Wearing the Cros
Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

I have been a priest for the past thirty-two years and it was only in the last two years that I have regularly worn a big cross hanging from a simple string around my neck. In the early years, if ever I wore a clerical sign, it was a tiny cross pinned on my collar. Now the cross is bigger and more visible. Looking back, it seems I did not want to display my clerical identity and draw attention to myself. I was careful to avoid criticisms of clerical triumphalism. Now I am more comfortable with my priestly identity and the appreciation as well as criticism that goes with it. It is also my way of proclaiming that I believe in the Lord Jesus as my God and Savior.

Crosses are not only clerical signs. I see young people and rock performers wearing large crosses and rosaries. Fashion models and star wannabe’s wear them too. Is the cross only a fashion accessory or does it have a religious meaning for its wearer? Today, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we ask the question, “What is the meaning of the cross?” What is the meaning behind the symbol?

Symbols are visible signs that stand for a deeper meaning. Some symbols are very familiar such as corporation logos. Even a two-year old child recognizes the Jolibee logo in the Philippines. The Olympic symbol was pointed out by a magazine as the most familiar international symbol. Can you recall the U.N. symbol? How about McDonald’s? The cross has taken on different meanings in contemporary use. In traffic signs it could mean a crossroad. It is also the plus sign. It becomes clearer as a Christian symbol when the corpus of Christ is on it.

As St. Paul observed during his time, Christ’s death on the cross was “foolishness” or unreasonable for the Greek philosophers. The Greeks who put premium on physical and intellectual excellence could not understand how the cross, a sign of defeat could become a sign of victory. If Jesus was indeed God, He couldnot die. The Jews on the other hand saw Christ’s death on the cross as scandalous. It was a death for the worst of criminals. The Messiah would lead his people to victory against their foreign oppressors, not suffer a humiliating death on the cross.

The Cross is another paradox of the Christian faith. Victory through defeat. Exaltation through humiliation. Life through death. It is in line with other Christian paradoxes: Jesus as Man-God, Mary as Virgin-Mother, Peter as servant-leader, the first being the last, the disciple as sinner-saint, earthen vessels containing a priceless treasure. All these paradoxes are at first glance “foolish and scandalous”.

According to one spiritual writer, it is love that pierces the cloud of unknowing and lack of understanding. It is love that makes us understand the paradox of the cross. One who loves is concerned for the other. One who loves forgets self. One who loves make sacrifices for the beloved. St. John the evangelist beautifully expresses this in the famous verse, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son” (Jn. 3:16). God offers life rather than condemnation. If love means getting out of oneself, then the goal of Christian life is not self-realization. It is self-transcendence. It is self-forgetting.

As we celebrate the feast of Exaltation of the Holy Cross, may we not just wear the cross. Let us live the cross in our life. The life of love is the life of the cross. There is no love without the cross. Love brings us to the cross and the cross become meaningful when one loves.

On the lighter side, a parish priest ended his homily on this feast day by saying, “Raise up your crosses and I will bless them. A man was surprised why his wife was trying to lift him up. She said, “You have been my cross the past twenty years, the priest might as well bless you.”

Action starter: Wear and live the cross.