Back in the 1990’s there was a television show, humbly entitled, “Hercules: the Legendary Journeys!” It featured the dashing Hercules, who went from town to town, protecting innocent villagers from monsters, thieves, or the whims of the gods. Now, don’t feel bad if you don’t remember it, because my homily won’t hinge on any plot lines. You don’t need to remember Hercules’s hulking muscles and flowing hair or any cheesy monsters, you just need to remember this: the Greek gods are portrayed as whimsical and detached beings who care little about men and women below.
The vision of gods in the Greek world was one where they floated above the world on Mt. Olympus. This vision of god is probably not to far removed from what many of us still carry today—god is in some far away heaven and occasionally, like some distant, rich uncle, he gives us a taste of the good life. Into this vision of god—remote, distant, and separated, comes the God of Jesus Christ and the image of the Holy Cross.
We celebrate today the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. To the ancient Greco-Roman world, the Catholic claim of the cross was complete foolishness. If you are familiar with Greek mythology, you remember that Zeus might take on human appearance to chase after women, causing more harm than help. Catholics believe that God—all-powerful, all knowing, ever living—assumed a human body and soul, not to find pleasure but to enter into our pain. This is the mystery and the glory of the Holy Cross.
What is the meaning of the cross? The sign of the cross is often reduced to a good-luck charm- around our necks or over our body when we begin a test. The Cross of Jesus Christ does not promise us success, health, or pleasure. The Cross only promises us that Jesus will be with us, no matter how badly we suffer, no matter how badly we fail, and no matter how horribly we feel. Jesus said, “Behold I am with you always until the end of the age.” It is through His Cross that Jesus is with us- that is the meaning of the Cross and that is the meaning of our Christian faith.
God enters into the depth, the pit of human experience through Jesus’ crucifixion and death. We are not alone. We wish that the Holy Cross meant that we don’t have to suffer, but it means that God chose to suffer with us. God’s ways are not our ways. The lesson of the Holy Cross is still very hard for us. That is why the Holy Cross became THE sign of the Catholic faith. Even in our Churches, known for stained glass, statues, and stations- the only image that is explicitly required is a cross, depicting Christ crucified. How often do we struggle to believe in God when things are going well? How much more do we need to remember that God is with us, even in our sufferings?
The Holy Cross becomes a sign of hope. When we look on the Holy Cross, we can believe that there is hope beyond our suffering, our failures, and our loss. We can believe that there is hope for the single pregnant mother, hope for the terminally ill, and hope for the poor. There is hope because God will not abandon us in our sufferings.
We must always exalt and lift up the Cross of Jesus Christ. The God of Jesus Christ did not fail the city of Houston in the path of hurricane Ike. The God of Jesus Christ did not fail the faithful parishioner afflicted with cancer. The God of Jesus Christ did not fail Coach Meyer in his accident and diagnosis. The God of Jesus Christ suffers with them. The God of Jesus Christ suffers with us. The God of Jesus Christ is with us.