Homily for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

By: Pierbattista Pizzaballa - Published: September 14 Wed, 2022

Homily for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Available in the following languages:

Dear brothers and sisters,

The feast we celebrate today is yet another invitation to come to terms with the cross.

Our worship does not stop with that piece of wood. It ends with the One who gave his life on that cross, with the One who so deeply emptied himself for us that he died on that wood for our sins, to communicate his life to us.

Often here in Jerusalem, and every day at the Holy Sepulcher, we sing "Vexilla Regis prodeunt"! The Cross is the symbol of Christ's victory over sin and death, an inheritance that came from the first Adam who, according to tradition, is buried just below Calvary. Yet, how paradoxical God's action seems in this victory over sin and death! God wins precisely when, humanly, he appears defeated; He gives life precisely when, in everyone's eyes, he appears to be no more than a corpse; He makes us rich in his infinite riches precisely when he remains naked and bereft of everything, in need of even a borrowed tomb...

This feast reminds us of our mission: to witness our love for Jesus Christ, and consequently to love His living body today, which is the Church; the Church made of living stones, of those who have been bought back at the price of the precious Blood of the Redeemer.

In the Gospel (Mt 10:38), Jesus says; "Whoever does not take up their own cross and follow me is not worthy of me." Jesus does not ask us to honor His Cross, but to imitate Him, to follow Him, each of us taking up our own cross. And this means to offer our lives too, in a single act of unconditional, unreserved giving to God and to our brothers and sisters.

It also means for us to accept the paradox of the Cross: the victory we can achieve over the world will be proportional to the apparent defeat we will suffer, to the sacrifice of ourselves we will make. The Cross means abandoning our human ways of seeing and judging in order to enter into God's logic: "My ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts" (Is 55:8).

Yes, we are bound to that cross. We cannot remove it from our horizon. We, also, are nailed to that cross, along with all men and women. The liturgy today invites us to make that cross our own, to find ourselves, as men and women, in that piece of wood. We have no way out and cannot escape from this truth: on the cross, Christ makes us like him, people of pain and giving. And with us, our infamies, sins and fears are also nailed to that cross.

In that cross, in short, we find all suffering humanity: the injustices, the wars, the abuse, the humiliations, the cry of pain of everyone.

But if in the cross, Christ makes us like him, then the cross also becomes our model of action and reference: Christ from the cross, from that place of unjust pain, invokes forgiveness for those who crucify him, brings paradise to the repentant thief. On the cross Christ is naked.

There is also another model of the cross, however: that of the impenitent thief, who does not accept pain and death, who blasphemes. It is not to this cross that we must look.

This is what is being announced to us today, especially here in the Holy Land, the very place that seems to be the heart of the world's pain. This feast invites us all to find ourselves in the cross, but in the cross of Christ. That is, it invites us not only to be able to see the crucified Christ in all suffering, and to associate our pain with His, but also - as Christ did from the cross - to find ourselves in the capacity for forgiveness, in the desire to give salvation, in the need to be naked, that is, true, without masks.

I would now like to make a second point. To me today, this solemnity also recalls this: to accept to live at a loss, that is, to work at a loss, to suffer at a loss, to die at a loss. Without calculation, without gainsaying, without reasoning. On Calvary one does not reason, one contemplates. And one contemplates Christ who, on the cross, gives himself totally and with love.

With the cross of Christ, the world has taken on a new dimension, the dimension of those who give their lives for the ones they love. In this new human dimension, the cross is the unit of measure. The crucifix is the Presence of this new reality, without which nothing is understood. Whether I want it or not, my life with Christ is linked to my losing myself for those I love. "He who loses his life, finds it again." The cross teaches me to understand this aspect of my living, namely, that losing is the only real gain I can make. One of the great poverties of today is not the lack of money and success, but the inability to spend myself, that is, my absolute lack of love. I have nothing to give, because I have nothing overflowing from my heart.

Those who believe in the love that flows from the cross do not ask for equality, do not claim rights, are not defrauded, do not bear resentment. They are like the crucified one, who keeps his arms and heart wide open and who grants forgiveness to the crucifiers and Heaven to the good thief.

The world today needs the cross of Christ. It needs people who know how to spend and lose themselves. To the world, they will be as good as dead, they will be useless. But in reality, they will be the witnesses of true life.

Today is also an important moment for Caritas Jerusalem. Caritas stands for love. It is the task of Caritas to be the visible and tangible expression of the Church's love for the members of her body, for Christians, and for every child of God. This means, as we have said, to know how to always work at a loss, to give one's life for another, to bear witness to the same love that Jesus had on the cross.

Caritas is not an NGO, it is not a politically and socially neutral institution. It cannot be; it is against the nature of Caritas to be neutral. Carita Jerusalem has the primary mission of being a witness to the love of Christ and the Church in the Holy Land. And that means being the voice, the heart and the hands of the Church of Christ that decides to stand by the poor, the suffering, the disenfranchised, the voiceless. It is your task, our task, to give a name and a face to those who are excluded, far away, alone, invisible.

Your mission has its heart in Jerusalem, but it extends to all of Palestine. You will therefore not lack opportunities to express it in this land marked by pain, injustice and violence, but at the same time also full of passion and commitment.

The Church of Jerusalem will be with you, and will accompany you in this difficult, troubled but great mission.