We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you because by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.
This week, the Church celebrates with great joy one of the central symbols of our faith: the Exaltation and Triumph of the Holy Cross. As Catholics, it is vitally important that we honor and believe not only in the Cross, but in the Holy Cross.
What is holiness, therefore? Holiness consists in conforming our life to the image of Jesus Christ, the one in whom we have been baptized and in whom we find the way and the truth to live (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2012). In fact, Jesus is the only way. There are no others who are comparable to Him. This is why Catholics have the image of the crucifix and not simply the cross adorning their rosaries, homes, cars, holy cards, churches, and chapels. The crucifix is an immediate reminder, which we need every day, that the “way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2015).
Whenever we behold a crucifix, we are reminded that we are gazing in adoration of the supreme God who was in the midst of doing battle while He was on the Cross. St. Ignatius Loyola, in fact, in his greatest work, The Spiritual Exercises, has his meditation in the second week precisely focus on two military standards, as it were, presented before us all. On the one hand, the military standard of Lucifer appears heavily imposing and horrifying. In fact, Satan often works in our minds by playing on our fears so that we will not trust in Jesus’ words. On the other hand, the standard of Christ appears beautiful and glorious. While Lucifer promises an illusory life filled with various riches, Christ asks for humility and spiritual poverty among His followers.
St. Ignatius could envision such a scenario because of the victory Jesus gained from His Cross. The purpose of Lucifer is to pull each one of us down spiritually. He does this by convincing us that our human nature can never be lived in union with Jesus’ perfect human nature. How many times have we heard, for example, Catholics who are content to accomplish simply the minimum requirements of our faith and never bother themselves in progressing in virtue and holiness? Lucifer loves spiritual laziness. Such laziness leads to our becoming complacent in living the moral life of Jesus. Once that occurs, we follow the standards of the world, and the battle in our own soul is lost.
Jesus, however, follows a different type of strategy in defeating our spiritual enemies and the spirit of mere worldliness. Just as He was raised on the Cross, so He shows us that our human nature possesses a special and unique dignity apart from all of creation. Our nature is elevated because the Son of God took on our human nature. Whereas we have a wounded and weak nature because of original sin, Jesus’ perfect human nature is precisely the gateway to the remedy we seek to live in a way beyond the mundane. He stooped down to humanity so that He could raise us up to the level of His divinity! The world and all powers opposed to God are conquered by the Cross and never by the saber. The strategy of Christ involves complete humility. His victory is complete and total.
How did Jesus win the battle? The military garb of Jesus is not something that He put on; rather, He clothed Himself with victory by having everything stripped of Him—including His very Flesh and muscle due to the scourging and the weight of the Cross. His helmet was a crown of thorns. Jesus did not need to use weapons; instead, He absorbed the effects of weapons by being nailed to the Cross. He did not devise a clever military strategy to outflank the Enemy; instead, He hung from the Cross for three hours standing before a crowd that insulted, mocked, taunted, and jeered Him (except for a small faithful band at the foot of the Cross) without ever responding in kind to the hatred hurled at Him. Jesus did not march in triumph relishing His victory; instead, He slept in the sleep of death for three days. He was not awarded military victories with a garland crown like the Caesars of His day; rather, Jesus was wrapped in linen and placed in an empty tomb.
How appropriate, therefore, that three days after His death, Jesus’ Resurrection is met with fear and confusion by the very military guards stationed at His tomb! The victory of the Cross was complete. For this reason, the Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Everything that Jesus said about His suffering, death, and Resurrection was true exactly according to the centuries-old prophesies of the Old Testament and in exactly the time frame that He said the events would occur. The world today still cannot understand how a symbol of defeat and utter humiliation could possibly be transformed now into the Tree of Everlasting Life. Yet, this is exactly what the Holy Cross is. Our Christian dignity is found in the Holy Cross– so much so that St. Paul revealed that we should “never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world…for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body” (Galatians 6: 14, 17). Like St. Paul, may our lives boast of the triumphant Cross of Christ in the way we live each day.
May you have a most blessed and holy week!
Fr. Shawn William Cutler
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