Today is the great Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. On this day we commemorate the consecration of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was built at the behest of St. Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, who discovered the True Cross in Jerusalem in 326. The Church, built for the specific purpose of exalting the Cross of Christ in perpetuity, was dedicated in the holy city on 13 September 335. From that time until now the great Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross has been observed on the following day, 14 September. Like last week’s feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, today’s feast, dating more than 700 years prior to the East/West schism, which occurred in 1054, is observed by Christians East and West, Catholic and Orthodox.
As the narrative handed on by tradition tells us, St. Helena discovered the True Cross buried beneath the Roman Temple of Venus, built in Jerusalem by the emperor Hadrian in 119. In 614, after the Persians captured Jerusalem, they removed the True Cross from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was recovered as the result of peace treaty with the Persians in 628, when it was taken to Constantinople.
Today’s feast brings up once again what I call the inverse property of redemption, that is, without Good Friday, Easter Sunday not only lacks meaning, but is not even possible; without Easter Sunday, Good Friday becomes positively scary! The good news of the Gospel (i.e., the good news of the Good News) is that Christ conquered sin and death so that we might live as free people. In the recent movie about the holy Cistercian martyrs of Algeria, Of Gods and Men, Luc, the monk/doctor, who from the get-go refuses to abandon the villagers he has dedicated his life to serving, says to the abbot, Christian, after the monks unanimously decided to remain at their monastery despite the near certainty that they would be attacked by Islamic extremists and likely even killed, “I'm not scared of death, I'm a free man.” Indeed, living in the light of what Jesus accomplished for us in and through His passion, death, and resurrection is what makes us free and even happy regardless of circumstances.
Experience is the only way we can really grasp what the above is about. So, it’s always interesting for me to remember that it was 14 September 1984 that I graduated from Marine Corps basic training.
Today and every day I long to pray wholeheartedly with St. Paul, the holy martyrs of Algeria, the martyr-bishop Luigi Padovese, St. Gianna Molla, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and all the other witnesses, that I may “never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). Stated simply, I long to, like Frere Luc, to live as a free man.
I am very pleased that this is the 2,000th post on Καθολικός διάκονος!