The Importance of the Cross
Tuesday September 14, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Triumph of the Most Holy Cross
Reading I (Numbers 21:4b-9) Reading II (Philippians 2:6-11)
Gospel (St. John 3:13-17)
Today as we celebrate the glorious feast of the Triumph of the Most Holy Cross, Our Lord makes very clear that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert so He must be lifted up so that He would be able to draw all of us to Himself. We see then that the Cross stands at the very center point of all of history. And, of course, we are told also in the Book of Revelation that the tree of life is in heaven – it is the Cross – the tree of life from which we gain the bread of life. There is no Eucharist without the Cross of Christ. There is no life without the Cross of Christ. It is one of those mysteries, the ironies of our faith. How is it possible that we can have life only through death? But that is the only way. Unless we are willing to die to self, Jesus says, we do not have life; and anyone who would try to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life will save it. How is it that we save our lives? By uniting ourselves with Jesus Christ on His Cross.
When we consider this correlation between the serpent in the desert and Our Lord upon the Cross, we also have to remember what happened with that serpent. The people of Israel began worshiping the serpent as if it were a god, and the prophet Jeremiah finally had to take the bronze serpent and break it up into pieces because the people were worshiping the serpent as though it had some kind of power of its own. Now if we stop to look at what we do, we worship Jesus Christ but we also have adoration for His Cross. But we must keep in mind that the Cross has no power all by itself. There were lots and lots of people who were crucified, but none of their crosses has any power to save anyone. The Cross without Christ on it would be completely devoid of power. It is only because of Our Lord that the Cross has the power and the exaltation that it does; it is because of the power of Christ. And so we certainly have every reason to hold the Cross up. We obviously do not worship the Cross as a god of some sort, but rather we have the greatest reverence for the Cross because on it our God has consummated His union with humanity. On the Cross, He gave His life for His bride so that His bride, of which each one of us is a member, would be without blemish or spot or wrinkle, that we would be made pure and clean so that we would be able to enter into eternity and be able to be united with Him in that perfect bond of marriage, of mystical marriage united with Christ.
But as Saint Augustine said some sixteen hundred years ago, the Cross then is the marriage bed upon which Christ consummated His marriage. We are the bride; we have to be upon the same marriage bed with the Bridegroom. We have to be united with Him. It means that we have to be pierced with Him, hands and feet, united upon the Cross, stretched in every direction, held between heaven and earth, lifted up from the earth so we can be united with Him Who has three times been lifted up from the earth to draw us to Himself. That is the way of the spiritual life. If we are not willing to share in the Cross of Christ, if we are not willing to recognize the power, the authority, and the glory of the Holy Cross, the power and authority and glory which it has only because of the One Who was crucified upon it, then we will have no share in the life. It is just like the bride who has no part in the marriage bed. How can she be a bride? How can there be life? There cannot. Unless there is a union between the bride and the bridegroom, there can be no life. If we want eternal life, if we want divine life within our souls now, there is only one way and that is to be united with our Bridegroom, the Bridegroom of our souls, and to be crucified with Him on the Cross. He humbled Himself taking the form of a slave, Saint Paul says, and was obedient even to death on the Cross. We have to humble ourselves, but in doing so we will be exalted, lifted up. We will be exalted by becoming divine, by sharing in the divine nature, and by being obedient even unto life, life through the Cross.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.