A friend told me that a friend of her, a priest who was an exorcist, had cleansed a house of demons not long ago. The priest noticed and remarked that there were no crucifixes hung anywhere on the walls, even though the family was Catholic.
No crosses, no icons, no devotional pictures, no holy cards, no tin Sacred Hearts, no dried-up palm branches stuffed behind a family photo. No Bible, decorative or otherwise. But especially, no crucifix.
I only heard his comment second-hand, so I’m not sure if there was any follow-up, or how much importance he attached to it. Still, he thought it was worth remarking on, and so it’s something I’ve been thinking about. Why should we hang crucifixes in our house, if not to ward off demons?
Well, warding off demons isn’t actually a bad motivation. The cross, and specifically the crucifix, does have a certain amount of power just because of what it is, and (just purely speculating as a layman), I can imagine an unclean spirit at very least feeling uncomfortable around it, and less willing to settle in.
But of course, the crucifix isn’t a magic charm or a lucky horseshoe. What I can more easily imagine is an unclean spirit feeling uncomfortable in the kind of house where a crucifix is not only hung, but noticed and revered.
But let’s say you hung up a crucifix, and that was the end of it. You did it because you always had one growing up, or because you wanted to make your grandmother happy, or because it just looks pretty. You don’t especially revere it or even notice it after a while. Is it still worthwhile?
I think so. Simply hanging a crucifix on the wall where everyone can see it will likely feel like an act of courage and loyalty in this aggressively secular, post-Christian time. It’s not easy to buck the culture.
But if your house has no crucifix or other holy images on display, and especially if you’re resistant to the idea of making that happen, you could ask yourself why. If your reason is purely aesthetic, that’s an easy problem to solve.
No matter how carefully curated the decor of your house, there is a crucifix for your tastes. In the course of two thousand years old, Christianity has reached every culture and continent, and that means there are crucifixes rendered in every conceivable style. That’s kind of a feature of the cross: It’s never going to be irrelevant, anywhere or at any time.
But that’s just aesthetics. Maybe your antipathy goes a little deeper, and you’re afraid people will think you’re some kind of fanatic — or worse, they’ll see you as some kind of pervert or enabler. Maybe you don’t hang a crucifix because you don’t want to be associated with the ugliness that is so often the face of the Catholic Church today.
It shows innocence betrayed, and it shows someone suffering for crimes he did not commit. It shows humanity’s darkest hour. It is therefore especially appropriate to display when the corporate Church has let its flock down so horribly.
I’ll just say it: Refusing to hang a crucifix because you don’t want to be associated with thing like that is dangerously close to rejecting Jesus.
This is where it got us: A few breaths away from the Beatific Vision, by way of the cross.
And that’s really the main issue. Putting a crucifix on the wall of your home is not primarily for the benefit of any visitors who might see it. It’s for yourself. It’s so you can look at it in peace and prosperity and remember how ephemeral worldly peace and prosperity are.
And it’s so you can look at it in terrible, painful times and see that pain is never empty and meaningless because is full of the company of Christ. And it’s so you can remember that the cross, that instrument of torture, is occupied — not by you, but by the one who took your place for no good reason at all except that he loves you.
The crucifix isn’t a lucky charm that chases away bogeymen. It’s something much stranger: It’s the disrupter of every fakery, and the answer that makes a mockery out of every foolish question. But it hangs so quietly, willing to be ignored.
A version of this essay was first published in the Catholic Weekly in 2019.