The Cross is the most distinctive sign of Christianity. This is because, as we say to Our Lord during the Stations of the Cross devotion, “by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.” I remember the beautiful bronze Stations of the Cross that we had in seminary. The first station, of course, depicts Pilate’s condemnation of Jesus. There was Pilate, a representative of Caesar, ruler of the world, sitting in judgment of Christ, Lord of Heaven and Earth. In the second station, He who would redeem the world is presented with the very worst the world has to offer – the cross. The artist who created the second station depicted the cross as being unveiled by the soldier who is presenting it to Him. The soldier seems to expect a reaction of horror, but the Lord Jesus appears instead to step forward to tenderly embrace the cross with all His heart.
This Monday, 9/14, is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It originally was a celebration established to commemorate the discovery of the True Cross in 320 AD by St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine. Fifteen years later a great basilica commissioned by the Emperor himself was dedicated on the site of Calvary, the place of Our Lord’s sacrifice. It is a great irony that a successor of Caesar would establish a place where the world could go and venerate the Cross, the means of its redemption, approaching it as tenderly as the Lord Jesus did 300 years earlier.
In the gospel, Our Lord said to all of His listeners: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Lk 9:23). In this way, He associates with the cross all of the inevitable trials of life that come our way. By uniting our crosses to His cross, we participate in the work of His redemption – of us and the whole world. This participation was done with unique perfection by His greatest disciple, the Blessed Mother, whom we commemorate this Tuesday (9/15) as Our Lady of Sorrows and who walked all the way to Calvary with her Son, bearing the weight of His cross in her heart, offering her sufferings to Him for you and me.
The cross seems to loom over everything in our troubled times, unveiled before our eyes by the world that dares us to take it and embrace it as the cross of Christ. In those rare moments when I have the presence of mind to consider the sufferings of others as I wrestle with my own crosses, it puts things into perspective. Even though it doesn’t make the cross feel any better, I ask for the grace to bear it well. Our Lord wants us to allow Him to live in solidarity with us, which involves taking up the cross and following Him. In doing so, we also live in solidarity with others as they try to bear the cross well too. To help us, let us turn to the one who accompanied Our Savior during His Passion, and ask her for encouragement and consolation as we try to embrace the path of our redemption, which is the Way of the Cross.