September 12, 2008

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionWhenever a feast supercedes a regular Sunday liturgy in the Church, Catholics should realize that the Church is interrupting the usual sequence of Sunday readings to provide us with a lesson that it considers to be especially important.

Such is occurring this weekend. Last weekend, we observed the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time. Next week will be the Twenty-fifth Sunday.

However, instead of presenting to us the liturgy of the Twenty-fourth Sunday this weekend, the Church calls us to celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

This is because it is important for Catholics to think about the crucifixion of Jesus, not just in historical terms, but also in terms of the enormous, miraculous effects of the Lord’s willing gift of self, as sacrifice to the Father, achieved through the crucifixion on Calvary, and of their place in the story.

For the first reading, the Church offers us a passage from the Book of Numbers.

The reading looks back to the Exodus, the Hebrews’ long and wearying journey across the Sinai Peninsula in search of the Promised Land. This book recalls how disgusted they were with the want and uncertainty of the trip. Their disgust was understandable.

What is the most critical fact is that their survival was at stake. They were on the verge of starving. They could not find their way, but God led them. They survived, and eventually reached the Promised Land.

Moses called them to look upon a serpent that he had mounted on a pole. Many people detest snakes. However, in ancient cultures, snakes symbolized life since snakes shed their skins.

Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians furnishes the second reading.

Scholars believe that this actually was a hymn in early Christianity sung during worship. It is one of the most magnificent pieces of literature in the New Testament, dazzling in its exclamation of Christ.

St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading.

The reading is not from John’s detailed Passion Narrative. Instead, it is from an account of a time when Jesus is explaining salvation to Nicodemus, a prominent Jew.

Jesus draws a comparison between the Messiah and the serpent. The Savior will bring eternal life. To acquire this life, the Christian must look to the Lord, the only bond between God and humanity, between heaven and Earth.


What is so urgent about the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross—about the Crucifixion itself—that the Church sets aside the Twenty-fourth Sunday to celebrate this feast this weekend?

The urgency is in the fact that we must realize the ancient Christian adage that disciples must take up their crosses and follow the Lord.

Why? Understanding the story of Calvary helps us to understand our place in the story.

Christ came to reconcile all people to God, and to bring God’s mercy to them. Human sin works against this process. Indeed, human sin can seem to triumph. Christ died. Human sin overtook the situation, but only for a moment. Christ rose. He was victorious. He lives.

We, too, can live if we resist sin, and if we follow Christ. Following the Lord will require determination, even to the point of seeming to bear a burden as heavy as the cross.

Enabling us to carry our own cross is the mercy of God. Theologians call it grace. It strengthens us. It enlightens us.

We must ask for grace, and we must prepare ourselves for grace, by looking only and always to Jesus. We must resolve never to pause or abandon our intention to follow Jesus to Calvary—and beyond Calvary to the glory of heavenly life, to life eternal.

Jesus faced crucifixion not in despair, but in faith. We, too, must live in faith. †

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