Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross, a feast important to the universal Church and one which is very special to all Passionists and especially those of us who are privileged to be members of Holy Cross Province. In John’s Gospel, we find an extraordinary verse that is often flashed on handheld placards at various sporting events as “Jn 3:16”. In this single verse, we discover the very heart and summary of the proclamation of our salvation. We are loved by God and we are saved by God’s beloved Son so that we might not die but live forever.
It doesn’t get any better than that when we speak of the Gospel as being the Good News of Jesus Christ, does it? Yet, dear friends, in our readings for this wonderful feast, there is another message that we would do well to ponder. In the Book of Numbers, we see how the seraph mounted on a pole is transformed from a symbol of death and misery into a sign of healing and deliverance. In a similar fashion the Cross itself, that very instrument by which the Savior is to be lifted up, becomes transformed from something that wields death to something new and wonderful, a source of salvation and eternal life.
But one of the things that I always find fascinating on this special feast is the message in the reading from Philippians that we find neatly placed in between the exceptionally graphic events in the Book of Numbers and John’s Gospel. In this reading, we are given a remarkable glimpse of how it is that the suffering and death of Jesus our savior actually brings about healing and salvation. Paul, who is imprisoned, writes his inspiring letter to the Philippians encouraging them to love more deeply as Christ does. The heart of Paul’s message is that in order to make love victorious we must empty ourselves of ourselves – just as Jesus the Christ did in his embrace of the Cross and in his obedience to the will of the Father. Suffering and death is transformed; the Cross is no longer a symbol of death but signifies, instead, a victory over death. Yet, all of this is accomplished by means of an emptying instead of a grasping; the greatest feat in human history is accomplished by the Lord who does all and accomplishes all in the name of Love and in the name of the God who has so loved each and every one of us.
Fr. Pat Brennan, C.P. is the director of Saint Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.