Homily for the Feast of Exaltation (24th Sunday, Year A)

The Cross of Christ: The Everlasting Symbol of Victory!

Readings: 1st: Num 21, 4-9; Ps 71-2.34-38; 2nd: Phil 2, 6-11; Gos: Jh 3, 13-17

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Sancto, in Dorado, San Juan Puerto Rico, of the Spiritan International Group of Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

“But by becoming a curse for us Christ has redeemed us from the curse…for the scripture says, anyone who is hanged on a cross is under God’s curse. Christ did this in order that the blessing which God promised Abraham might be given to the gentiles…” (Gal 3, 13-14). Today, September 14, is a special feast in the liturgical calendar of the Church. It is the Feast of the Exaltation or Triumph of the Holy Cross. The celebration of this feast on this 24th Sunday instead of moving it underscores it significance to the Church and her faithful. This is because the celebration and liturgy of the cross is a celebration of victory. Through the celebration of this feast, the church reminds us that the cross upon which Christ was crucified and lifted up is now a symbol of victory over the powers of evil rather than a symbol of curse and shame (Col 2, 15). So the church wishes that we reflect on the significance of the cross of Christ in our daily journey in life and most importantly, she reminds us, that to follow Christ, we must take up His cross, follow Him, and become obedient until death, even if it means death on the cross (Luke 9, 23). So if we identify with Christ on the Cross, we become co-redeemers, sharing in His cross, death and resurrection.

As I was reflecting on the significance of today’s celebration and the cross in my life I recalled this story. Some men were embarking on a contest-journey through an unknown terrain. They were each presented with a machete and a cross-shaped log with a simple instruction: “Carry this machete and log because, it will help you along your journey.” When they set out, one of the men who felt that the length and weight of the log was going to be a setback decided to play a fast trick. So, he left the track, went a little further into the bush and cut off some inches from his log. Thus, it became shorter and lighter for him to carry. Then he returned and continued his journey. Afterwards, he came to a trench and the instruction there was: “Now, place your log across this trench, walk on it, carry your log and continue your journey. Good luck!” Unfortunately, when this man tried to place his log over the trench it could no longer cross it because, it was now short and light. So it dawned on him that he has cheated and denied himself victory by reducing the size and weight of his log.

The readings of this feast were carefully selected to suit it. In the first reading we see the Israelites grudging against God and rebelling against Moses, and God’s immediate judgment and wrath coming down heavily upon them in the form of snake bites. However, on pleading, God relented and healed them with the symbol of the same creature with which he afflicted them. This is simply to show that in his hands are both judgment and mercy. But most important to note here is the fact: “If anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.” We are therefore not to bear grudges against God in spite of the difficulties we encounter in carrying our cross, and we must in humility look up to God for forgiveness, mercy and healing whenever we offend him. Even in our worst failures and disappointments, God provides. God offers healing for our wounds, relationship for our loneliness, and faithfulness for our faithlessness. God does not remove the sources of our suffering, but God makes the journey with us, providing what we most deeply need, if we but look in the right direction.

Our second reading is from Phil 2, 6-11, usually referred to as the “kenosis” (self-emptying) of Christ, or the kenotic song. This remarkable passage is one of the most exalted, one of the most beloved, and one of the most discussed and debated passages in the Pauline corpus. So, because of its sheer grandeur, it has assumed a role both in the church and in private devotional life. Paul presents us with humility in suffering par excellence in the person of Jesus Christ, who though, “being equal with God humbled himself even unto death”.  This reading teaches us that as Christians each and every one of us must patiently and humbly imitate Christ in his suffering. He bore his cross patiently, accepted the will of the Father and unlike the man in our story above never looked for a short cut. The result of bearing his cross patiently culminated in his being exalted above every created being. In the same way, any time we share in Christ’s cross by bearing ours patiently and humbly, God lifts us up. Any cross we overcome, takes us to the next level of victory. Therefore, after the cross there must definitely come the crown of glory. It will definitely not be easy but, “the grace of God is always sufficient for us” (2Cor 12, 9).

The gospel of today is very much related to the first reading, with Jesus comparing himself to the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses. In other words, by his being lifted up, and death on the cross we are set free as he rightly pointed out: “When I am lifted up …I will draw all men to myself” (Jh 12, 32). The significance of this reading to us today as we reflect on the cross of Christ is to remind us that Christ paid the costliest of all prices on the cross in order to set us free. Therefore, we have to appreciate his humility and patience in suffering. Also, the following are the significance of Christ’s Cross in our lives. First, it is now a sign of victory, salvation and triumph over the evil one and no longer a sign of curse or shame. He had to be lifted up on what formerly was a symbol of shame in order to give us healing and new life. Second, it is a sign of humility, because “he humbled himself even unto death.” Third, it is a sign of patience, longsuffering and endurance. Unlike the man who decided to shorten his log, Christ bore his patiently and expects us to do same. Finally, Christ’s cross is a symbol of contrast to our world where everything must come easy. So we must have fast food, fast money, fast babies, fast wives, and of course, crosses, pains and suffering must be avoided at all cost because they are not the will of God for us. However, we must ask ourselves today: “Where was God when his only son was crucified on the cross by mere mortals?”

The Cross is about a God who loves us so much, He willingly suffered a painful, ignominious death. It is about suffering, something the world tells us to avoid. It is about redemption, something few people believe they really need. And it is about grace, something that few of us understand. Too often grace is seen as God’s medicine, as His analgesic for life’s difficult times. But before God’s grace can heal, it often cuts with the sword which Christ said He came to bring. Grace follows the crosses of our lives: illness, depression, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a crisis of faith, tragedy or sorrow in our children’s lives, and personal rejection. It is when we suffer the most, when we carry our cross, that God’s grace is most abundant. So when we make the Sign of the Cross before prayer it helps to fix our minds and hearts to Jesus Christ. After prayer when we make the Sign of the Cross it keeps us close to Jesus Christ. During trials and temptations our strength and protection is the Sign of the Cross because as the emperor Constantine rightly wrote in: “In hoc signo vinces (in this sign, you will conquer)!” Therefore, as the Psalmist reminds us today, in whatever we do and in whatever circumstance we find ourselves we must: “Never forget the deeds of the Lord…who is full of compassion”.

Peace be with You!!



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