Thursday, September 14, 2006

One Feast, Two Memories

Today is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. The oriental churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, name it the Exaltation of the Holy Cross; in order that more people can celebrate this feast, the oriental churches transfers it to the Sunday closest to today's date. This feast remembers two events.

Helena, Constantine's mother, had gone to Jerusalem like many other pilgrims who longed to be where Jesus ministered, died and rose. Tradition recalls that Helena uncovered three crosses at the place that memory preserved as Golgatha, the place of executions. She believed them to be Jesus' cross and the crosses of the two theives executed with Jesus. Her son ordered a church built over the spot, and its foundations may be seen beneath the complex of naves and sanctuaries that stand above them today.

The bishop of Jerusalem at the time brought the three crosses to a dying woman to touch. When she touched the third she was healed, and that cross was acclaimed as Christ's. It was venerated for almost 400 years, then it was stolen. When it was found and returned, it was lifted up again for the faithful to venerate.

This date has been attached to the finding and veneration of cross. It also remembers the building of Constantine's church over the place where Jesus and his criminal companions were crucified. We exalt the cross each time we trace it on ourselves. The sign of the cross is no mere gesture. It makes the cross our badge and gives us Christ's identity, making it our own.

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