Sep 14, 2011

Sept 14: Lift high the Cross of Christ

Nm 21: 4-9
Phil 2: 6-11
Jn 3: 13-17

I once had a parishioner, a consultant with corporations, who had done some work for the coffee giant Starbucks and for the mega-successful athletic corporation Nike. He shared with me a conversation between a few of the Nike executives who spoke about the famous Nike trademark swoosh we have come to recognize on shirts, shoes, and everything else this company produces. No words are necessary; we see the simple swoosh and we know it’s Nike.

He told me the executives said it was the goal of Nike to make the famous trademark swoosh as recognizable in the world as the Christian cross! At first I was a bit offended, then I realized their brilliant marketing tactic. A sign that was simple and without words but would speak volumes about the product that Nike produced. However, no matter how much time and creativity the executives of Nike might achieve, God has achieved far more.

Well, it seems God also has given the world a “trademark” as it were of his product called salvation. The Cross we see on Church steeples, on our altars, on walls and windows, hanging in our cars, on our home walls, around our necks is the ultimate sign of the ultimate price that God himself paid for us. That cross immediately identifies, without words, the Christian faith and the story which produced it is, as the title of the movie goes, “The Greatest Story ever told.”

Unlike Nike, however, this sign, this brand or trademark of the Christian faith has transformed lives and brought eternal hope into the world and in the lives of every person who comes to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross has its historical roots in the fourth century. At that time, St. Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, traveled to Jerusalem to reclaim the sights of Jesus’ passion and death. The Romans had built a pagan temple to the goddess Aphrodite on the sight of Mt. Calvary. As excavations were taking place, three crosses were found. The true cross upon which Jesus died, as the legend goes, was identified through a miraculous healing of a man who was near death. As a result, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built upon that sight. On September 14 around the mid 300’s that Church was dedicated. So, we remember this day many centuries later.

The cross and resurrection of Jesus is the absolute core and center of our faith. It is indeed our brand, our trademark and we have a product to “sell.” St. Paul throughout his preaching and teaching consistently centered all he said and did around the afterglow of the eternal effects of the death and resurrection of Christ on human history.

In our readings for today’s beautiful Feast, we hear of the serpent in the desert with Moses and the people which becomes both a sign of death and a sign of healing. St. Paul tells us that Christ became, “. . . obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross . . .” Jesus challenges Nicodemus in the Gospel that, “. . . God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . .” Anyone of these readings make for life-changing prayer. I find the beautiful passage from Phillipians especially moving.

Each of us were signed with that cross at our baptism and so everywhere we go, we carry that cross. A good and simple practice today, in order to honor that sign, is to make the sign of the cross slowly over your body. How many of us, without much thought, turn the sign of the cross into something that looks like we’re swatting flies? If you stand close enough, you’ll feel the wind from your neighbor’s hand! In celebrating the Mass I need to constantly remind myself about the mystery we enter.  Making religious gestures with devotion is not about showing off but about actions moved by faith.

It was said that people would come to see the holy St. John Vianney for many reasons but among them was to just watch him celebrate the Mass. He did so with such reverence that people were inspired by his gestures.

We can make the sign of the cross reverently upon our forehead, chest and shoulders. Those of the Orthodox Christian faith hold their thumb and first two fingers together as they do so which symbolizes the Trinity. Our Latino population sometimes kiss their fingers after making the sign of the cross in further devotion.

Think about that today. As we all pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

That cross was the ultimate price paid for us not because we deserved it but because we have a God of infinite mercy and forgiveness who calls all of us to live a life in union with him. + + +