This week we celebrate a feast called the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It might seem odd to glorify something that was a cruel fate for so many during the first century, especially because it was the instrument of the death of Jesus Christ. However, the Cross was how He won our salvation because on it Jesus was able to conquer sin and death. It is not the Cross as an instrument of death which we acclaim, but rather it is the Cross as the path to new life. The Cross is a stumbling block for those who do not believe. But for those who do believe the paradox of the Cross is important because while Jesus’ life ended there, He went from it to His resurrection, enabling us to share in the new life of Heaven. Therefore, in the Cross Jesus triumphed. The Cross became not a symbol of tragedy, but a reality of hope.
The Priests and Brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross have as their motto “Ave Crux, Spes Unica” which translates to “Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope.” This motto arose from their founder, Bl. Basile Moreau,* who was a man familiar with suffering, experiencing much adversity during his lifetime. At his beatification in 2007 this motto was present during all the celebrations and liturgies. It was central to Moreau’s spiritual life and therefore it obviously remains central to those who follow in his footsteps. Surely for one to find hope in the Cross is to have understood that suffering has a meaning, and that, as Moreau believed, “the Lord’s choicest blessings come through the crosses we bear out of love.”**
In the readings from Sunday, (as if in preparation for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14), we heard of the suffering which Jesus would endure, prophesied through Isaiah’s fourth Suffering Servant Song: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard.…” (Isaiah 50) This indicates that God chose to send His Son into the world with the knowledge that it would entail suffering as the way to bring salvation. Next, in the responsorial Psalm the writer reminds us that the Lord is gracious and merciful and that when we were brought low He saved us: “He has freed my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” (Psalm 116:8) It is through His suffering that Jesus has brought us to ‘the land of the living.’ Furthermore, we do not walk the road of suffering alone. Jesus has walked it for us and is with us on our journey; the road is familiar to Him, and because of His great love He will walk it again and again, for and with us.
However, we have a responsibility in all of this. In the letter of James we hear: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:16) We have received a great gift from the Lord, but if we do not pass it on to those whose suffering may be worse than our own, how are we showing our gratitude for it? The Cross of Christ is living, not dead. That is, it leads us to new life and therefore it is dynamic in its power. But that power does not come in a vacuum. With the power which saved us comes the rest of the Gospel message: we are to bring Christ to others by extending the power of mercy and compassion which Jesus extended to us.
Every life matters. There is no life which is less significant than others. That message is clear throughout the gospels. Jesus spent significant time with those who were considered the lowest of the low: the tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, sinners of every sort, the possessed, and the ill. He gathered around Him fishermen, shepherds, farmers, outcasts, the poor, widows, children, the under-educated, and foreigners. He cared for every one of them. There was no one who approached Jesus whom He ever turned away. The most notorious of sinners and the lowliest of people all received a response of boundless love. He lifted up that which had been torn down by sin and brokenness. He even offered His love and mercy to the arrogant, such as the Roman officers, Pharisees, and other Jewish officials who sought to trip Him up at every turn. There was no one beneath Jesus and no one who was not worthy of His love.
If we are to call ourselves followers, then, we are called to have the same attitude. Every life matters, no matter how insignificant we think we may be. Yes, we have to begin with our attitude toward ourselves before we can offer anything to anyone else. So I repeat: our life matters, no matter how insignificant we think we may be. If we think that we do not have anything to offer, or that our gifts are not really that great, if we think that we are unimportant to the Lord, or that we are not important enough to make a difference in the world, then we are giving up on the great gift of love that God has for us. The Cross was intended to make us understand once and for all that every life matters. The Cross and subsequent Resurrection of Jesus were not just for some people, but were for us all. Therefore, each of us needs to accept the gift of the Cross for ourselves, realizing that the Lord would have died if it was ‘just for you alone.’ Before we can extend our arms to the world, we need to accept how greatly we are loved by God. He is great and merciful and has ‘freed our souls from death, our eyes from tears, our feet from stumbling.’ He walks the road with us because He cares for us more than we can imagine.
Second to the realization and acceptance of being loved by God is the realization that we have a mission to accomplish. We need to accept that we are very gifted with talents in our own uniqueness. In other words, there is no one else on this earth that can do what you were put here to do. No one else can love as you do, and no one else can give to the people you meet as you can. No matter how small you feel, no matter how insignificant your place in life may seem, and no matter how much you are suffering, you always have something to offer the world. Even if it is your very suffering which you offer up as prayer, you have a great gift to give. We all do. Each of us must realize that our efforts matter in the fight against poverty, injustice, oppression, waste, marginalization, and loneliness. Even the little we may have, (or the great amount we may have), can go a long way in helping others realize that their lives matter, too. The smallest gesture, such as a loving response to a rude, angry attitude or lending a hand to one who requires help, can change the life of one in need.
In this time of refugees fleeing their homeland in fear, we can offer support to a stranger in our midst, or if we feel so called, monetary support to reputable organizations that can help those in grave poverty. We do not have to become homeless to help those who are, but we can offer our gifts to those who are impoverished in our communities. We are challenged by the Gospel, by the letters of James and others, and by the very Cross, to share with those who are spiritually impoverished and who feel homeless in their own churches or who have no religious home at all; we can share with those who are without many friends or who have familial relationships which are shattered; we can share our financial resources with those who have little to nothing; we can offer our prayer not only for those in need, but for ourselves to have eyes to see and ears to hear. Nothing we give is too little. Our sacrifices matter. Our love matters. Our mercy matters. Our lives matter. All lives matter. Let us take up our cross, let us take up the Cross of Christ, and let us work together at building up the Kingdom so that everyone can understand that His Cross was for us all. Let us exalt the Cross in our words and deeds. Hail the Cross. It is our only hope.
May we find hope in the Cross of Christ! May we be inspired by the Cross to offer what we have to those who are in need! May we accept how very much we matter to God, and may we share this reality with those to whom we minister! May we realize that our lives are ministry for others when we act intentionally to spread the love and mercy of God! And may our lives be a witness to the power of love and mercy which comes through the Cross of Christ! Let us continue to meet at the Cross of Christ! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*For more on Bl. Basile Moreau, founder of Congregation of Holy Cross you can go to the following sites:
**The quote comes from this site:
The photos are mine. The first one was taken in Salzburg, Austria; this crucifixion scene was on a church on the end of a main street.
The second picture is an artist's rendition of Bl. Basile Moreau, CSC which was featured prominently at his beatification in 2007.
Next is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called St. James the Lesser. No one knows who actually wrote the letter attributed to James. It could have been any of the men named James who were companions of Jesus. So in the spirit of the letter being named for one of the men named James, I chose to share this icon. You can find it at http://fineartamerica.com/products/st-james-the-lesser-254-william-hart-mcnichols-art-print.html.
Next are my own photos again. A small village in Austria is first of these. Many seemingly solitary villages dot the Tyrolean countryside. Each of these, and each of the people in them, are important to God.
Following the village scene are some climbers getting to the top of Jugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. They did not climb the entire mountain, by the way; just the last bit, but it was still hair-raising to watch. I chose this photo to symbolize that all our efforts and struggles matter.
The last photo is the back of a commemorative medallion which was struck for the beatification of Bl. Basile Moreau. I was blessed with being present at this event. The medallion was a gift to me.
Heart Speaks to Heart