Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Power of the Cross (Sunday homily)

(Note: the changes reflect what changed after I delivered it last night.)
There is a fascinating history 
to this Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross.

It begins with a Roman emperor named Constantine, 
who in AD 312 was embroiled in a civil war to see who would rule Rome. 
On the eve of battle, he saw a sign, 
and he had his soldiers trace that sign on their shields. 

It was the sign of Christ: the chi-rho, 
which looks to our eyes like an X on top of a P. 
It’s on our tabernacle right there. 
Those are the first two letters in Greek that spell “Christ.”

Constantine won the battle; 
then he decreed that Christians would be free 
to practice their faith without interference. 
History records that he wasn’t a stellar Christian; 
Even so, his mother Helen became a Christian at this time—
and she was devout. 

It was probably her idea to journey to the Holy Land 
in search of the True Cross. 
She was about 76 years old – 
and in those days, travel was very difficult, even for royalty.

When she arrived in Jerusalem, 
at the site of Calvary and the tomb were temples to Venus and Jupiter. 
The pagan Romans had built these almost 200 years before. 
Backed with the authority of her son the emperor, 
she had the pagan shrines torn down, and began digging. 
She found three crosses! Was one of them the Cross of Christ? 
How would they know?

They brought the three crosses to a sick woman’s bedside
and touched her with each cross. 
After the third cross touched her, she began to recover. 

A church, begun by Constantine in those years, 
now stands over the place of Calvary and the empty tomb; 
and this date is the anniversary of its consecration
it was on September 13 that the church was consecrated;
and the next day, today, the Cross was lifted up
before the people for the first time since the day our Lord died on it.
A portion of the cross was taken back to Rome, 
where it is on display to this day.

Is it real? I think it is. 

I find it hard to believe that Helen 
would have gone to such great trouble and expense, 
and then taken any old thing someone pushed at her. 
What’s more, consider that none of these things would have happened, 
unless Constantine won the battle – 
which he won after trusting in the sign of the Cross.

But our faith doesn’t depend on this particular story. 
What’s important is that the Cross happened. 
Jesus lived, was arrested, was crucified, died and was buried. 
And the tomb was found empty on the third day. 
These are the facts on which our Faith rests. 

Yet I think the reason God grants things like 
the discovery of the True Cross, 
or the various miracles that have happened with the Holy Eucharist, 
or the appearances of Mary, 
or any number of other miracles that have happened, 
is for the same reason he acted as he did in the first reading: 
to strengthen his people when they are “worn out by the journey.”

Meanwhile, the truth of the Cross is unassailable.  
The crisis of the human race, 
which brought God to earth and to the Cross, 
is the same as it was.
We still cannot save ourselves.
All our technology and prosperity may lengthen our lives, 
and expand our waistlines, but they don’t bring us peace. 

Wars are fought with different weapons, 
but for the same reasons, and with the same results. 

This year is the hundredth anniversary 
of the Great War to end all wars. How’d that turn out?

Thirteen years ago last week, terror struck our country. 
Are we any closer today to escaping the threat? 

Moses lifted up that strange sign, yet it gave life. 
The Cross – on which hung the savior of the world – 
is the strangest sign anyone could imagine:
God lifting up a broken man, his son, on the cross, lifted before the world. 
Even so: the Cross is the only hope the world has.

And there are powerful signs of the Cross at work in our world.

This week I read the story of a man named Mario Joseph, 
who lives in India. 
He was raised Muslim and became a minister – an “imam.” 
Simply reading the Koran – the Muslim Scriptures – 
he was led to realize: Jesus is the Savior of the world!

He was imprisoned and beaten by his own family; 
when his father threatened him with a knife 
unless he renounced Jesus, he called out the Lord’s name; 
his father fell and he was able to escape. 

He became a Catholic; he is still in India, where he tells his story. 
And he continues to pray for his family, 
even though they won’t talk to him.

There are other stories of conversion. 
All over the world, Muslims are choosing to become Christian, 
even with the terrible persecutions they and we are witnessing. 

Which may explain the ferocity of the persecution, don’t you think?

Why are Muslims converting? 
According to a study published in Christianity Today, 
Muslim converts give four reasons:

First, they are impressed by the lifestyle of Christians; 
they see genuine love and generosity, as well as moral lifestyles. 
They see women treated with dignity 
and marriages that were true partnerships.

Something for us to think about in how we live our lives!

Second, they experienced answered prayers 
when they asked Christians to pray for them, 
or when they prayed to Christ themselves. 

Third, they were not happy with their experience of Islam.

And the fourth and most amazing reason: 
they received dreams and visions, pointing them toward Christ.

With all the ugliness of our times, 
and the temptation to respond with even more ugliness, 
we might stop and notice something: 
is it possible that the world is actually being changed, 
less by war, or human ingenuity, 
but because of the power of the Cross?

You and I may not meet many Muslims. 
But we do meet people who need Christ in the center of their lives. 

What do they see in us?

What did our Lord say? 
“If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.”


Trooper York said...

Another great homily!

Trooper York said...

In the last episode of the "Real Housewives of New Jersey" they filmed in a Catholic church. It was on Ash Wednesday and they filmed the principals talking while the service was actually going on and people were praying and getting ashes.

I don't understand how a church would allow that to happen but there it is.

The two most interesting things were the fact that they made the Sign of the Cross backwards and the mother explained that they had to give up something they really liked during thee Lentil season.

We have come a long way since "The Bells of St. Mary's."