The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
September 14, 2017
Fr. José Maria Alvim Cortes, F.S.C.B.

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Today we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast began in the seventh century, when the emperor Heraclius recovered the relic of the Holy Cross from the Persians. According to the story, the emperor wanted to enter Jerusalem with the utmost pomp, carrying the recovered Cross on his shoulders, but suddenly stopped at the entrance to the Holy City and was not able to go forward. The Cross was too heavy for him. The patriarch Zachary, who was walking in the procession, suggested that while the emperor was arrayed in splendid imperial garb, he was far from imitating the humility with which Jesus bore the Cross when he entered Jerusalem. Heraclius laid aside his cloak and crown, put on simple clothing, walked barefoot with the procession and devoutly replaced the Cross in Calvary.

This story shows how important humility is. The emperor was doing something great and pious: he was bringing the lost Cross back to Jerusalem. However, he was doing it to exalt himself. Even in religious things, we can be searching for our own glory, trying to find recognition from man. When we exalt ourselves, the Cross of our lives becomes insupportable, blocking our progress. Pride prevents us from moving forward. Pride prevents us from entering the Holy City and reaching the fulfillment of our existence. The Holy City, Jerusalem, symbolizes Heaven. In the Book of Revelation, Celestial Jerusalem is our destiny.

Jesus humbled Himself and then the Father exalted Him. This is the same path that we are invited to follow. We need to lay aside all the burdens that prevent us from walking Jesus’ path, the path toward happiness. Our prideful “I” must be crucified so that the new “I” can be raised. We must constantly deny the self in order to flourish in our true identity.

How can we do this? We must accept the humiliations of life without rebellion, which is only possible when we are certain of God’s love. We need to look at the crucifix. It is very important to pray in front of the crucifix, the greatest sign of God’s love.

We spend too much time thinking about what others think about us. This destroys us. We need to be free of our own image. Does what people think about us matter? Our concern should always be with what God thinks about us, which is love, infinite love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

We must not take ourselves too seriously. I am not talking about levity here but irony. How ridiculous we are with our pretensions! We need to laugh at ourselves. The Cross is not heavy, as Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt 11:28).

In the Cross, we see the irony of God’s wisdom. Saint Paul says: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:25). We need to see the irony in life and not take ourselves too seriously. How ridiculous we are with our pretensions! Who do we think we are? Are we emperors? We need to laugh about ourselves. I am always afraid of people without a sense of humor.

Like the emperor Heraclius, we need to lay aside our pride in order to walk the path of this life with the lightness that Jesus brings through his Cross.

Let us pray that the celebration of this feast day will help us conquer whatever precludes us from moving forward toward our destiny. Let us ask for the grace of a humble and meek heart, able to find the rest we need in Jesus’ Cross.  Amen.

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