Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Exaltation of the Cross 9/14/14

By Deacon Jerry Franzen     Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption
Numbers 21:4b-9        Philippians 2:6-11      John 3:13-17

John 3:16

There was a time, several years ago, when it was popular
for sports fans to display that reference to the sixteenth verse
from the third chapter of St. John’s Gospel
on handmade signs at sporting events,
especially, it seemed, at football games.
One might see these signs at random locations among those present.
I haven’t seen that sign at a game recently.
People may still be displaying it,
but the TV cameras may not be focusing on it as they once did.
Maybe there is a fear that somebody may be offended by it.
Maybe the novelty of it has just worn off.
Or sadly, maybe it just isn’t important to people any more.
John 3:16 is the whole of the Gospels, all of the Good News
summarized in one verse.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son
so that he who believes in Him might not perish
but might have eternal life.”
That sums it up.
That is not just Good News, it is the Best News.
Despite our sinfulness, we can attain eternal life with God,
because God gave his one and only Son,
to our lowly human nature,
a nature which, for Him, culminated in humiliating suffering,
and a horrible death on a cross.
Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
The word “Exaltation”
means the process of “honoring” or “praising.”

So today is the celebration that honors the cross,
the cross on which Jesus was crucified
the cross that was the medium
that God, who so loves us,
chose for our salvation.


In the first reading,
Moses was told to make a bronze serpent fitted on a staff
and raise it so that those bitten by the serpents
could look at it and be healed.
God told Moses to make this image of a serpent,
a popular false god of the time,
because the Israelites were not recognizing the true God.
There is little doubt that God was trying
to “wake up” the Israelites by His actions.
Often this staff is pictured as a staff with a cross-piece at the top
similar to the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
The Israelites were healed by the raising of this “cross”
with the bronze snake.
We are healed by the raising of the true God on THE cross
“on which hung the Savior of the world.”


If John 3:16 is the mini version of the Good News
about God sending his Son,
then the second reading
from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians,
is a concise description of just who this Son of God is.
Though he was God,
he set aside His total divinity enough to be fully human also,
not a human of the upper crust
but in the form of a slave, the lowest of humans.
He had all of the characteristics and appearances of a human man.
He humbled himself;
he was the full human that the Father intended Him to be.
In this humility he obeyed the Father,
as any other human should,
even to dying, not the death of an ordinary man,
but the death of a criminal on the cross.
Because he did all of this, the Father named him “Jesus”
which means “God saves.”
And because Jesus did all of this,
everyone should acclaim Him as Savior, Messiah and Lord.
For me, that passage from Philippians is a thrilling passage.
The culmination of these three readings, as I see it,
is that we are saved through the cross of Jesus Christ. 


But Jesus is not the only one with a cross to bear.
We have our own crosses, some are small and others are large.
Two Sundays ago we heard Jesus say,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself
take up his cross and follow me.”
Yes, we all have our crosses,
because of the flawed nature of our humanity.
Some parents must deny themselves
and bear the crosses of children who get into trouble.
Some spouses must deny themselves
and bear the heavy cross of a strained marital relationship.
Those who have been hurt by another must deny themselves
and bear the cross of forgiving the hurtful one.
Some must deny themselves
and bear the cross of illness, both physical and mental.
To love another, we must deny ourselves
and bear the cross of self-sacrifice.

 *Fr. Arne Panula has said the following,
“When we find ourselves carrying our cross,
we should always remember
that it's not merely a Cross, but a Crucifix,
and that Jesus is there with us.
If we unite ourselves to Him in our suffering,
then we'll see that our greatest humiliations
and our deepest pains are also the greatest spiritual victories.
That's the power of the Cross.”

Near the beginning of this homily,
I mentioned that today is the feast
of the Exaltation of the Cross.
In this Mass, we honor the cross,
because it leads us to our greatest spiritual victories,
yes, the final victory of eternal life,
But we honor the cross more than just at this Mass.
We honor the cross everyday,
every time we make the sign of the cross.
As early as the third century,
Christians were signing themselves in the form of a cross
on their foreheads with their thumbs.

It was in about the sixth century
that the gesture was expanded to the chest and shoulders,
with the full hand.
The Trinitarian formula of the words used was
formalized by the end of the Middle Ages.
Pope Benedict XVI has said,
 “The Sign of the Cross is the fundamental act of our prayer,
of Christian prayer.
Making the Sign of the Cross — as we will do during any blessing —  
means saying a visible and public ‘yes’
to the One who died and rose for us,
to God who in the humility and weakness of his love
is the Almighty,
stronger than all the power and intelligence of the world.”

So the sign of the cross is a prayer.
I’m afraid we often make the sign of the cross and say the words
without even thinking about what we are saying and doing,
much less that it is a prayer.
Beginning with the final blessing at this Mass
and throughout this week may we
make a determined effort to recognize that
when we are touching our foreheads, our chests,
our left shoulders and our right shoulders,
that we are praising God for sending His Son
who was raised up on a cross for our salvation.

And as we say, the words,
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.”
may we be saying that public “yes” to
the one we truly recognize as the Almighty.