May 6, 2004

A Resurrection Cross

Fifth Avenue was unusually crowded for a Tuesday morning in March some eight years ago. I had taken a train from Stamford, Conn., to Grand Central Station and was making my way uptown for a meeting in 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 seminarians on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of my consecration as a bishop. It was made of gilded silver and embossed with an image of the crucified Lord vested as a priest, with his right hand raised in blessing. Hidden in the back of the cross was a little chamber containing a tiny sliver from the true cross which, St. Helen, the mother of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, had brought to Rome from the Holy Land in the fourth century after Christ. As a result of frequent openings and closings to show the relic to various groups, the cover of the chamber had come loose.

Forty-sixth Street seemed to be 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 in the window gestured 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 reattached."

The woman took my cross into 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 Calvary, and this one emphasizes that He rose from the dead and awaits our resurrection after we die."

"Lovely!" the woman gasped. "Lovely, lovely!"

With that she turned to the man in the back of her 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 that 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, 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 much 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. A piece of silver needs to be added on. We charge only for the silver. No more. No more."

The friend in the booth closest to the window removed his miniature binoculars. Until then he had not seemed to be following our conversation. Suddenly, however, he came alive. "Let me see the Lord in heaven cross," he pleaded. "Ah, most beautiful. 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, "Pray for me, priest."

The woman thrust into my hand a calling card on the back of which she had printed: "Raised from dead cross. March 5th. Pickup: 3 o’clock.

At 3:30 I was back in 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 tall 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 working 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 waiting in heaven for all of us. I told them everything, everything."

While she was speaking, the man who was to do the repair work entered the store. With a bit of drama, he laid the pectoral cross on the counter. 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 she requested. 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 my cross with a reverence I would not have anticipated; and when they were finished, one of them took hold of 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 28th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew for my meditation before Mass. The story St. Matthew tells 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 Lord had been raised from the dead and then ordered them to proclaim the news far and wide. In the words of St. Matthew, the women left the angel "quickly" and "ran" to tell the Apostles and the world what they had heard. In the past I might have wondered how it was that Providence had chosen women for the monumental task of making the first announcement of the Resurrection. Now, of course, I fully understand. It all became crystal clear in a store on 46th Street one day in March.

Edward Cardinal Egan

Archbishop of New York