Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Homily Exaltation of the Holy Cross 2008

Many centuries ago, in the year 312, Emperor Constantine the Great
faced a conflict which would have lasting impact on western civilization
and also be a life-transforming moment for Constantine himself.

On the eve of the battle, Constantine beheld a vision from Heaven:
a flaming cross in the sky,
and the words “In hoc signum vinces.” – “By this sign you will conquer.”

Constantine, a pagan military commander,
had the sign of the Christian cross painted on the shields of his soldiers.

The next day, he met the Emperor Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge,
and, by defeating him, gained control over the ancient Western Empire.

A victory of a different kind was also achieved.
Constantine’s soul was won for Christ and he converted to Christianity.

As a result, two events of major significance took place.
First, in 313, by the Edict of Milan, Constantine ended Roman persecution,
allowing Christians to build churches and worship freely.
No longer was Christianity an illegal, secret sect.
The Church could now actively grow and develop.

Second, Constantine effected the conversion of his mother, Saint Helena,
who became a devout and zealous servant of God.
It was Helena whom God called to undertake pilgrimages to the Holy Land
in search of places where Jesus lived and holy relics of His life and passion.
On September 14th, 326, Saint Helena and her companions discovered three crosses,
buried for nearly three centuries by persecuted Christians,
who could not freely venerate or display them.

As they were exposed, a sick man sat up the moment he beheld one of them,
and so they came to believe that it was truly the Cross of Christ's crucifixion,
the other two of course belonging to the two thieves.

From that moment, the true Cross of Christ, and other relics of the Passion,
became objects of public veneration and devotion for the Christian people
and remain so even unto our own day.

Today, because September 14th falls on a Sunday,
the normal course of Sundays in the Year is interrupted
as the Church throughout the world
celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Today’s Feast commemorates the miraculous discoveries by Saint Helena,
and the dedication of a church on the site of the Passion at Calvary hill.

Today the Church honors the Cross of Jesus Christ,
by which the world has been raised up and given the promise of eternal life.

The prayers and music of the Sacred Liturgy
teach us much about the realities we are celebrating.

The ancient hymn Vexilla Regis, used for centuries on this feast and Palm Sunday,
Abroad the royal banners fly And bear the gleaming Cross on high- That Cross whereon Life suffered And gave us life with dying breath.

Another ancient Christian hymn, like several other Saint Paul used in his writings,
is found in today’s Second Reading.
The famous Philippians Hymn recounts for us the ineffable mysteries we celebrate
as we honor the Holy Cross.

It is a hymn centered on Jesus Christ, which follows the thread of grace
from His Incarnation…through his humiliation…to His exaltation.

Jesus emptied Himself, being born of the Virgin and taking on our human likeness.

This reading hearkens back to the “Suffering Servant” passages of Isaiah 52.
Jesus Christ is the suffering servant, whom Isaiah foretold,
the one who would submit Himself to and abuse,
and eventually pour out His life in sacrifice for human sin.

There is a close relationship between the humanity and divinity of Jesus,
so that the self-emptying we see in Jesus’ humanity
reveals the reality of the life-giving love
that flows from Person to Person within the Divine Trinity.

Jesus humbled Himself, accepting the ignominious of crucifixion.

Jesus is contrasted to Adam in the first chapter of Genesis.
Whereas Adam asserted Himself in grasping at divinity,
taking the fruit that the serpent said “would make him like a god”
Jesus restricts the use of His divine abilities
and accepts our human limitations.
Jesus was in fact God…but He did not use His godliness for His benefit…
but instead humbled Himself for our sake.
Jesus made Himself poor, so we could be rich in God’s grace.

Jesus endured the ultimate indignity of Roman law – crucifixion –
a punishment reserved to slaves, insurrectionists, and the worst of criminals,
that sinful humanity might inherit eternal life.

Therefore, He was exalted, and His humanity was clothed with divine glory.

The exaltation we celebrate was not only in the Resurrection, after the Passion.
Truly, the triumph occurs as the Son of God is immolated for our salvation.
It is in the moment the Crucifixion…in His suffering…that Jesus’ glory is revealed.
The Cross itself is the sign of victory, and the standard of triumph!

Therefore, all creation…in Heaven, on earth and under the earth…
must bend the knee, acknowledge Jesus as Lord, and be humbled before Him.

The same glorious destiny of Jesus awaits all who humble themselves as Jesus did.
The Gospel proclaims to us that, because of His infinite love for us,
God sent His only Son into the world to give His life
that we might have eternal life.

As the serpent, which, when lifted up, cured those who were bitten,
so the Son of Man was lifted for the salvation of those
who have been bitten by sin.

The bronze serpent was a sign that healed.
The Cross is the instrument of our redemption.

Jesus was lifted up…He was exalted in His suffering
and displayed for us the perfect example of self-emptying love and humility.

So, the Cross is so much more than a symbol that hangs on a wall
or around our necks.
The sign of the cross points to a person, an event, a reality.
What happened on the Cross is the most significant and defining reality of
who Jesus is and who we are.
Many of us wear crosses.
All of us, hopefully, display a crucifix in our homes.
When we look upon the Cross, we are reminded of its powerful meaning:
that Jesus Christ accepted the worst possible
to reveal to us the extent of God’s love.
The Cross also reveals to us the ideal of true Christian discipleship.
We, too, have a dignity, as human persons made in the image of God.
But it is not a dignity that we regard as something to be grasped,
something to be used for our benefit.
It is a dignity we lay down for Christ and for others.

We must be willing to sacrifice everything for Christ and for others, even our lives.
Our sufferings, inconveniences, and sorrows take on infinite value
when we embrace them and unites them to the Cross of Christ.

For Constantine the Cross was the sign of victory.
For us it is a reminder that Christ was victorious over sin and .

And so the Church calls us to honor the Cross…
to display the Cross…wear the Cross…to live the Cross…
that with our lips, our hearts, and our lives,
we shall forever proclaim with the Church throughout the world
We adore you O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross we have redeemed the world!

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