Celebrating the cross as the ultimate sign of Christ’s love

By: By Sharon Priester

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Sept. 14

Numbers 21:4b-9; Psalm 78:1bc-2,34-35,36-37,38; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17

The cross today — a universal symbol of Christian belief, carried in processions in our churches, a thing of beauty. During Jesus’ time, it was a sign of torture, dread, humiliation and degradation. Sometimes it would be seen standing outside the walls of a city with a decaying body hanging from it as a threat to those who might be thinking about straying from the law.

This weekend, we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Unlike the people of the early church who feared the cross, on this feast day we honor and adore the Holy Cross because Jesus, loving his Father and us so much, died on the cross so that we could have eternal life.

There are times in our lives that we are so frustrated for not having things go the way we thought they should. We may feel alone, even forgotten by God. We may ask, “God, where are you? Why is this happening?” In the first reading, we learn that the Israelites traveling to the Promised Land certainly felt this way. Having traveled on foot for a long distance, they were hungry, thirsty and tired. In their frustration, they went to Moses and complained against him and God.

The Lord, hearing their complaints, punished them by sending poisonous serpents. When a person was bitten by the serpent, he died. Realizing that they had sinned against God, the people again went to Moses and asked him to pray to God to take away the serpents. God, hearing Moses’ prayer, directs him to make a bronze serpent and mount in on a pole so that the Israelites could see it. Whenever any of the bitten Israelites would look up at the serpent, they would be healed and live. Trusting and having faith in God, Moses did as he was directed, saving the Israelites from death.

CONFORMING OUR HEARTS
In the Gospel, Nicodemus, a Pharisee, came to Jesus in the darkness of night, seeking a better understanding of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus reaffirmed that he, the Son of Man, had been sent by God to all so that “the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) He also said that just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent so that the Israelites could live, the Son of Man must be lifted up on the cross so that those who believe in him could “have eternal life.” (John 3:15)

In his encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” (“God is Love”), Pope Emeritus Benedict says, “By dying on the Cross . . . Jesus gave up his ‘Spirit’ (John 19:30), anticipating the gift of the Holy Spirit that he would make after his Resurrection.” He added that, “The Spirit . . . is that interior power which harmonizes their hearts (of the believers) with Christ’s heart and moves them to love their brethren as Christ loved them. . . . Love is therefore the service that the church carries out in order to attend constantly to man’s sufferings and his needs.” (19)

We can find many examples of those whose hearts are moved to love and serve others as Christ did. Among those in our parishes are the catechists and/or teachers in our religious education programs and schools. Next Sunday, Catechetical Sunday, parishes throughout the United States are encouraged to recognize and bless the catechists and/or teachers as they embark on another school year.

Also, on Sept. 21, members of the St. Vincent de Paul Conference throughout the Diocese of Peoria will gather at Holy Trinity Church in Bloomington for their annual commitment ceremony. In their service during their home visits and in the food pantries or clothing closets, they, too, demonstrate their love of God and others.

In the hymn, “Lift High the Cross,” one verse goes, “So shall our song of triumph ever be: Praise to the Crucified for victory.” As we honor and adore the Holy Cross, the cross that Jesus died on so that we might have eternal life, let us reflect on these words.

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SHARON PRIESTER has served as a parish catechist and director of religious education, Bible study leader, RCIA team member and coordinator, and regional director of religious education for the Diocese of Peoria. She is a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Bloomington.

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