+ Veneration of the Holy Cross +
Christianity is very precise. We seem to count everything, almost obsessively. Everything seems to fit a prototype or model. Some of us see a divinely inspired pattern. Yesterday, the third Saturday, was the twentieth day of the Great Fast, and so we have survived the first half of Lent. Today is the Third Sunday of the Great Fast, the Veneration of the Holy Cross. It is generally viewed, by preachers and the faithful alike, as the mid point of our annual Lenten journey.
On Wednesday we will observe the day of Mid-Lent, the center of the forty days of the Fast plus the days of Great and Holy Week. How ever we slice it, we are halfway there. We finished half the course by keeping the faith; by prayer, fasting, and good works; by vigilance and devotion. If we have not been as faithful as we might like or as we had planned, we still have ample opportunity to refresh and renew and rededicate ourselves to our Lord through penitential acts as children of the Most High. We don’t do it just to do it. We do it for love of God, because God first loved us, and has accomplished so much for us. What He did (and does) He did for us. The Third Sunday is more than an X marks the spot kind of day.
The Cross of Christ is so much more. It is the Tree of Life because through it Jesus Christ put Death to death. It is precisely the way that God determines, in His wisdom, to restore us to our place in His heavenly kingdom. We who were dead in Adam, are now alive in Christ. If we can count the days so specifically, surely we can count on the salvation brought to us in and through Jesus Christ. Certainly we can count on His words as being the words of eternal life.
Just as His disciples and apostles were changed by His words and deeds, we, who have heard of Him from them, are transformed as well. Some scholarly types will tell you that the words recorded in the Gospels were not all spoken specifically by Jesus. They will tell you that His mission was embellished by the early Church. They, who claim to be believers, almost seem to say you cannot believe in this or that. I say this, those who heard and saw and experienced the life of the earthly Jesus and who were transformed by the Paschal Mystery of His Passion, Death, Burial, and Resurrection, have given us what they themselves received. Yes, some of it may be in their own words or as they heard it. That doesn’t make the message and its meaning any less true. As we often read and hear, the life of Christ fulfilled much in the Old Testament.
Sometimes Jesus fulfilled actual prophecies written generations before He lived. Ultimately, we see in the life of Christ a fulfillment of the historical and liturgical life of the Chosen People, the Israel of God, the Hebrew nation, the Jewish faith. Read carefully and listen closely to the words of Sacred Scripture, especially the words of Jesus in the Gospels. Ask yourself, what precisely do these words mean to me and to the world? Is this understanding of and encounter with God in His Church something that was made up by mere mortals?
What exactly am I doing here alive in the world and active in the Church? How clearly do I perceive the great plan of the Father in the actions of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit? What will it profit me if I gain the whole world and lose my own soul? What will I give in exchange for my soul? What do I think Jesus’ words and actions mean to me?
The writers is a priest of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.