FEAST OF THE EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS
All admire the Glory of the Cross - My Glory is to Carry the Cross
First Reading (Num 21:
4-9): The bronze serpent
“He emptied himself, taking the form of a salve, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2: 7-11)
Jesus is the King of glory. His throne is his cross; through the cross he conquered death and overcame Satan. Therefore the cross has become the symbol of glory and victory. No wonder that today crosses sometimes are made of silver and gold! Even if they are made of other materials, they are fine and elegant or at least they are works of fine art that attract admiration. Many of us like to wear a cross as a sign of the honor of being a Christian. In some churches lights behind the crucifix illuminate it, and our eyes are dazzled. It truly is a 'glorious' cross.
But Jesus never could have dreamt of such a cross, because his cross was never anything like that. It would not shine, nor was it made of gold or silver.
Before Jesus underwent his passion, whenever he thought of the cross he was fearful. “deeply grieved even to death” (Matt 26:38) and “in his anguish his sweat became like drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Lk 22: 44).” Even for Jesus, the cross was a fearful instrument of punishment!
On the way to crucifixion Simon of Cyrene was 'forced' to help Jesus carry his cross. In Jesus' times, no one would be happy to carry a cross or wear one; the cross was never a decoration treasured by anyone.
In Hong Kong and places where Christianity is present, the cross, Christian faith, the church... may be respected by people. The cross is a sign of glory and those who wear a cross share some of that glory.
Once I was traveling with a priest in his car, and he committed a minor traffic offence. I reminded him not to say he was a priest, but the traffic officer realized he was a priest. He gave him a warning only and not a ticket. In mainland China, a nun went home for vacation and was mocked by a high school classmate who asked why a good young woman like herself would ever become a nun. Other students told me that some of the high school teachers in China speak of religion with sarcasm or even contempt. In China today the faithful sometimes may endure some pressure.
In different places the Cross receives different responses, some favorable, some not. The cross truly is a sign of contradiction. Originally it was an instrument of punishment. Then one who died on that instrument of torture was raised to life. A symbol of death became a sign of life.
That is because “though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. (Phil 2: 6-8)
God became human and endured all kinds of manmade humiliations, to carrying a cross of great suffering. We too are human beings but we do not want to endure similar human suffering. We put the cross of pain to one side and only take up the cross of glory. In this way we not only want to surpass Jesus - we want to be like God, to actually be God!
Today on this feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, perhaps what our eyes focus on is the glorious cross, but we must remember that what Christ carried was the instrument of torture.
The experience of Christians for the past two thousand years tells us that when we focus deeply on the cross with compassion, the cross we carry becomes 'easy' and 'light'. (ref Mt 11: 28 30)
While Wen Tian Xiang of the Song dynasty was imprisoned by Yuan soldiers he wrote an ancient poem, “Divine Aura' which was read by many in later generations. Some phrases move and inspire us, making us meditate and sigh. He begins by saying that “there is an aura in the universe.” Those who possess this aura have a “spirit seen in great crises and leave their names one by one in red and green.”(1) That is, when the country is in calamity and its people are in need, the one who shows this spirit of aura would have his/her name inscribed in history.
He then gave examples of people throughout history who devoted themselves to upholding righteousness and even sacrificed themselves for it. They made a great contribution: “Their spirit is grand and glorious, which endures for all generations. When this spirit is linked with the sun and moon, life and death is not worth discussing! The foundations on earth depend on it. The pillar of strength respects it. “ (2)
When such people are faced with issues of right and wrong and when it is time to protect their homes and country, they give their lives to it and die for it. The preservation of world civilization depends on people like this.
Wen Tian Xiang was enlightened by such acts. When he was suffering pain and humiliation in prison, he still felt that “being boiled alive could be sweet, but that wish is not always granted.”(3) He was unperturbed by such cruel punishment. This calm, composed spirit was the model Christ showed when he was nailed to the cross. It is also the demeanor of countless saints who have been persecuted in the past two thousand years of church history.
To have the opportunity and strength to carry a real cross in life is truly a kind of glory.