Exaltation Of The Holy Cross – Year A.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“In the Crucifix the Father tells us Everything”.
Today’s readings ask us to contemplate this God on the Cross and invite us to commit ourselves to a loving response.
The theme of contemplation is introduced in the first reading with the episode of the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses in the desert: it saved those who looked at it.
The second reading describes life according to God’s judgement: it is a life that conforms to Christ. Though he was God, he lowered himself to become a man: he humbled himself unto death on the Cross. Only those who trust in him will be exalted and those like him who chooses a life of self-sacrifice.
The Gospel takes up this symbol and it reminds us that the only glance that saves is the one directed to the Son of Man lifted up on the Cross. He reveals the face of God to us and invites us to enter into his love. Calvary removes all veils preventing us from seeing the face of God.
Guide to ‘Live’ the Sunday Liturgy:
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
If at all possible, share this Bible Reflection time with a family member, a friend or someone you wish to bring to Christ. Jesus said in Mt. 18:20 – “For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests, bishops and Catholic theologians who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a ‘Prayer’ are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. With faith and perseverance, we will start to put into practice the Lord’s teachings; begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love, God’s will, and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator. Meditations and Prayer on the Reflections should be done daily – first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.
It may be necessary to pray and repeat the study of the Bible Readings and Commentaries more than once, or even on a daily basis, if you feel that you have not yet grasped the Lord’s special message for you.
“In the Old Testament the ‘New’ is hidden.
In the New Testament the ‘Old’ is laid open”.
invites us to contemplate this symbol of our faith. To venerate the Cross does not mean to bow or kiss the material object and not even to stress the sufferings of Christ. It means much more than that. It is an indication of a life-style, of a Christ-like immolation. To contemplate the Cross means to choose it as the guiding sign for our lives.
The liturgy, beginning from the first reading, invites us to look at it as a sign of salvation. This invitation is expressed by describing a strange event that happened to the people of Israel in the desert. The journey was really rough and difficult; the water and food resources were very scarce, the heat was unbearable and suddenly there was a new emergency: big snakes were biting and killing many of the people. Not knowing what to do, Moses turned to the Lord, and the Lord ordered him to cast a bronze serpent and to put it on a pole. Those who were bitten by the snakes and looked up to the bronze snake were healed.
A bronze serpent, said to be the one Moses raised up on a pole in the desert, was always kept in the Temple of Jerusalem. What is important for us is to understand the message of this text today. The rabbis used to say that the Jews were not saved because they were raising up their eyes to the serpent, but because they raising their hearts to God. The Saviour was the Lord, not the bronze sculpture. The book of Wisdom explains this episode thus: “He who turned towards it was saved, not by what he saw, but by the Saviour of all”. (Wis. 16:7).
The Cross is not a charm to wear for protection against illness or misfortune, nor is it a symbol to be placed on mountain tops to mark possession or conquest of a territory, nor in our houses to sanctify the place. The believer must look to the Cross as his guiding principle and symbol, a synthesis of the life-style proposed by the Master, in the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is a symbol of love and forgiveness to our neighbour and our enemies!
What are we to do when hatred, envy, jealousy, passion and uncontrolled instincts poison our hearts and souls, threatening not only to ruin our lives but to keep us from the Lord’s grace? These are the very moments when life can only come back to us through contemplation of the ‘One’ who was raised on a wooden Cross. When we look up to him, he will tell us to unite our lives to his, and to give it up for our brothers and sisters.
Psalm 78: 1-2. 34-38.
The Psalm is a small part of Psalm 78, a meditation on what God has done for the people of God: ‘I shall expound the lesson of the past’, it starts, confident that God’s dealing can be found there, and it goes on to remind the people that ‘when God killed them they sought him, and they looked for him again; they remembered that God was their rock, and God most high was their Redeemer’. Not that they meant it, particularly: ‘they lied to him with their words’. God is always faithful: ‘God is compassionate and forgives sins. He does not give vent to his fury’.
The second reading has Paul quoting a hymn that he may have written himself or it may have already have been part of the Christian repertoire. The reason he quotes it is that there had been trouble in Philippi, his favourite church, and he heard of quarrels among the Christians there. Paul reminds them how God behaves, and of what God had done in Jesus.
The key to the passage and the message for the Philippians and us is that ‘Christ humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death’. Not just any death, but the disgusting and humiliating ‘death on the Cross’. From there he leaps easily to the hymn’s magnificent climax: ‘and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Only John the evangelist speaks of Nicodemus, an important member of the sect of the Pharisees, perhaps a member of the Sanhedrim as well, who goes to see Jesus taking advantage of the darkness of night, but perhaps too that the night is a quiet and peaceful time. Nicodemus represents the Israelite, who is still pure of heart, seeking the Light and is convinced that the Rabbi from Nazareth, “a teacher from God”, can show him this Light.
Jesus’ response to this caution on tiptoe is not more caution: he makes a clear declaration about God’s attitude to the world: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” and that includes Nicodemus. Jesus meets the personal caution of Nicodemus with the affirmation of God’s universal love.
Jesus reminds Nicodemus of an event that had taken place during the exodus, and that he, ‘a teacher in Israel’, knew very well, the bronze serpent Moses had made and lifted up in the desert, commenting that it symbolises what was going to happen to him. The Son of Man is going to be lifted up on the Cross and all who will look on him will be saved.
Nicodemus who had not understood what Jesus had meant by ‘You must be born again from above’ is now even more puzzled by ‘this lifting up of the Son of Man’. He is surprised and perhaps also disappointed. He listens in silence, unable to ask anything else. He is not yet enlightened by the Easter Light and what he hears is for him an unfathomable mystery.
We can now understand this mystery because the Easter events have clarified this enigma. ‘To believe in the ‘One’ who has been lifted up’ means to raise our eyes to the “Crucified”, to Christ nailed to the Cross, and to use him as the measuring stick for all our decisions, which must be directed, as his decisions were, by a commitment to sacrifice ourselves to do God’s will.
At the heart of the Gospel we hear that God’s relationship with the world is rooted in love. It is not rooted in suspicion or condemnation as rumour has led so many to believe. Indeed God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. It is God’s radical love, which gives our world its importance; it is that same love which gives all of us our essential dignity. God’s love is all the more significant because he is fully aware of our sins and the brokenness and stupidity that are part of our sometimes-difficult lives. Clearly God is most approachable: tender, compassionate, kind, loving, forgiving, slow to anger and infinitely generous. We are his family, he is our Father.
This is reassuring ‘Good News’, a revelation that should fill us with joy and hope. This revelation, however, can be frustrated by a wrong interpretation of other texts in the Gospels where God and Christ appear as severe judges (Mt. 13:41-42; 25:31-46…).
“If anyone hears my words and does not observe them, I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world” (Jn. 12:47). John lays emphasis on this judgement. Christ never says that God will condemn us because God wants only our salvation. Christ’s just sentence will recognise and confirm those who deliberately and definitely reject God. The condemned will be bitterly aware that it is they themselves who have freely rejected the saving mercy and love of their Lord.
God’s ceaseless love of the world is so great that he sent his only beloved Son among us. The Son’s faithful love is so great that he faced the ultimate infidelity, being put to a shameful death on a Cross by those he loved. God raised his Son and sent his Spirit so that we could share the very life of the love of God.
The Crucifix turns our values upside down, and makes it possible for us to turn defeat into victory, service into power, poverty into riches, loss into gain, humiliation into triumph, death into rebirth. The Crucifix should be our standard, our measure to gauge success or failure in life; it is his judgement that will tell the truth about human history. This is only the judgement of his that we must fear.
The Son of Man is going to be lifted up on the Cross and all who will look on him will be saved. We need to make this choice. He invites us to enter his love.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Year A, we reflect on …
Sun … The Jews demanded signs and the Greeks looked for wisdom. Do we truly proclaim Christ crucified? To proclaim it we must live it! It was a stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles
Mon … We must never degrade the Cross or Crucifix as a good luck charm for protection against illness or misfortune as in doing so we fall into the serious sin of ‘superstition and sacrilege’. These Holy Symbols are sacramentals to remind us of the life-style we as Catholics are to live by, a ‘Christ-like immolation’.
Tues … The Psalm tells us that despite our infidelity to God, God is always faithful. Do we talk to God not only in formal prayer but as a child talking to a loving Father at numerous times during the day or at night when we are troubled? Do we accept that God is our rock on which to build our lives on? We need to develop this special relationship built on trust and love as an urgent priority. We may not realise it but this is the most important relationship that we could ever have!
Wed … Paul tells us in verses preceding today’s passage, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than ourselves, each looking out not for our own interests, but for those of others”.
Thurs … What God offers in Jesus, so neatly expressed in the Gospel for this great solemnity baffles Nicodemus and perhaps us as well, when he says that ‘no one has gone up to heaven, except the One who came down from heaven, the Son of Man’. Then John refers back to Moses in the first reading and links it to Jesus’ death: ‘so the Son of Man must be lifted up’. We too must die to self and to sin and rise to new life with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Frid … God’s faithful determination is ‘that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life’. The key of course is love, for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son as a sacrifice for our sinfulness. Are we prepared to offer our lives up as a living sacrifice to carry out God’s will? A small price to pay for the graces we will receive!
Sat … This Sunday’s Liturgy does not have a hint of the condemnation that we deserve: ‘For God did not send his Son into the world for him to condemn the world, but for the world to be saved through him’. Moslems proclaim the same doctrine of retribution just as the rabbis at the time of Jesus did. Matthew who wrote for the Jews, so often uses the ‘Last Judgement’. Note well: he does not use it to tell us who will go to heaven and who will go to hell, but to underline the importance of how we behave now. That is the many choices we make each and every day! Do we love or do we hate? Or perhaps we just don’t care because we are too engrossed in ourselves?
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, let us realise that truly venerating the Cross is not just respecting it or bowing or genuflecting to it or even kissing it. It is much more than pious but fleeting gestures no matter how impressive they may seem. Help us make the decision to choose the Cross as the guiding sign for our lives. Help us to love our neighbour and forgives others, the ‘rock’ upon which we may build true and proper veneration by entering his love.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.