Numbers 21: 4-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17
Ann Thomas tells this story of herself. She was at a garage sale with her friend Betty. Ann had just sorted through a tray of trinkets. Betty came up and asked, “Any luck?” “No!” said Ann. “It’s just a pile of junk.” She stepped aside to let Betty see for herself. Betty took one look at the pile, picked up a tarnished old cross and said, “I can’t believe it. I’ve found a treasure! This cross is made of antique silver.” When Ann’s friend got home, she cleaned the cross and polished it. It was indeed a treasure. Ann ended the story saying, “Betty and I both looked at the same cross. I only saw junk; Betty saw a treasure.” Later Betty’s seven-year-old son, Bobby picked up the cross, held it reverently in his hands, and looked at it for a long time. Suddenly he began to cry. “What’s wrong?” asked Betty. Bobby said, “I can’t help it. I was looking at Jesus on the cross.” Three people looked at the same cross. One saw junk, another saw a treasure; a third saw Jesus. Today’s feast reminds us to see Jesus and appreciate the price he paid for our salvation each time we look at a cross or crucifix.
“Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim / Till all the world adore his sacred name.” This popular hymn beautifully expresses our sentiments as we celebrate today the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, also known as the Triumph of the Cross or simply the feast of the Holy Cross.
Today we celebrate the finding of the original Cross of Jesus. According to St John Chrysostom, St Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine, longed to find the cross of Christ. For this reason she travelled to Jerusalem where she organized a dig at the hill of Calvary. The diggers uncovered three wooden crosses. They could not tell which was the cross of Jesus and which were the crosses of the two thieves crucified with him. Finally they brought a sick woman and a dead man who was being carried to burial. The three crosses were placed one after the other on the sick woman and on the dead man. Two of the crosses had no effect, but on contact with the third cross, the sick woman was healed of her infirmity and the dead man came to life. These miracles clearly indicated which of the three was the Holy Cross.
Often we complain that our cross is too heavy to bear: A young man was at the end of his road , seeing no way out, he dropped to his knees in prayer. “Lord, I can’t go on,” he said. “I have too heavy a cross to bear.” The Lord replied, “My son, if you can’t bear its weight, just place your cross inside this room. Then, open that other door and pick out any cross you wish.” The man was filled with relief and said, “Thank you Lord,” and he did as he was told. Upon entering the other room, he saw many crosses; some so large the tops were not visible. Then, he spotted a tiny cross leaning against a far wall. “I’d like that one, Lord,” he whispered. The Lord replied, “My son, that is the cross you just brought in.”
When life’s problems seem overwhelming, it helps to look around and see what other people are coping with. You may consider yourself far more fortunate than you imagined. St. Francis de Sales reflecting on our daily Cross says: “The everlasting God has in His wisdom foreseen from eternity the cross that He now presents to you as a gift from His inmost heart. This cross He now sends you He has considered with His all-knowing eyes, understood with His divine mind, tested with His wise justice, warmed with loving arms, and weighed with His own hands to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you. He has blessed it with His holy Name, anointed it with His consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all-merciful love of God.”
Jesus taught us that the cross should be a constant feature in the daily lives of his followers: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). To take up the cross in this way we need to do more than wear a crucifix or place it in our surroundings. To lift up the cross the way Jesus asks us to do is a way of life. It is to accept self-denial and sacrifice as part of our daily lives. Sacrifice means to give up something that is of value to me for the sake of God and the benefit of my neighbor. Another word for it is love. Love is measured by sacrifice. People who love much sacrifice much. Yet sacrifice does not make us poorer but richer. This is what we see in Christ. This is what we see in the lives of the saints. This is what we are all called to be. Let us all today resolve to “Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim / Till all the world adore his sacred name.”