September 14 is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and it is one of my favourite feasts of the Liturgical year. It is said that the day commemorates the occasion in which St. Helen (mother of Emperor Constantine) found the wood of the True Cross in Jerusalem.
While that is just one part of the feast, it is worth noting that the Cross of Jesus is spoken of prominently twice in the liturgical year, namely on Good Friday at the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, specifically at the Veneration of the Cross after the Liturgy of the Word, and September 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It seems that Good Friday takes on a number of different dimensions, and so does Holy Thursday. Thus, we notice that even though the Church celebrates the institution of the most Holy Eucharist, we celebrate the solemnity of Corpus Christi on the second Sunday after Pentecost. Again, even though the Cross is solemnly venerated in the liturgy of Good Friday, the Church has a feast to once again speak of the prominence of this cruel instrument of torture which has now become the sign in which Christianity is known by.
When speaking of the Cross, I immediately think of the Entrance Antiphon of Holy Thursday:
We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,Roman Missal, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper 6
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.
These words are based on the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, chapter 6 verse 14 in which he says, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Wow! What is St. Paul saying when he says that he may “boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”? I like how Bishop Barron speaks of the cross on countless occasions, but in particular, one occasion that stuck with me was the time he spoke to youth gathered at the Mercy Centre at World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland,
“…the cross of Jesus Christ from the beginning of Christianity to today is a kind of taunt that was meant to terrify the whole world. The cross… there is nothing more horrific, nothing more terrifying.” The first Christians held it up as if to say, “You think that scares us? We’re not afraid because God’s love, God’s mercy has conquered all that that world can throw at it.”‘Bishop Robert Barron, July 27 2016 at Mercy Centre in Krakow, Poland
The Cross, to a non-Christian it may seem like a historical instrument of torture, or simply a lower-case ‘t’, or merely two sticks placed on top of each other. However, for us Christians, it is a sign of salvation. It is a sign that “IC XC NIKA – Jesus Christ Conquers.” God is greater than any pain and suffering. He had to go through pain and suffering to grant us salvation. However, that pain and suffering was something so selfless because one man suffered, but many are saved because of the death on that instrument of torture.
The first Christians held [the cross] up as if to say, “You think that scares us? We’re not afraid because God’s love, God’s mercy has conquered all that that world can throw at it.”‘Bishop Robert Barron, July 27 2016 at Mercy Centre in Krakow, Poland
That is the power of the Cross. Something so horrific became the icon of Christianity. It is because of that Cross, that sign of the witness of love that we have seen so many people willing to lay down their lives for a faith and salvation drawn from the Cross.
The pandemic has out a number of events I was anticipating on hold. However, that has allowed myself and some from the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement Kateri League of Chapters in Ontario to plan some interesting events, including a three-day Spiritual Exercises retreat at the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario in 2021. It is the hope that on the second day of the retreat, we will be able to have Mass celebrated at St. Ignace II, the site where Sts. Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant, Jesuit missionaries were totured and martyred. As part of the liturgical planning process, I was finding hymns, a mix of English and Vietnamese for this specific Mass which I believe to be a spiritually powerful experience. While I could not help but put Faith of Our Fathers, I was struggling to find an opening hymn. I was going through my library of hymns in Vietnamese, and found the hymn, Niềm Vinh Dự (The Honour), which I have only heard used at my parish once every year as the opening hymn for Holy Thursday. I chose this because the lives of the saints of martyrs are examples of the Triumph of the Cross. In fact, at home, I have a biography of the Jesuit Martyrs of North America in comic book style titled, Triumph of the Cross. No matter how much torture, threats and ultimately death that they faced, they persevered until the end, fixing their eyes on the Cross of Christ.
When we celebrate and venerate the Cross of Jesus, let us be reminded of the Triumph of the Cross. Let us live the spirit of the Cross, meaning, making little sacrifices from time to time, allowing our lives to be reflective of the mystery of the Cross. May our lives be a reflection of the Cross, and like St. Paul, a “boasting of the Cross.” By doing so, we shed ourselves of our ego, in order to embrace something that will bring about benefit to all. That is the core of the Cross – a love conquering the selfish ways of man, agape love.