Homily — Exaltation of the Holy Cross 9—14—08

Homily — Exaltation of the Holy Cross            9—14—08

This Sunday, we interrupt the normal Sunday in Ordinary time, with it’s usual Green Vestments, to celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which from ancient times has been celebrated every year in the Church on (this day,) September 14.

The Feast was originally established to celebrate the Anniversary of the Finding of the True Cross of Jesus in Jerusalem on September 14,  326 by St. Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine.

Since the 7th Century, the Feast also Celebrates another historical event.  In the year 615, the Persians conquered Jerusalem and carried off the True Cross, bringing it back to Persia with them.

Nine years later, in the year 624, Christians regained control of the city, and as part of the surrender agreement the Persians had to return the Relic of the True Cross to the city.

The Emperor himself triumphantly carried the True Cross back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Mount Calvary, reportedly taking off his royal robes when he arrived at the base of the hill and carrying it the rest of the way as Jesus did, dressed in only a loincloth.  This triumphant Return of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem is also commemorated in today’s Feast.

While good evidence exists for the historicity of St. Helen’s finding of the True Cross, enough counter-evidence exists to make some “doubting Thomas'” question whether the wood venerated as the Cross of Jesus really is the True Cross.

St. Cyril, who was the Bishop of Jerusalem when the Cross was found, states that within a few years of it’s discovery little slivers of the True Cross were being widely distributed; he says  “The holy wood of the Cross bears witness . . . . and from this  place is now almost filling the whole world, by means of those who in faith take pieces from it.”

Even today, every Catholic Bishop wears what’s called a Pectoral Cross on a silver chain around his neck, and inside the cross there is a tiny relic of the True Cross (if you ask them, many Bishops will open them up and show you it).

But some cynics have joked that if you took all the relics of the True Cross and put them together, you could build Noah’s Ark with them!   In the late 1800’s however, a Jesuit priest who “was not amused” did a painstaking scientific inventory of all the known relics of the True Cross, and concluded that you couldn’t even build a Cross one third the size of the True Cross with all the known pieces that have come down to us.
Whether St. Helen found the True Cross or not, however, doesn’t really so much matter.   What does really matter is that there is a True and Holy Cross.

What really matters is that 2000 years ago, a real live tree began to grow up somewhere in the Roman Empire.  When this tree reached a certain size, it was cut down, and the lumber was made into two wooden planks as real and as hard as the pews you are now sitting in,  — two wooden planks, that were fastened to each other in the shape of a cross.

And onto these real pieces of wood were nailed the Sacred Hands and Feet of Our Lord Jesus Christ, making it humanly impossible for him to get off.

And on this Real Wooden Cross, Jesus hung for three hours out of love for us sinners, His Precious Blood soaking into and forever staining the Wood of the True and Holy Cross for all times and ages.

This is what really matters, this is what the Church really celebrates on this day:  the Good News that through the Holy Cross, God has truly entered into our suffering.   The Good News that when we have trials and Crosses from which it is humanly impossible for us to escape from, Jesus our God is intimately there with us in the  midst of our suffering,

And just as God the Father greatly exalted His Son because He bore the Cross with love and patient acceptance, so will God exalt us when we bear our Crosses in union with Christ’s True Cross, and lead us through the Cross, to the glory of Christ’s Resurrection.

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