Here is my homily for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14, 2008. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/091408.shtml - Thanks for reading and all your feedback!
What is one of your greatest achievements? Think back to something that was an amazing success in your life, a terrific moment that you like to remember - what would it be? Maybe it’s one special memory - or maybe you have a couple that come to mind.
- Was it the day you scored the game winning touchdown?
- Maybe it was your taking your bows at the curtain call for a play that you had that role you really wanted to play?
- Could it be getting that exam back that you worked your butt off for and found out you aced it?
Whatever that accomplishment, that great success, that triumph you’ve experienced - it’s something that is pretty easy to recall in your mind. You probably remember almost every moment of that day. Images of the people who were there immediately pop into your head. You might be able to remember even the seemingly most insignificant details like what the weather was like, what song you heard on the radio when you got in the car to leave the site of your great day. It’s something that takes you to your "happy place." We want to hold onto and treasure those moments forever.
It’s why the athlete who "letters" in a sport, buys a jacket and wears it everywhere. It’s why we videotape performances. It’s why we frame certificates - I even have term papers that I wrote in college that I worked hard on and got a great grade in, just because I was so grateful for the affirmation.
The reverse side of this is probably true. We can all remember our worst days too... we try to bury these memories too but they’re right there, easily and painfully recalled- the stories of the day you didn’t make the team or get cast in that play... the times you thought you had worked really hard on that paper or project but the teacher obviously didn’t agree with you. Or even worse, when you dropped that football, flubbed those lines, failed that test. More than likely you can recall those pretty clearly.
One (of many) such memories come to mind for me. When I was a junior, in High School I had one of the best teachers I could have ever had. Mr. Epps, was terrific one of my all-time favorite teachers (and an MSU alumni as well). So I couldn’t blame this on him. I had been struggling with some of my classes - and I did try to study. I can’t remember for the life of me what the test was on. But I do remember it was a multiple choice test. And Mr. Epps had a rule that you didn’t just write the letter to the correct answer, but you had to write out what the answer was as well. Too many people had tried to get away with that "no that B was a D" or "can’t you see that A is a B" trick." On the front page of the test, I think I had gotten two out of 25 questions wrong. And Mr. Epps would always put the tally in the bottom right corner. But the problem was, I hadn’t written the answers out, just the letters. So in the bottom right corner, I can still see the red ink that said "2x" with the note "Mr. Chern, what sort of punishment would you propose for your failure to follow directions???" Page two I happened to get 24 out of 25 questions wrong. And in the corner of that page it said (will never forget it) was my grade a 48 ... perhaps that’s punishment enough.
Yep, I remember that failure pretty vividly. That’s something I’m embarrassed about. And at the time, I was upset about it - and my parent’s - THEY were upset about it. And that is most definitely a test paper that I did not save - nor want to look at much.
Today we celebrate the feast called the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The day when St. Helena discovered the actual cross that Jesus was crucified on. Often times people wonder why would we want to remember that moment. Why do we seem to put so much emphasis, so much focus on a moment where Jesus is brutally, savagely killed?
In fact, for the first centuries of the Church, especially as Early Christians were being crucified the same way - they wouldn’t want to see any cross, they wouldn’t want to be reminded of what could happen to them. They preferred other symbols- like the fish - because the greek word for fish could be an acronym for Jesus Christ, Son of God..
Sure these Early Christians believed that Jesus rose from the dead, that he was ultimately triumphant, ultimately victorious - but the Cross - why remember such a terrible moment.
In time though, with the maturity of the faith among God’s people - the Cross became the symbol for Jesus. And we have this crucifix front and center before us always - and for an important, essential reason - which we hear in the Gospel today - For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that he who believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life.
God became one of us, became one with us in Jesus Christ so that we would know that he loves us, so that we would know that he is with us - always - not just in our moments of triumph, and moments of great success, moments we’re proud of - but that he is with us when we struggle, when we fail, when the whole world seems to be turning against us - when we think we will perish - physically, emotionally, spiritually.
The crucified Jesus - the beaten, rejected, sobbing Savior is the greatest equalizer. We can’t look at that cross and not believe that God doesn’t understand what we are going through.
And that’s why the cross becomes the symbol for us to exalt and to look up to - to keep before us always, everywhere thru all that we are going thru - that God loves us and has not abandoned us - and in our calling out to him in our moments on the cross, we too can experience that resurrected life.
So we exalt that cross and look up -Look up and see God is with us in the times of betrayal. Look up and see God is with us when we’ve failed and are rejected. Look up and see how much God loves us. Look up and see the cross, and see how even our apparent failure can, in reality, become our greatest success