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Exultation of the Cross in times of trial

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In recent weeks, a number of tragedies have led many people to flee violence, oppression or desperate living conditions. None was more obvious and heart-wrenching than last month’s deadly earthquake in Haiti and the Taliban’s retaking of Afghanistan. These needs and struggles are of particular concern this month, in which we as a Church unite around the struggle of migrants across the globe, culminating on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees Sept. 27.

This focus on migrants and refugees providentially coincides with the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sep 14). In the cross, we witness pain and suffering, but also the transformation of that pain and suffering into hope and new life. The scenes of destabilization and uncertainty we witness around the globe require us to reexamine our priorities and where, or to whom, we turn for strength. For it is on that cross that we have the capacity to persist through our trials in the expectation that, through Our Lord’s great Sacrifice, we will have new life and fulfillment in the Risen Christ.

Our true source of power

Some believe that a strong economy and the government are the key to solving the challenges and righting the wrongs of this world, including the trials faced by migrants and refugees. Such circumstances can indeed help us respond to the needs of our contemporary world and ensure the basic human rights of all peoples. It would be a mistake, however, to believe that our human capacity and mechanisms are more than simply instruments or to believe that they suffice to bring the healing, reconciliation, peace and justice that come from God alone.

From the beginning, humans have existed in relationship with God, but sadly, have often turned away from him as a community. Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah and their descendants, the People of Israel, and our present culture manifest this truth. Whenever we distance ourselves from God, our plight will only increase. So how do we regain our footing? We turn to the mystery of Christ and the salvation he won for us through the Cross.

The Cross is a guide for all journeys

So, it is fitting that as we reflect on the effects of sin in this broken world — war, hatred, poverty and hunger — we also celebrate the perfect symbol of our freedom and liberation from all that binds us: the Cross (feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross).

As our tradition holds, this feast marks the finding of the true Cross of Christ in the fourth century by St. Helena, the wife of Emperor Constantine. Our liturgical prayer on this feast reminds us that Christ won salvation on the Cross for the whole human race. In the Preface for Mass, for example, we pray, "For you placed the salvation of the human race on the wood of the Cross, so that, where death arose, life might again spring forth and the evil one, who conquered on a tree, might likewise on a tree be conquered," highlighting how our disobedience to God has been undone by the obedience of Christ.

This is the message that we Christians are called to proclaim through our words and deeds to all, including those who flee to us, seeking sanctuary and advocacy. It is the message of Christ who died and rose so "that they may all be one" (Jn 17:21). At the same time, we hold fast to our Christian faith announced in the Gospel for the feast of the Exaltation that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3:16-17).

Welcoming the stranger, inspired by the Cross

Like Christ, therefore, we are called to go into the world and especially to the peripheries — without fear and prejudice — to bring healing to those who are physically and spiritually ill and to welcome those who are lost. During this month and our observance of the National Migration Week and the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, may our joyful exaltation of the most Holy Cross bring us closer to God and to those throughout the world who suffer so that Jesus’ prayer may be more fully realized in our world: that we may all be one. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021