Friday September 14 is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. A person has to have faith, so often a lot of it, to think that the cross should be exalted; the cross, after all, is, apart from accompanying pains, a grinding, slow way (could take a day) of choking to death. St. Paul stands at the beginning of this need for faith when he said that the cross was foolishness to the unbelieving Greek, a stumbling block to the unbelieving Jew. (For him, ’Greek and Jew’ means the whole world without faith in Christ). The Greek wanted happiness, and had many theories or philosophies, about how to reach happiness, but none of them included choking to death; indeed, you don’t reach happiness by suffering such a foolish, criminal and excruciating death. The Jew expected, as the fullness of happiness, all the gifts of God’s love, given by Him or by His Messiah; death by crucifixion did not fit at all in this expectation. But what does the believer, the person of faith in Jesus, say? Through this miserable death, God forgave the unforgivable: forgiving ourselves means nothing; we had to wait for His free decision to forgive. He did it because Jesus, God’s son, died for forgiveness. That is reason enough for our eternal gratitude, for God chose not one of us to die as repayment for sin, but the Father chose His Son to die, thereby keeping the act to win forgiveness within God’s self: God did no sinning, but He took the blame for it. The cross stands for that free, divine choice to end our failures with His love. And what could come from that divine act of love but life, as Jesus shows: he died, but only to rise to live perfectly happy forever. The deepest secret of the cross lies in what brought it about: if Jesus had said ’no’ to His Father, if he preferred not to obey His Father, it is hard to imagine how we will be happy for eternity. But if only he would obey, we will rise to live eternally happy. By choosing to obey His Father, the Son of God exalts us; that is our joyous, joyous destiny. Thus, we willingly celebrate the obedience signified by the cross, for it is by obedience to God’s will that we will live in total bliss forever. Ugly as is the cross, the feast is one of great thanksgiving to God and Jesus, and a reminder of the good that comes from obedience, even in intense suffering. John Kilgallen, S.J.
Exaltation of the Holy Cross