Cross my heart?

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The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, 14 September 2023
Numbers 21:4-9 ><]]]]'> Philippians 2:6-11 ><]]]]'> John 3:13-17
Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, 2017.

The cross is perhaps one of the most widely used but also abused and misunderstood sign in almost every generation. In fact, we are so accustomed to the cross of Jesus Christ found everywhere like in churches and cemeteries, offices and classrooms, hospitals, inside every kind of vehicle and, of course, houses. Almost everybody carry it on our persons for various reasons: as an object of veneration, as a badge, or as a jewel.

On the cross we find Jesus shown in glory, peacefully sleeping in death, sometimes with his body broken by suffering. Hence, many times we use the word “cross” like in “cross my heart” to indicate our sincerity and truthfulness. But, are we truly aware of its meaning and significance in our faith, of its centrality as the symbol of God’s love for us expressed by the self-sacrificing death of Jesus Christ his Son?

Photo by author, St. Scholastica Convent, Baguio City, 23 August 2023.

Today we celebrate the Exaltation of the Cross which started in the fourth century. According to legend it began with the miraculous discovery of the True Cross by Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, on 14 September 326, while she was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She then ordered through her son the emperor the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that was dedicated nine years later with a portion of the True Cross placed inside it in September 13, 335. The following day, the Cross was brought outside of the church to be venerated by the clergy and the faithful.

In the year 627, during the reign of the Emperor Heraclius I of Constantinople, the Persians conquered the city of Jerusalem and removed a major part of the Cross from its sanctuary. The emperor then launched a campaign to recover the True Cross which he regarded as the new Ark of the Covenant for the new People of God. Before embarking into war, Emperor Heraclius went to church wearing black as a sign of penance, then prostrated himself before the altar and begged God for courage. His prayer was granted as he won the war and recovered the Cross from the Persians. He brought the Cross back to Jerusalem in 641 amid great celebrations by carrying it on his shoulders. Upon reaching the gate leading to Calvary, the emperor could not go forward! Heraclius and his retinue were astonished and could not understand what had happened until the Patriarch Zachary of Jerusalem told him, “Take care, O Emperor! In truth, the imperial clothing you are wearing does not sufficiently resemble the poor and humiliated condition of Jesus carrying His cross.”

Upon hearing those words, the emperor removed his shoes and bejewelled robes, put on a poor man’s clothing and was eventually able to proceed to Calvary and replaced the Cross inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where a number of miracles happened during the occasion: a dead man returned to life, four paralytics were cured, ten lepers were healed, 15 blind men were given their sight, with several possessed people exorcised and many sick people totally healed!

Photo by author, Mirador Jesuit Villa & Retreat House, Baguio City, 24 August 2023.

Very notable in this story were the words of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. It was only after the emperor had taken off his royal clothings and put on those of the poor was he able to carry the Cross.

It is the same thing that is asked of us today: it is so easy to display the cross inside our homes and cars, or wear it as a jewelry or even as a tattoo on our skin. But that would amount to nothing unless we have the cross inside our hearts, our very being. More than the many signs of the cross and imaginary drawing of its lines we draw on our chest is the need for us to empty ourselves of our pride and sins so that we can be filled by Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters: Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-8

Called kenosis in Greek, self-emptying is the way of the Cross of Christ. It is choosing love and mercy than self-centeredness and self-righteousness; sacrifice than satisfaction; fairness and justice than greed and possession; bearing all the pains and perseverance than complaining and whining about difficulties and trials in life like the Israelites in the wilderness (first reading); and, thinking more of others than of one’s self.

Photo by author, 02 September 2023.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic had taught something very amusing about the positivity of being negative, when negative was actually positive – healthy and COVID free! Remember how during those days when we would always wish we would yield negative results in our swab tests for COVID?

When we look at the sign of the cross (+), it is a positive sign, a plus sign. Though the cross calls us to let go, to be detached and dispossessed, it is actually an invitation to have more of God, of life and fulfillment! In this time of affluence when everything is practically easily available for as long as you have the means and the resources, the sign of the Cross reminds us that life is more of letting go and of giving than of having like God who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that he who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn.3:16). St. Francis of Assisi said it perfectly why the Cross is an exaltation, a triumph:

For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  

Amen.  Have a blessed Thursday!