“Welcome” is an appeal that most church communities seek to display in their signage and gestures to attract faithful and seeker alike. Yet, the brutal reality of the cross looms over our ecclesial life, forcing sobriety over any ephemeral glee.

Our faith, like none other, is centered on a God who dies for us. Ironically, that has always been its mass appeal.

The Christian faith speaks not only to our transient feelings, but to our human identity. We have heard much in Christian writing and preaching about the attractiveness of Christian joy, and rightly so. The fire of the Holy Spirit that fuels our faith has always distinguished the lives of true Christians from our earliest history, where the most secular, sinful and cynical were drawn to a dynamic community of faith who welcomed the poor, marginalized and outcast, and transformed lives.

We have only to read Paul’s address to the Corinthians — recently heard at Mass — where he names sins and vices, formerly engaged in by many of his listeners, that read like today’s headlines about scandalously-delinquent bishops and priests (cf. 1 Cor 6: 1-11).

The joy of the Gospel flows, therefore, not from a superficial rhetorical or liturgical ornamentation that covers up the reality of evil, but the total exposure of sin and corruption.

No sign stands higher or more dramatically to confront “the great cover-up” — the denial of sin — than the cross of Jesus Christ. In Christ crucified, the sinfulness of the world’s ways is fully exposed.

We recently celebrated the feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14). The triumph of the cross! What could possibly be attractive and welcoming about looking at an instrument of state-sponsored terrorism — perhaps the most humiliating, painful and hideous form of execution ever devised?

Only one explanation is possible: the resurrection. What gives meaning to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the hope it brings us, is precisely the evil and corruption from which it delivers us.

The mystery of Calvary, which we celebrate at every Mass, includes both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Neither has meaning for us without the other.

If Christ did not rise, St. Paul reminds us, we are the most pitiable and foolish of people because we are still in our sins (cf. 1 Cor 15: 12-19). The cross we glory in is what we celebrate at Mass when we eat and drink the real, living body and blood of the crucified. The exposure of the full, scandalous reality of human sin, which Christ completely took upon himself on the cross for us all, is what draws us to the God-Man so that we become inheritors of his own destiny.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, Jesus Christ took upon himself the punishment for our sins that we deserved so that we could have the reward that he deserved (cf. Rom 5:6-11).  

The brutal reality of sin, exposed in the person of the sinless one, crucified on the cross, has dramatically imposed itself on our awareness again in the painful revelations about the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy and the cover-up by bishops.

Some suppose that this has generated or exposed a crisis of faith and that the Church may even fall apart. Others, on the contrary, see the exposure and conquest of sin as exactly what the Gospel — the mission of the Church and the life that flows from the pierced side of the crucified — is all about. That is certainly my belief.

The revelation of vicious patterns of sin among clergy and hierarchy are scandalous — so is the cross — but this is, again from my faith perspective, the work of the Holy Spirit, who always exposes sin and corruption and brings it to light.

It is painful, of course, as it must be. The sufferings of Christ on the cross reveal to us the cost of divine mercy. No true love is cheap. It requires great patience and sacrifice.  

Sin will not destroy the Church, but any inhibition about virtue and the power of grace to transform lives and make us holy will only diminish our hope and dim our lights. Where sin has increased, grace abounds all the more, St. Paul reminds us (Rom 5:20).

He knew of what he spoke! He himself experienced such overwhelming grace and mercy in his own dramatic conversion.

Right now, understandably, we may only envision our future “through a glass, darkly,” as so much and so many have been tarnished by the smut and soot from the smoke of evil that Satan gleefully spreads. Without denying complicity — and the more honest and transparent we can become, the better instruments of the Holy Spirit we will be — we “lift high the cross,” which is our hope and our salvation.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)