Nm 21. 4b-9; Ps 78; Phil 2. 6-11; Jn 3. 13-17
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Most Beautiful Cross
Our responsorial psalm was a call for us to remember: Do not forget the works of the Lord! The Lord’s work we recall today is the cross, our badge, our insignia. When you hear me echo the psalm and call, “Do not forget!” you shout, “We remember!” Very good!
After Jerusalem was destroyed two generations after Jesus rose from the dead, the place of his death and resurrection faded into the shadowy mists of time and memory. In the 4th Century Emperor Constantine and his mother had a deep desire to say in more than words, “Do not forget!”
St. Helena went to Jerusalem in search of the places where Jesus lived and walked. In Jerusalem a temple to Aphrodite was atop the place of Jesus’ tomb. She said to herself, “Do not forget!” // and had it torn down. Her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb. As they dug, workers found three crosses. A memory has it: the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman. “Do not forget!” // ...Jesus heals us by transforming us.
People immediately venerated that cross. An eyewitness of a Good Friday celebration in that basilica recalled its wood was taken out of its silver chest and placed on a table together with the inscription Pilate ordered placed above Jesus. Then “all the people pass by one by one, all bowing themselves, they touch the Cross and the title, first with their foreheads and then with their eyes; then they kiss the Cross and pass through.”/1/ We do that, too, so that we, “Do not forget!”
Our images and replicas of the holy cross are things of beauty. They lead our processions, and they shield our hearts. Yet the tree on which Jesus died for us had no beauty, “Do not forget!” To the first Christians and to many others crosses appeared as things of horror. “Do not forget!” But appearance did not stop the first Christians from echoing Jesus, who spoke of the cross as his glory. “Do not forget!”
We make crosses beautiful and noble today because their sign no longer threatens us--although others in the world do not tolerate it, as we sadly know. “Do not forget!” Yet nothing is more beautiful than the cross we trace on our own bodies. When we trace the cross on ourselves, we allow God in Jesus by their Spirit to transform us. “Do not forget!” We are crucified with our Messiah, as St. Paul reminded us./2/ “Do not forget!” We still live our human lives, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us./3/ “Do not forget!”
Our life of faith is no theory; it is not abstract. “Do not forget!” Our life of faith affects the world! “Do not forget!” Our life of faith is for the sake of the world! “Do not forget!” Our life of faith changes the world beginning with how we choose to live in it! “Do not forget!”
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, pause in the light of the Trinity, who decided from their eternity that the Second Person would become one of us in order to enlighten us and save us. Ask St. Paul, St. Helena and your patron saint to welcome you into the bright shadow of Jesus’ cross so you may remember with your heart and feel more deeply Jesus’ dying and rising for you. “Do not forget!” Praise Jesus for giving his life so that we might have eternal life. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus gave us so would remember his works and do them by the power of his Spirit. “Do not forget!”
1. The Pilgrimage of Etheria. M.L. McClure and C. L. Feltoe, ed. and trans. London: SPCK, 1919, pp 74-75.
2. Galatians 2.19.
3. Galatians 2.20--I rendered it plural for this homily.
Wiki-image of the Triumph of the Cross is in the public domain.