It is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, 14 September. It recalls the discovery of – the exaltation or lifting up of – the relic of the true Cross in Jerusalem by Helena, Mother of the Emperor Constantine, around the year 320 and then the building of a church on the site of the Crucifixion of Jesus in the year 335 by that same Emperor, Constantine.
It is from a small chapel dedicated to Saint Helen that the modern-day town of St Helens in our own Archdiocese appears to take its name.
So much for the history, however. What does it say to us today? Well, many of us will be familiar with the introduction to each station in the devotion, The Stations of the Cross:
V/ We adore you O Christ and we praise you
R/ Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world
Our devotion to, and gratitude to, God for the Holy Cross and all that it stands for is not merely an acknowledgement of the pain and suffering which were inflicted on an innocent one, Jesus – a suffering of innocents which sadly we continue to inflict even in our so-called enlightened times. It is also, and
perhaps more fundamentally, a gratitude for that generous love of which Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote:
‘And in the garden secretly,
And on the cross on high,
[Jesus] should teach His brethren, and inspire
To suffer and to die.’
It is the saving power of the self-emptying love of Jesus which continues even to this day to teach us and to inspire us how best and most perfectly to live the life with which God has graced us. As we reflect on the many ways in which the generous love of God – expressed through the kindness and sacrifice of
others – has led us to the today which we enjoy, we rededicate ourselves to making the Sign of the Cross with even greater devotion and sincerity because it is the sign of so great a love and generosity.
• On 14 September, please remember in your prayers Thomas Varavunkal, a student of the Beda College who is being ordained as a priest in India.