From the Pastor – September 14, 2014

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:14-15)

One of the most popular verses from all of Sacred Scripture is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  At one time it was hard to go to a football game without seeing “John 3:16” on a sign in the end zone.  And it’s a wonderful verse that calls to mind God’s love.  But we need to remember the two verses preceding it (above).  We know that God loves us through a variety of ways, but the way that God showed His love for us was by “giving” His Son to be sacrificed for our sins.  That’s the meaning behind this Sunday’s Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

In the words spoken to Nicodemus in today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals that He knows that He is heading to the Cross. But what was the meaning of “the Cross” in His mind?  It stands for the culmination of His self-giving love.  He was born to be Emmanuel, “God with us,” and he died as “God with us.” He will never take that back. The history of Israel had been one of continual unfaithfulness. But the life and the death of Jesus is one of total faithfulness, the sacrificial offering of a human life lived with perfect love and self-giving, handed over to the Father: “into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). The Holy Cross is the culmination of a life that is both fully human and totally divine.

God knew that we would reject perfect love, just as we rejected the prophets.  But in the Holy Cross we can see at the same time both the depths of human sin and depravity, and the heights of God’s forgiveness and love. Jesus came not simply to restore the life that had been offered to mankind in the beginning, but to lead us even higher: to be with him, the Son, at the right hand of the Father.

Engraved on the cross on top of St. Stephen Church is part of John 3:14 in Latin: Ita exaltari oportet Filium hominis or “So must the Son of Man be lifted up.”  He lifted Himself on the cross, because no one could have forced Him to do it, unless He allowed it.  And we lift the cross as a reminder of His love, a love that was revealed to us through His Sacrifice. When we see our golden cross glistening in the sun, we shouldn’t just remember that our church is under it, we should remember what we say during the Stations of the Cross: “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.  Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty