Grace to you!
Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. It is celebrated in the Catholic Church and many mainline Protestant Churches yearly on September 14th. I will not retell the history of the Feast since much of that information is available online. However, as typical of my reflections, I share a few thoughts on some of its spiritual benefits. Thus, the focus is on the Sign of the Cross.
We have many testimonies of faith and evangelization in the heydays of the advent of Christianity in Africa. To this day, there are a few families who practice African Traditional Religion(s). We notice or hear stories of people who were saved from the "voodoos" of some native cults by a symbolic expression of the Sign of the Cross.
Many are curious why that sign is so powerful. Why is a simple touching of the forehead saying or thinking "in the name of the Father;" touching the lower middle of the chest while saying or thinking "and of the Son," and touching the left and the right shoulders saying "and of the Holy" "Spirit" so powerful? I have the following thoughts.
When you are doing the Sign of the Cross, you are saying a powerful prayer. You are declaring in whom you trust and who is your security. In few words, you are professing your faith, as well as testifying to others your identity as one incorporated to the heavenly communion of love—the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. You are making a faith declaration, and that declaration is worship.
In the Sign of the Cross, there are two symbols. First is the symbol of the crossed wood upon which lay the Savior. Second is the symbol of the relationship with the Trinity.
Regarding the Savior hanging on the cross, we are blessed with the arsenals of the redemptive power of suffering. We draw grace by the wounds of the One (the Lord) pierced by the soldiers on Golgotha's hill and are connected with one another (horizontal), towards the heavenward reward (vertical).
It isn't just any cross, not merely the crossed wood. The crossed wood has no blessing for you. In fact, during the time of Jesus, the crossed wood was a sign of a curse and condemnation (See Galatians 3:13).
It's when Jesus Christ mounted the crossed wood for our salvation that the Cross became a blessing. So, the symbol of the Cross with the Christ on it is a rich blessing for you. Looking upon Jesus crucified, contemplating him hanging on the wood of the Cross, and the embrace of him in faith is salvation. The Cross is hope renewed, and hope come alive. It offers new meaning to your life that your sufferings are not in vain. Victory is assured.
Why? There, hanging on that wood, was your Savior. He did not remain there, condemned eternally like Albert Camus’ Sisyphus of The Myth of the Sisyphus. He won over it and made a caricature of the woes of the cross. By so doing, he gave you new strength and victory over the crosses of your life.
God's word revealed it earlier. "Just as Moses lifted the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14). Therefore, the Sign of the Cross connects us with what the Blessed Lord Jesus did for us on the Cross, through whose wounds we heal.
Second is the symbol of the Trinity. While we remember the Cross, we equally confess our belief in the Trinitarian God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Indeed, what unites every Christian believer is faith in the Trinity. A Christian is the one who believes in the Trinity. If God is Trinity, then a confession of that fact is a testimonial to Christian faith. Such a testimonial is a blessing. The sign of the Cross is a symbolic reaffirmation of our belief in the Trinity.
It has relationship implications, too, just as the horizontal sign of the cross points. In the communion of love, in relationships of love, we can bear the crosses of life. We see that in our suffering when we embrace them with redemptive meaning, we are offering a precious gift for others. In identifying with others' suffering, we are Trinitarian, too, in our lives. We love, and in love, we sacrifice. Sacrifice is the cross.
In the spiritual world, the sign of the Cross wreaks havoc to evil. The devil despises it, and cultists dread it. It is because it offers sacrifice and the cross as an alternative to self-absorbing philosophies. The philosophy that sees no meaning to life except in material success is frustrated by it. Those who embrace it see in suffering one of the routes to discovering life's meaning, purpose. The Auschwitz camp survivor of the Nazi, medical doctor, and philosopher, Viktor E. Frankl, sees this truth even in clinical fields, when he argued in his Man's Search for Meaning that suffering is a route to life's true meaning, purpose.
When we embrace the cross, not in the sense of sadistic adventures, but knowing that earthly life is colored with crosses, we discover the redemptive grace entwined with its pains.
The Sign of the Cross is one of the marks of the sign of faith. It wouldn't be a bad idea to keep doing the Sign of the Cross, as you enter the Church and hear holy names, bump into danger, afraid and in need of divine help, and when alone, anytime, anywhere. The mere gesture without words says so much and means so much in the spiritual world. It is a weapon of spiritual warfare. It is a symbol of strength.
May you and your day be blessed in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God love you. God bless.
Fr. Maurice Emelu.
Image by Dimitri Conejo Sanz of Cathopic.
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Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.