Exaltation of the Holy Cross
- I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14)
As the collect prayer for his memorial says, St. John Chrysostom was not only renowned for his eloquence but also heroic in his sufferings. For preaching the gospel, he suffered hardships (cf. 2 Tim. 2:9). He so roused the anger of the imperial court and the envy of his enemies that he was twice forced into exile. Sensing the imminence of his exile, St. John Chrysostom said in a homily (cf. the non-biblical reading in Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours for September 13):
- The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning,
- for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock.
- Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death?
- “Life means Christ, and death is gain.” Exile? “The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord.”
- The confiscation of our goods? “We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take
- nothing from it.” I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable.
- I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live,
- except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you,
- my friends, to have confidence.
Such confidence, St. John Chrysostom further explains, is inspired by Jesus’ presence until the end of the age among those who are gathered in his name. And just so long as one does the Lord’s will and remains part of the single body of Christ, no distance or exile, not even death itself, can cause separation or division.
St. John Chrysostom stands out for me as an eloquent witness, by word and deed, to the sublime paradox that the cross is exaltation and that death is gain. His triumph in and over his sufferings manifests his embrace of the apostle Paul’s proclamation of “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-25). But more than just moving me with his eloquent words, St. John Chrysostom draws me with his compelling example.
And, indeed, exemplifying or embodying the paradox that the instrument of death and damnation is likewise the instrument of life and salvation is the only way I can both genuinely comprehend and effectively testify to the evangelist John’s proclamation that Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross constitutes his being lifted up in glory. As startling and puzzling as the paradox of the cross is, it can shake my presuppositions and draw me to examine my life in its light only if I live it as an ineffable mystery ultimately and not attempt to solve it as a problem (cf. Father Robert P. Maloney’s “An Upside-down Sign: The Church of Paradox at ).
My usual presupposition, unfortunately, is that power means strength. It is about time for me, therefore, to try something different in earnest, namely, the Christian way of drawing power from the experience of weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10). It is not enough that I sing the hymn of Christ’s self-emptying with my lips; I have to sing such a new and startling hymn with my life, as St. Augustine advises (cf. the non-biblical reading in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of Hours for the memorial on November 22 of St. Cecilia). As a servant, I owe it to my master to follow his way. A follower of Jesus, as St. Vincent de Paul reminded Father Portail, has no other choice but to live and to die by, respectively, the death and the life of Jesus Christ. Partaking of Jesus’ body and blood—finding paradoxically his real presence now when I also await in joyful hope his coming—supposes that I drink the cup he drank and I be baptized with the baptism he was baptized with (cf. Jn. 15:20; Mk. 10:38).