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This feast day is a much-needed spirit-lifter for me, and it came just in time!

Last night, I was feeling so much sorrow and pain, over various things, but especially the loss of my dad and of my once-fiance, Patrick (I’ve been thinking about Patrick much more since my dad died–both of them so important to me, and both of them sorely missing in my life). I was praying and begging for relief. I told God that I felt like I was dying a slow, agonizing death. That was all I could make of the pain I felt at the time–death.

Today, however, I am reminded that suffering gives life as well. The Cross of Christ bears witness to that.

To destroy the power of hell Christ died upon the cross; clothed in strength and glory, He triumphed over death.

The Lord hung upon the cross to wash away our sins in His own blood. How splendid is that blessed cross.

How radiant is that precious cross which brought us our salvation. In the cross we are victorious, through the cross we shall reign, by the cross all evil is destroyed, alleluia.

We worship Your cross, O Lord, and we praise and glorify Your holy resurrection, for the wood of the cross has brought joy to the world.

(Antiphons from Morning Prayer of the Divine Office)

I heartily recommend reading “The Dream of the Rood” on this feast day.

Here is my favorite previous post on this feast day:  The Tree of Life


I’ve been thinking and dreaming about my deceased fiance Patrick lately.  Probably because of All Saints and All Souls Days.  And every time, the phrase “a thousand days apart” has come into my head.  It’s an odd recurring phrase.

Patrick died 28 April 2005, so we’ve actually been apart about 1,654 days.  Just over 4 and a half years.

I guess “a thousand days” is one of those symbolic numbers that means “such a long time.”  It has been a long time, and will only keep getting longer.  Seeing him in my thoughts and dreams can be nice and comforting.  It can also make coping with our separation harder in everyday real life.

I didn’t realize it was still so hard for me.  But it is sometimes.  I don’t think I’ll ever entirely “get over it.”  I don’t think that “getting over it” is the point.  The point is to bear it through everyday real life.  Not ignoring it or denying it, but just carrying it in a certain place and in a certain way.

Life-long separation from somebody who was such an important and treasured part of my life and identity is part of my own personal cross.  As such he is still an important and treasured part of my life and identity.  Just a very different one.

As always, we can either love or hate our crosses.  We can either suffer them well or suffer them poorly.  They don’t disappear.  Even if we drop them and walk away, they are still there and still ours.  We don’t “get over” them.

These may seem like gloomy thoughts.  But they’re just about coming to terms with life.  And taking life on its own terms gives a certain peace and liberty.  It’s such an important choice we’re giving.  I choose to love my cross and suffer it well.

This is one of my favorite feast days, dedicated to the Holy Cross that bore Christ in His last trial.  It is a powerful reminder to us that we too are to bear the cross given to us.

At this time of year, we tend to have forgotten last Good Friday (probably the last time we formally venerated the Cross), and we have not yet thought of next Good Friday.  So it’s probably no coincidence that the Church has given us this feast day roughly in between!  Don’t you love the liturgical calendar?

I’ve been struggling beneath my own little cross of late, which is why my blog has been so quiet.  I just haven’t been drawn to write lately, although I do still have future blog posts brewing in my mind.

Tomorrow, I’m going to the doctor first the first time in… way too long.  Hoping that maybe there is some amount of medical help available for what I’m going through.   It’s nothing serious, as far as I know.  But I do need help. I am always so nervous about going to the doctor… nervous about being examined and poked around… nervous about what I might be told.

This feast day does help me in its own way.  It reminds me that the cross is nothing to be hated and despised.  Rather, it is part of following in the Lord’s footsteps, which lead to life everlasting.

Alleluia, alleluia.
Sweet the wood, sweet the nails, sweet the load that hangs on thee: thou only wast worthy to bear the King and Lord of Heaven.
~Alleluia for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Angelus Press 1962 missal)

Lord, help me to bear my little cross bravely, generously, and joyfully!

Cross as Tree of Life

Again, I wish you all a happy Feast of the Triumph of the Cross!

This beautiful image is a detail of a photograph by Lawrence OP.  I highly recommend that you click over there and view the entire thing and take in all the beautiful and delightful details of this Tree of Life mosaic!  It is a thing of tremendous beauty and wonder!  I dearly  wish that more of our contemporary Christian art, and particularly art within our churches, possessed such beauty and wonder… I think it would do wonders for revitalizing the faith in our world.  (But I digress.)

I am always captivated by the image of the cross as the Tree of Life.  It captures so well the meaning of the cross as an instrument of life, love, and salvation. As I mentioned yesterday, there are many people who find the cross, and particularly the Crucifix, to be highly disturbing.  I think the basic reason is that their vision of it stops short: they see it as death, but not as sacrifice; they see Christ as a man who was brutally killed on the cross, whether justly or unjustly, but they do not see Chirst as God who chose to become man and chose to suffer and die so brutally.  A sacrifice isn’t just death… it is death chosen by oneself out of love for another, and usually for the sake of another’s life.

Society tends to find the very notion of sacrifice to be jarring and perhaps insane.  I don’t just say this about our own society, you notice, because it’s not only our society.  After all, St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. … Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  (1 Cor. 1:18, 22-25)

It takes certain divine graces of faith and understanding to apprehend the true meaning of Cross and Crucifix.

As I’ve mentioned before, it also helps that our Christian culture is rich with art and literature created by our forebears who did receive such divine graces and the talents to express them.  The Byzantine mosaic artists who created the image above are one example.  Another example comes to us from the anonymous Anglo-Saxon Christian poet who gave us the glorious Dream of the Rood. Here is an excerpt from a modern English translation by Dr. Jonathan Glenn, in which the “most wondrous tree” itself speaks:

“It was long since–I yet remember it–
that I was hewn at holt’s end,
moved from my stem. Strong fiends seized me there,
worked me for spectacle; cursèd ones lifted me.
On shoulders men bore me there, then fixed me on hill;
fiends enough fastened me. Then saw I mankind’s Lord
come with great courage when he would mount on me.
Then dared I not against the Lord’s word
bend or break, when I saw earth’s
fields shake. All fiends
I could have felled, but I stood fast.
The young hero stripped h
imself–he, God Almighty–
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth’s fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together. All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man’s side, after ghost he gave up.
Much have I born on that hill
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,
King’s fall lamented. Christ was on rood.
But there eager ones came from afar
to that noble one. I beheld all that.
Sore was I with sorrows distressed, yet I bent to men’s hands,
with great zeal willing. They took there Almighty God,
lifted him from that grim torment. Those warriors abandoned me
standing all blood-drenched, all wounded with arrows.
They laid there the limb-weary one, stood at his body’s head;
beheld they there heaven’s Lord, and he himself rested there,
worn from that great strife. Then they worked him an earth-house,
men in the slayer’s sight carved it from bright stone,
set in it the Wielder of Victories. Then they sang him a sorrow-song,
sad in the eventide, when they would go again
with grief from that great Lord. He rested there, with small company.
But we there lamenting a good while
stood in our places after the warrior’s cry
went up. Corpse grew cold,
fair life-dwelling. Then someone felled us
all to the earth. That was a dreadful fate!
Deep in a pit one delved us. Yet there Lord’s thanes,
friends, learned of me,
adorned me with silver and gold.
Now you may know, loved man of mine,
what I, work of baleful ones, have endured
of sore sorrows. Now has the time come
when they will honor me far and wide,
men over earth, and all this great creation,
will pray for themselves to this beacon. On me God’s son
suffered awhile. Therefore I, glorious now,
rise under heaven, and I may heal
any of those who will reverence me.

Despite the horror of the Crucifixion, even the cross, once a living tree, sacrificed itself so that Christ could save mankind and all creation.  Therefore, the cross itself is worthy of our veneration.  In fact, we might go so far as to say that in becoming the Lord’s cross, that tree became the first non-human creature to receive Christ’s redemption, perhaps a foreshadow of all creation’s redemption at the end of time.  Let us indeed reverence it!

The Dream of the Rood is a wonderful piece of writing to meditate upon!

Lift high the cross!  The love of Christ proclaim,

till all the world adore His sacred Name.

Come, Christians, follow where the Master trod,

Our King victorious, Christ the Son of God.

Led on their way by this triumphant sign,

the hosts of God in conquering ranks combine.

Each newborn servant of the Crucified

bears on their brow the seal of Him Who died.

O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,

as Thou hast promised, draw the world to Thee.

So shall our song of triumph ever be:

Praise to the Crucified for victory!

(George William Kitchin, rev. by Michael Robert Newbolt)St. Dominic with cross

14 September is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, or Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.  This day is dedicated to the cross as the instrument of our salvation.  It is reminiscent of Good Friday’s Veneration of the Cross.  It is also a reminder to Christians that we are to imitate our Savior by carrying our own crosses in life and by doing so joyfully and with devotion.

Our pastor today reminded us at today’s vigil Mass that the cross is more than just a symbol or an ornament–it is part of our identity as Christians. The deacon who gave the homily began by quoting the refrain of the hymn above, which is often associated with this feast day.  He spoke of how bizarre and disturbing non-Christians sometimes find it that we revere an object associated with torment and death.  But Christians look at the cross through the eyes of faith and love–faith and love being two of the most awesome transformative powers in the world.

When we carry our own crosses, we often find the entire world likewise transformed.  It can be difficult to do.  Earlier today, when I was drowning in grief, I just wanted it all to go away.  I just wanted to drop that cross of mine, to get out from under it, to reject it completely.  I tried to do that, but I realized that the only place I had to run to was even deeper into misery!  When we reject our crosses, we reject Christ.  And when we reject Christ, we reject life, love, truth, hope, and every good thing.  We just end up turning in on ourselves, retreating into ourselves, and we find ourselves full of miseries, faults, weakness, and emptiness… and usually lots of denial, too.

Carrying our crosses may be difficult and perhaps even revulsive at times.  But it is in those moments of shrinking and fainting that we often feel the power of Christ within us, if only we believe, if only we strive.  We have Mary and the Saints to show us the way and give us their support as well.  As I mentioned, when I am in the midst of grief and feel like I have no consolation, no relief, nobody to rescue me–I turn to Mary, and she brings me to Christ.  We are never alone in our struggles!

Let us today renew our dedication to Christ and to the crosses He gives each of us.  Let us strive to carry them joyfully and make ourselves more like Him.  Let us regard the cross as part of who we are, as part of our identity–and proudly lift it high!

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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