Triumph of the Cross - September 14


            A favourite prayer of St Francis was, “We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, in all your churches throughout the whole world and we bless you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world” (Testament 4). He based his prayer on the liturgy of the feast of the Triumph of the Cross and also of Good Friday: “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your cross you have redeemed the world.”


            The feast entered the Western calendar in the seventh century, after Emperor Heraclius recovered the cross from the Persians, who had carried it off in 614.


            The second reading of the feast is taken from the Letter to the Philippians (Phil 2:6-11), which was also a favourite of St Francis. St Paul quotes a hymn popular at the time, describing the kind of person Jesus was. He was, and still is, both divine and human. God and man are united in his person.


            The hymn describes the various stages of Jesus Christ’s existence. First, there was the eternal existence of the Word of God. Then the Word became human at the birth of Jesus. In his life, Jesus set aside his divine privileges, such as knowing everything as God does, and being all-powerful. In his death, he gave up even the privilege of human life.


            His death was the lowest level of his existence, and it reveals how greatly he loved, since he deprived himself of so much - everything - for the sake of his fellows, and to fulfil God’s plans for us. St Francis thought of Jesus as humble love in person.


            Selfless love and faithfulness sum up the life of Jesus among us. He was there for others. His great mind saw beyond a present insult; he would always pity rather than resent, forgive rather than condemn, persevere rather than despair, see cause for sympathy rather than for abuse, for love rather than for hate.


            Precisely these attitudes of mind led to his death. He went out to people who did not have these attitudes. He came to us as a man, in order to show us God in our midst.


            Jesus stirred up hatred no less than love. Some could not stand his honesty, openness and simplicity. Others, like St Paul and later St Francis, were attracted by him and responded with their own love and faithfulness to Jesus.


            Christ gave the finest example of humble, selfless love working itself out in the life of a man, and in doing that he revealed the quality of divine love. Without losing his divinity, he surrendered his divine glory and became poor for the sake of his fellows. By nature, he was God and man, but in his human life he never had himself publicly treated as anyone other than a simple man.


            Mighty people want to be seen to be like God. Jesus, the faithful man, showed us what God is really like: God is humble, self-effacing love. God among us led a life of responsibility and humble service, in the normal ways of submission required of any man: obedient to parents, to public authorities, to the Word of God, to the demands of daily living, having to accept the things he couldn’t change, and courageous in changing the things that he could.


            He was as all of us are, but sinless and much humbler, even accepting the death that came to him. A man like this had to pay a price for his integrity: he was nailed to a cross, in shame.


            Our response to this God of love who became a love-torn man is to shoulder our own responsibilities, and to accept the consequences of our love and faithfulness. We are to force ourselves on no one, but give Christ-like service to any who will have it, whether they look as though they deserve it or not. Let no one exhaust our tolerance, no matter whether they like or dislike us. We are to keep up a selfless service of those whom we live and work with, whether the people and the work are satisfying or not.


            Jesus Christ’s existence did not finish on the cross. After that, God’s love and faithfulness to Jesus were most powerfully shown. He was raised to a new life as both man and God, recognized by the whole of creation, and adored as the Lord of all. “Exaltation of the Cross”, in the Orthodox tradition, means “the cross brought to light”.


            His divine nature was revealed in that divine name, “Lord”, and in the divine honour of knees bent in adoration. But the glorified person is still the crucified man. He does not throw off his human nature. He is still named “Jesus”. The humble man Jesus is almighty God: “Jesus Christ is Lord.”


            Our response as brothers and sisters of Jesus to God’s faithfulness in exalting him is to accept God’s personal invitation to each of us, to follow out his will. We know no less and no more than Jesus knew about what the future held in store for him if he remained faithful to God’s will.


            Our lives and destinies are inseparable from the life and destiny of Jesus. If we pay close attention to his life and where it led him, we will see the pattern of our own lives: through love, joy and peace, but also through some degree of needs, loneliness, misunderstanding and opposition, to death, then through death to victory unlimited and God’s favour bestowed on us in full.


            Let our response be humble love: to keep on spending ourselves on God and our fellows, and to trust God who wants only what is best for us.


Carl Schafer OFM

National Assistant SFO – Oceania