Gospel Reflections

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

John 3:13-17

Feast Day Reflection by Sister Mary Boretti

Published: September 14, 2015


As a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, one of the first images that comes to mind on this Feast of the Triumph of the Cross is St. Julie Billiart’s own encounter with Jesus, a foundational vision that transformed Julie’s life and gave birth to our Congregation. I believe it was during Julie’s own deep prayer, while on her sickbed of many years, perhaps even while contemplating Jesus’ own suffering and death, that Jesus chose to meet her with an inspiring vision. There he spoke to her heart, reached into her soul and gave her courage with these words: “Behold the spiritual daughters I give to you in the Institute which will be marked by my Cross.”

In reflecting on this Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, I asked myself how we can speak of the Triumph of the Cross? How can “cross” and “triumph” be spoken in the same breath? How do I make sense of it for myself? Like so many of our deepest beliefs, it is a paradox and only those who have personally experienced this mystery know it to be true. As the Israelites in today’s first reading from the Book of Numbers, we sometimes find ourselves “worn out by the journey.” So also did Jesus. So also did St. Julie. So also do many of those we encounter in our ministries, communities and families. Some carry very heavy crosses … serious illness, homelessness, broken relationships, abuse, threats of war and violence, fear of deportation. I have come to believe and to see that anytime one dies to self out of love, compassion and care for another, the cross triumphs. Any time one holds fast to one’s belief in the power of the unconditional and nonviolent love of God in the face of one’s own pain and suffering, the cross triumphs.

I see examples in my own world over and over again. Some examples are extraordinary, known by the whole world, like the 4 people who rushed toward the gunman on the Paris train and risked their own lives to save the many. More often these stories are known to only a few. There are special people like

  • the adult child of an infirmed parent who has put on hold her plans for retirement or her career to give full care to an aging or disabled parent and who would not have done it any other way;
  • the mother and father of an infant born with a life-threatening illness who with aching hearts, spend 24/7 at the hospital for 9 months of anguished uncertainty;
  • the man who chooses to take his brother down from the cross through an act of long-awaited forgiveness.

We all can think of examples of what Therese of Lisieux calls “the little way” but these are not so little at all for those of us who have been there.

One author suggests that Jesus says from the cross “Look what love has done to me,” because it was love for God and love for his people, including us, that compelled him to stay the course which brought him to the cross. That is why we can speak of the Triumph of the Cross. When we search our own hearts, we might also discover there the triumph of the cross:

  • when we know in our depths that it is love compelling our decisions especially in the face of rejection, suffering, loss, betrayal;
  • when we spend our lives in acts of self-emptying, compassionate service for others;
  • when it is love that allows us to hold fast to the One who has promised to be with us always, even when we feel only God’s absence.

St. Julie knew a lot about crosses and a lot about love. Is that why Julie could say? “Let us live for God, let us die for Him! If we live by crosses, we shall die of love.”

 

 

 

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