Monday, September 15, 2014

The Cross Exalts


The Cross was devised by the Romans to bring about a slow, painful, and humiliating death. Death by crucifixion was so painful and humiliating that the Romans never executed their own kind in this way. Even to this very day, Christians in Syria are hung on crosses by their Muslim persecutors. They would not do this to their own kind. Thus, the cross is an instrument of torture, humiliation, and death.

However, today, we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. What was once an instrument of torture and death is now exalted as an instrument of salvation and life. What was once a symbol of humiliation is now a symbol of glory. What was once a sign of defeat is now an emblem of victory. All these because Jesus, the Son of the living God, mounted upon the wood of the Cross and there, he conquered sin and death. Indeed, the Cross is in itself an irony. In the Cross, we see how greatness is achieved by humiliation, life is gained by death, and victory is attained by seeming defeat. Our Lord Jesus emptied himself, descended from his heavenly throne and took upon himself the form of a human slave, and humbling himself even further, obediently accepted even death on a Cross. But by descending into the depths of humiliation, Jesus was exalted and glorified…given by the Father a Name which is above all other names. “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”

The Cross is exalted. At the same time, the Cross exalts! The Cross lifted up the Son of Man not only by hanging him between heaven and earth but also by glorifying Christ who died on its arms. If our Lord entered into his glory through the humiliation of the Cross, so too we have to follow him along the same path of the Cross in order to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. St. Louis de Montfort said: “To desire God’s glory is excellent, but to desire and pray for it without resolving to suffer all things is both foolish and extravagant. ‘You do not know what you are asking…’ ‘We must experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of heaven.’ To enter this kingdom you must suffer many crosses and tribulations.” (Loius de Montfort, Letter to the Friends of the Cross, 24.)

Today, we pray for the persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria. We are horrified by what we hear about them: how their homes and properties are confiscated, how their men are executed, how their children are systematically beheaded, how their women are abused and sold as slaves – yes, we are horrified by the suffering that they endure. But through their sufferings and humiliation, we see the Cross being exalted and we see the Cross exalting them. We stand in awe before the strength and perseverance of their faith. We bow in great respect for the sacrifice of the martyrs. Before these witnesses of Christ, we are shamed to find ourselves incapable of bearing such heavy crosses and tribulations. We are also obliged to bear witness to Jesus in the same way. Let us remember that the sacrament of Confirmation “gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.” (CCC, 1303.)

As the threat of ISIS becomes more and more disturbing by the day, we realize that the time draws near when we will need to enter even more deeply into the mystery of the Cross of Jesus. Let us not fear the Cross but rather, let us welcome it and embrace it. “Rejoice and be glad when God favors you with one of his choicest crosses; for without realizing it, you are blessed with the greatest gift of heaven, the greatest gift of God…The world calls this madness, degradation, stupidity, a lack of judgment and of common sense. They are blind: let them say what they like. This blindness, which makes them view the cross in a human and distorted way, is a source of glory for us. Every time they cause us to suffer by their ridicule and insults, they are presenting us with jewels, setting us on thrones, and crowning us with laurels…The glory of one who know how to suffer is so great that heaven, angels, and men, and even God himself, gaze on him with joy as a most glorious sight…But if this glory is so great even on earth, what will it be in heaven? Who could understand fully that eternal weight of glory which a single moment spent in cheerfully carrying a cross obtains for us? Who could understand the glory gained in heaven…by a whole lifetime of crosses and sufferings?” (Montfort, 35-39.) The triumph of the Cross is the triumph of the Resurrection. “Formerly, the Cross led to the Resurrection; now it is the Resurrection that introduces us to the Cross. Resurrection and the Cross are trophies of our salvation!” (Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem)

Let us not run away from the Cross. Rather, let us embrace it for the sake of the glory that awaits us. As true witnesses of Jesus, let us spread and defend the faith. Let us confess the name of Christ boldly. Let us never be ashamed of the Cross.

Jesus, I trust in you. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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