September 14, 2014 - EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS:

NUM 21:4-9 ; PHIL 2:6-11; JOHN 3:13-17

Today's feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross marks the beginning of a new season for Benedictine monks.  The Rule treats this period as a time of a more rigorous regime intended to foster the interior life with increased intensity of application.  The reading we have just heard certainly provide us with material for reflection that take us to the heart of our faith and invite us to a more focused following of Jesus who sacrificed himself for us on the cross.

Already in the Book of Numbers we encounter a reference to the healing power of the cross in the form of the bronze serpent mounted on a pole given to the sinful Jewish people as a life-saving remedy for their sinful behavior.  They qualified for such redemptive healing by an act of trusting faith as they turned to this God-given instrument of mercy.  This act of God's kindness was given in response to the prayer of Moses on behalf of the repentant people, made at their request for his intercession.  We are taught by our recollecting this dramatic scene of our role in the Church to bring to prayer our lively concern for our fellow Christians living under pressure of an increasingly hostile society, not only in the Middle East but even at present in our own country.

Saint Paul had come to realize with increasing sensitivity to the need for God's merciful grace as he underwent the hardships encountered in witnessing to the Gospel.  He felt an ever-deepening appreciation of how much he owed to the suffering Christ endured on the cross for his sins and for ours as well. He did not stop with this keen awareness of the humiliation and pain of the crucifixion, but gave enthusiastic expression to the benefits we all derive from the passion and death of Jesus, accepted with such loving obedience. He became poor for our sake, so poor in fact that he was reduced to the loss of life itself.

In his homily at the mass of the opening of the General Chapter this past week, Dom Eamon singled out for the special attention of our monasteries the importance of being mindful of this preference lived out so lovingly by our Savior. He put it in these terms:

Jesus has already in the opening salvo of this discourse proclaimed his disciples the fortunate ones because they are among the poor, the hungry, those who weep and those persecuted for his sake.  God, Israel had been taught, had a preference for the poor and the small, that was how Israel saw itself but the message never quite got through to its rulers.
In the Gospel we have just heard the words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus, telling him that he, "the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."  Saint John comments in moving language on these portentous words that speak to each of us here this morning in unforgettable accents of loving faith:  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who belies in him might not perish but might have eternal life."  This is the mystery of our faith that we make present here at this Eucharistic sacrifice.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger