Fear of the Cross

September 15 2019 | by

AT THE JUNE 1, 2019 ordination Mass of three young priests, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, spoke of the world’s deadliest disease: ‘staurophobia’. “I would not ordain a man if I thought he had staurophobia, which means ‘fear of the cross.’ The definitive act of Christ’s priesthood was His sacrifice on the cross. A man will not be a holy priest if he has staurophobia. We must not be afraid of carrying the cross, of giving of ourselves in love. In other words, are you resolved to imitate Christ in the daily carrying of His cross? In giving yourselves in love to God’s people? In imitating the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep?”

Staurophobia affects pastors as well as Catholic priests. “90 percent of conservative pastors agree that abortion and gay marriage are biblically wrong, but only 10 percent will preach this.” Why? Fear of loss of financial support, of negative publicity, of repercussions from abortion and gay lobbies, of criticism from the congregation.


Staurophobic solutions


Staurophobia weakens moral fiber, and can lead to gravely sinful acts which destroy God’s grace in the soul. What tribulation is not infected by staurophobia?

  • Terminal illness: Fear of suffering. Staurophobic solution: Euthanasia.
  • Emotional anguish over ____ (fill in the blank): Fear of emotional pain: Staurophobic solutions: Drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, suicide.
  • Unwanted pregnancy: Fear of parenting; fear of revelation of sexual activity. Staurophobic solution: Artificial birth control, abortion.
  • Sexuality: Fear of being unattractive. Staurophobic solution: Homosexual acts, promiscuity, immodesty.
  • Financial concerns: Fear of poverty. Staurophobic solution: Cheat, steal, lie.
  • Gender confusion. Fear of being different. Staurophobic solution: Gender change.
  • Social acceptance. Fear of rejection. Staurophobic solution: Assume a persona.
  • Anger: Fear of powerlessness. Staurophobic solutions: Bullying, power struggles, murder.

Fear is one of Satan’s primary tools. In tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, what did Satan say? “If you eat of it, you will be like God, knowing good from evil” [Gen. 3.5]. Eve was afraid of missing out on something good. She could have accepted her cross and said, “No, I will endure the discomfort of not knowing something.” Instead, succumbing to staurophobia, she ate the fruit and introduced sin to the human race.


Love: the antidote


What is staurophobia’s antidote? Love. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Notice how each staurophobic reaction in the above list tries to keep the individual from being ‘punished’ by pain.

Christopher Bader, Ph.D, professor of sociology at Chapman University, spearheaded a 2017 fear study. He noted that “People tend to fear what they are exposed to in the media. Many of the top 10 fears this year can be directly correlated to the top media stories of the past year.”

Fear of dying used to be one of the top 5 fears. Among those surveyed, ‘Fear of Dying’ now ranks 48th, with only 20 percent of those surveyed saying that they were afraid of dying. This does not indicate an increase of belief in life after death. 17 percent of Americans do not believe in life after death, and 20 percent more are unsure. Lack of fear over death indicates a huge cultural shift toward the acceptance of death by choice – suicide, euthanasia, abortion.

What do people fear? 74.5 percent stated that they are “afraid or very afraid” of “Corrupt Government Officials.” 53 percent feared “Pollution.” 48 percent were concerned about “Global warming and climate change.” Amazingly, only 50 percent were concerned about not having enough money. Further down the list were fear of “People I love dying” (39.7 percent) and “People I love becoming seriously ill” (39.1 percent). Nowhere, in the top 47 fears, were fear of sin, judgment, or hell.


Golden candlestick


“St. Augustine says, ‘Charity is the name I give to that movement of the soul to delight in God for his own sake, and in self and neighbor for God’s sake.’ He who lacks this, however many things he does which are in themselves good, he does them in vain,” writes St Anthony. (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals I, p.59; translated by Paul Spilsbury; Edizioni Messaggero Padova).

People with no belief in God cannot delight in Him, nor can they delight in self or neighbor for God’s sake. Seeing the value of the cross is as impossible for them as flying by flapping their arms.

“Charity led the Son of God to the wood of the Cross,” Anthony, like Bishop Rhoades, noted. “In the Canticles, it says: Love is as strong as death, [Cant 8.6] and St. Bernard comments on this passage, ‘O charity, how strong is your bond! Even the Lord was bound by you!’” (Sermons I, p. 59).

Anthony compares charity to a golden candlestick, “The candlestick of charity is ‘beaten’ with the hammer of tribulation, to be increased not in itself, but in the human mind” (Sermons III, p. 65). God permits tribulation (the cross) in order to increase charity which prompts action. When we first begin to walk the way of love, charity is imperfect. Enduring tribulation in small matters strengthens us for enduring it in larger matters. Imperfections, both in precious metals and in charity, are hammered out with many hard blows. Those who choose staurophobic solutions to life’s crosses are negating the power of their tribulations to foster love.


4 loves


“St. Augustine says, ‘There are four things that should be loved. One is above us, namely God. The second is what we ourselves are. The third is beside us, our neighbor. The fourth is below us, our body.’ The rich man loved his body first and foremost, and cared nothing for God, his own soul, or his neighbor. That is why he was damned,” Anthony writes (Sermons II, p. 14). The rich man employed a staurophobic solution to his fear for the future. Instead of exercising charity toward his needy neighbors, he built bigger barns to hold his crops.

Anthony advocates the cross rather than comfort. “St. Bernard says, ‘We should treat our body like some sick person in our care. There are many things it would like which are not good for it, and these we must deny it. There are many things good for it, but which it does not like – but we must insist on them. We should treat our body as something not really belonging to us, but to him by whom we are bought with a great price, that we may glorify him in our body [cf. 1 Cor 6.20].’ We should love our bodies in the fourth and last place, ‘not as something for whose sake we live, but as something without which we cannot live’” (Sermons II, p. 14).

Christ’s “cross is victorious – it is the efficacious sign of the victory of love over sin and death. When we meet the Lord on the day of judgment, He will show us His glorious wounds and ask to see our wounds, the wounds of our love,” Bishop Rhoades noted. Christ’s cross wounded him. Ours will wound us. Accepting the wounding enables us to carry our cross, grow in love, and be immunized against staurophobia.

Updated on September 15 2019