Long before I became a Catholic, I began wearing a crucifix around my neck. That might not seem unusual to some. Many people wear a crucifix. But as an evangelical Protestant who, for the previous 30 years associated the crucifix with Catholicism, wearing one probably seemed to my friends a theological faux pas.
My decision, however, had nothing to do with differences between Catholic and Protestant theology. It was rooted, instead, in a growing sense of adoration for the Son of God who permitted Himself to be nailed to a cross and spill His most precious blood for me.
That image in my mind of His crucifixion made the empty cross for me seem sterile. Bloodless. Tidy. Friday's cross was anything but tidy. It was dirty, rough, hard and splintered. On those blood-soaked beams Jesus suffered -- suffered -- a torturous and labored death to pay for my sins.
St. Paul told his readers in Ephesus that although they were at one time excluded from God's household and without hope of eternal life, they were now brought "near by the blood of Christ."
I am sure the Ephesians wondered how Jesus' blood could effect such a sea-change in their relationship with the eternal God. But St. Paul's Jewish readers would not have had that confusion. They would have immediately understood the God-ordained relationship of blood to sin, forgiveness and reconciliation.
As early as the third chapter of Genesis, when our first parents sinned in the Garden and sewed leaves together to hide behind, God killed an animal which, many theologians believe, initiated the first blood sacrifice to cover sin. Indeed, the entire Biblical system of atonement revolved around the blood sacrifice of animals (for example, see here and here) and foreshadowed the sacrifice of God's perfect Lamb -- Jesus -- whose blood "takes away the sin of the world" (see John 1:29).
That is why St. Paul could offer hope to his Gentile -- and Jewish -- readers that they could now be reconciled to God. Their sins no longer would separate them from their eternal heavenly home. Through their faith in the efficacy of Jesus' blood they -- and we -- could be justified (declared by God as without guilt). Christ's blood redeems from the punishment of death everyone who comes to God for forgiveness. It is Christ's blood that makes peace between us and God. Jesus' blood cleanses our conscience, washes our sins and sets us apart for His kingdom. And it is by Christ's blood that we overcome Satan.
St. Catherine of Siena, in her Dialogue with the Lord (page 260), records these words from God: You do not see how damned you are because the horns of your pride have blinded you. But you will see it at the moment of death, and then you will not be able to take refuge in any virtue of yours, because you have none." The Lord then warns her that her only refuge is to "trust in the blood and in My mercy." And God adds a further warning, "But let no one be so foolhardy, nor you so blind, as to wait for that last moment."