Exaltation of the Holy Cross - Homily

The FEAST OF THE EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS is one of the oldest feast days in the church, dating in its origins back to the 2nd Century. Allow me to quote extensively from the website, about religion and an article by Catholicism Expert, Scott P. Richert

After the death and resurrection of Christ, both the Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem made efforts to obscure the Holy Sepulcher, Christ’s tomb in the garden near the site of His crucifixion. The earth had been mounded up over the site, and pagan temples had been built on top of it. The Cross on which Christ had died had been hidden (tradition said) by the Jewish authorities somewhere in the vicinity.

According to tradition, first mentioned by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem in 348, Saint Helena, nearing the end of her life, decided under divine inspiration to travel to Jerusalem in 326 to excavate the Holy Sepulcher and attempt to locate the True Cross. A Jew by the name of Judas, aware of the tradition concerning the hiding of the Cross, led those excavating the Holy Sepulcher to the spot in which it was hidden.

Here is where it begins to get into several legends.

Three crosses were found on the spot. According to one tradition, the inscription Jesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”) remained attached to the True Cross.

According to a more common tradition, however, the inscription was missing, and Saint Helena and Saint Macarius, the bishop of Jerusalem, assuming that one was the True Cross and the other two belonged to the thieves crucified alongside Christ, devised an experiment to determine which was the True Cross.

In one version of the latter tradition, the three crosses were taken to a woman who was near death; when she touched the True Cross, she was healed. In another, the body of a dead man was brought to the place where the three crosses were found, and laid upon each cross. The True Cross restored the dead man to life.

In celebration of the discovery of the Holy Cross, Constantine ordered the construction of churches at the site of the Holy Sepulcher and on Mount Calvary. Those churches were dedicated on September 13 and 14, 335, and shortly thereafter the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross began to be celebrated on the latter date. The feast slowly spread from Jerusalem to other churches, until, by the year 720, the celebration was universal.

A final tradition comes from the 5th Century and involves the son of the Persian King, Khosrau II and the Holy Roman Emperor, Heraclius.

In the early seventh century, the Persians had conquered Jerusalem, and the Persian king Khosrau II captured the True Cross and took it back to Persia. After Khosrau’s defeat by Emperor Heraclius II, Khosrau’s son returned the True Cross to Heraclius. In 629, Heraclius, having initially taken the True Cross to Constantinople, decided to restore it to Jerusalem. Tradition says that he carried the Cross on his own back, but when he attempted to enter the church on Mount Calvary, a strange force stopped him. Patriarch Zacharias of Jerusalem, seeing the emperor struggling, advised him to take off his royal robes and crown and to dress in a penitential robe instead. As soon as Heraclius took Zacharias’ advice, he was able to carry the True Cross into the church.

And so…The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrates three historical events: the finding of the True Cross by Saint Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine; the dedication of churches built by Constantine on the site of the Holy Sepulcher and Mount Calvary; and the restoration of the True Cross to Jerusalem by the emperor Heraclius II.

But in a deeper sense, the feast also celebrates the Holy Cross as the instrument of healing and our salvation. This instrument of torture, designed to degrade the worst of criminals, upon which Christ was lifted up, became the life-giving tree that reversed the Original Sin of Adam.


How are people lifted up?

  • Through the passion and inspiration of a leader lifting up his people.
  • A parent physically lifting up and holding a discouraged or wounded child.
  • A person at work supporting and lifting up a colleague.
  • An athlete encouraging and lifting up a teammate.
  • Husband/wife lifting up their spouse through difficult times.

All of these are good and noble, but ultimately they also have a limited “shelf life.” To go deeper into the hurt and pain and fear and complexities of the human heart and soul, something more - something totally different - is needed. Actually some “thing” isn’t needed at all. SomeONE is needed.

The Lord said “Let any man who thirsts come to me and drink” (John 7:37), and so we pray: “Give, Lord, your Spirit now to those who thirst for you.” But the Lord doesn’t just pour His grace upon people and situation like pixie-dust. He sends someONE - you.

In our Parish Vision, under “Component II: Individual Goals,” there are 5 action-items to which every parishioner can commit. #3 is to weekly say something about your faith, the Pope, your parish, the church, Jesus, etc. to at least one person. There’s a guy in my men’s scripture study group. Recently he was working in Manhattan on 9/11. He was riding on the subway, eating in restaurants, talking to people at work and in every place, he took the opportunity to talk to people about 9/11. In a rough estimate, he figured more than 60% of people he spoke to, knew someone who had died. It gave him in many cases an opportunity to say something about the Popes, his faith, his parish, the church, etc… In every case he also said that he would pray for the person. Overwhelmingly, they were receptive and grateful. He was lifting people up who were down.

F. Emitt Fitzpatrick, Jr. was a Philadelphia politician, attorney, former DA and professor. A noted criminal defense attorney, he served as the District Attorney of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania between 1974 and 1978. He died September 2 this year and another man I knew was at the funeral at St. Matthias in Bryn Mawr. His son spoke about his dad at the service. Fitzpatrick was a controversial figure and was much maligned for defending, and getting acquittals, for a number of mob figures in several highly publicized court cases. When asked about this, Judge Fitzpatrick believed in what one could read about “The Law” found in Romans 3:19 - “ALL people are equally guilty and ALL are lawfully condemned.” The former DA would say if that is the case, even the most hardened criminal has a right to a fair trial and a vigorous defense. Maybe Fitzpatrick’s wasn’t to directly lift up a perpetrator, but what about the perpetrator’s family, wife, children, parents, relatives? We’re they not lifted up knowing that someone was willing to pay the price and take the hit to defend a sinner. Sound like someone else we know? (“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8)

Let me go back to our Parish Vision once again. Consider action-item #5, “Yearly – Serve. Participate in just one pastoral outreach/service activity during the year.” Talking to someone on a subway whose friend or colleague has died or consoling a person in a restaurant whose family member is on trial or is in jail. It doesn’t take a lot of time, it doesn’t take much - to lift someone up.


Audio of the homily is here:

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