And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself. (Jn 12.32)
Usually when today’s Introit is set out in a text, the reference is given to Galatians 6.14:
mihi autem absit gloriari nisi in cruce Domini nostri Iesu Christi per quem mihi mundus crucifixus est et ego mundo
(But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.)
In fact our text in the Liturgy is stronger than the text of St Paul. We are told:
Nos autem gloriari oportet in Cruce Domini nostri Jesu Christi in quo est salus, vita et resurrectio nostra per quem salvati et liberati sumus (We should glory in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ in which there is our health, life and resurrection through which we are saved and set free.)
In other words, it is not that we should not glory in anything else, but that we must glory in the cross.
Our feast is closely associated with the finding of the Holy Cross by St Helena, and with the great triumph of the Cross in the liberation of Christians within the Roman empire. In his commentary on today’s feast, the Abbé Gueranger told of Constantine’s vision of the cross and said:
Constantine’s adoption of the cross as a symbol was a radical transformation in Roman attitudes to the Cross. Long before Christ, Plautus and Terence used expressions like “I in crucem” (Go to the cross) as a way of saying something like “Go to hell!” the Alexamenos graffito carved in plaster on a wall near the Palatine hill has a crude picture of a donkey on the cross, a man in an attitude of prayer and the inscription probably meaning “Alexamenos worships God.” One soldier taking the mickey out of another’s faith shows his God as a donkey.
That soldier had to glory in the cross in spite of ridicule. Today people lose their jobs because of wearing a cross. The cross was central to the overturning of the fortunes of the Christians from a time of merciless persecution under Diocletian to their liberation just two years after his death. The cross must also be at the heart of our resistance to the encroachment of secularism on the freedom of Christians in Western countries which is growing day by day. We aren’t being thrown to the lions but the unborn and the elderly are being despatched in greater numbers that Diocletian could manage, and Christians are increasingly constrained if they do anything effective about it.
In the Sodality of the Five Holy Wounds, we glory in the cross and take consolation in the sweet and saving power of the sufferings of Christ for our salvation. As well as being justly bold and proud in our faith, we must embrace the cross in daily life, both by chosen penances and daily mortification and by the acceptance of those penances that God sends to us in His providence. If we can learn to bear with and even rejoice in those daily trials, we will have a small glimpse of the happiness of the Holy Martyrs who were unshaken by their torments but worshipped, trusted and gloried in the Cross of our Holy Saviour.