Exaltation of the Holy Cross / Triumph of the Cross



It seems that the protagonist of today’s readings is the serpent, and there is a message here. Yes, there is a profound prophecy in this presentation of the serpent, which was the first animal to be presented to man, the first that the Bible mentions and defines as the smartest of the wild animals God created. The serpent’s figure is not beautiful, it always incites fear. Even if the snake’s skin is beautiful, the fact remains that the snake’s behaviour is scary.

The Book of Genesis describes the serpent as ‘the most cunning’, but also that he is a charmer that has the ability to fascinate, to charm you. Moreover, he is a liar, he is jealous; it is because of the devil’s envy — the serpent’s envy — that sin entered the world. He has this ability to ruin us with seduction: he promises you many things, but when the time comes to pay you he pays badly, he is an evil payer. However, the serpent has this ability to seduce and to charm. Paul, for example, was angry with the Christians in Galatia who gave him much to do, and he said to them, “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? You who were called to freedom, who has bewitched you?”. It was the serpent himself who corrupted them and this was nothing new: the people of Israel were conscious of it.

Numbers (21:4-9): to save them from the serpent’s venom, the Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent, and that whoever looked at that serpent would be saved. This is an illustration, a prophecy, and a promise. It is a promise that is not easy to understand. Today’s Gospel (Jn 3:13-17) tells us that Jesus himself explained Moses’ act a bit further to Nicodemus: that just as he had 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. The bronze serpent was a figure of Jesus raised up on the Cross.

For what reason would the Lord choose this bad, ugly figure? It was simply because Jesus came to take all our sins upon himself, becoming the greatest sinner without having ever committed a sin. This is why Paul tells us that Jesus became sin for us. Using this figure, then, Christ became a serpent. It’s an ugly figure!” But He really did become sin to save us. This is the message in today’s Liturgy. This is precisely Jesus’ path: God became man and bore his sin.

In the Second Reading from the Letter to the Philippians (2:6-11), Paul explains this mystery, it was done out of love: Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not retain any privilege of being as God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men; he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.  Jesus emptied himself: he became sin for us, he who knew no sin. This, therefore, is the mystery, and we can say that he became like a serpent, so to speak, which is ugly and disgusting.

There are many beautiful paintings which may help us to contemplate Jesus on the cross. But the reality of it was very different: he was completely torn and bloodied by our sins. Moreover, this is the way that he has taken in order to defeat the serpent in his field. Therefore,  we ought to always look at Jesus’ cross, not at those well-painted artistic crosses, but instead at the reality of what the cross was at that time. Look at his path, recalling that he emptied himself and lowered himself in order to save us.

This is also the Christian’s path. Indeed, if a Christian wants to make progress on the path of the Christian life, he must lower himself, as Jesus lowered himself: this is the path of humility, which means bringing humiliations upon yourself, as Jesus did. This is precisely the message given to us in today’s liturgy on this feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Let us ask that the Lord give us the grace that we ask of Our Lady at the foot of the Cross: the grace to cry, to cry out of love, to cry out of gratitude, because our God loved us so much that he sent his Son to lower himself and allow himself to be crushed in order to save us.



https://sites.google.com/site/francishomilies/defeat/14.09.18.jpg

We must not be afraid to contemplate the cross as a moment of defeat, of failure. When Paul reflects on the mystery of Jesus Christ, he says some powerful things. He tells us that Jesus emptied himself, annihilated himself, was made sin to the end and took all our sins upon himself, all the sins of the world: he was a ‘rag’, a condemned man. Paul was not afraid to show this defeat and even this can enlighten our moments of darkness, our moments of defeat. But the cross is also a sign of victory for us Christians.

The Book of Numbers tells of the moment during the Exodus when the people who complained “were punished by serpents”. This, refers to the ancient serpent,
Satan, the “Great Accuser”. But, the Lord told Moses that the serpent that brought death would be raised and would bring salvation. This  is a prophecy. In fact, having been made sin, Jesus defeated the author of sin, he defeated the serpent. And Satan, was so happy on Good Friday that he did not notice the great trap of history in which he was to fall.

As the Fathers of the Church say, Satan saw Jesus in such a bad state, and like a hungry fish that goes after the bait attached to the hook, he swallowed Him. But in that moment, he also swallowed His divinity because that was the bait attached to the hook. At that moment,  Satan was destroyed forever. He has no strength. In that moment the cross became a sign of victory.

Our victory is the cross of Jesus, victory over our enemy, the ancient serpent, the Great Accuser. We have been saved by the cross, by the fact that Jesus chose to sink to the very lowest point, but with the power of divinity.

Jesus said to Nicodemus: When I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself. Jesus was lifted up and Satan was destroyed. We must be attracted to the cross of Jesus: we must look at it because it gives us the strength to go forward. And the ancient serpent that was destroyed still barks, still threatens but, as the Fathers of the Church say, he is a chained dog: do not approach him and he will not bite you; but if you try to caress him because you attracted to him as if he were a puppy, prepare yourself, he will destroy you.

Our life goes on, with Christ victorious and risen, and who sends us the Holy Spirit; but also with that chained dog,
the devil, whom I must not draw close to because he will bite me.

The cross teaches us that in life there is failure and victory. We must be capable of tolerating defeat, of bearing our failures patiently, even those of our sins because He paid for us. We must tolerate them in Him, asking forgiveness in Him, but never allowing ourselves to be seduced by this chained dog. It will be good if today, when we go home, we would take 5, 10, 15 minutes in front of the crucifix, either the one we have in our house or on the rosary: look at it, it is our sign of defeat, it provokes persecutions, it destroys us; it is also our sign of victory because it is where God was victorious.