Honoring the Holy Cross: A Reminder of God’s Love, Sacrifice and Victory
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross which falls today (14th of September) is one of the feast days in the Church calendar which is somewhat ignored by some Catholics. The word exaltation, in itself, denotes that someone or something is to be lifted high, praised and glorified. And in this case, it is the Holy Cross that is being exalted and commemorated. This annual celebration serves as a reminder for us that it was on the Holy Cross that our dear Lord Jesus Christ bore all the sins of mankind primarily because of His extraordinary love for us. An excerpt of St. John’s Gospel for this feast day states:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him”.
“Isn’t this a wonderful opportunity for us Catholics to deeply reflect upon and celebrate this important feast day? Unfortunately, it seems that in recent times, we’ve witnessed fewer people actively participating in this significant event and showing reverence to the Holy Cross. Perhaps, we either lack a full awareness of the importance of this feast day or we tend to prioritize other matters over religious activities.
Why do we hold the Cross in such high regard? The cross or crucifix serves as a focal point as we enter our parish churches. Typically, you’ll find it positioned above the altar, attached to the wall, or sometimes, placed at the side of the altar. During Holy Mass, a crucifix is always present on the altar table. In our own homes, many of us create sacred spaces with a cross or crucifix as the central symbol. The act of making the sign of the cross, a tradition ingrained in us since childhood, continues to be a significant part of our faith. We often find ourselves making the sign of the cross before and after prayers, even in simple acts like passing by a Catholic Church or cemetery. This sets us apart from members of other faiths (although some Orthodox churches also display crosses), who do not typically make this gesture. So, when we find ourselves in inter-faith gatherings, regardless of their size, it’s perfectly acceptable to make the sign of the cross before and after prayer. Just as we respect their beliefs, they usually understand and respect ours.
However, while it’s encouraged to maintain these practices, a valid question arises about the sincerity with which we carry them out. Have we truly shown deep reverence in our efforts to exalt and honor the Holy Cross? Consider our behavior when we enter the Church. Do we bow or genuflect and make the sign of the cross before taking our seats, and when we are about to leave the Church? And when we make the sign of the cross, do we do it with care and intention, or do we rush through it? The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “the sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith, for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins.” This underscores its significance in our spiritual lives. Interestingly, it’s worth noting that it was the Blessed Virgin Mary who taught St. Bernadette how to make the sign of the cross correctly. According to accounts, during her apparition in Lourdes, France, the Blessed Mother (Our Lady of Lourdes) instructed St. Bernadette to convey to the people the importance of fervently praying and correctly making the sign of the cross.
To a great extent, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross prompts us to remember two of God’s greatest gifts to us: 1) His Redemption of all humanity through His sacrifice on the Cross, and 2) His Resurrection, which gives us hope for eternal salvation and a new life. This explains why the cross or crucifix holds a place of honor and importance in our parish churches and homes.
Honoring the Holy Cross with profound reverence means embracing it as an integral part of our lives. If we desire salvation, we must heed God’s commandments and strive to live without sin. We are offered numerous opportunities to turn away from sin, rebuild our lives, and become devout followers of Christ to obtain the promised eternal life. God asks one thing in return for the love He has bestowed upon us, and that is to love one another. Embracing the cross, in this sense, means emulating His love for us.
However, the path to holiness and God’s Kingdom is not without its challenges, as we all carry our own crosses. Loving one another may seem simple, but opening our hearts to people, especially those we find difficult, can be daunting. Yet, God is always ready to provide us with the grace we need and guide us when we seek His help. Sadly, in today’s world, some people are consumed by pride, self-importance, and an unwillingness to offer a simple apology. Some struggle to forgive, which is disheartening. Humility is crucial when we choose to follow Jesus. Pope Francis has stated that “the Cross was the great sign of God’s humility as He humbled Himself and became obedient even to death, death on a Cross.” The Holy Father also emphasized that if a Christian wishes to progress on the path of Christian life, they must humble themselves, just as Jesus did. This entails enduring humiliations, as Jesus did.
As we gaze upon the Holy Cross or the crucifix during sincere prayer and meditation, after conversing with Jesus, we experience a profound sense of love. Have you ever felt this unique blessing of happiness and peace from God? God loved us so much that He sent His Son to endure countless trials for our sake. This is the essence of exalting and venerating the Cross – it symbolizes triumph, victory, and God’s boundless love for us. Consequently, we are expected to respond generously to Our Lord Jesus Christ, by leading lives filled with grace.
On this feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, let us express our gratitude to God for His immense love and implore His mercy to grant us the grace to love and to humbly transform and amend our lives, driven by love and filled with love. We humbly pray to God for those who have been victims of persecution, those who are in pain and suffering, and those struggling with hardships in life. We also pray for the healing and strength of all the sick people throughout the world that they may find hope, strength and happiness.
We lift up these prayer intentions to You, Our Father God in Heaven, through our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Happy feast day to all who are celebrating the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Sto. Cristo del Tesoro, have mercy on us. Amen