EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS
(Triumph of the Cross)
This feast celebrates three things: the discovery of the true cross by St. Helena, the dedication of the Basilica and Shrine built on Calvary by her son Emperor Constantine, and the triumph of the cross by which Christ defeated sin and death, winning for us salvation and everlasting beatific life in heaven.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross wrote this meditation on September 14, 1941, less than a year before her death at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942.
“In his Holy Rule, St. Benedict ordained that the fasts for religious begin with the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The long-extended Easter joy and the solemn feasts of summer culminating in the crowning of the Queen of Heaven could possibly cause the image of the Crucified to fade in us or to recede, as it remained hidden during the first centuries of Christianity. But when its time came, the cross appeared gleaming in the heavens, prompting the search for the buried and forgotten wood of humiliation that was to be recognized as the sign of salvation, the emblem of faith and the mark of the faithful. Every year, when the church again raises it before us, we are to recall the challenge of the Lord: Anyone who would follow me must take up his [or her] cross…! To take up one’s cross means to go the way of penance and renunciation. For us religious, to follow the Savior means to allow ourselves to be fastened to the cross by the three nails of the holy vows. The Exaltation of the Cross and the renewal of vows belong together.
“The Savior has preceded us on the way of poverty. All the goods in heaven and on earth belonged to him. They presented no danger to him; he could use them and yet keep his heart completely free of them. But he knew that it is scarcely possible for people to have possessions without succumbing to them and being enslaved by them. Therefore, he gave up everything and showed more by his example than by his counsel that only one who possesses nothing possesses everything. His birth in a stable, his flight to Egypt, already indicated that the Son of Man was to have no place to lay his head. Whoever follows him must know that we have no lasting dwelling here. The more deeply we feel this, the more zealous we are in striving for the future, and we rejoice at the thought that our citizenship is in heaven…
“Your will be done! This was the content of the Savior’s life. He came into the world to fulfill the Father’s will, not only to atone for the sin of disobedience through his obedience, but also to lead people back to their destiny by the way of obedience The created will is not destined to be free to exalt itself. It is called to come into unison with the divine will. If it freely submits itself to this unison, then it is permitted in freedom to participate in the perfection of creation. If a free creature declines this unison, it lapses into bondage. The human will continues to retain the possibility of choice, but it is constrained by creatures that pull and pressure it in directions straying from the development of the nature desired by God, and so away from the goal toward which it itself was directed by its original freedom. With the loss of this original freedom, it also loses security in making decisions. It becomes unsteady and wavering, buffeted by doubt and scruples or obdurate in its error. There is no other remedy for this than the following of Christ, the Son of Man, who not only promptly obeyed his heavenly Father, but also subjected himself to people who imposed the Father’s will on him. The obedience enjoined by God releases the enslaved will from the bonds of creatures and leads it back to freedom. Thus, it is also the way to purity of heart.
“No chains of slavery are stronger than those of passion. Under its burden body, soul and spirit lose their strength and health, their clarity and beauty. Just as it is scarcely possible for one impaired by original sin to own things without clinging to them, so there is also the danger that any natural affection may degenerate into passion with all of its devastating consequences. God has provided two remedies for this: marriage and virginity. Virginity is the more radical and precisely therefore probably the easier way. But this is surely not the deepest reason why Christ set us an example of it. Marriage is already a great mystery as the symbol of the bond between Christ and the church and at the same time as its instrument. But virginity is a still deeper mystery. It is not only the symbol and instrument of bridal union with Christ and of the union’s supernatural fruitfulness, but also participates in the union. It originates in the depths of the divine life and leads back to it again. The eternal Father in unconditional love has given his entire being to his Son. And just as unconditionally does the Son give himself back to the Father. The passage of the God Man through temporal life could alter nothing of this complete surrender of Person to Person. He belongs to the Father from eternity to eternity and could not give himself away to any human being. He could only incorporate the persons who wanted to give themselves to him into the unity of his Incarnate Divine Person as members of his Mystical Body and in this way bring them to the Father. This is why he came into the world. This is the divine fertility of his eternal virginity: that he can give souls supernatural life. And the fruitfulness of the virgins who follow the Lamb consists in the ability to assume the divine life in unmitigated strength and undivided surrender and, in union with the divine Head, to pass it on to other souls, so awaking new members for the Head.
“Divine virginity has a characteristic aversion to sin as the contrary of divine holiness. However, this aversion to sin gives rise to an the indomitable love for sinners. Christ has come to tear sinners away from sin and to restore the divine image in defiled souls. He comes as the child of sin; his genealogy and the entire history of the Old Covenant show this and he seeks the company of sinners so as to take all the sins of the world upon himself and carry them away to the infamous wood of the cross, which thereby therefore becomes the sign of his victory. This is precisely why virginal souls do not repulse sinners. The strength of their supernatural purity knows no fear of being sullied. The love of Christ impels them to descend into the darkest night. And no earthly maternal joy resembles the bliss of a soul permitted to enkindle the light of grace in the night of sins. The way to this is the cross. Beneath the cross the Virgin of virgins becomes the Mother of Grace.”
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Art for this post on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Mirror of amended The raising of the cross from the series “The Life of Christ”, James Tissot, 1894, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.