Pier della Francesca, Exaltation of the Holy Cross,
Italian, San Francesco, Arezzo, 1452-1466

Today’s feast marked the 12th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.  As each year passes I find that this anniversary is a day of gratitude to God, in particular for all the many people who have been, and are, a part of my life.  I’m very grateful for the prayers of many.  Deo gratias!

Below is the homily I gave at Mass this morning.

[Readings: Num 21:4-9 / Philippians 2:6-11; Ps 78;  John 3:13-17]

 Just after a priest is ordained, and his hands are anointed with the Sacred Chrism, the bishop hands the paten and chalice to the newly ordained, saying:  Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him.  Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.

 Model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.  At the heart of that injunction is a constant call to die to oneself, to die to one’s own whims, desires and preoccupations, so as to be more completely united with God’s will.  If the priest is to be a minister of God’s love, mercy, healing … then those things in him that are potential blocks need to die.

 As we contemplate the mystery of the Lord’s cross, we have to reflect on how we deal with suffering in our lives.  In a recent homily, my archbishop said that one of the key questions he asks before ordaining a priest is: “has this man faced suffering in his life?”  For if someone hasn’t faced suffering, then they can’t have drawn close to the Lord’s cross, and they’re not going to be in much of a position to minister to those who suffer.

 As today’s Gospel reminds us, the Cross is the sign to us of how much God loved the world.  Jesus’ love was so great that he was prepared to surrender all, in complete abandonment to his Father’s will.

 If I were to ask you to name some of the times when you’ve seen a miracle, or when you’ve seen a prayer answered in a very real and obvious way, or when you’ve been utterly convinced of God’s presence and action doing something in your life, very often that happens after we’ve reached a point of utter desperation.  We’ve come to our wit’s end;  we literally fall to our knees, aware of our total hopelessness and powerlessness to achieve something;  and in some fashion we cry out to God.

 When we truly reach the death that is that point, it’s then that we experience the Lord’s answer.  But only after death.  Only after we’ve been beaten down, emptied, nailed to the cross and breathed our last;  when we’ve breathed out the last gasp of control, pride, self-sufficiency.  Then we’re ready to receive from the only One who can bring us life.

 Our readings this week have been giving us many examples of this mystery of the Lord’s cross.  On Tuesday when Saint Paul is talking about taking each other to trial, he ends up saying:  [but] “Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be defrauded?”  It’s the same mystery of the Lord’s cross that leads Jesus to declare – as we heard on Wednesday, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, [and when they] revile you …”  And then as we heard yesterday, the way to life as described by the Lord involves giving our shirt also when someone asks for our coat;  not asking for our goods again after someone takes them;  and if someone hits us on the face, to let them hit the other side too.

 None of this makes any sense outside the realm of faith.  Model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.  The apparent defeat is the necessary prelude to the triumphant working of the power of God.  Only in complete and total surrender – and apparent loss – do we in fact gain everything.

 As we celebrate today the Exaltation of the Holy Cross may the Lord open our eyes of faith to appreciate a little more how we are to embrace the mystery of the Lord’s Cross and to model our lives on this mystery.  May this eucharist give us courage to love the Cross, the means of our salvation.