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September 14: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross – A Cross of Healing


“Jesus said to Nicodemus: ‘No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.’
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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved
through him” (John 3:13-17).
 
On this solemnity, the way we Catholics remember the cross in our liturgy is a paradox. We pray that the tree of defeat became the tree of victory. Jesus, whose ministry put in motion our tradition, was nailed to a tree and left to die, and almost 2000 years later we wear on a chain around our necks a miniature representation of that event. We erect a symbol of Jesus’ death at the front of our churches. Our Scripture even explains that “we should glory in the cross” (Galatians 6:14). It seems as if we are glorifying a moment that perhaps we would rather forget.
 
At the time of Jesus, many Jews were waiting for a savior who would restore worldly glory and power to Israel, one who would overthrow the oppressive powers of the Roman Empire. Instead of teaching happiness through power, however, Jesus taught love through vulnerability. The cross is the ultimate symbol of that vulnerability, and it is through living out this vulnerable love that we come to know our salvation.
 
In the Gospel, Jesus refers to a story of Moses and the Jews during their journey from Egypt to the “promised land.” Many were grumbling about their plight in the desert and God sent a plague of serpents to bite them. God instructed Moses to erect an image of a serpent in the center of camp, and said that anyone who looked upon the image would be healed. John is explaining to his readers that Jesus’ death on the cross is to be viewed in the same way. When we exalt the cross, Jesus’ love becomes present through humility, and we can be saved because we believe in God’s power over sin and death.
 
The Gospel prompts us to “see” with the eyes of faith when we look upon the cross. To “see” the cross means to see it in the light of the truth that Jesus brings throughout his ministry. If we can “see” ourselves into the Paschal Mystery, then with Christ we shall be “lifted up.” The cross stands as the ultimate, if paradoxical, sign of triumph—but it also a reminder of the route to that triumph.
 
What is your experience of the cross, and how does the cross guide you in your life?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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