Sunday, September 14, 2008

Triumph of the Holy Cross

“La politique, l’Etat, n’étaient pas une religion mais une réalité profane avec une mission spécifique… et les deux doivent être ouverts l’un pour l’égard de l’autre. Dans ce sens, je dirais aujourd’hui, pour les Français, et pas seulement pour les Français, pour nous chrétiens dans ce monde sécularisé d’aujourd’hui, il est important de vivre avec joie la liberté de notre foi, de vivre la beauté de la foi et de rendre visible dans le monde d’aujourd’hui qu’il est beau d’être croyant, qu’il est beau de connaître Dieu, Dieu avec un visage humain en Jésus-Christ… montrer donc la possibilité d’être un croyant aujourd’hui et même qu’il est nécessaire pour la société d’aujourd’hui qu’il y ait des hommes qui connaissent Dieu et peuvent donc vivre selon les grandes valeurs qu’il nous a données et contribuer à la présence des valeurs qui sont fondamentales pour la construction et pour la survie de nos Etats et de nos sociétés.” (excerpt from the response of Pope Benedict XVI to a journalist’s question about secular France and the Church today)

These words captured from the airplane interview with Pope Benedict XVI on his pilgrimage to France for the 150th Anniversary of Our Lady’s appearances to Bernadette at Lourdes, words about secularity (laicité) and the specific contribution which believers have to make to politics, statesmanship and toward building up society today, no doubt caught “outsiders” off-guard, just like the Holy Father’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, did. They didn’t expect from him words first and foremost about charity. “Outsiders” still haven’t learned: they just don’t expect the Pope to say things like: “il est important de vivre avec joie la liberté de notre foi, de vivre la beauté de la foi et de rendre visible dans le monde d’aujourd’hui qu’il est beau d’être croyant, qu’il est beau de connaître Dieu, Dieu avec un visage humain en Jésus-Christ…”

These words and the Holy Father’s general approach to the Christian life offer me an insight into how we can speak of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, which we have the joy of celebrating as a Sunday Feast this year, thanks to the 2008 calendar and where the 14th of September falls this year.

Regardless of the historical reasons which occasioned this feast: I was taught as a child that this feast commemorated the recovery of the Holy Cross by St. Helena, the mother the the Emperor Constantine; others note this day as a celebration for the dedication of the structure built over Calvary in Jerusalem on the day following the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection built by Constantine; my Daily Roman Missal dates it from a victory of a later Emperor, Heraclius, over the Persians and the recovery from them of the major relic of the True Cross, which they had carried off as booty from Jerusalem.

Leaving the history aside, it is good that we have another date in the calendar (Holy Thursday, for instance, has Corpus Christi) besides Good Friday to glory in the new Tree of Life which through the new Adam brought victory where the tree in the center of the garden brought defeat through the old Adam’s presumption.

“Nos autem gloriari oportet in cruce Domini nostri Jesu Christi, in quo est salus, vita et resurrectio nostra, per quem salvati et liberati sumus.”

It is beautiful to be a believer, it is beautiful to know God, God with a human face in Jesus Christ… if I may so render the Holy Father’s words from the plane last Friday. Bernadette was struck by how pretty and polite this young woman, clothed with the sun, was who appeared to her and prayed with her over the course of those days 150 years ago. It would seem that we have much to learn or learn again about what it means to have been buried with Christ in Baptism so as to live with Christ. It is beautiful to be a believer just so, as it is and not in any contrived sense. In this sense, Jesus’ death on the Cross and celebrating His Sacrifice is probably our best corrective to insure authenticity.

Without wishing to develop a whole homily or full-blown meditation on this point, I think it sufficient to invite my readers to join me in a day’s meditation on the glory of God shining forth on the face of Christ. The beauty of the Crucified One and the Glory of His Cross (taken as a part for the whole) is mine, is ours. Not physical health, not cosmetics and fashion, but my knowledge of God in Christ is for me and for the world salvation, life and resurrection. “Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)