This last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. We have been preaching about turning points and with this Feast we celebrate one of the biggest turning points in human history.
The Exaltation of the Cross is one of the oldest feasts in the Roman Calendar. The origin of the feast is the discovery by St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, of the True Cross in 320 AD. Upon the discovery, Constantine erected two churches, one in the Holy Sepulcher and one in Calvary, on September 13 and 14, 335. As you may know, Constantine is the emperor who made Christianity the official religion of the Empire.
The origin of the feast, given our modern historical sensitivities, may make this feast a difficult one for us. The way I take it is that it is always good to reflect and celebrate the Cross. The way I propose we reflect about the Cross is to ask ourselves what do we see when we see the Cross?
Perhaps we take the answer for granted. But the Cross is a sign, and any sign (with, hopefully, the exception of traffic signs) is open to interpretation. To make the point that not everyone sees the same thing when we see a cross, I have a story to tell: three years ago, my three sisters came to visit me in Virginia where I lived while studying Canon Law at Catholic University. The beautiful parish where I lived, Good Shepherd, had a large Cross outside. One of my sisters came with her son, who was then three. He saw the Cross and asked: “Where is the ambulance?” I did turn to my sister and I told her, “You do realize that his uncle is a priest, right?” This story made the congregation smile yesterday, but I believe it makes the point: not everybody has been raised with the same religious sensitivities, not everybody sees in the Cross what we think everybody sees.
We could continue wondering: What did the feudal Pope and bishops of the Middle Ages see in the Cross, when they organized the Crusades, under the same Cross we exalt today? Or how many of us have taken the Cross for granted, as it is such an ingrained part of our culture, but do not think much about its meaning?
I certainly cannot tell you what you should see in the Cross, but I can tell you what I see. This weekend I chose to reflect about two of the things I see when I look at the Cross:
The first thing I see is redemptive suffering. Jesus, fully human and fully divine, goes to the Cross so that his suffering will save. By going to the Cross, willingly but still loving life and loving his disciples, Jesus protects them and saves them. It is the kind of suffering that here, in this blog, we called the suffering of discipleship.
The second thing I see is that Jesus is still hanging on the Cross, so the Cross is not just a sign of a historical event. I look at the Cross and I see that the obsessions and fears, the ideologies and the thirst for power that brought Jesus to the Cross are still present in the world today. I am called to help to bring Jesus down from this Cross on which he still hangs today—in the form of children, and so many men and women who suffer the same evil forces today.
This Feast begs the question: What do you see when you see the Cross?