Monday, September 14 is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, commemorating the finding of the True Cross in Jerusalem by St. Helena in 326 A.D. It is a feast celebrated not only by Catholics, but by the Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican churches. September 14 is also the anniversary of the dedication of the church of the Holy Sepulcher built over the site of Jesus’ tomb. Such tangible things like the wood of the cross and the site of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection remind us that our Christian faith is not built on myths and legends, but upon real historical events. Relics, like that of the True Cross or the Shroud of Turin, help to literally put us “in touch” with the events of our salvation.
In today’s gospel Jesus predicts his coming passion and death and tells us that if we want to follow him we must be willing to “take up the cross” each day. Each of us in some way shares in the Cross of Jesus. For some, the Cross is large and clearly visible to all. For others, the Cross is invisible, something borne in the heart and soul. No matter what size or shape it takes, the Cross you bear is one chosen by God for you. When we bear this Cross in loving acceptance it becomes a source of life and strength: it becomes redemptive for ourselves and for the world. Our sharing in the Cross is an active participation in the ongoing work of redemption – the salvation of the world.
The one who has shared most intimately in the Cross of Jesus is his mother, Mary. September 15 is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, reflective of her deep share in the passion and death of her Son. Sometimes, the heaviest Cross we bear is standing by while our loved ones suffer. How many times have I witnessed families surround a dying spouse, parent, or grandparent and thought of Our Lady standing at the foot of the Cross with St. John and Mary Magdalene. Anyone who has suffered through such and experience can truly say they have stood at Calvary. Yet almost all of them – myself included – would not have wished it otherwise. It is a profoundly holy thing to be with the dying. Our Lady of Sorrows embraces all who have wept at the foot of the Cross.
While not diminishing the grief, pain, and sorrow that the Cross often entails, these two feasts this week remind us that the story doesn’t end at the Cross. The story ends with Easter, with the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We can be sure that, as St. Paul says, “if we die with the Lord we shall also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11.) This is what makes bearing our share in the Cross not only possible, but a reason for hope and joy. We lift high the Cross not as an instrument of death, but a sign of victory. For us the Cross is the path to life – and to glory.