Sunlit summer days are beginning to transition to dimmer, crisp fall days. Preparation for nature's winter sleep has no doubt begun for all of us, storing outdoor furniture, clearing gardens, and raking countless mountains of leaves. The glory of nature appears even as it prepares to sleep inviting us to deeper reflection. Amidst the dying of the flowers and leaves, the Church bids us to reflect on the dying of Jesus on the feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, also known as the Triumph of the Cross. Occurring on Sept. 14, this feast commemorates both the discovery and recovery of the true cross of Jesus Christ. Positioned a few days before fall begins, there is a gentle reminder that there is a more glorious life that awaits us beyond this one.
According to tradition, St. Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where she set out to locate the place where Jesus was crucified and the true cross on which he died. After inquiry among the people in Jerusalem and help from the Bishop of Jerusalem, St. Marcarius, she located what is believed to be the true cross of Christ.
According to history, a miraculous healing of a dying woman who was touched by the wood of the cross authenticated it as the true cross of Jesus Christ. This miracle impelled St. Helena, a convert to Christianity, to build a church on the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection. This church is known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and it was dedicated on Sept. 14, 335. Today, the Stations of the Cross, known as the Via Dolorosa end at the spot of Jesus' crucifixion.
For many centuries, the cross of Christ was kept in Jerusalem and was considered the most valuable treasure of the Church. In the early seventh century, during the Persian invasion of Syria and Palestine, the cross was stolen and removed from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The cross was recovered by Emperor Heraclius of Constantinople, brought back to Jerusalem and restored to its proper place on Sept. 14, 629.
At face value, the cross of Christ was an instrument of suffering, torture and death. However, the early Christians who searched for the cross, looked at their quest through the lens of Christ's glory, beautifully described in the Gospel of John. In the fourth Gospel, Jesus considers the hour of his passion to also be the hour of his glorification.
In his own words, Jesus indicates three different times that he will be lifted up in glory. In one case Jesus' lifting up is compared to the serpent that was lifted up in the desert, bringing healing to the Israelites (John 3:14). Later in the Gospel, Jesus declares that his opponents will lift him up (John 8:28). For Jesus, being lifted up is synonymous with his death on the cross. Finally, Jesus speaks about being lifted up so that he can draw all people to himself (John 12:32).
In the mystery of the cross, Jesus has lifted all of us up in a way that we could not do it for ourselves. Through the cross, His glory is our salvation.