There is no aspect of the Christian life more difficult to understand (and to accept lovingly and with joy) than the role of the cross in our salvation.
On Sept. 14, we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which celebrates St. Helena’s discovery of the True Cross in 320, and the dedication of the basilica and shrine built on the site of the Crucifixion in 335.
But more than that, the feast highlights the intense suffering Christ endured out of love for us to obtain our redemption, a suffering that he first asked to be taken from him in the Garden of Gethsemane (“If it be possible, let this cup pass from me” Mt. 26:39).
As Saint John Paul II wrote in Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian meaning of human suffering), suffering “is the undergoing of evil before which man shudders.” It’s not easy for anyone, and it is a reality “almost inseparable from man’s earthly existence.”
But, the Pope continues, in the cross the Christian finds meaning in suffering because it is through the cross that Christ redeems our sins, and it is through our sharing in Christ’s cross that we gain eternal life.
“Human suffering has reached its culmination in the Passion of Christ. And at the same time it has entered into a completely new dimension and a new order: it has been linked to love … to that love which creates good, drawing it out by means of suffering, just as the supreme good of the Redemption of the world was drawn from the Cross of Christ.”
As we prepare to celebrate the great feast day of the Exultation of the Cross, let us look to some of the great spiritual masters for words of encouragement and insight into the mystery of human suffering and redemption.
Your cross is unique
“The everlasting God has in his wisdom foreseen from eternity the cross that He now presents to you as a gift from His Inmost Heart. This cross He now sends you He has considered with His all-knowing eyes, understood with His divine mind, tested with His wise justice, warmed with loving arms and weighed with His own hands to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you. He has blessed it with His Holy Name, anointed it with His consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the All-Merciful Love of God.”
— Prayer of St. Francis de Sales (1567–1622)
Path to patience
“If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid. Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth.”
— St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
There is no other route
“Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.”
— St. John of the Cross (1542–1591)
The path to holiness
“If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of great holiness which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ. That is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ.”
— St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556)
Help carry your neighbor’s cross
“I always want to see you behaving like a brave soldier who does not complain about his own suffering but takes his comrades’ wounds seriously and treats his own as nothing but scratches.”
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897)
How to celebrate the cross
“When you become true lovers of the Crucified, you will always celebrate the feast of the cross in the inner temple of the soul, bearing all in silence and not relying on any creature. Since festivals ought to be celebrated joyfully, those who love the Crucified should honor the feast of the cross by enduring in silence with a serene and joyful countenance, so that their suffering remains hidden from men and is observed by God alone. For in this feast there is always a solemn banquet, and the food presented is the will of God, exemplified by the love of our crucified Christ.”
— St. Paul of the Cross (1694–1775)