Today, we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. A tradition relates that Helen, mother of the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, discovered the three crosses on which Christ and the two criminals had been crucified near Golgotha. Bishop Makarios identified the true Cross of Christ as the one whose touch immediately returned a dying woman to perfect health.
We hear in the scripture today that the cross is transformed from a sign of death to one of healing and life. Responding to the question raised by Nicodemus, Jesus cites the example of how, when the Israelites were in the desert, the brazen serpent representing the healing power of God, saved the Israelites who looked at it (Numbers 21: 4-9). In John’s Gospel, Moses’ serpent pole is likened to the cross that lifts up the Son of Man. Just as Moses transformed the serpent from a source of suffering and death into a means of healing and life, through His death on the cross, Jesus transformed the cross from an instrument of torment and punishment into an agent of redemption and a sign of sacrificial love.
The cross ironically has become the most dramatic sign of sacrificial love. In the Bosnian city of Siroki-Brijeg there is a remarkable record of no divorce and strong family bonds. Why is this so? Because during each wedding the priest tells the bride and groom, they have found the ideal “partner” with whom to share their lives: “You have found your cross! It is a cross that you must love and take with you every day of your lives. Know how to appreciate it.” (The Only Divorce-Free City in the World, Plinio Maria Solimeo)
Inspired by this powerful example, whenever I officiate at a wedding, I give a cross to the newly married couple with these words: “I want to leave with you the best companion for your journey. You have each found the ideal 'partner' with whom you have decided/vowed to share your life. The cross is a sign of sacrificial love. Sacrificial love is to will the good of the other. You have found your cross!”
This is a stunning thing to say, and it might sound negative, but we know that Christ on the Cross is the greatest sign of love at any time and place. Love each other as Christ loves you, and you will have the most incredible marriage possible. This is the cross that you must love and keep visible in your home every day of your lives. Know how to appreciate the love all it represents. When trials, misunderstandings, disagreements, and difficulties common to all marriages arise, both of you should kneel before the crucifix and, with unwavering faith, ask for strength to deal with them. This cross will give you the power to overcome daily trials if you rely on it in your marriage.
Friends, let the cross of Christ remind us of true sacrificial and redeeming love that can transform our burdens into the victory of God’s love.
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About Father Pinto Paul, C.S.C.
Father Pinto Paul C.S.C., ordained a priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1999, worked with tribal populations in northeast India as a missionary for ten years. In 2010 he came to the US for further studies. While working as a campus minister at Stonehill College, he assisted pastors in local parishes, led seminars and workshops for teachers and students in the US and earned a master’s degree in Educational Administration from Boston College and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Lesley University, Cambridge. He is currently working as the International Director of the Boston-based Holy Cross Family Ministries with missions in 17 countries.