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Jim McDermottSeptember 13, 2022
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
because by your Cross you have redeemed the world.

At the start of his “Spiritual Exercises,” St. Ignatius offers a short text called the“First Principle and Foundation,” which lays out the ideas that underlie his spirituality. “Human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord,” he begins, “and by this means to save their souls.”

In the last paragraph of that text, Ignatius argues that in order to praise, reverence and serve God people need to foster a spirit of indifference. “On our part,” he writes, “we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest.” For Ignatius, anything can serve God’s purposes. And so our goal should be “desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.”

The Exaltation of the Cross, which we celebrate today, is a feast that’s meant to reassure us in the questions and doubts of our hard times.

I remember being really inspired by this idea of indifference when I first entered the Jesuits. But you know when it doesn’t resonate so much? When you actually are sick and suffering, or impoverished, or humiliated. Like the time as a novice on pilgrimage I decided to try and walk from Albuquerque to Santa Fe along the side of the highway, thinking it’d just be a chance for me to spend time with Jesus; it was great, until I ran out of food and water and got hot and tired and really, really bored. Then it was painful and endless.

Suffering doesn’t have to involve anything so dramatic either. Just a really bad sore throat or flu can narrow your experience of life to such a degree that it’s hard to think straight, let alone pray. At those times, all we have is the hope that there really is some value to be found in this, some meaning that it might have for us or others later.

The Exaltation of the Cross, which we celebrate today, is a feast that’s meant to reassure us in the questions and doubts of our hard times. Is there any moment more devoid of meaning than the execution of an innocent person? Jesus himself cried out from the cross, stunned by his experience of God’s absence in that moment. And yet his death on that cross was not the end of the story, but the path to eternal life. Sometimes faith really is a leap into the unknown. But the cross reminds us that no matter how things may seem, God is waiting to catch us.

More: Scripture

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