Today’s feast is a very early one in Church history and actually commemorates several events. First, the discovery of the cross of Jesus by St. Helen, the mother of the emperor Constantine who was the first Roman emperor to legalize Christianity. Second, the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the church that was built over the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Third, the return of the cross after it had been carried off and held for 15 years by non-Christian Persians, and the lifting up and display of the cross upon its return to Jerusalem. But all these events are not as important as the event that gives the cross its prominence in our faith—the death of Jesus on the cross and its being made sacred by the precious blood that soaked into it. As we reflect on this mystery, we turn to Pope Benedict’s words on this feast in 2008 when he made a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
“What a great thing it is to possess the Cross! He who possesses it possesses a treasure” (Saint Andrew of Crete, Homily X on the Exaltation of the Cross). On this day when the Church’s liturgy celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Gospel you have just heard reminds us of the meaning of this great mystery: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that men might be saved (cf. Jn 3:16). The Son of God became vulnerable, assuming the condition of a slave, obedient even to death, death on a cross (cf. Phil 2:8). By his Cross we are saved. The instrument of torture which, on Good Friday, manifested God’s judgment on the world, has become a source of life, pardon, mercy, a sign of reconciliation and peace. “In order to be healed from sin, gaze upon Christ crucified!” said Saint Augustine. By raising our eyes towards the Crucified one, we adore him who came to take upon himself the sin of the world and to give us eternal life. And the Church invites us proudly to lift up this glorious Cross so that the world can see the full extent of the love of the Crucified one for mankind, for every man and woman. She invites us to give thanks to God because from a tree which brought death, life has burst out anew. On this wood Jesus reveals to us his sovereign majesty, he reveals to us that he is exalted in glory. Yes, “Come, let us adore him!” In our midst is he who loved us even to giving his life for us, he who invites every human being to draw near to him with trust.