António dos Santos
On September 14, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast comes from the beginnings of Christendom because the Lord’s death on the Cross is the culmination of humanity’s Redemption. The church of Sé Cathedral of Macau has a relic of the Holy Cross on a side altar. It is located on the right side of the church when entering before meeting the image of Our Lady and the little shepherds, Jacinta Marto and Francisco Marto.
On September 13, 335, two churches were consecrated in Jerusalem: the one of the Resurrection and of the Martyrium. The following day, with a solemn ceremony, there was the display of the Cross, which the Empress Helena had found, on September 14, 320. The deep meaning of the church was explained to the people, showing them what was left of the Cross of the Saviour.
In 614, Khosrow II, the king of the Persians, waged a war against the Romans and, after defeating Jerusalem, he also took with him, among the various treasures, the Cross of Jesus. Heraclius, Roman emperor of Byzantium, proposed a peace pact with Khosrow, which he did not accept. Faced with his denial, he went to war with him and won, near Nineveh, and asked for the restitution of the Cross, which took it back to Jerusalem.
On this day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the cruelty of the Cross is not glorified, but the Love that God manifested to men by accepting to die on the Cross for the salvation of humanity.
Jesus told Nicodemus: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:13-17).
We cannot remain indifferent to the Cross of Jesus. Dom Eurico dos Santos Veloso (Archbishop Emeritus of Juiz de Fora) in an article published in Vatican News tells us that “the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, source of holiness and symbol of liberation, where through the death of Jesus on the cross, reveals Life’s victory over sin… Experiencing the Passion that freed us from our passions; it is to exalt the Cross that condemned and crushed sin…; it is to remember the nails embedded in the hands of the One who erased the punishment of evil in each one of us.”
Dom Eurico refers us to the scriptures, with a reflection – after all, everyone who looks at the Cross meets Jesus Christ “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).
St Paul spoke of the mystery of the cross in the unfathomable wisdom of God: “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (I Corinthians 1:23-25).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of his cross” (no 517). “The kingdom of God will be definitively established through Christ’s cross: ‘God reigned from the wood’” (no 550).
THE WISDOM OF THE CROSS IN THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS
All the saints meditated and contemplated the Cross of Christ, as does every Christian who strives for greater intimacy with God in the Person of the Son. Like the Apostle Paul, St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina placed, at the apex of his life and apostolate, the Cross of his Lord as his strength, wisdom and glory. Burning with love for Jesus Christ, he configured himself with Him, immolating himself for the salvation of the world. He was so generous and perfect in following the imitation of Christ Crucified that he could have said: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
St. Anthony, Doctor of the Gospel said: “Because Adam in paradise did not want to serve the Lord, so the Lord took the form of a servant to serve the servant, so that the servant would no longer be ashamed to serve the Lord.”
St. John of the Cross said that what makes us suffer most is our fear of the cross. For St. Teresa, as we embrace our cross with courage and will, it becomes light.
St. Paul exults us in giving praise and glory to Jesus crucified – “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).
St. Benedict exhorted the monks to “listen with their hearts” and “never lose hope in God’s mercy”. His is this prayer: “The Holy Cross be my light, may the dragon never be my guide! Get away, Satan, never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!”
St. Rose of Lima exalts the Cross of the Lord with an allegory, as a bridge to Heaven’s eternity – “There is only one true stairway outside paradise; outside the cross, there is no other ladder by which to ascend to heaven.”
On September 15th, the devotion to “Our Lady of Sorrows” is celebrated, dating back to the beginning of the second millennium, when compassion for Mary developed at the cross of Jesus, where the Virgin lives and feels the sufferings of her Son.
(Photo: Relic of the Holy Cross in the Sé Cathedral Church of Macau)