Echoes of the Word, 14th September 2017
Echoes of the Word is an occasional newsletter from the monks of Ampleforth Abbey, featuring reflections on the readings, feasts and seasons of the Church's year and the journey of discipleship. Click here if you are interested in subscribing.
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The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Today’s feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is based particularly in three events: the finding of the true cross by Saint Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine; the dedication of the churches of Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre on the 14th of September in 335; and the recovery of the cross after its theft by a Persian king in the early 7th century. Of course the focus may be less for us on history, relics and miracles and more on the celebration of our redemption by Christ’s saving death on the cross and his resurrection, the way for us, as it was for him, through death to eternal life: this is what makes of the cross an ‘exaltation’ and a ‘triumph’. In hymns and poems, Christians sing in these terms to the cross. So in the Pange Lingua of the 6th century bishop Venantius Fortunatus, the faithful sing: ‘Faithful cross, true sign of triumph’. In the 7th century old English poem The Dream of the Rood the Cross is pictured telling its own story and how it too was pierced by the nails and stained by blood, but then above all other trees, it comes to be venerated as the sign of victory over suffering and death, the triumph of life.Fr Gabriel Everitt OSB
Commentary on John 3:13-17
‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’ Just as the bronze serpent which Moses made and raised on a pole in the wilderness was a symbol of the very thing which had plagued the people, so is the crucifixion of Jesus. As St Paul says, ‘The sinless one was made sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor 5.21). Jesus was raised up on the cross, so that all who looked upon him may see exactly what he has saved us from: sin and death. But simply to gaze on Christ crucified is not enough; Jesus tells us that we also need to believe in him. The cross, which, St Paul says, is foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling block for the Jews (1 Cor 1.23), might seem to make belief more difficult. Does it not symbolise failure and the waste of life? At the time, perhaps that is how the disciples saw it, but we know the end of the story. So for us, the cross is rather a symbol of God’s gift to us: life with him. If we take up our own daily crosses, neither will we be failures or wasting our lives, but we will be joining them to that very life of his.
Br Benedict Donleavy OSB