The Cross as part of our faith Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Sep. 18, 2014 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

This past Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

This Feast Day takes place each year on the 14th of September and so, while it is a major feast day for the Church, it is often missed by those who do not attend daily Mass, or at least Mass on major feasts.

This year, however, we were particularly blessed to have the feast fall on a Sunday, and so important is the feast that it actually “trumps” the typical Sunday readings.

It is indeed an important day -- so much so that it used to be followed by three Ember Days of prayer and fasting.

Why is it so important? It is not the feast of the Crucifixion of our Lord; obviously we mark that on Good Friday. And, in fact, each time we approach the altar for Mass, we represent the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, we recall His suffering, death, and resurrection; why have a special day just for the exaltation of the Holy Cross?

Because, in our Catholic faith symbols matter! We are a physical people, whose very bodies are destined to be glorified, and so the physical, tangible things of this world matter.

 

The meaning of the Cross

This is hard to understand in our day, when signs (and even words) mean next to nothing, that is to say, signs, symbols, and words can mean whatever you want them to mean.

And the Cross is probably the most taken for granted sign or symbol in our faith, and in the world at large.

In the past 10 years or so, it’s become fashionable for some celebrities to wear crosses, almost ironically. And this, in its own way, continues to empty the Cross of any meaning in the eyes of many.

While one person over here may quietly wear a cross because he or she is a true disciple of Jesus Christ, making sacrifices day-in and day-out, and trying to live the life of Christ, another person may wear a cross when they’re getting high and dancing salaciously in the evening because they think it looks cool or it goes with the outfit.

One person has what he or she means by a cross, the pious person has what he or she means by a cross. Whatever you mean is all that matters in our world.

To this view of things we say, “No, the Cross does indeed mean something much more.” The Cross means something infinitely more.

And this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is always an opportunity for a wakeup-call about our culture and about the true meaning of the Cross.

The central symbol of our faith

The Cross is the central symbol of our Catholic faith. It is a powerful sign and symbol to each of us.

And, as I’ve said before, every good sign or symbol conceals more than it reveals. So too, the Cross conceals more than it reveals.

What does the Cross look like, what does it reveal? It looks like that instrument of agony and torture and suffering and death.

But, what does it conceal? It conceals the Glory of the Resurrection. The Gospel Jesus is lifted up. We look at Him, and through Him, we enter into the Cross and are raised up with Him in the Resurrection. The Resurrection of Jesus and our own Salvation is what the Cross conceals.

And we remind ourselves mainly of this at the celebration of the Mass, daily or weekly.

The celebration of the Mass is the celebration of the Glory of the Cross. The symbol of the Cross which reveals Jesus’s suffering and death is there, and through our actions -- through the beautiful words and rituals, through the beautiful music and artwork, the beautiful people gathered, and through the haze of incensed mystery -- we see what is concealed in the Cross, the beauty of Christ’s Resurrection our destiny of Heaven, which we might not otherwise see.

That’s why we have an image of the crucified Lord there, and that’s why recently we had a directive from the Church that said at the altar, there is to be a crucifix with the corpus of the crucified Christ. Not anything else. Because you see, if we are going to celebrate at the Eucharist, that which is hidden in the Cross -- the glory -- we need to start with the Cross and Jesus crucified -- the suffering of this life.

The Mass brings us from where we are, it helps us to encounter Christ suffering with us in our daily lives, and it reveals that which it is all for. If we put up a cross with the Risen Lord on it, there is nothing to conceal! There is no suffering there. The part of the suffering is set aside for some reason, and we are supposed to forget that Christ suffered, so that we might be happier or something.

The Glory of the Cross revealed in the Mass

We need to see the crucified Lord at Mass, so that we can appreciate that in the splendid beauty of the Mass, the Glory of the Cross is revealed.

And that’s why on Good Friday we don’t celebrate Mass. Because on Good Friday, we step back from the glory of the Cross, from the glory that should be revealed each and every time we celebrate Mass, and we focus on the Cross as torture, as suffering, as death. On Good Friday, the glory of the Cross is concealed.

But on each and every other day of the year, when we offer the Holy Mass, and especially on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we should lift up our crosses, beginning with that moment of suffering, but then recalling the glory that is there concealed.

And that’s why the Mass should never be anything less than beautiful. From the music, to the vestments, from the incense, to the way the priest moves through the rite, everything should be beautiful. And, the appreciation of beauty takes time.

So, if it would be possible for priests to celebrate Mass in 15 minutes, that’s not ideal. If somebody is serious about art, they wouldn’t go and look at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris, and say, “Oh! That’s famous. That’s nice. I’ve heard of that before . . . What’s this over here now?” It takes time to enter into beauty.

So those who think that the best Mass is the quickest Mass are not interested in beauty. Because it takes time to appreciate beauty. Now, to their defense, it may be that they’ve not been given much beauty to encounter at the Mass, and that’s another problem. But we need both the patience to learn how to appreciate the Mass, and the Mass offered in a way that allows for appreciation of its inherent beauty.

The Cross hidden in our lives

So, the glory of the Cross is concealed on Good Friday. The glory of the Cross is revealed at every celebration of Mass. The glory of the Cross is hidden beneath the suffering in our daily lives.

The glory of the Cross is hidden beneath all the things that go wrong every day, and all the things that remind you that this world is not heaven. There are tastes of heaven, sure, and sometimes you seem to be having just a perfect day; just peachy! And then maybe the kids come home from school and something happens and that’s the end of the peachy day.

It’s a reminder that this world isn’t heaven (heaven is the only eternally-peachy reality), but the glory of the Cross is there.

Or maybe, you’ve been struggling with your health, and after some care, you think you’ve finally reached the last visit with the doctor for a while, you’re finally going to be back to health. But then you go to the doctor and find out there is something more, and you’d better not end the treatment yet. The glory of the Cross is hidden there.

And the glory of the Cross is really hidden behind the terrible sufferings and disasters occurring right now in the Middle East. All of that suffering conceals the glory of the Cross.

The people who are subject to that suffering, if they accept it with the mind of Christ, are great saints. Sometimes we watch the TV and just feel sorry for them, but they are heroes and heroines!

If we believe that their suffering veils the Cross, we should stop and admire them as we admire St. John Paul, who so beautifully accepted his own suffering and death; as we admire Fr. Mike Richel, who so beautifully accepted his suffering and death.

And we should say a prayer that we can respond with the same courage when we face our own crosses and, eventually, our own death.

The beauty and the glory of the Cross is concealed in all those things that go wrong in the world and all those things that go wrong in our lives. So, the reality is this: We are never far from the Cross. And we should pray at least once every day, “We adore thee, oh Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy Holy Cross, thou hast redeemed the world!”

Thank you for taking the time to read this! May you and your families find glory in the Cross this day. Praised be Jesus Christ!