The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
During this month of September, the month of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us ask of our good Lord to give us a true contrition for our sins and fervent gratitude for His great Goodness! This coming Monday, September 14, we celebrate the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. I encourage you to reflect on this message a few times this week:
―The Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14)
Devotion to the Holy Cross dates back to the earliest days of Christianity. The Feast itself has been celebrated since the fourth century. Today the Church commemorates the recovery of the True Cross by the Emperor Heraclius following his victory over the Persians. The texts of the Holy Mass and of the Liturgy of the Hours proclaim the Holy Cross as the Instrument of our Salvation. For inasmuch as our first parents sinned beneath the shadow of a tree, God has deigned to accomplish our redemption on the wood of the Cross.
The origin of the Feast day: Through the Passion of Our Lord the Cross became a throne of glory, not a gallows of infamy. How radiant is that precious Cross which brought us our salvation. Through the Cross we are victorious. With the Cross we shall reign. By the Cross all evil is destroyed, Alleluia. (Liturgy of the Hours; Lauds prayer)
The Feast we celebrate today has its origin in the first centuries of Christianity. According to ancient testimony this commemoration began the day the Cross of Our Lord was found. (cf. Egeria, Journey, Madrid 1980) It developed quickly in the Eastern Church and soon spread throughout all Christendom. In Rome a solemn procession from the Basilica of St. Mary Major to that of St. John Lateran took place to venerate the Holy Cross before Holy Mass. (cf. A. G. Martimort, The Church in Prayer, Barcelona 1987)
At the beginning of the seventh century the Persians ransacked Jerusalem. They destroyed many churches and took possession of the sacred relics. A few years later the Emperor Heraclius recovered them. According to pious tradition, the splendidly-dressed monarch, in full regalia, personally wanted to carry the Holy Cross to its original place on Calvary. The weight became increasingly unbearable as he walked on the Via Dolorosa. The Bishop of Jerusalem, Zechariah, explained to him that to carry the Holy Cross he must imitate the poverty of Christ, who bore it free of every earthly attachment. Heraclius immediately divested himself of the imperial garments and put on humble pilgrim’s clothes. He was then able to carry the Holy Cross, unshod, to the summit of Golgotha. (cf. P. Croisset, Christians, Madrid 1846, VII)
Most probably as children, we learned to make the sign of the Cross on our forehead, lips and heart as an external sign of our profession of Faith. The Church makes use of the Cross on its altars during worship for the Liturgy and has its place outside on sacred buildings too. As a Tree of the most savory fruit it is a powerful weapon for warding off all kinds of evil, and especially for instilling fear in the spiritual foes of our salvation: Lord, through the sign of the Holy Cross free us from our enemies, we pray each day before blessing ourselves.
A Father of the Church teaches: The Cross is a shield against the devil as well as a trophy of victory. It is the promise that we will not be overcome by the Angel of Death (Exod. 9:12). The Cross is God’s instrument to lift up those who have fallen and to support those still on their feet fighting. It is a crutch for the crippled and a guide for the wayward. It is our constant goal as we advance, the very wellspring of our body and soul. It drives away all evils, annihilates sin and draws down for us abundant goods. This is indeed the seed of the Resurrection and the tree of Eternal Life. (St. John Damascene, De Fide Ortodoxa, IV, 11) During Holy Mass we pray: God our Father, in obedience to You, Your only Son accepted death on the Cross for the salvation of mankind. We acknowledge the mystery of the Cross on earth. May we receive the gift of redemption in Heaven. (Preface of the Holy Mass)
The Holy Cross is present in our lives in different ways. It may be manifest through sickness, poverty, tiredness, pain, scorn, or loneliness. Today in our prayer we can examine our habitual disposition on coming face to face with the Holy Cross. Though hard to bear at times, the encounter with it can become a source of purification, life, and joy if it is embraced with love. Embracing the Holy Cross should lead us never to complain when confronting difficulties, and even to thank God for the failures, suffering, and setbacks that purify us. Such adversities should be additional occasions for drawing us closer to God.
The Lord blesses those He loves with the Cross: The First Reading of the Holy Mass describes the Lord’s punishment of the people of Israel for murmuring against Moses and Yahweh when they encounter obstacles in the desert. (Num. 21:4-9) God sends snakes that wreak havoc on the Israelites. When they finally repent the Lord tells Moses: Make a fiery serpent and put it on a stand. If anyone is bitten and looks at it he shall live. So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a stand. If anyone was bitten, the person looked at the bronze figure and lived. The bronze snake is a symbol of Christ on the Cross, since all who gaze on it with Faith achieve salvation.
The Lord explains further in His conversation with Nicodemus: The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes in Him may have Eternal Life. (John 3:14-15) From that moment on, the path of holiness passes through the Holy Cross. Incomprehensible realities such as pain, poverty, failure and voluntary mortification take on significance in its shadow. Moreover, the Holy Cross is a sign of the special predilection of God who sometimes blesses us with it when He wants to bestow great graces. May we joyfully embrace the encounter, and thus be supernaturally effective, because God’s Love alone is capable of satisfying the human heart. Herein lies sanctity. Let us always bear the Cross with love. Are you suffering some great tribulation? Do you have setbacks? Say very slowly, as if savoring the words, this powerful and manly prayer: ‘May the most just and most lovable Will of God be done, be fulfilled, be praised and eternally exalted above all things. Amen. Amen.’ I assure you that you’ll find peace. (J. Escriva, The Way, 691)
The fruit of the Cross: Cross, most faithful, you are the noblest Tree of all. No other tree can compare with your leaves, your flower and your fruit. (Hymn, Crux Fidelis)
Love for the Holy Cross produces abundant fruit in the soul. In the first place it brings us to discover Jesus immediately. He comes out to meet us and bears on His own shoulders the most burdensome part of any trial we experience. Our suffering, in union with the Master’s, is no longer an evil that oppresses us. It becomes a means of union with God. If you are suffering, unite your sorrow to His sorrow; unite your Mass to His. The world will probably not understand this advice, but do not be disturbed. It is enough that Jesus, Mary and the saints know what is going on. Live in union with them, then, and let your blood flow for the benefit of all mankind… just as He did. (C. Lubich, Meditations, Madrid 1989)
The Holy Cross of every day is a great opportunity for purification, detachment and even for an increase in grace. (cf. A. Tanquerey, The Divinization of Suffering, Madrid 1955) St. Paul frequently reminds Christians that tribulation is always brief and endurable. The prize for suffering out of love for Christ is eternal and satisfying. Therefore, the Apostle rejoices in his tribulations. He even glories in them, considering himself blessed to be able to unite his own suffering to the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In this way he helps bring the Lord’s Passion to completion for the good of the Church and of souls. (cf. Rom. 7:18; Gal. 2:19-20; 6:14; etc.)
The only real tragedy is to stray from Christ. All other sufferings pass. Every one of them can become a real source of peace and joy for us. Is it not true that as soon as you cease to be afraid of the Cross, of what people call the Cross, when you set your will to accept the Will of God, then you find happiness, and all your worries, all your sufferings, physical or moral, pass away? Truly the Cross of Jesus is gentle and lovable. There, sorrows cease to count; there is only the joy of knowing that we are co-redeemers with Him. (J. Escriva, The Way of the Cross, 11)
Moreover, our constant recourse to and friendship with the Master teach us to bear difficulties that crop up with a firm and youthful spirit. We need never complain or give in to sadness. As happens in the lives of the saints, adversity will become a stimulus for us. We shall accept it with a cheerful spirit as one more obstacle to be overcome, enabling us to be more identified with Christ.
Joy and optimism during rough moments is not a fruit of temperament or of age. It is born of a deep interior life and the frequent consideration of our Divine Filiation. Our serene perspective on passing events will create a positive tone in our family, while we are at work, and in all our social relations. This equanimity will then be an occasion for others to draw closer to the Lord.
We finish our time of prayer with Our Lady: Cor Mariae perdolentis, miserere nobis’. Invoke the Heart of Mary. Have the purpose and determination of uniting yourself to her sorrow in reparation for your sins and the sins of all men. Pray to her - for every soul- that her sorrow may increase in us our aversion from sin, and that we may be able to love the physical or moral suffering of each day as a means of expiation. (idem., Furrow, 258)” (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez)
Through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Joseph, and St. Columbkill, may God grant us the grace to offer our sufferings in union with the suffering our Lord on the Cross!
In Christ through Mary,