Ordo Equestris Sancti Sepulchri
Homily of Edwin Cardinal O’Brien
at the Mass on the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Saturday 14 September 2013
Nearing the conclusion of our Pilgrimage to Rome marking the Year of
Faith, how fortunate we are to gather in this singular Basilica, the symbolic
heart of our Faith resting upon the very tomb of St. Peter the Apostle. Here as
in no other place in Christendom have the Lord’s words to the first of the
Apostles, Feed my lambs, Feed my sheep, been fulfilled every day for two
millennia. Here, billions of Christians have been nourished by the Risen Body
of Christ, as we will be this evening in the Eucharist.
How grateful we are and privileged to celebrate the Cross of Christ in
surely the most famous but also – outside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in
Jerusalem – the most venerated temple in Christendom.
The feast we celebrate today, the Exaltation of the Cross dates back to
the 6th century, but general devotion to the Cross dates from the
earliest days of the Church. Early in the third century Tertullian relates a
common devotion already in place for some time:
“In all our travels, in all our coming in and going out,
In putting on our shoes, at the table, we mark our foreheads
with the sign of the cross”.
And to this very day throughout the Christian world, the cross is a
most basic prayer and gesture – marked in sacraments, on buildings, on walls in
the simplest of homes and perhaps for most of us signed many times on our person
each day. In days of early persecution the subtle gesture of the cross, one to
the other, revealed oneself to be a Christian.
For some, very soon after the Lord’s crucifixion, the cross was shunned
as a symbol of shame and defeat: ordinarily in the Greco-Roman world the cross
proved the punishment for political extremists, rebellious slaves and violent
criminals. In very short time, however, Paul’s prayer became Christians’
prayer: “God forbid that I should take pride in anything except the Cross of
Jesus”, and “I desire to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.
He even spoke of bearing the Cross of Christ on his body. For him it was not
the stumbling block and scandal it was for Jesus and Greeks but an unmistakable
sign of God’s love for every member of the human family, stretching to the four
corners of the universe.
Pope Francis has recently said: “When we profess Christ without the Cross, we
are not disciples of the Lord, we are wordly: we may be bishops, priests,
cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord. (In italian on the original document: Papa Francesco ha recentemente affermato:
“Quando professiamo Cristo senza il carico della Croce, non siamo discepoli del
Signore, siamo mondani; possiamo essere vescovi, preti, cardinali, papi, ma non
discepoli del Signore”).
In signing ourselves with the Cross we proclaim protection under the Cross of
Christ as a shield to guard ourselves in every crisis. At the turn of the first
century St. Ignatius of Antioch called the sign of the Cross our “heist to
heaven” enfleshing us into the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.
Recall the very words of Christ: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will
draw everyone to myself.”
Obviously, members of our Order have a special and solemn obligation to
reverence, to live and to proclaim the power of Christ Risen and the graces that
still flow from his side while on the Cross. (In spanish on the original document: Obviamente, los miembros de nuestra Orden tienen una especial y solemne
obligación de venerar, de vivir y proclamar el poder de Cristo resucitado y las
gracias que todavia decienden de su costado mientras está sobre la cruz).
As members of an Order repeatedly emblazoned with the Cross of Christ, might we
conclude our meditation with the thoughts of the spiritual writer Romano
Guardini in the form of a personal examination of conscience:
- Do we see the Cross as the holiest of all signs?
- Do we sign ourselves unhurriedly – forehead to breast, shoulder to shoulder,
aware that it consecrates and sanctifies every part of us at once?
- Does a deliberate and thoughtful sign of the Cross before we pray help us to
compose and collect ourselves?
- When we seal the end of our prayer with this sacred sign, do we hold fast and
offer thanks to this bridge from earth to heaven, from darkness to light?
- Do we sign ourselves in temptation to be strengthened and in danger to be
In short, do we merely tolerate or do we fully embrace every cross generously
offered us by the Crucified One?
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