Exultation of the Holy Cross

Beloved in Jesus Christ, today is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Rarely does this feast fall on Sunday, and so let us today take a look at the origin of this Feast.
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For this, we must go back to the year, 313AD. Before then, the Church was persecuted. Red with the blood of martyrs, 24 of the first 32 Popes, were put to death.
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The pagan gods were the official gods of the Roman Empire, and it was illegal to be a Christian, so the Mass was in secret, usually in homes.
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But by the 4th century, the Empire was in turmoil. Rival Caesars vied for control, and those in power demanded more blood of Christians. The holy monks of the desert came out into public, offering their own lives in witness to the Faith.[i]
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In the midst of this turmoil, competition for Royal power finally came down to two men: Constantine against Maxentius. Now although both were pagans, Constantine did not persecute Christians, but Maxentius was bloodthirsty.
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Constantine met with his officers in the winter, in Alsace: can we win? Can we win this, he asked? Their response was ‘no: Maxentius had crushed many stronger armies.’ Yet for Constantine, his instinct was to strike.
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So, although his army was far inferior, he marched rapidly into Italy in the spring of 312. Approaching Rome at the Milvian Bridge, they faced an army over 4 times their strength, his men were afraid.
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But that night, Constantine was to look into the sky, and see before him a great Cross, with the words: ‘in hoc signo vinces.’ By this sign, you shall conquer. He was immediately transformed by this experience.
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Though he was a pagan, he had the sign of the cross painted on every man’s battle shield.
And as with a dexterity never seen before, his troops outflanked the elite Preatorian guard, Maxentius was driven back in a route. Fleeing over the Milvian bridge in panic, it collapsed, sending him in his armor down into the water.
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The gates of the city were opened; they entered Rome in triumph. The Edict of Milan granted full toleration for Christians throughout the Empire. There was rejoicing through the streets; churches opened, and thousands who had been afraid to be Catholic poured into the Church.  
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Along with this stunning victory, and seeing the transformation in her son, the mother of Constantine, Helen, also became Catholic.[ii] Her Faith was unshakable.
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Helen spent her life building Churches, strengthening the Faith, and helping the poor. She would become a saint: St. Helen.
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Still, at 80 years of age, she set off for Jerusalem to find the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. The site of the Lord’s Passion had long ago been covered over, but a Jewish man, whose name ironically was Judas, came forward to Helen. His grandfather had told him on his deathbed, where the Cross was buried. ‘Here,’ he said, pray at this spot.’ And so they prayed; the earth rumbled and a sweet smell came forth from the ground. Judas clapped his hands saying: ‘In truth O Christ, you ARE the Savior of the World,’ and he himself was later baptized and became a bishop.
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When the site was dug up, THREE crosses were found. But which was the True Cross?
They placed them in the center of the city and prayed; now around 3pm, there happened by a funeral procession of a young man, being carried to the grave. Judas halted the procession. He held the first cross over the body; then the second – nothing. Then the third cross, and the dead man immediately came back to life; more such miracles occurred – this was the True Cross. It was September 14th.
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Today is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and if we think about it, we make this sign – the Sign of the Cross, very often.
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The ancient writer Tertullian said, in the 2nd Century, “In all our travels, in our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table / in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever occupies us, we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross.”
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St. Cyril of Jerusalem said, Let the cross, as our seal, be boldly made with our fingers upon our brow and on all occasions over the bread we eat, over the cups we drink / when we are on the way and when we are still… let the cross be our seal.
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St. Basil taught that the sign of the cross was a tradition which has come down to us from the apostles themselves.[iv]
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But the Cross is not only an outward sign, it is inside of us. Many today say there is no point in suffering, there is no point to the cross. but that would mean that God’s suffering on the cross was meaningless for us. Suffering – is central to the mystery of salvation.
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In his beautiful encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ, here is what Pope Pius XII says: ‘Our Savior does not rule the Church directly, in a visible way. He wants to be helped by the members of His Body in carrying out the work of redemption.[v]
Christ wills that our sanctification be due to the action of the Church [and her members]. This is a deep mystery, …, that the salvation of many depends on the prayers and penances which the members of the Mystical Body offer.[vi]
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Jesus is living in us. When we suffer, and offer our crosses to God, we are being other christs, participating in the Redemption of the world.
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I was with a woman who was discouraged by her suffering. In tears, she asked why she must suffer. so I posed to her a question: what if someone you love will make it to heaven only because of the suffering you offer? Then what would you say?
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She immediately said: ‘Then I would be very happy to do it.’ But this IS what’s happening. Through our own cross, we are being other christs, helping in the salvation of the world.
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The Holy Scriptures say: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
St. Bonaventure replies, that this may also be said of Mary: That she so loved us, that she gave her only-begotten Son.
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At the cross, Mary could have defended Jesus, spoken on his behalf;
the words of a dear Mother would have had much influence on Pilate, who was already inclined to free him.
But no. Mary did not utter one word in favor of her Son to prevent his death, because Jesus needed to be on the Holy Cross, to save us. +

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Paul]

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[i] Antony of Egypt himself, emerged from the prayer of the desert, and daily offered HIS life, which the bloodthirsty officials dared not accept. The Founding of Christendom, p. 526.

[ii] Butler’s Lives of the Saints (1961, under St. Helen)

[iv] whenever an Exorcist begins his work, he begins with the words Ecce crucem Domini:’ Behold the Cross of the Lord.

[v] This is not because He is weak, but because He wills it, for the glory of His Spouse [the Church].

[vi] (In this, all the faithful…..cooperate in these offerings to the Savior, as though they were His associates.’)

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