This week the church will celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is said that we “exalt” the cross of Christ every time we freely pick up our own. Jesus spoke: “Unless you pick up your cross and carry it, you can not be my disciple.” Not much wiggle room there, but we can not change the words of the Savior. He beckons us to carry our crosses with Him. Each of you has at least one cross, some of you many: an illness, a disability, an injustice, a relative. All may not be smart, all may not be pretty, but every human person has a cross. The great paradox is that it is the cross that saves us. Who would have thought? For the first 900 years of Christian art we do not even see the cross. It was too brutal to portray. Too repulsive for people to contemplate. That’s how horrible the cross was. The most dreaded symbol of the Roman Empire becomes the greatest symbol of Christian hope. A 13th century Franciscan monk wrote: “I cling to the cross that my anguish might not drive me mad. To flee it would lead me to despair.” This Franciscan realized that only the cross can give us hope.
Satan was terrified of the cross. He knew it would be his undoing. The great lie of course is that the Christian life can be lived without the cross. But we know that the cross is essential for our salvation. “No cross, no crown,” as goes the wise saying. Remember that it was Peter who begged Jesus not to go to the cross. Thereupon Peter was called “Satan” by Jesus because Peter tried to talk Him out of the cross. And it was the great St. Paul who said he could speak of so many great things about Jesus: His preaching, His miracles, His creation of the world, His mercy, His forgiveness, but there is only one thing St. Paul says he can boast about: “Let me not boast except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
And so as Our Lord invites us: “Pick up your cross and carry it.” Don’t drag it, but carry it with joy, with hope, with confidence knowing that it is the cross that saves us. Jesus was never more powerful, then when He was nailed to a cross. That’s how He saved the world—pinned to a cross.
And is it not a sign to us on this memorial of 9/11 that the only thing that remained in the devastation of the towers was the cross itself—driven like a dagger into the heart of evil, and the sign of hope for all who would look upon the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.