As St. John Paul II instructed, when major solemnities and feast days fall on a Sunday the local Bishops’ conferences may allow for the solemnity or feast day to be celebrated in place of the Sunday in Ordinary Time. This Sunday, as we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, I present a Reflection for you based on the writings of Benedictine Susan Sink and Rev. James Field, writing for J.S. Paluch Co.
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds Nicodemus how Moses had “lifted up the serpent in the desert.” Then Jesus says, “So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that all who believe may have eternal life in him.” Lifted up on the cross, Jesus was despised and seemed the most abject of people. But it was in embracing this disgrace and painful death that he became the bearer of eternal life for all of us. His “lifting up” in shame was also his “lifting up” in glory and triumph.
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, tells us what this means. God, the same God who led the Israelites in the desert, emptied himself and became human, humbled himself and was obedient even to death on the cross. He was raised high to protect us, to heal the wound of sin, and connect us to the healing protection of God.
When we look at the cross, when we keep our eyes on how God emptied himself to become flesh, we recognize the truth of the world and our place in it. Each week we carry the cross through the church and raise it before us. The cross dominates our celebration, even as we read the Word and prepare the Eucharistic meal, even as we sing praise to God and join together in a meal remembering his death and resurrection.
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is a most glorious feast: the cross is a non-negotiable in following the path Christ has set for us. Christians rarely do anything of substance without making the sign of the cross. Making the sign of the cross is an ancient symbol of blessing and one which clearly identifies to Whom we belong.
This is why the world needs the cross. The Cross is not just a private symbol of devotion—it speaks of hope, it speaks of love, it speaks of God raising up the lowly, and overcoming hatred with love.
We adore you, O Christ, and praise you. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Historical Background of this Feast
On this date in 335, two churches and a shrine erected by Constantine over the empty grave of Jesus and over the place of the crucifixion were dedicated. After these were destroyed by the Persians in 614, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which still stands, was erected by the Crusaders in 1149. Today also commemorates the event that led to the building of the churches dedicated in 335—the discovery of the “true cross” by St. Helena, Constantine’s mother, in 326. According to one legend, St. Helena traveled to Jerusalem on pilgrimage in search of the true cross. Workers she hired dug through a pagan temple that had been erected on the site of the Crucifixion by Hadrian and found three crosses. A dying woman was brought in, and touched by each cross in succession, the last of which healed her. Helena ordered that this cross be divided in three parts: one to be kept in Jerusalem and the other two to be sent to Constantinople and Rome. The pieces in Jerusalem and Constantinople were ultimately lost. Slivers were taken from the portion that went to Rome until eventually it was scattered around the world.