Exaltation of the Holy Cross – September 14

Homily of Fr. Herbert Nicholls

The Cross of Christ is the only way that leads us to true wisdom and prudence. Though one, through no fault of his own, may be ignorant, no one can ever be indifferent to it. It demands choice. Some see the message of the Cross, the word of the Cross as utter folly. Others discover that the Cross is the power of God, who through it has conquered satan and sin.

St. Theodore the Studite wrote in Oratio in adorationem crucis: O Most precious gift of the Cross, how splendid to gaze upon you. You are a tree which begets life, without causing death, which sheds light without casting shadows; which leads to paradise and does not expel anyone. You are the tree which Christ ascended as a King mounting His chariot to defeat the devil, who usurped the power of death. On your wood, Our Blessed Lord, valiant fighter in combat was wounded in His divine hands and feet and side, by so doing He healed the effects of sin and the wounds which the pernicious dragon had inflicted upon our human nature.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: The message of the Cross is something which to human wisdom seems impossible, that God could die, or give Himself up to the power of violence. It is a message which seems to be contrary to worldly prudence. After stressing the importance of the message of the Cross, St. Paul contrasts the wisdom of God with the wisdom of men. This human wisdom cannot attain knowledge of God by demanding earthly signs because it accepts only rational arguments (cf. 1 Cor 1: 18-25).

In his gospel, St. John tells us of this incident occurring at Passover (cf. John 12: 20-32). Two Greeks came to Philip who had a Greek name and came from Bethsaida in Galilee, a fishing village of Greek migrants. It might be presumed that he could interpret for them. If that is indeed the case, then this is a very important moment in which people of non-Jewish or Gentile culture come in search of the Christ. They have heard and they want to hear more. They wished to speak with Jesus Himself.

Instead, Jesus sends them back with a parable: a lesson for them and for every Christian: If the grain of wheat does not die it remains unfruitful. Do you want to be a grain of wheat? To die through mortification in order to yield a rich harvest through glorification? Jesus links suffering with glorification when He says: The Son of Man has come to be glorified. In this manner He links the mystery of being raised up to the Father with that of attracting all to Himself (vertical and horizontal dimensions of the mystery).

Here, Jesus again makes reference to the hour which is approaching. The hour is initiated at Cana when His Mother asked Him for a miracle (cf. John 2: 1 -12). At first seeming reluctant, His Mother simply replied: Do whatever he tells you. Christ’s response ushered in the hour of dusk, the beginning of darkness.

Again on the Cross, He referred to the hour which is now here. The “hour” refers to His entire three year ministry and to the years that pass following our initial encounter and accent to Him the hour in which we follow the advice of our Holy Mother: Do whatever He tells you.

But it is in this moment for Him and ultimately for us that Redemption and Glorification are united through death. Our Lord has spoken about His sacrifice being a condition for entering into His glory. What holds true for Jesus, also holds true for us His disciples.

Jesus wants each of us to be of service to Him. It is a mystery of God’s plan that He, who is all, who has all, and who needs nothing and nobody, should choose to need our help to ensure that His teaching and the salvation earned by Him shall be made known to the ends of the earth.

To sum up we can distinguish four steps in order to ascertain whether we are identified with Christ throughout this ‘hour’.
The first is to seek Him, not to presume that He will seek you. Many never reach nor above the first step. You must seek Him first and foremost within yourself, seek Him with hunger and with all your strength.

If you survive with determination the battles through this first step, you are guaranteed to find Him. And your heart will hunger beyond your imagination to get to know Him; the only human relationship that can be compared would be ‘love at first sight’. As you get to know Him, love Him, converse with Him, you will become one with Him.

Don’t be deceived to think that Jesus is so different than you; after all He is God, who became human in order to show us how to live the mystery of life. The thought of death that awaited Him saddened and frightened Him. He turned to His Father in prayer in Gethsemane. As man He sought support both in the love of mankind and the strength of His Father to fulfill His mission.

We should find this very consoling as we often feel weak in moments of trial. Like Jesus we can find support and strength from the arms of a loving Father, and from the arms of our brothers and sisters whom Jesus tells us are our rock and fortress.

In His plan of Salvation, Jesus wants us to use things which to our minds seem foolish, so that His wisdom and power will shine. All thar Jesus has done for us has been necessary and advantageous to our salvation. If by the power of His divinity He has released us from the captivity of sin, He has also through the weakness of human flesh destroyed the power of death. Possessing the nature of God, and being equal to God, He abased Himself taking the form of a slave; being great He became little. Through this mystery, death has freed us from death, life has freed us from error, and grace has freed us from sin (St. Bernard).