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THE EXALTATION OF THE CROSS

September 14, 2014

Today we celebrate the Exultation of the Holy Cross. This feast day started way back in the 4th Century when St. Helena went to Jerusalem and discovered the Cross of Christ which today is in a church in Rome, Italy. Now we must admit that it is a strange fascination we Christians have with something that the ancient world saw as a curse and not something to honor and celebrate. The mere mention of the cross brought to mind the cruelest form of execution used by the Romans. And therefore it was a sign of fear and shame, embarrassment and condemnation, and ultimately of death.

But Jesus changed all that and took the sign of an evil curse and made it a sign of the greatest form of blessing. How? Jesus used the Cross to take on the punishment for our sins and those of the whole world, past, present, and future. In effect, he took the worst weapon of our enemy, the devil, and used it against him. When Jesus accepted the Cross God placed his judgment of guilt for our sins on his only begotten Son so that now “he who believes in him might not parish but might have eternal life.” Therefore, Christians see the Cross no longer as a symbol of hate but of love, no longer a sign of condemnation but of forgiveness, no longer the cause of death but life. That is why we lift high the Cross, we exult it, thank God for it. It is why the Cross is at the center of our Faith. Even popular culture knows that it is something beautiful and good because it is the most popular form of jewelry. They don’t know it’s full significance but deep down that want what it symbolizes – the power to conquer death even if they reduce it to a good luck charm.

For us Christians who have been given the faith, we have the privilege of realizing the Cross is much more than a nice piece of jewelry or something to be worn for good luck. It is our salvation. It is a source of strength and courage that comes from Christ. It is his beautiful gift to us. That is why there is a Cross in all our churches. That is why we begin and end every prayer, every good work, with the Sign of the Cross. That is why priests bless people with the Sign of the Cross. It is so powerful when we fully and actively participate in it. It is easy to just go through the motions but when we put our heart into it each time and do it with reverence, we enter into a sacred act. We have the hand of God the Father bless us, we receive the strength of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit so that we may bless others through our words and actions.

 

This is power of the Cross. It is life giving, life changing, and life sustaining, especially in times of sadness or doubt, in times of temptation or sorrow. This month we focus on the Seven Sorrows of Mary and Monday is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Sorrows. Mary experienced much sorrow because she was closest to Jesus: From the beginning when he was born in rough wood of the manger/crib, to the end when he died on the rough wood of the Cross. And so she suffered greatly. But these wounds of suffering did not cause her to reject Jesus but united her even closer to him. We often don’t know or appreciate the power of the Cross until moments of suffering, when we feel lonely, sad, angry or hopeless. In these times we truly discover that the Cross has the power to save us from fear and heal us from sin if we cling to it with faith and devotion.

In the first reading God could not bless his people because of their sin and as punishment, serpents came up and bit them and many died. We know the serpent is the symbol of Satan. Satan tempts us to be ashamed of being Christian, to get frustrated with following the commandments and turn to the comforts of sin. That’s when the serpent bites us fills us with his poison. This is the effect of mortal sin. But God told Moses to do something very odd, very strange, in order to help the people – to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole – Why? - so that when people looked at it they would be healed saved from death. God makes that which they most feared a source of their salvation. And that is what the power of Cross is for us! Jesus uses the Cross just as Moses used the bronze serpent. Jesus tells Nicodemus: “[J]ust as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Do you turn to the Cross in times of temptation and loneliness, in times of fear and distress? Remember, Christ did not come to condemn us but to save us and give us eternal life.  

Yes we still have to embrace difficulties and temptations here on earth, we still have to sacrifice and suffer, we still have carry our crosses daily, and we still will experience the death of our body one day. But the Cross now helps us to make sense of suffering and fear with the promise of eternal life. It helps us to realize that God is closest to us in the darkest moments to strengthen us and lift us up.

Are there any fears that you are facing right now? Are there anxieties that are causing you stress? Are there sins that are weighing you down? Be encouraged there are no fears, anxieties, or sins here on earth that the Cross has not already conquered. Through the Cross, trials are turned into opportunities to trust in Christ and to grow in holiness. That is why we are not ashamed to be Christian, we are not ashamed of the Holy Cross. God so loved the world that he has taken the greatest act of shame and evil and made it the sign of the greatest act of love and forgiveness. Let us ask Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, to help to gaze upon the Cross of Christ and receive all of its healing power. Amen.

Father Timothy Gallagher

9-12-14

St. Bernadette Roman Catholic Church
101 South College Street
Cedartown, GA 30125
(770) 748-1517
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