The Triumph of the Holy Cross, an alternate name for this feast, was much easier for me to fathom. The exaltation, or lifting up of the cross, is so easily confused with exultation, or rejoicing in the cross. Triumph speaks to me more of Jesus’ victory than of my response. But that’s the point, isn’t it? That was what St. Paul was getting at when he declared, May I never glory, except in the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ (Gal 6:14).
St. Thomas Aquinas says in his sixth conference on the Creed that there are two reasons why Jesus had to suffer for us: first, as a remedy for sin and, second, to leave us an example of how to act. That second reason, leaving us an example, helps mollify my antipathy toward exaltation. I am no longer looking upon the Crucified and crucifixion as a passive bystander. Somehow, I must follow Jesus’ example in my own life. I exult in the crucifixion of Jesus because, strangely, it gives me an example.
So, what is the remedy? What is the example? Again, we turn to St. Thomas who says that the first remedy and example is love. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Then, Aquinas says, there are the remedies and examples of patience, humility, obedience, and poverty. Of course! That’s what St. Paul is talking about in the great Philippians hymn today.
God loved the world so much that God sent Jesus to lead us by word and example—and by the way of the cross—to new freedom as God’s sons and daughters. God has exalted us in Jesus crucified. Let us exalt him in return.
Ave, O Crux, Spes Unica, “Hail, O Cross, our Only Hope,” was the hymn of the ancient Christians. And we echo in reply, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”