One of the most heated debates these days concerns the use of the death penalty.  One side is for it; the other side is against it.  One says it is moral; the other says it is immoral.  One says it serves as an effective deterrent to crime; the other says it does not.  And even among those who favor its use, there are areas of discussion and disagreement.  To what crimes should it apply?  What should be the age limit?  What method should be used?

                The debate goes on.  The questions are many.  The answers are few.

                As we all know in the ancient Roman world, the cross was nothing but a means of punishment and death, reserved for the worst of criminals.  But it has become for us Christians a symbol of some things in which we deeply believe.

                It has become a symbol of sin and salvation.  We sometimes use the word sin as though it were exclusively religious.  But we are wrong in doing so.  Sin is simply a word that is used to express the deepest problems of humanity.  Sin is the selfishness that wrecks character and destroys relationships.  Sin is the seedbed that produces and perpetuates poverty.  It is that which is most deeply wrong with you, with me, and with our world.  It is a real part of life.

                Sin is terrible in what it does to the guilty that commit it.  Sin is worse in what it does to the innocent.  Sin is religious pride and racial prejudice.  It is greed.  It is selfish ambition.  It is cowardice.

                This is how it always begins.  There is not a sin in this world today so secret that its consequences can be contained within one life.  Inevitably, it will break out and spill over onto other people.  Every sin that we commit builds a cross on which someone innocent will hang.  And for almost twenty-one centuries, the cross has been the symbol of this tragic truth.

                But, thank God, that is not the whole story.  The cross is also a symbol of salvation.  And once more we are dealing with a word that has a strong religious flavor.  But salvation belongs to all of life.

                Why do we have education? Salvation from ignorance.  Why do we have doctors and medicine?  Salvation from sickness.  Why do we have jobs?   Salvation from idleness and poverty.  Why do we have hobbies?  Salvation from boredom.

                The primary mission of the Church is salvation from sin, and we need that most of all.  The Christian cross symbolizes an awesome truth.  It tells us that behind this vast universe is a loving Father who cares, and understands, and forgives.

                Jesus put this truth into the parable of the Prodigal Son.  It was about a rebellious person, who left home and made an awful mess of his life.  He ended up dead broke, very hungry, and all alone.  Do you know someone like that?  Finally, he decided to take a chance on going back home.  It was the best decision of his life.  When he came within view of the house, he saw his father running to meet him, not walking, but running.

                The Christian cross is forever a symbol of that.  It tells us that God is our Father and that He will never stop loving us, no matter what we do.  He is always there and ever eager to accept, to forgive and to save.  Let us spend more time to reflect on this truth during this Holy Season of Lent.