Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Behold, the wood of the cross"

Today Catholics celebrate "The Exaltation of the Holy Cross," the day on which the fourth century basilica of the Resurrection (now known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) was dedicated in Jerusalem and the date of the finding of the True Cross. As Christians, we recognize that the holy cross is the most important symbol of our salvation for the cross is a symbolic summary of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection. We are to exalt, to "lift high the cross" (to quote the words of a familiar hymn) in our daily lives and in all that we do.

Holy Cross, San Clemente, Rome
(detail, 12th century mosaic)

So, how do we exalt the cross? We should embrace and display the cross openly as a symbol of our redemption. By placing a crucifix (the cross with an image of Christ's body on it) on a wall of our condo, dorm room or apartment, by wearing a cross or a crucifix around our neck, and by not shying away from making the Sign of the Cross, we can provide witness to others of our belief in Christ and of our gratefulness for his saving work. We can exalt the cross by trying - with God's help - to live out the teachings of Christ, daily "taking up our cross" and following him. We can exalt the cross through devotions which help us to recall the Passion of our Lord: we can regularly pray the Stations of the Cross at the church and we can make sure that, every Friday, in honor of the crucifixion, we make the sacrifice of not eating meat or performing some other regular act of penance.

Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis
One final note. In the deep south, we are inundated with images of the cross. So much so, that it can lesson this important symbol's effect as a cause for reflection. This has not always been the case. In fact, the use of the cross by most non-Catholic Christians in the U.S. was virtually unheard of until the 20th century. The cross was seen by them as a "papist" symbol and most Protestant Christians bristled at its use because they viewed honoring (even using) the cross--or any type of Christian symbol--as a form of idolatry. So, the widespread adoption and use of the cross in southern culture and society is a relatively new development. But even though we see crosses all around us, let us pray that the cross never becomes something too familiar; a sign which does not cause us to pause and thank God for his sacrifice.