“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
Sept. 14 is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast celebrates two historical events. First, it commemorates the discovery of the Lord’s cross by St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, in the year 320 in Jerusalem. Second, it celebrates the dedication of the Anastasis, a round church built over the empty grave of Christ, a basilica called the Martyrium, and a shrine between the two churches called the Calvarium, which marked the place of the Lord’s crucifixion. These buildings were dedicated in 335. Over time, they were destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed again. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was later built on this site, was dedicated in 1149.
While the Exaltation of the Holy Cross commemorates these events, it is above all a celebration of what Christ has done for us through his saving death on the cross and his glorious resurrection. This idea is captured in the entrance antiphon for this feast: “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.”
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross provides us the opportunity to contemplate the cross of Christ. Most Catholic households have a crucifix in some prominent spot. In my childhood home, the crucifix was at one end of the hallway where our bedrooms were located, reminding us of God’s care and divine protection. In Catholic schools, the crucifix is on the front wall of every classroom. In my office, I have a crucifix hanging just above my computer screen. Most crucifixes, including the one just mentioned, depict Christ stripped of his garments with his bleeding wounds and a crown of thorns on his head. In these renderings, Christ is portrayed with eyes closed and head bowed to depict him dying. However, you may have seen other crucifixes, which portray Christ on the cross, arrayed as a king, in fine robes with a crown on his head. He is standing upright and strong with his eyes wide open. Such images make a very profound statement: Christ, by his death on the cross, has triumphed over sin and death and now reigns victorious.
Christ’s victory over sin means salvation for those who put their faith in his saving death and resurrection. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “… 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. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
God’s love for us is without limits. He spared nothing to bring us back to himself, and in Jesus Christ, he showed us the way to salvation.
St. Paul reminds us that because Jesus was obedient unto death, God the Father exalted him, and “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)
Through our obedience to his law of love, and our willingness to take up our crosses to follow him as disciples, we demonstrate true adoration of Jesus the Lord. May his cross ever remind us of his victory over sin and death, and give us hope and courage to face life’s challenges.