Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Today September 14 we celebrate the feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – also known as the Triumph of the Holy Cross. We remember the Holy Cross which brought redemption and salvation to the world. Jesus Christ came from heaven born of a Virgin, lived among us and died on a Cross for all of us.
The Cross was the death penalty during Jesus’ time. It was a punishment made for the worst criminal. God desired to use this instrument to save the world and bring redemption to mankind. Humanity got into trouble by eating of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Cross became the new Tree of Life that would undo this.
St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine sought to find the True Cross in Jerusalem. The Cross was buried by Roman officials and was discovered after a Jewish man named Judas guided St. Helena to its location. One tradition states that after the excavation, three crosses were found. One of them had an inscription Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum or “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Tests were conducted to verify this to be the True Cross. It was taken to people who were sick and they were healed. A dead man was even restored to life after being laid upon the Cross.
Churches were constructed over the sites of the Holy Sepulchre and on Mount Calvary to mark forever the locations of the event of the Crucifixion. They were dedicated on September 14 in the year 335.
The Cross is an important symbol for Christians. It is the symbol of salvation. God became man and suffered a horrible death in order to save His human people. The Tau symbol (T) was used in the Old Testament as a sign of repentance. Even Philosopher Plato alluded to the Just Man being Crucified:
To the best of my ability,” he replied, “… it becomes an easy matter, I fancy, to unfold the tale of the sort of life that awaits each. We must tell it, then; and even if my language is somewhat rude and brutal, you must not suppose, Socrates, that it is I who speak thus, but those who commend injustice above justice. What they will say is this: that such being his disposition the just man will have to endure the lash, the rack, chains, the branding-iron in his eyes, and finally, after every extremity of suffering, he will be crucified, and so will learn his lesson that not to be but to seem just is what we ought to desire. Republic II. 361D-362A
Was God preparing the Pagan world for the “Just Man” Jesus Christ through the wisdom of Plato?
In the first reading, we read about the Hebrews complaining against God and Moses. Moses had just
brought them out of the land of Egypt where they were held captive. Now in the desert, they are complaining of lack of food and water. God gave them manna to eat, but they have grown tired of this food calling it disgusting. How grateful huh?
God had enough of them and sent seraph serpents which bit them causing many of them to die from the poison. The people woke up from their ungratefulness and pleaded with Moses to ask God to have mercy on them. God did and told Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole. Whoever looked at this serpent was healed. This is interesting, especially for me who was an atheist. Atheists often claim that God is evil. They use verses like these found in Numbers to show how God is some angry entity who inflicts suffering on people. However, in this text we see how God brings good out of evil. He uses the same instrument of punishment as a means to bring healing. This reading is related to Jesus’ cross. Jesus said that He will be lifted just like Moses’ lifted the serpent. This act will bring eternal life to those who believe in Him. We will read this in the Gospel today.
The Cross in Roman times was a symbol of criminality, shame, and guilt. Citizens feared it because it was the ultimate form of capital punishment in the Roman Empire. Jesus took this dreaded symbol and transformed it just like God transformed the scary image of a poisonous snake into one that brings healing. As a matter of fact, this image is still used today in the medical field.
God can bring good from evil. God can transform evil into a good. Nothing is beyond the power of God. The age-old philosophical debate on God and the existence of evil is a circular argument that doesn’t take into account the power and awesomeness of God who controls every scenario and situation. Let me also add that our separated brothers and sisters in the Protestant faith often criticize Catholics for having images and statues. Here in this reading we read how God commands the construction of a graven image and uses it to bring healing.
In the responsorial psalm, we read how we shouldn’t forget the works of the Lord. The psalm recalls the ways God has aided His people in the Old Testament. However, we as Christians should recall today how God continues to aid His people. We must not forget the ultimate act God has done which is His death upon the cross. That act would redeem the world and open up the doors to salvation for all, not just the Jews.
The second reading is interesting in that it says that Jesus “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” This verse is often used by Jehovah Witnesses and others who claim Jesus is just a “demi-god.” St. Paul seems to say that Jesus is not equal to God; however, we need to read the rest to understand what he means. Jesus was God and is God. However, He has two natures: Divine and Human. Both are united in one personhood. The human nature He possessed was weak just like ours. This is why St. Paul says that Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave; and found human in appearance.” Jesus became one of us in body form. This is where He did not have equality with God because His human body was weak and finite. Jesus was not like “Superman” who was indestructible. He could have come that way to Earth, but chose not to because He wanted to be one of us and wanted to show how seriously in love He is with humanity that He would die for us in a horrible manner. This is why St. Paul says, “He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” As stated before, the cross was a bad symbol in Rome. Jesus humbled Himself to the point of even dying in a shameful way as a “criminal.” Moreover, He allowed Himself to be truly human by experiencing all things we experience, including pain and death.
Finally in the Gospel, we read how Jesus compares Himself to the serpent Moses lifted in the desert. He was referring to His crucifixion which would bring redemption to all the world. Death entered the world through the sin of Adam and Eve so Christ used death to bring the world out of sin and opened the doors to salvation.
He became one of us in all things but sin and redeemed us (Colossians 2:14). Just like the serpent which at first brought death and then health, the cross was an instrument of death. The Romans used it as capital punishment. Jesus transformed this instrument of death into one of life, salvation and healing (1 Peter 2:24) He showed to the world that He is God and has triumphed with the Cross, a symbol of death used by the Roman government to scare citizens (Colossians 2:15). This is why Christians weren’t ashamed or afraid to use crosses or make the sign of the Cross. They were no longer afraid of this symbol because Christ transformed it giving them courage to even face crucifixion themselves (Galatians 6:14). The Cross which was once a symbol of failure, shame, criminality is now the symbol of triumph over sin, evil and death.
Let us take this day to reflect on the Cross of Christ. We all should accept and carry the Crosses our Lord gives us in life. As a reminder, we should also carry a crucifix on our self.
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless You, because by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.