Exaltation of the Cross
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
A Meditation for
THE FEAST OF THE HOLY CROSS
Usually, the feasts of the Church celebrate Christ and the saints, but today we celebrate the Cross. In antiquity, Christians spoke to the Cross as if it were alive. In the prayers and hymns of the liturgy we say things like: "Rejoice, precious Cross” and “Help us, O life-giving Cross." We know the Cross is a piece of wood. It is not alive. It does not have ears. Yet, when the sacred liturgy addresses the Cross this way, we are referring our petitions to Jesus Christ, our Lord, Who was nailed to the Cross, to be our Savior. We revere the Cross, for there Jesus redeems all creation. From the tree of the Cross we find our very life in God.
In the Garden of Eden, all things were filled with Divine Life. The grace of God coursed through creation like blood through veins. God’s grace enlivened all things like the sap in a tree, making all things ever new and glorious by the will of God, by His power and presence. Adam saw and knew this grace. He rejoiced in the glorious song of creation, which he clearly understood through the Grace, which filled his own nature.
When Adam, through disobedience fell away from this grace, he became like a vessel full of holes. He could no longer contain the power of God within his nature. He lost harmony with God. The discord of sin meant that Adam could no longer hear the song of praise sung by all creation to its Maker. As Adam had placed himself at enmity with God, so creation was at war with Adam, and thorns and thistles came forth from the earth.
The Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden would have made Adam and Eve live forever. But because they committed the original sin, God hid the tree of life from them. St. Gregory the Great explains that the tree of life was hidden from Adam and Eve after the fall lest "the sickness [of sin] should become immortal in them." God did not want man's fall to be permanent like that of the devil and his angels. So, God hid the Tree of Life behind the flaming sword. God did not do this out of spite nor because of man's disobedience. So, the Lord hid the tree of life from Adam and his descendants, and the Lord planted another Tree, the second Tree of Life. This Tree is the Tree of the Cross, which we celebrate today.
The Fruit which grows on the Tree of the Cross is a far greater fruit than the tree of Life that was in Eden’s Garden. For on the tree of the cross the fruit is the Lord Himself—even His Body and Blood, whereof if a man eat, he shall never die. By the Tree of the Cross, man's nature is healed of all its sinful disobedience. We are to live as God’s sons and daughters. Whereas the tree of life in Eden’s Garden was hidden after the fall, the new Tree of Life, the Cross, is not hidden but we lift high the cross—we raise it up.
When we draw a map diagram, we usually mark an "X" to mark the spot—our goal, our destination. By the intersection of the two lines a precise location may be unmistakably indicated. This is why we must have the Crucifix here in our churches at the Holy Altar of God. The Cross is there to forever remind us that our faith is unchanging. The Cross is fixed at the altar because all the graces flow from that holy and life-giving Cross.
The Cross of Christ makes a stand. The cross is not politically correct. The late John Cardinal O’Connor, former Archbishop of New York, once declared that,
“Neither respectability nor political correctness is worth one comma in the Apostles’ Creed.”
Therefore, we must not waver in our allegiance to Christ and His Cross. Of course, there will always be pressures on the Church. Voices will call out, "Take down the Cross in the Catholic classroom," or "give in to the moral decline." But we must not cater to popular politicians, special interest groups or anyone that would compromise our allegiance to Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Cross.
In the first centuries, the martyrs, men, women, and even children, would not offer one grain of incense to the false gods of Rome. They died painful and bloody deaths. They clung to the Cross ,and it gave them courage to endure gloriously in love of Christ.
What is the standard by which we live our faith? We can choose a comfortable corner—something politically expedient—and align ourselves with one group or another. But are we to be slaves of sin? Are we to dilute the faith? Are we to create a comfortable and practical religion? No! St Paul declares,
“I am crucified with Christ: and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)
Dear company of Jesus and Mary, we are to be anchored to the Holy Cross. We are to be oriented to Jesus Christ. We should not seek the praise and approval of the world—doing what the popular media wants. Thus, St. Paul said,
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14).