Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sept. 14, 2014: Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

Click to hear audio homily
Do you wear a cross or crucifix? Perhaps you wear a ring, bracelet, or earrings with a cross on them. Some wear it to identify themselves as Christians while others wear it as jewelry. The other day when I was passing by a small jewelry shop, I saw a gaudy looking 5 inch cross encrusted with fake diamonds and on a thick and shiny chain. That’s what we would call ‘bling-bling.’ On an internet forum, someone posted the question: “Why do you wear a cross?” One person replied, “Personally, the cross I’ve been wearing has sentimental value;  it used to belong to my late granny. I find that my own heart beating underneath the cross reminds me that my time in this world is limited and that I should make good use of it.”

At the time of Jesus, the cross symbolized the most painful and disgraceful method of capital punishment. It was an instrument invented by Romans to intimidate and subdue people whom they had subjugated. We can’t imagine the fear that the sight of a cross evoked in people of that time. Perhaps something akin to it would be the gruesome and violent executions carried out recently by terrorists in Iraq; these executions are used as an intimidation tool by the terrorists. Yet today, we CELEBRATE the cross--the very instrument of torture and execution. But it’s not just any cross; we are celebrating the very cross on which Jesus was crucified and died.

When you pray in front of a crucifix, do you wonder what brought Jesus to the point of being crucified? Anger, mistrust, institutional corruption, scapegoating, fear, betrayal of a friend...in short, all of the human disfunction. The cross of Jesus reveals to us our ugliness, pettiness, and brutality. After Pentecost, Peter boldly told the people who gathered to listen to him, “You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death (Acts 3:14-15).” Even we are stung by Peter’s words; if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we struggled with anger, vengefulness, and pettiness this past week. Yet when we gaze at the cross is not an instrument to shame us. Instead, it is a sign of God’s outpouring love for us.

When we pray the Way of the Cross we begin with “We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You. Because, by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.” We celebrate the exaltation or praising of the Holy Cross because unfathomable mercy and love have been poured out upon us from that Cross. Jesus put it simply this way, “For 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

Pope Francis said, “Jesus, with His Cross, walks with us and takes upon Himself our fears, our problems, and our sufferings, even those which are deepest and most painful. The Cross of Christ bears the suffering and the sin of mankind, including our own. Jesus accepts all this with open arms, bearing on His shoulders our crosses and saying to us: 'Have courage! You do not carry your cross alone! I carry it with you. I have overcome death and I have come to give you hope, to give you life.’ With Him, evil, suffering, and death do not have the last word, because He gives us hope and life: He has transformed the Cross from being an instrument of hate, defeat, and death to being a sign of love, victory, triumph and life. There is no cross, big or small, in our life, which the Lord does not share with us.”

Personally, in high school and early college, I wore a little crystal around my neck as a good luck charm. However, after I had an encounter with Jesus and I truly understood what Jesus has done for me on that cross, I started wearing a cross around my neck.  Having celebrated mass right on the sight of the crucifixion where the Holy Cross stood, each mass I celebrate has so much realism of that day when Jesus died for all of us.

I challenge you this week to spend some time gazing at the crucifix and praising God for his great love and mercy.

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.