September 14, 2014
The Exaltation of the Cross
These days, young people appear to be spending a lot of money to suffer a fair amount of pain in order to impact their appearance in a rather permanent way…and not in a way that is likely to improve with age. “Body art,” “inked,” “stamped,” “tattooed”…the name is of little matter, but the impact is apparently a dramatic way of claiming and publicizing an identity. I am told by reliable sources that “The Cross,” in one form or another, is the third most popular image, among thousands to choose from.
Certainly, St. Paul took great pride in identifying with The Cross. At Galatians 6:14, he tells us: But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.
However, St. Paul enjoyed special enlightenment from the Holy Spirit that few of us share. It is very difficult to understand or even begin to appreciate the full meaning of The Cross of Jesus Christ, or, for that matter, the significance in “marking ourselves” with this symbol of our faith. Nor should we be shamed by our ignorance. After all, Jesus’s suffering and death are often referred to as “The Paradox of the Cross.” In other words, it is a sacred mystery as to why the Son of an all-powerful God had to suffer and die.
While there should be no shame in our inability to grasp the full meaning of The Cross, it would be a shame, however, if we were not to at least strive for a deeper understanding and appreciation of the very means of our salvation; and that is especially true for this weekend when we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
If we can be certain of anything, it is that by taking up His Cross, Jesus has given us an example of perfect acceptance of God’s will, even in the face of suffering and death. We know as well that The Lord’s acceptance of His Cross was possible because of His unshakable trust in The Father’s love and mercy. We can also be certain that through His Holy Cross, Jesus has redeemed the world. So, in some way, The Cross is all about forgiveness.
It is also important to remember that through our baptisms, we are marked or stamped in a very permanent way with The Cross. What is freely given in Baptism is a share in Christ’s death, which also enables us to hope that we will share in Christ’s Resurrection and eternal glory. While there is definitely no pain in receiving this Sacrament of Initiation, it comes with the challenge to live out fully and publicly the identity we enjoy as a disciple of Jesus Christ; and a Christian way of living can often bring personal sacrifice, discomfort, and pain, as we’ve seen in the Middle East over these past few months…death…martyrdom!
People should “know we are Christians by our love” as well as by our efforts to empty ourselves of all that is contrary to God’s will even as Jesus totally emptied Himself on the Cross. Although the indelible mark of Baptism cannot be seen, others should recognize us as Christians through the quality of our lives, including the ways in which we face the challenges and suffering we encounter in this world.
Many young people feel the need to introduce themselves by marking their bodies. But, through Baptism, we Christians mark our inner selves with The Cross. And while that mark cannot be seen, its image should shine through our flesh and bones, and show itself clearly in the manner in which we live. Today, we are called to honor The Cross on which hung the salvation of the world. The best way to pay tribute to that unrepeatable act of acceptance, trust, love, and forgiveness is not to pay to be branded with it, but to follow the Way of the Cross. And if we do that…follow The Way of the Cross…eventually, we will discover where it leads!