You are filled with the Holy Spirit because of the cross. You don’t have to be afraid, because of the cross. You can receive my love because of the cross. You can love because of the cross. You can continue to change because of the cross. You inherit the Kingdom because of the cross. You are my child because of the cross. You are triumphant because of the cross.”
Theresa Difato and her husband, Jack, live in Jacksonville, Florida. Theresa occasionally contributes to The Word Among Us.