Yesterday we remembered a saint from the 4th Century, Saint John Chrystostom. Today we remember a celebration that began around that same time, the Exultation of the Holy Cross. Saint Helen, Constantine’s mother, discovered what is believed to be the actual cross used for the Crucification of Christ on September 14, 326. That’s why we have this celebration on this date.
Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site where mom found the cross in Jerusalem. Helen had her son build two other churches, one in Bethlehem and another one in Jerusalem.
The Persians, who would today be the Iranians, actually stole the cross in the seventh century. Problems with that particular country are nothing new. When the Byzantine emperor defeated the Persians, he returned the cross to Jerasulem.
Of course, the Holy Cross symbolizes Christ’s death and resurrection, the means of our salvation. All Christians employ the symbol of the cross. Our Church uses the Crucifix, the figure of Jesus on the cross as a reminder of His suffering, death, and glorious resurrection. Our protestant brothers and sisters generally display the empty cross.
We see the crucifix so often, in our church, in our homes, and maybe hanging around our necks or off the rearview mirror of our car, that we may take it for granted. We make the sign of the cross when we enter church and when we pray. We make the “small sign of the cross” with our thumb before the reading of the Gospel. We also use the small sign at baptism with the parents and godparents tracing the cross on the child’s forehead.
Ask most non-Catholics how we pray and they’re most likely to say we pray the Rosary. The main feature of the Rosary itself is the Crucifix. We begin the prayer by making the sign of the cross with that Crucifix as we begin.
We have the stations of the cross, especially during Lent, and on Good Friday we venerate the cross as we mark the day of Jesus’ crucification. It’s good that the cross was the instrument of execution in Jesus’ time. If he had lived in more recent times, we might all be wearing little gallows around our necks, or maybe little electric chairs.
Seriously, we display the crucifix here in church for one reason. It’s a reminder of what the Lord suffered so that you and I might be saved. I can remember, not so long ago, when no one spoke out loud once they entered the church out of respect for the cross, and for Christ’s presence in the tabernacle I’m not sure when this practice went away, but it would be good for all of us to remember that before and after mass, some of our brothers and sisters might be venerating the cross and to respect their desire for quiet.
I think that this week, as our diocesan priests gather for their convocation, that the cross will be prominently displayed in their gathering places. Next week I’ll be on retreat and I can assure you that the cross will rarely be out of our sight, or out of our minds.
As we continue with our prayers this morning, I’d like to offer you the most traditional of Catholic blessings. May almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.