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Why Should We Exalt The Holy Cross: Its Significance

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 most 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 it a great opportunity for us Catholics to contemplate and celebrate the said feast day in a special way? However, barely we see people these days participating in the said significant event and showing reverence to the Holy Cross. Unfortunately, it is either we are not fully aware of the said feast day or we simply put aside religious related activities to focus on other matters of priority to us.

Why do we exalt the Cross? The cross or crucifix serves as the centerpiece whenever we walk through the doors of our parish churches. Normally, the cross is either located at the center above the altar or attached to the wall, or in some instances on the side of the altar. And whenever a Holy Mass is celebrated, there is always a crucifix placed on top of the altar table. Even in our respective homes, each of us has a way of making our own sacred spaces with a cross or crucifix as the focal point. The sign of the cross which we’ve learned during our childhood days has lasted and remain observed thus far. Most of the time we make the sign of the cross before and after reciting prayers. Even in trivial things we do, e.g., just passing by a Catholic Church or a cemetery, some of us cross ourselves out of habit, or as an expression of our faith, coupled with a recitation of a brief prayer. Surely, we have seen and observed these liturgical traditions. This is how we differ from other non-Catholic religion members (although orthodox churches have crosses on their churches too) who don’t make the sign of the cross at all. Thus, whenever we are in an inter-faith gathering, regardless of how big or small, feel free to make the sign of the cross before and after the prayer. Let us not feel embarrassed or be ashamed or feel awkward to make the sign of the cross. For sure, the other faith religion members will understand us for doing so, as we understand and respect them too for not doing so.

However, while it is encouraged to continue the said practices, one valid question thrown at us would be the sincerity in carrying out these traditions. Have we really showed profound reverence in exalting and honoring the Holy Cross? How about our behavior when we enter the Church? Do we bow or genuflect and make a sign of the cross before entering the pew seats? How about the manner of making the sign of the cross, do we execute it properly or is it sloppily and hurriedly done? The Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates 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”. Hence, its significance to our spiritual life. Incidentally, do you know that it was the Blessed Virgin Mary who taught St. Bernadette how to make the sign of the cross the right way? Based on accounts (this actually my first time to read and hear this story), the Blessed Mother (Our Lady of Lourdes) during her apparition in Lourdes, France told St. Bernadette to convey to the people to fervently pray and execute properly the sign of the cross.

To a great extent, the feast of Exaltation of the Holy Cross causes us to remember God’s great gifts for all of us: 1) His Redemption of all mankind by dying on the Cross, and 2) His Resurrection which gives us hope of eternal salvation and a new life. This is basically the reason why the cross or crucifix is given a place of honor and importance in our parish churches and in our homes.

To honor the Holy Cross with profound reverence is to embrace it and make it a part and parcel of our life. If we want to be saved from damnation, we need to heed God’s commands and try our very best to sin no more. We are given so many chances and opportunities to turn away from sin, to rebuild our lives and to be a good follower of Christ in order to gain the benefits of God’s promise of eternal life if we keep His commandments. God merely wants from us this one thing in return for the love that He gave us and that is for us to truly love one another. And that’s a great way of embracing the cross by imitating His love for us.

However, the road to holiness and to God’s Kingdom is definitely not an easy path as we have our own crosses to battle with. Loving one another may seem effortless, but opening our hearts to all types of people, especially to those we’re not comfortable with – that could be daunting and challenging. But God is always there to provide us the necessary graces we need and to guide us to the right path if and when we ask for His help. Nowadays though, people are so engulf with pride, self-importance and glorification in their hearts, not even a simple “sorry” could easily be uttered, some can be unforgiving and that is sad. Humility is important when we decide to follow our Lord Jesus Christ. Pope Francis mentioned that “the Cross was the great sign of God’s humility as He humbled and became obedient even unto death, death on a Cross”. The Holy Father likewise mentioned that if a Christian wants to make progress on the path of the Christian life, he must lower himself, as Jesus lowered himself: this is the path of humility”, which means “bringing humiliations upon yourself, as Jesus did”.

As we gaze upon the Holy Cross or the crucifix when we sincerely pray and meditate, and after conversing with Jesus, we feel differently, we feel loved. Have you felt this special blessing of happiness and peace from God? God loved us so much to send His Son to endure all those trials for our sake. This is the essence of exalting and venerating the Cross, the cross of triumph and victory and God’s great love for us. And so we are expected to respond generously to Our Lord Jesus Christ, that is to follow the life of grace.

On this feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we cry out to God that we are grateful for His great love and that we implore His mercy to grant us the grace to love, the grace of humility to change and amend our lives, out of love and with love. We humbly pray to God that this pandemic will end soon, that this Covid-19 virus and its variants will stop mutating and infecting people. We also pray for healing of all those who have been infected by the virus. This we ask Our Father in Heaven, through our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sto. Cristo del Tesoro, have mercy on us.