Monday, September 15, 2003

The Exaltation of The Holy Cross

This is my homily for yesterday's feast, as I preached it at my parish's LifeTeen Mass.

The Exaltation of The Holy Cross

Second Reading: Philippians 2:6-11

I'm going to begin with a little history. Now, I can hear some of you already groaning inside, thinking "Boring". History seems boring because we don't see how we are connected to what happened before: it doesn't seem relevant to us. It's dusty, dry, dead stuff from the past.

But of course, when we're talking about Christ, it's not "dead" history. It's not dead, dusty events in the past: for Christ is ALIVE! He is here with us, right NOW, receiving our praise and worship. And in a little while, he'll be with us even more profoundly: in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, truly present with us at this altar.

And when we're talking about those believers who have gone before us, the Saints in heaven, well, they're alive too: They're alive in heaven with Christ, worshipping Him at the Eternal High Feast of the Lamb. They're just as alive as the people sitting next to you.

So here's the history lesson:

In 326 A.D., Saint Helen, went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She was the mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome. She went there, among other things, to find the true cross of Christ. On September 14 of that year, according to the account of the time, she indeed found the true Cross. A few years later, Constantine built two churches on the site of Calvary, the very place that Jesus died, and on that same day, Sept. 14, those churches were dedicated.

And so, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross has been celebrated by Christians on September 14 ever since.

So why does that have anything to do with us?

Well, Jesus offered Himself on the Cross for us. For me, for You, and You. His sacrifice on the Cross was an event in the past, but it isn't just an event in the past. It's an event that transcends all human history. It was a sacrifice made for and through all time. If you think about it, that's the only way it could work. If Christ's death on the Cross is to save us, here and now, it can't be a dead event in the past. It has to be an event outside of time, for all time. So Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross stretches from that Good Friday in 33 A.D. all the way to Now: to here, to us.

Jesus was, from all time, the second person of the Trinity: God Himself. He had all the glory of God. He had all the majesty of God. But he laid all that aside: St. Paul tells us that He "emptied himself." By becoming one of us, taking on human weakness, taking on human limitations, He united Himself to us. And then He offered Himself for Us: He humbled Himself, St. Paul says, and made His Father's will His own, being obedient even to the point of death, death on a Cross.

God's plan was to make that instrument of torture the instrument of salvation. To make that symbol of death and defeat the symbol of victory and life. And because Christ fulfilled that plan we adore the Cross, and as St. Paul says, we bow our knees and confess with our tongues that Jesus Christ is Lord.

And when we gather here, around this altar, and fulfill Jesus' command, that sacrifice of Calvary is made present to us again. For the Body which was broken on the Cross, and the Blood which poured from Christ's side, is the same Body and Blood that He gave to His disciples at the Last Supper when He said "take this, and eat", and "take this, and drink". That is the same Body and Blood which we receive from this altar: one Sacrifice, for all time. Whenever the Eucharist is celebrated, we are transported back there, or rather, the eternal Sacrifice of Christ is brought to us here and now.

Today we, with the Church throughout the world, exalt the Cross of Christ as the instrument of our salvation. To adore the Cross is to adore Christ, the God - Man, who suffered and died on this Roman instrument of torture for our redemption from sin and death. The cross represents the One Sacrifice by which Jesus, obedient even unto death, accomplished our salvation. The cross sums up the Passion, Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection of Christ -- all in one symbol.

And so we can say, with the Church all over the world, and down through the ages:

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.