Why the Cross?

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18). Almighty God, in his wisdom, chose the cross as the instrument of salvation for humanity, sacrificing his Son for our sins. As tragic as it is, the body of Jesus on the cross is an image of the depth of God’s love for us and his victory over sin and death for those who believe in him. Every Catholic should have a crucifix in a prominent place in our home as a testimony of our faith and the reason for our hope in eternal life.

Another reality is, Jesus made the cross the condition of our own discipleship. He said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Outside of the sacraments, perhaps the greatest intimacy we have with Christ is when we are enduring our trials and unite our suffering with his suffering; when we put our total trust in him. He longs for us to come to him so that he can lighten our burdens with the help of his grace. We may not receive a miracle, although that sometimes happens, but he will give us the grace we need to persevere if we keep our eyes on him and his cross.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was observed in Rome before the end of the seventh century on September 14. It commemorates the recovery of the Holy Cross, which had been placed on Mt. Calvary by St. Helena in the fourth century and preserved in Jerusalem, but then had fallen into the hands of the Persians. The cross was recovered and returned to Jerusalem by Emperor Heraclius in 629.

In Jerusalem, in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, this feast is celebrated by decorating the altar of St. Helena, which is at the bottom of a long stairway that leads to the lowest point in the Church. At one time, this was a pit where St. Helena found the true Cross. Mass is celebrated on this altar, and then the Franciscans process with incense and chanting throughout the entire basilica, blessing all the altars that are present there.

After several pilgrimages to the Holy Land, my wife Mary Jane and I became friends with the sacristan of the Holy Sepulcher Church. In the 90s, when Plexiglas was added to Calvary so that you could see the original stone where the cross stood, some of the stone was chipped away to accommodate the Plexiglas. The sacristan gave Pilgrim Center of Hope a piece of Calvary, which is a tangible reminder of where Jesus died for us and all humanity.

“We adore you O’ Christ and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

Deacon Tom Fox is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope. This first appeared in Living Catholicism, our regular column in Today’s Catholic newspaper.