Happy feast day everybody! Today we celebrate the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. The Holy Cross – instrument of our salvation – is the altar upon which our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, offered His Sinless and Unblemished Being. The Cross – our porthole to the Eternal Beatific Vision – is the altar where we too must offer our spirit, soul, and body in sacrifice to Almighty God. For just as Our Lord has done for us, we ought to do no less for Him. As St. John of the Cross says: “He who seeks not the Cross of Christ, seeks not the Glory of Christ.”
The historical roots of this great feast go way back to the year 629 A.D. The Byzantine Emperor Heraclius I, had just won a great victory over the Persian Empire, and was restoring the relics of the True Cross to Jerusalem.
Even after the mighty Western Roman Empire fell, the Eastern Empire still held out behind the stalwart walls of Constantinople on the Golden Horn. However in 572 A.D., the Persian Empire waged war with Byzantium to conquer this last remnant of the Roman Empire. The Byzantine resistance was very weak under the inept and brutal Emperor Phocas. The Persians were left to continue their advance. By 622 A.D., they had subdued Syria, Turkey, the Holy Land, Sinai and Egypt, and these conquered lands all saw the slaughter of their people. In fact, when the resistance in Jerusalem was finally defeated, 60,000 inhabitants were senselessly butchered and 35,000 more were sold into slavery. The Persians utterly destroyed the churches and carried off the relics of the True Cross to their capital, Ctesiphon, located on the Tigris River. The only church spared was that of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and it was granted this privilege because of the mosaic of the Persian Magi on the wall (Christ the King Lord of History, Anne W. Carroll 133).
The Persians continued their advance and the Byzantines could do nothing to stop them. Finally, with his subjects fed up with his incompetence and cruelty, Emperor Phocas was overthrown and slain in 610 A.D. The new emperor of Byzantium was a capable, valiant ruler, but most importantly a devoted Christian. With the devotion of his people, the new emperor – Heraclius I – raised and trained a new army for Byzantium and in 622 A.D., took the offensive against Persia. With the decisive Byzantine victory at the Battle of Nineveh, in 627 A.D., Heraclius was able to march on Ctesiphon, the Persian capital city. The Persians had no other choice than to sue for peace – a just peace in which all Persian conquests were returned. Heraclius had saved the Christian civilization in both the Holy Land and Europe. Then on this day, in 629 A.D., Heraclius triumphantly marched into Jerusalem to restore the relics of the True Cross (which had been despoiled by the Persians) to their place of true honor (Christ the King Lord of History, Anne W. Carroll 133).
The Holy Cross, is as scripture says: “a sign of contradiction.” The Cross – before the death of Christ and for those who have no faith – signifies pain, torture, death, sadness, and darkness. Yet after the Redeeming Act of our Savior – for those of us who have faith to believe in Him, the Cross became a sign of love, hope, faith, joy, and light.
In addition to being one of the most prominent symbols of our faith – as well as being the altar upon which Christ offered the Supreme Sacrifice – the Cross stands as testament for our need of repentance; our need to acknowledge our sin and beg forgiveness. To illustrate this point further, I am going to quote the First Reading from Mass today (Numbers 21:4b-9).
A reading from the Book of Numbers
With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!”
In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of the died. Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you. Pray the LORD to take the serpents away.” So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses, “Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.” Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived. – The Word of the Lord. R/ Thanks be to God.
The Lord sure does not like complainers, however that is not the point which I wish to highlight. Notice the way that the Children of Israel are directed to make repentance for their sin. The Lord tells them to look at a bronze image of the very creature that is killing them. Though this may seem like idolatry – “worshiping a graven image” – it is not. The Lord is making them turn and face their sin and acknowledge that the saraph serpents were sent in punishment for their complaining. It is no different with us the New Children of the New Israel – we must turn to the Cross and face our sin. We must realize that it was our sin that put Jesus on the Cross.
So let us thank Our Dear Lord for the enormity of His Love and Sacrifice – on this the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. May God Bless You!