Why Christians celebrate today one of history’s worst instruments of torture and death
September 14, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Years ago, I went on retreat with a wise spiritual guide who shared profound insights into the mystery of the Cross. In honor of today’s feast, the Triumph (or Exaltation) of the Holy Cross, I would like to share them with LifeSite readers, to the best of my ability. It seems all the more fitting to do so, given the Church’s ever-intensifying participation in the mystery of the crucifixion at this juncture in history.
The Blessed Trinity, the infinite and eternal Three-in-One who exists before and beyond all things and rules over the universe with power, wisdom, and love—this Trinity dwells within the soul in a state of grace. A wonder too wonderful to grasp! The spiritual soul made in the image of God becomes His tabernacle, His temple, His resting place, His delight. Whether we taste this presence of God in quiet recollection or whether we simply have faith in it based upon the words of Our Lord (Jn 14:23), the truth of it is a source of joy and strength, especially when we are passing through death—be it metaphorical death, institutional death, or physical death.
Faith and hope are most of all necessary when we see nothing and have nothing in our hands, when we are poor. And this itself is something to rejoice about: that we are poor! “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It is theirs, right now. When we are in darkness, “the valley of the shadow of death” (as Scripture puts it very darkly), we need faith and hope all the more; God is asking us to yield ourselves into his hands, to rely on Him, trust in Him, look to Him, seek His face.
The joy of the Blessed Trinity is present in the heart of the Crucified, at the very center of the Cross. The Cross is the source of our Christian life; the Passion is what redeemed us from sin, opened to us the gates of heaven, gained for us the friendship of God. But the Cross is never the end, either for Christ or for the Christian. The Passion has its fulfillment in the resurrection. “If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Cor 15:14). Why does the Apostle say this? Because if He were not risen, then suffering and death would be the final word on life. But death cannot be the meaning of life; rather it is life, the life of the risen Lord, that explains the meaning of death, the point of dying, and why it is good to die to the world and to oneself out of love. In spite of the hardships along the way, we never forget the goal: “our house is in heaven” (2 Cor 5:1; cf. Phil 3:20). Moments of joy on earth are signposts to remind us of our destination: eternal joy.
Jesus, who is the Truth, does not hold the truth from us; he does not “spare” us, he does not hide the truth from us. This has become clearer than ever with the ecclesial scandals that surround us, in which men who are supposed to be “other Christs” have held and hidden the truth from us. Jesus is not like people who speak (with proud condescension) of blissful ignorance, or promise a life without pain. He does not offer medicines that can take away all pain, because such medicines also take away something of our humanity, and can even take away our conscience and our life. Jesus taught His disciples of the Cross and the Resurrection at the same time, for they always go together. He does not deceive us into thinking that there can be Easter without Good Friday.
The Church came forth from the pierced side of the sleeping Christ. If the whole Church was born this way, then every baptized man is born this way: conceived in the Heart of Jesus and coming forth from His pierced side. Jesus has given His last drop of blood and water for you, to whom He gave birth. And why? Because He loves you, wants to share his eternal joy and love and glory with you, and will go to the utmost to make it possible for you to attain this.
This is why he gives us the Paraclete—the Consoler, the Comforter, the Advocate. As St. John declares in the Apocalypse: “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away” (Rev 21:4). Already the Paraclete is comforting us, to make us not lose heart. “God is asking too much, I am too weak”—be honest, this is what we are often thinking. But it is false. Remember Elijah in the wilderness: “Take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers,” he groans. God sends an angel to him: “Get up, eat something, otherwise the journey will be too great for you” (1 Kg 19:7). God knows what we need and has given it to us abundantly; we have got to make up our minds to take and eat. By ourselves, the way is too hard; only with God is it possible.
We are always trying to do things on our own; God will teach us, the easy way or the hard way, that “without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5), but “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps 123:8). If he made heaven and earth, he can certainly help us out of our worst trials. Our greatest dignity is to be helped by God, for then He puts Himself, in a way, at our service (cf. Lk 12:37).
For the humble one, for the poor one who relies on God, the way becomes easier. He will not disappoint us, He will not fail to fulfill His promises. He is our faithful and loving Father. “If you ask Him for bread, will He give you a stone?” (cf. Mt 7:9). “Give us this day our daily bread”: and He does, in the supersubstantial Bread of angels, the Most Holy Eucharist.
He is only waiting for us to ask, to trust, to put ourselves into His loving hands. This is what faith does; this is the act of faith. We are faithful to God when we trust in Him, regardless of the darkness. When Scripture says that we are “saved by faith” (Eph 2:8), that is what it means: we are saved whenever we humbly and in all poverty pray to God: “I trust in you, I give myself to you, I put myself in your hands—do with me as you please, make of me what you will, for I am yours.” This is the attitude of a child of God who knows that his Father is loving, is love.
This is what the perfect sacrifice of the Cross shows us, teaches us, and empowers us to do ourselves. This is what the holy sacrifice of the Mass makes present again and again in our midst, so that the mystery of the Lord’s Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension may always be ours, permeating our existence and reshaping us for eternal life. This is why a Christian with faith is invincible and no force on earth can overcome him.