Today we celebrate the great Feast of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross. As we ponder the readings, we would benefit from setting a crucifix, or a picture of one, before us, to help us fix our minds on what we are really celebrating today. Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of the Father, was nailed to a Cross, where he suffered and died to bring mercy and redemption to sinners. Today we turn our hearts and minds to him, looking upon him as he hangs on the Cross, making sacrifice for us, dying for love of us.

The world judges people and their actions based on how successful and effective they seem to be. A general is considered “great” if he succeeds in conquering his enemies and winning vast territories for his country. A leader is “great” if she can unite her people and bring about peace and prosperity. A writer is “great” if his works are read by millions and considered classics long after his death. A businesswoman is “great” if she negotiates big deals and makes a lot of money for her company. These people are considered successful by the world, and many seek to emulate them.

When we gaze upon Jesus hanging on the Cross, what do we see? From the world’s perspective, someone who was a complete failure. He had a few years of popularity, but then the ruling powers stepped in and brutally tortured and killed him. His followers fled into hiding, after one of them betrayed him and another denied even knowing him. The leaders of his people mocked him, while the soldiers threw dice to see who would get his clothes. Only his mother and very few others came to stand at the foot of his Cross to remain with him in his last moments.

Yet we know in faith that this one action, Jesus giving up his life on the Cross, was the most important action which has ever occurred in the history of the world. Before this, mankind was at enmity with God, with no hope or way of ever sharing life with him in Heaven. After this, humanity was reconciled with God, the gates of Heaven were opened, and the power of sin and death was broken for all time.

Jesus explains to Nicodemus in the Gospel that he must be “lifted up” on the Cross “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” And in the beautiful second reading, St. Paul gives us a deeply moving description of what Jesus has done for us: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

On Sunday, we read the wonderful parable of the Prodigal Son, which taught us about the great mercy of the Father, who desires that all his poor children repent and return to him. But Jesus has gone far beyond the mercy shown by the father in the parable. He has not only waited for us to return to him, he has come in search of us, laying aside his divine glory, even to the point of sacrificing himself completely to win salvation for us.

What do we learn from this? The power of love, the value of sacrifice for the good of the other. This is “great” in God’s eyes. This is what he calls us to. And anyone can do this. We do not have to be particularly intelligent, or strong, or rich, or talented. Anyone can sacrifice their own comfort and advantage to be an instrument of God’s grace and mercy for those around them.

Of course, our fallen nature does not want to do this. When we set out to love, we soon find within ourselves a complaining voice, echoing the complaint of the Israelites in the first reading, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert?” Why, God, do you call me away from my comfort, my security, my worldly honor? Why do you lead me into a desert to die to my own will and to depend only on you for the “food” which will give me the strength to follow you? I am disgusted by this way in which you are leading me!

What can we do when we find this rebellious spirit starting to rise up within us? We can do as the people did in the first reading: we can look upon Jesus Crucified, “lifted up” on the Cross for our salvation. We can make an act of faith that he is the only way to healing and life. He shows us and pours out upon us the love of God, and we are called to participate in this saving action of Christ. Let us repeat over and over today, with the whole Church: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

When was I a “failure” in order to be “great” in God’s eyes? How do I sacrifice my comfort and advantage to be an instrument of God’s grace and mercy? Why do I complain to God about the crosses that he asks me to carry?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.