The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Readings: Numbers 21.4-9; Ps. 78; Phil. 2.6-11; Jn. 3.13-17

Today is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. A couple of weeks ago, a ten-year old altar server announced to me after Mass, "Father, we have dozens of crosses pictured in our church." He pointed out to me that each of the five window arches has a cross, that each of the four pillars has a cross, that the first and fourth stained glass windows have crosses in their side panels, and the third stained glass window has crosses in the middle panel. He and I walked through the church. Each pew is marked with a cross, both on the center and side aisles. The poor box, the holy water font, and the Stations of the Cross all have crosses. In the sanctuary, each of the three altars has a cross, the furniture has multiple crosses. Look at the baldachino, the pulpit, the Pashal Candle, the baptistery, and of course, the processional cross. The more we looked, the more crosses we found. We made a contest of this discovery. We each guessed what was the total number of crosses present in our church, counting neither the choir loft nor sacristy. Take a wild guess! We found about 262 crosses. Talk about exaltation of the cross!

Undoubtedly, the cross is the most common symbol for Christians. All of our Catholic institutions have crosses on their outside front roofs, walls, doors. At Niagara University, one of my tasks was to make sure that every classroom and every office had a cross. In the cemetery which surrounds our church, almost all of the tombstones have crosses on them. In our homes, I trust that every Catholic home has an identifying cross/crucifix. Many of us wear crosses on chains around our neck, or on our clothing, and every rosary begins with the cross of Jesus Christ. It is safe to say, we Catholics truly exalt the cross of Jesus Christ.

In this Year of St. Paul, we are conscious of the centrality of the cross in his life. At the beginning of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes: "The message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed for ruin, but to us who are experiencing salvation it [the cross] is the power of God." (1 Cor. 1.18) At the end of his letter to the Galatians, the apostle writes: "May I never boast of anything but the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Through it, the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Gal. 6.14) And further he writes to the Philippians, "[Many people have become]enemies of the cross of Christ. I have often said this to you before. This time, I say it with tears. Such as these will end in disaster." (Phil. 3.18-19) The cross indicates for Paul the plan of his life: to live like Christ, to die in Christ, to rise to eternal life with Christ.

May I comment on one aspect of Jesus' cross. Through his cross, Jesus makes sense of suffering. Jesus makes suffering worthwhile; he gives worth to suffering. Jesus looks beyond suffering to resurrection. What began as sadness, ends in joy. Jesus died on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven, so that we might die with him, and rise to eternal life with him. Jesus' suffering was purposeful.

How might we make our suffering purposeful? For example, name your current greatest suffering. It might pertain to relationships, finances, health, or a conflict in values with someone. Maybe the source of your suffering is not outside you, but inside you: maybe it is your own sin, anxiety, or fears. May I suggest two things:

First, take your suffering to Jesus on the cross. Ask him to carry this suffering with you, and at times, for you. Pray that Jesus might, if possible, remove this suffering, find some solution from this suffering; or at least, give you the grace to endure this suffering. Remember, the Lord told St. Paul: "My grace is enough for you; in weakness power reaches perfection." (2 Cor. 12.9)

Second, identify with Christ in his way of dealing with suffering. Suffer for the benefit of other people; suffer for the sake of some greater good. Broaden your horizon. Try to identify with and have compassion for people who have sufferings similar to your own, and with people whose sufferings might be different than your own. Develop a broader identity and a deeper compassion for all people, including those who may cause you suffering.

The theme of the cross is so central to the Christian life, that we fill our churches and our lives with symbols of Jesus' cross. Because this theme of the cross, this reminder that Christ suffered and died for us, is so central to the Christian life, that we celebrate today the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley