Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lift High the Cross

                                    Exaltation of the Holy Cross
                                    

Crucifixion*
Station of the Cross
Assumption Church
Fairfield CT


In the Catholic Church a feast day commemorating the Cross is celebrated every September 14. Since Sept. 14 falls on a Sunday this year, the feast supplants the regular readings in Ordinary time.

From the earliest days the sign of the Cross has been a prominent feature in the Church. We bless ourselves with the sign of the Cross when we enter and leave church; and we will make the sign of the Cross many times during the Mass. The Cross is always exhibited prominently in our churches, and practically every church has Stations of the Cross where the faithful can virtually walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Many famous churches have even been built in the shape of a cross.

Most Christian homes will contain a cross or crucifix. Every rosary has a cross. We cross ourselves before we say grace at meals. Not only churches but also schools and even cities have been named after the Cross. Santa Croce is a famous Franciscan church in Florence, Italy. Holy Cross is a well-known college in Massachusetts. St. Croix is the name of a river and city in Minnesota. Santa Cruz is a city in California.

Today’s feast is actually called the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Despite being an instrument of torture and disgrace and death, the death of Jesus on the Cross has always been regarded as a sign of the triumph of love over sin and death.

The theme is set in the first reading from the Book of Numbers. The Church has always regarded the lifting up of the pole with the sign of the saraph serpent as pre-figuring the lifting up of Christ on the Cross.

Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole,
And whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent
Looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

Today’s gospel from the Gospel of John contains one of the most famous passages in the Bible, and it relates to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
So that everyone who believes in him might not perish
But might have eternal life.

This verse is John 3:6 and we often see it lifted up on signs and placards in the stands during sporting events.

In the last few weeks we have been following Jesus on his way to Jerusalem to take up his Cross. We have heard him tell the disciples and us to take up our own crosses of humility, sacrifice, and service to others. All of us will have our own cross to bear in life even if we have never heard of the Cross or even if we reject its message. No one goes through life without pain. For Christians, the Cross is the way through the pain and suffering.

It is true that for some the pain will be greater. Here is Fr. Luis Montes observing the suffering of the persecuted Christians in Iraq.

“The number of martyrs the Middle East is giving to the world is amazing. It is not well known but it will be in many years, and we will speak of them like we do of the acts of the martyrs of the early years of Christianity. The faith they have despite the persecution is moving, as well as their sensitivity towards others...Almost all the people I know in Iraq and in other countries of the Middle East know a family member killed out of hatred for the faith. Others have suffered direct persecution or discrimination. For us it is an honor to serve these people. Lord knows what He will ask of me in the future but as for me I would like to serve here my entire life”

We do not yet face such danger in our own country but Catholics are becoming increasingly marginalized in today’s secular culture. In colleges and universities all over the country our children are being taught that religion is an obstacle to true love and happiness. Rather than being asked to take up our Cross, we are urged to abandon and even despise it.

For those who ridicule and hate the Cross, it is clear that they have not been able to eliminate the pain and suffering in the world, much less in their own lives. They have just given up the Christian way to deal with life’s arduous journey, but have found nothing to take its place.

Even though John 3:16 is justly important, verse 17 is equally valuable.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
But that the world might be saved through him.

Jesus said that if we really want to save our life, we must first lose it. We must give up our selfishness and pride, and find our lives in the service of others. This was the example of Jesus on the Cross. St. Paul understood this after his own conversion. In today’s reading from the Letter to the Philippians, he says that merely in taking human form, Jesus humbled himself even to the point of enduring a cruel death on the Cross.

Hopefully, we will not have to endure persecution and martyrdom like our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria. Nevertheless, even in our own personal trials, Jesus has shown us the way. His words, his deeds, and his example are the way.


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Reading 1. Numbers 21: 4b-9
Reading II. Philippians 2: 6-11
Gospel. John 3: 13-17 (God so loved the world)

* Image by Melissa DeStefano

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