The cross is at the very heart of our faith.
As a symbol, it reminds us of God’s boundless love for us, and as a spiritual and historical reality it holds out the merciful promise of salvation.
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross both celebrates the salvific triumph of the cross and invites us to active participation in living out that victory. As Pope Francis reminded the crowds in St. Peter’s Square recently, Christ himself said that discipleship requires taking up our own crosses.
“Following Jesus does not mean participating in a triumphal procession!” the pope told those gathered. “It means sharing his merciful love, entering into his great work of mercy for each person and for all mankind. And this forgiveness passes through the cross.”
Celebrating the cross dates back to the earliest days of the Church. The September 14 date marks the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the church built on the site where tradition holds St. Helen found the true cross early in the 4th century.
The day’s entrance antiphon articulates the feast’s celebratory nature, reading: “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.”
It is impossible to escape the punishing brutality of the cross. Death by crucifixion was a particularly barbaric way to die. We, however, are blessed with the knowledge that the cross symbolizes not the end but a whole new pathway for us. And that truly is cause for celebration.