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THE WORD IS LIFE

The prologue to St. John’s gospel introduces God’s Son as the Word. This life-giving Word—spoken down through the ages—became flesh and lived in our midst. For all of Christian history, the Word is intimately connected with all of human life. It is the purpose of TWIL (“The Word Is Life”) to bring the gospel to life and to bring life to the gospel. This blog will feature reflections on the Sunday Scriptures from contemporary Catholic writers, words of wisdom for our Spiritual journey from saints and blessed, and thoughtful reflections on masterpieces of sacred art. We at Living with Christ hope that they will help you grow in your spiritual life and deepen your relationship with the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Categories: The Word Is Life

The liturgical tradition does not have a ceremony for every scenario of loss, but it does offer a rich ritual repertoire from which we can draw inspiration and hope. On this The Word is Life blog, I am exploring how the liturgical year can help us to ritually recognize, hold and welcome the grief of those among us.  

Over the past nine months, I made a series of major decisions. The follow through has not always gone smoothly. The process has been painful, and I have experienced disappointment and suffering. For a while, I got caught in a cycle of revisiting the decisions, re-evaluating them, analyzing them and trying to identify where I went wrong. Should I have taken a safer route? My friends remind me that, in many respects, my hand was forced, that the decisions were for a greater good, that I made courageous choices. Yet, amidst the consequences, I am tempted to be hard on myself.

We are hard-wired to avoid suffering and to assign blame. But on this feast of the Holy Cross, I wonder if it’s a bit like saying to Jesus, “Why did you keep opening your mouth? You knew people were out to get you. Why didn’t you keep quiet? Why did you associate with someone you knew would betray you?” Instead, Mary and John were at the foot of the cross loving Jesus, not blaming him. Jesus could have made different choices and avoided crucifixion. But then, where would we all be?

We are disciples, called to live in imitation of Jesus on earth and to enter into the Paschal Mystery with our own lives. You probably know this short verse from the popular devotion of the Stations of the Cross:

 

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you

Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world

 

This processional devotion, by which we walk the path Jesus did, carrying the cross through Jerusalem to the Crucifixion, was promoted in the Holy Land in the 13th century by the Franciscans. Not everyone can make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, so the faithful adapted the devotion to something of an imagined route that we walk with stopping points (stations) constructed outdoors in our local area. We also have markers placed inside our churches, or even booklets that we can follow while remaining stationary in a pew or even an armchair at home. Much like our local stations, this prayer is actually a shortening of a longer prayer that was written by St. Francis of Assisi for the friars to offer whenever they visited churches:

 

We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, in all your churches throughout the whole world

and we bless you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

 

St. Francis sent his friars to evangelize. He wanted them to know that they could encounter Jesus wherever they were. The same could be said for us. Wherever we are (and, also in whatever age), the Cross of Jesus is present to us, not only as a sign of suffering, but of the entire Paschal Mystery – the death, rising, and ascension of our Lord.

Redemptive suffering always seems like dangerous territory. We don’t want to condone violence or court affliction. Still, sometimes life hands us lemons so the alternatives are to continue suffering or make lemonade. That is the exaltation of the Cross, though, truth be told, some days it feels like the exhaustion of the Cross.

It isn’t easy, but taking a risk, putting yourself on the line, and carrying the burden, even with the help of your friends, is a participation in the Paschal Mystery. The Cross was not a mistake; it was the Father’s will. I can’t know for certain if my choices were one or the other, but I can review the decisions with curiosity rather than blame. I can problem-solve the outcome in prayer as an occasion for graced growth or healing. The crosses we encounter need not have the final word. Raised up with faith, they can transform and exalt us for a purpose beyond what we could have ever imagined! This is the paradox of the cross—periods of exhaustion, humiliation, and death become occasions for triumph, honor and new life.

The liturgy for today’s Exaltation of the Holy Cross ties all these elements together to encourage us in our trials. The second reading, when the feast falls on a Sunday (when it falls during the week, you can choose the Old Testament reading instead), is the canticle from Philippians (2:1-6) that proclaims the humiliation of Christ through his obedience on the cross and the glorification and exaltation that followed. This hymn also appears often in the Liturgy of the Hours. I recommend it to you for your reflection, and maybe even for memorization, as a prayer to draw upon in times of suffering.

 

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;

And found human in appearance
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

Because of this,
God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth
and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God
the Father.

Interestingly, in the alleluia verse, the liturgy calls the assembly to respond to this reading with praise through the prayer adapted from St. Francis:

 

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,

because by your Cross you have redeemed the world.

 

Although the establishment of this feast day commemorates three distinct historical events (the finding of a relic of the Cross in the fourth century; the dedication of two churches on the site of what is today the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the retrieval of the relic from thieves in the seventh century and its triumphal procession back to Jerusalem), the liturgy itself recalls the theme of Good Friday. It invites us to reflect upon the paradox of the Cross in adoring Christ in our own churches, in our own corner of the world, in our own day and age, amidst our own experience of suffering. When we are exhausted by grief and loss, may we find hope and consolation by entering the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

 

Simone Brosig is an educator, author, and liturgy consultant with a PhD in Medieval Studies and a MA in Pastoral Liturgy from the University of Notre Dame. She writes and teaches about living the liturgy. Simone is a near-native Calgarian, who enjoys spending her free time “forest bathing” in the Rockies and learning languages. To find out more about Simone’s new book, Holy Labours: A Spiritual Calendar of Everyday Work, click here.

Author: Living with Christ

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