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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Homily for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

One of the most powerful symbols we have in Christianity is the Crucifix. You'll usually see one either on or behind the altar of Catholic churches throughout the world. Many Rosaries have one, and many of us have Crucifixes that we wear on a day-to-day basis. The Cross of Christ, which a Crucifix depicts, symbolizes the means by which we receive our salvation.

If I were to summarize the message of the Gospel of Christ, I would point to today's reading from the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so he 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.” This is the mission of Jesus, why he came into the world and why he was willing to hang on the Cross and die. This is why we venerate the Cross today, as it was how he sacrificed his life for our sake.

As Our Lord himself mentions in today's Gospel reading, his Crucifixion was prefigured in the Old Testament, with the Bronze Serpent made by Moses. When the Israelites looked at the Bronze Serpent after being bit by a snake, they would be healed from the snake's poison. Many of the early Church Fathers viewed the snakes as representing the sin which affects us, spreading its poison within us until we die. When we look upon Our Lord hung upon the Cross and believe in Him, that poison would be removed and we would live. Much as the Israelites would look at the Bronze Serpent and live, we look at the Cross of Christ and receive our eternal life.

An example of this is given in the good thief who was crucified along with Jesus. This thief, commonly known as Dismas, looked upon Our Lord hanging on the Cross and believed in Him. In return for the good thief's belief, Our Lord promised him that he would enter into Paradise. This thief was the first to receive the benefit of the saving power of the Cross.

Saying that we receive life through the Cross is very ironic. Crucifixion was the most painful and humiliating way in which a criminal could be put to death in the Roman Empire. It was so humiliating that it was reserved solely for non-Roman citizens. By Our Lord's death on the Cross, he transformed this instrument of death into the symbol of eternal life. By humiliating himself, allowing himself to be raised onto the Cross, he glorified himself and those who believe in him. Now, instead of the Cross being the sign of punishment and defeat, it is the sign of Our Lord's victory over death and our reward of eternal life.

While it would be humiliating for any one of us to undergo Crucifixion, it was more humiliating for Our Lord. As St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, Jesus was not merely human, but was both fully human and fully divine. As such, Jesus first humiliated himself by becoming one of us. Then, at the appointed time, he was obedient to the Father and allowed himself to be tortured and Crucified. Through his humiliation, Jesus received glorification beyond anything that he would receive here on earth.

If Our Lord, who is God, was willing to humble himself for our sake, what right do we have to be prideful over the things we have and do? This is all the more reason why the sin of pride is so deadly. Through pride, we make ourselves higher and more important than God, at least in our own eyes. If we feel that we're higher than God, we become unwilling to listen to His commands and His Church. We think we know more than He does and refuse to follow those teachings that we disagree with. Then, when our time for God's Judgment arrives, we will turn away from the saving power of the Cross, much like the bad thief who hung on the other side of Our Lord.

We must approach Our Lord with humility and accept the salvation which comes to us through the Cross of Christ. We must admit our sins and failings, and ask God's forgiveness through the Sacraments. If we do this, like the good thief, we will receive the salvation Our Lord promises us, and join Him one day in Paradise.

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