Exultation of the Holy Cross (September 14, 2017)

“He was known to be of human estate and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross.”

The feast commemorates the finding of the True Cross in 325 by St. Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine I during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was then built at the site of the discovery, by order of Helena and Constantine. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the cross placed inside it. In 614, that portion of the cross was carried away from the church by the Persians, and remained missing until the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius recaptured it in 628. The cross was returned to the church the following year after initially having been taken to Constantinople by Heraclius. The date used for the feast marks the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 335. This was a two-day festival: although the actual consecration of the church was on September 13, the cross itself was brought outside the church on September 14 so that the clergy and faithful could pray before the True Cross, and all could come forward to venerate it.

Of course, there is the physical cross itself. Then there is the ongoing meaning of the cross in our lives. Francis de Sales wrote:

“The wisdom of the Cross is wholly contrary to that of the world. Even though Our Lord cried out again and again, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, the peacemakers, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice,’ the world cannot embrace that wisdom. It cries out: ‘Oh, how blessed are the wealthy, the oppressors, those who take vengeance on their enemies, and those whom no one dares offended.’ See how the perfection of the Cross is folly in the eyes of the world precisely because it embraces what is abhorrent to human nature. It loves correction and submits to it; it not only takes pleasure in being corrected, but it has no greater pleasure than in being reproved and corrected for faults and failings. Oh, blessed are they who speak only to give fraternal correction in a spirit of charity and profound humility! But more blessed are those who are always ready to receive the Cross with a gentle, peaceful and tranquil heart.” ( Sermons for Lent, 1622, p. 166)

St. Jane has her own take on the exultation of the Cross and its relevance to our pursuit of devotion. She wrote:

“The true happiness of the Christian is to know God in the person of his Son, and imitate him in the virtues he practiced in his life, in his holy Passion, in his humility, poverty, abjection, contempt, pain and suffering; nature has no liking for this, but we are not born to live according to its instinct. The mind of the flesh will disquiet us when we are denied anything, whereas the Spirit of God will lead us to submit to his will in our miseries, and to bear them with patience; the humble are always gentle and courteous; they are so little and lowly in themselves that they never say a cross word…” (Exhortations, Conferences and Instructions)

The exultation of the Cross challenges us to surrender mere human instinct so as to live on the higher plane of divine life. The exultation of the Cross challenges us to critically examine popular culture and to promote the culture of divine love. The exultation of the Cross challenges us to find greatness in littleness; to fight fire with peace; to confront violence with gentleness.

The triumph of the Cross is not easy to swallow...nor to live.