September 14 is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, one of the few feasts in the Catholic Church's liturgical calendar that celebrates not one, not two, but three separate events: the finding of the True Cross; the dedication of two churches by the emperor Constantine; and the recovery of the True Cross from the Persians, who had taken it after conquering Jerusalem in 614. All three events are fascinating stories, yet the feast rises above even them to remind us of the role that the Cross played in our salvation—and continues to play today.
Wait—what can that mean? It's easy to understand that the Cross is special because Christ used it as the instrument of our salvation. But after His Resurrection, why would Christians continue to look to the Cross?
Christ Himself offered us the answer: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23). The point of taking up our own cross is not simply self-sacrifice; in doing so, we unite ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ on His Cross.
When we participate in the Mass, the Cross is there, too. The "unbloody sacrifice" offered on the altar is the re-presentation of Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross. When we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we do not simply unite ourselves to Christ; we nail ourselves to the Cross, dying with Christ so that we might rise with Him.
"For the Jews require signs, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness . . . " (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). Today, more than ever, non-Christians see the Cross as foolishness. What kind of Savior triumphs through death?
For Christians, however, the Cross is the crossroads of history and the Tree of Life. Christianity without the Cross is meaningless: Only by uniting ourselves to Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross can we enter into eternal life.
(Icon of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Photo © Slava Gallery, LLC; used with permission.)