Monday, September 14, 2020

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Exaltation of the Cross, Russian icon

Some time ago I read Anthony Esolen's commentary in Magnificat about the elevation of the cross from the point of view of an English monk's meditation written in the Middle Ages from the point of view of the cross itself. It has haunted me, in a good way I hasten to add, as I would come upon small annoyances and inconveniences and then remember the image of the young Hero as a warrior striding toward the cross. Shame on me if I do not at least attempt to match that valiant attitude.
For it is not a shy and effeminate Jesus, this Savior of ours, the Healer, the Chieftain. No courageous German could respect a man who did not fight. And will Christ own us, if we do not fight for him? The poet dares to make us see Calvary in a way that we are not used to -- but in a way that is right and just nevertheless. Says the cross:

Then the young Hero ungirt himself -- that was God almighty,
strong, stiff-willed, and strode to the gallows,
climbed stout-hearted in the sight of many; intended to set men free.


Yes, Jesus sweated blood in Gethsemane. But he took the cross to himself, suggests our poet, as eagerly as the warrior takes the battlefield, or the bridegroom takes the bride. He needs no armor here. He strips himself, he climbs. And though it all the cross, as the first and most loyal follower of the Chieftain, stands firm; trembles, but does not bow; is drenched with blood and driven through with the same spikes that pierce the body of Christ. 
Applying this to my daily life with its small and petty sacrifices, this helps immeasurably when I am reminding myself that my time is not really my own, that making a meal for a friend in need takes priority over my previous plans, and that even such a small thing is a step toward becoming a warrior in the young Hero's footsteps. It is surprising how contented one can be when embracing the cross with such an example.

This commentary is from 2008 and I repeat it here because it did me good to read it this morning. And I put the whole poem on the blog this morning so you can take it all in.

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St. John Damascene is quoted in today's reading from In Conversation with God and it hit me between the eyes.
The Cross is a shield against the devil as well as a trophy of victory. it is the promise that we will not be overcome by the Angel of Death (Exod 9:12). The Cross is God's instrument to lift up those who have fallen and to support those still on their feet fighting. It is a crutch for the crippled and a guide for the wayward. It is our constant goal as we advance, the very wellspring of our body and soul. It drives away all evils, annihilates sin and draws down for us abundant goods. This is indeed the seed of the Resurrection and the tree of eternal life.
This is an attitude I must work more toward having. Author Francis Fernandez continues:
The Cross is present in our lives in different ways. It may be manifest through sickness, poverty, tiredness, pain, scorn, or loneliness. Today in our prayer we can examine our habitual disposition on coming face to face with the Cross. though hard to bear at times, the encounter with it can become a source of purification, Life, and joy if it is embraced with love. Embracing the Cross should lead us never to complain when confronting difficulties and even to thank God for the failures, suffering, and setbacks that purify us. Such adversities should be additional occasions for drawing us closer to God.
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I like this commentary also, which I posted a few years ago, from Word Among Us, which comments upon the strangeness of the feast and the fact that we are reading about poisonous serpents. Good stuff.
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This is short, but good. And says it all.
LITANY OF THE CROSS

The cross is the hope of Christians.
The cross is the resurrection of the dead.
The cross is the way of the lost.
The cross is the saviour of the lost.
The cross is the staff of the lame.
The cross is the guide of the blind.
The cross is the strength of the weak.
The cross is the doctor of the sick.
The cross is the aim of the priests.
The cross is the hope of the hopeless.
The cross is the freedom of the slaves.
The cross is the power of the kings.
The cross is the water of the seeds.
The cross is the consolation of the bondsmen.
The cross is the source of those who seek water.
The cross is the cloth of the naked.
We thank you, Father, for the cross.

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