Bottom line: God created the universe with the cross in mind and without the cross, human history makes no sense.
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. For us in the New World - North Americans as well as South Americans - the cross has a special place. One of the earliest enduring Christian settlement on the continent was named in honor of the cross - Vera Cruz.* One of the first things they did was plant a cross on a hill. Then the men fell on one knee, removed their helmets or hats and prayed quietly. The sight of five hundred men kneeling before a bare cross made a deep impression on the native people. Using their pictographic form of writing, they sent a vivid description to the emperor in Tenochtitlan: what is now Mexico City. Now, these men did not live up to the humility of the cross - and like you and me, the standard of the cross will judge them. Still, the fact remains that the cross was there at that moment of encounter - or clash - between two great civilizations.
In today's Gospel, Jesus speaks about the exaltation of the cross. The cross will be lifted up - exalted - just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the desert. Saraph serpents - glowing, fiery reptiles - bit the people because of their complaining against God. Many died. But God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and place it on a pole. Those who looked at it with faith received healing. Interestingly enough, a similar symbol - serpents on a pole - today represents the medical profession.
That bronze serpent on a pole prefigures the great instrument of healing - the cross. The Israelites were dying because snakes had bitten them, but an even more terrible viper has bitten you and me. We cannot heal ourselves. No matter how much our medicine and psychology advances, we have a wound that will not yield to those sciences. Only the cross can heal us.
Pope John Paul once asked a group of children if they knew the first letter of God's alphabet. They of course said "a." But the pope replied, no, the first letter of God's alphabet is not "a"; it is the cross. God created the universe with the cross in mind. The cross stands at the center of creation - and the center of human history. Human history really makes no sense apart from the cross.
St. Paul said it the best. Jesus, the only Son of God, "emptied himself." He took a humble form - like a slave. Then he humbled himself even more, accepting death - the horrible, humiliating death on the cross. Because of his humility - the humility of the cross - the Father exalted Jesus. At his name - his presence - every knee should bend. For that reason, we genuflect or kneel when we come into the presence of Jesus in our church.
Let me sum up what I am trying to say: We see the cross lifted up when the first Christian arrived on this continent. The humility of the cross will judge us, but it can also heal. The cross is the first letter of God's alphabet because he created the universe with the cross in mind and without the cross, human history makes no sense. Because of the cross, we bend the knee at Jesus' name, his presence.
*I believe it is the earliest, but would appreciate if someone could verify one way or another.
From Archives (for Exaltation of Cross):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Fr. Brad's Homilies (well worth listening)
Bulletin (Parish Council Stewardship Plan; Information on 40 Days for Life & I-1000; U.S. Bishops on "Senator's claim that the beginning of human life is a 'personal and private' matter of religious faith, one which cannot be 'imposed' on others")
Sept 14: First Anniversary of John XXIII Mass
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
KRA’s and SMART Goals (updated Sept 2, 2014)
Prayer concern: How can Monroe Pastors better collaborate with our School District?