Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross


By Emily VanBerkum

We may be tempted to view the cross as an instrument of punishment, suffering, and death. However, for Catholics the cross is a transformative symbol. The pain of Christ’s death was necessary in order for us to experience the glory of the resurrection. The cross on which hung the saviour of the world is a sign that life conquers death and that love is greater than fear. By reclaiming the cross as a sign of God’s great love for us, we may realize the gift of eternal life at work in our lives today.

In the first reading, we learn that Moses prayed for God to erect a bronze snake pole so that the Israelites could look upon it and live. God created the snake pole for His people as a sign of hope. Despite their suffering, all they had to do was look to the pole and they would live.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we learn that Christ underwent a ‘kenosis,’ or a self-emptying of his own will in order to become receptive to God’s plan for his life. Ultimately, Christ was so consumed by this self-emptying love for his Father, that he “became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.” Therefore, Christ’s death was not in vain. After three days, Jesus resurrected from the dead and the cross transformed itself from a means to an end into a continual outpouring of God’s love for us.

Just as Moses instructed the Israelites to look upon the snake pole and be saved from death, so too does Christ’s cross make God’s love known to all who gaze upon it with eyes of faith. I end with a quote from Henri Nouwen. One can easily apply his words to Christ’s death by imagining the cross of Christ as the most transformative encounter of love. Despite the many risks, it is our responsibility to make this love- symbolized by the cross and recalled today in a special way- known to others.

Nouwen wrote: “every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving…yet if we avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life is stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of love is always worth taking.”

Readings: Numbers 21:4b-9, Philippians 2:6-11, John 3:13-17