THE TRIUMPH OF THE CROSS
(A biblical reflection on the TRIUMPH OF THE CROSS, Tuesday, September 14, 2010)
The feast of the Exaltation or Triumph of the Cross goes back to Emperor Constantine’s victory over Licinius and his subsequent conversion to Christianity in 324. The arch of triumph shows Constantine himself with a cross in his hand and the legend: “by this saving sign I have delivered your city from the tyrant and restored liberty to the Senate and people of Rome.” Another legend says that during his campaign against another rival Maxentius the Christian sign appeared in the sky with the words: ‘In this sign, conquer!’ The result of Constantine’s conversion was that it marked the end of the persecution of the Christians; the fallout was that Christianity became linked with politics and political power. (see Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia, Knowledge in Depth 5, 72). The feast actually commemorates the finding of the holy cross by St. Helena [+330], the mother of Constantine the Great, who [80 years old] journeyed to Jerusalem to search for the cross in 326. On 14 September 335 the basilica built by Constantine the Great over both Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre was dedicated. Later the King of Persia robbed the true cross and took it to Persia, but 14 years later Emperor Heraclius defeated the Persian King and brought it back to Jerusalem, carrying it on his own shoulder. An invisible force stopped him at the Gate of the Holy City. Only when he had put off his imperial garments, could he proceeds (see: Patrick R. Mohan, Day by Day with the Saints).
Biblical reflection on the ‘Second Reading’ in the Holy Mass:
Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and vbestowed on Him the name which is above every nama, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 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 (Phil 2:6-11).
Today, September 14, the Church celebrates the Triumph of the Cross of Christ. This should be a day for us to look back at what Jesus did with awe and yet allow ourselves to be lifted up in Him to see the absolute transcendence of His victory.
This is, however, a day of paradox. Today we recall the paradoxical glory and exaltation which arose from an instrument of cruelty and punishment. It is a day for us to rejoice in the seemingly defeat of our Savior, which became instead His moment of victory – and our victory as well. Today we reflect on the Son of God – in whom dwelt the fullness of deity in bodily form – lowering Himself, not only in becoming man, but even further in becoming “despised and rejected” (Is 53:3) and dying for our sin. And what a paradox indeed! Having humbled Himself, Jesus is now exalted above all creation as Sovereign Lord. How can our limited minds ever grasp such wonderful realities?
In the cross, we see Jesus emptying Himself completely. It is one thing for someone to resign himself or herself to a lowly position and not striving for something higher. But Jesus willingly put aside the highest of all positions, with all its strength and power, in order to rescue us. He became our servant, obeying the Father in everything and trusting in the Father’s perfect plan for Him. Unlike Adam and all his offspring, who try to exalt themselves and so are brought low, Jesus sought to humble Himself and so was exalted to the highest place.
The Triumph of the Cross is not only Jesus’ trophy for following path God set before Him. It reminds us of the emptying and exaltation that are part of our lives as well. When we feel weak or incapable of fighting the good fight, or when we think we will never become strong enough to overcome sin, these are God’s opportunity to make us like Jesus. When we humble ourselves and confess our weaknesses, God will raise us up in His time to a position of great joy and hope. Our Lord rejoices when we join Him in His path. He will always comfort us in these times of difficulty and suffering.
Short prayer: All praise to You, Lord Jesus, for by Your holy cross, You have given us life! Once we lived in fear of the grave. Even though we deserved to die, in Your mercy You gave us life. By Your triumph on the cross, You have gained for us a home with You in heaven. Amen.
Jakarta, September 9, 2010 [Memorial of St. Peter Claver (1580-1654), Jesuit Priest]
A Christrian Pilgrim