Feast of the Holy Cross

holy-sepulcher
Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Anyone know why we keep a Feast of the Holy Cross on September 14?  (Or on the Sunday closest to September 14, if it’s a Maronite parish?)*

On September 14, AD 335, they carried a piece of the cross of Christ in solemn procession into the newly dedicated Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Lord Jesus was crucified outside the ancient wall of the city, on the hill called…  Golgatha.  After He died, they laid Him in a nearby tomb, as we read in John 19:  “In the place where He was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden, a new tomb.  There they laid Him.”  Mount Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher stand only a few dozen yards apart from each other.

When the Roman Emperor Hadrian visited the Holy Land during the 130’s, he renamed Jerusalem after himself, and he ordered that the sites of our Lord’s crucifixion and burial be covered over with earth, and then a pagan temple built there.  Hadrian hated Judaism and Christianity.  St. Dimitry Rostov put it like this in his homily for this feast:

[The Roman emperor wanted] the remembrance of the name of Jesus Christ to vanish from the earth…  The place where he was crucified and buried was made a dwelling-place of demons, so that every nation would forget Christ, and the places where Christ had walked would never serve to remind anyone of Him.

Therefore, the Holy Cross and the tomb of Christ remained buried underground for almost two hundred years.

But: one thing we can certainly say is that the Christians of Jerusalem knew precisely where they were.  We can safely say that, from the first Easter Sunday onward, not a single day passed without a Christian going to pray at the holy site.

So when the Emperor Constantine finally legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in AD 313, and when the emperor’s mother St. Helena went to the Holy Land to find the cross and the holy sepulcher, there were still Christians there, and they knew where to tell her to look.

Tenth Station of the Cross

So let’s keep this anniversary feast as an occasion to rejoice in the genuinely amazing faithfulness of Christians through all the tumults of history.

And let’s focus especially on this:  our forefathers and foremothers in faith have held on through thick and thin not because they have had so much virtue—though many of them certainly have had great virtue.  The main reason, though, is this: it’s the truth.

Our ancestors who have handed our sacred tradition down to us have simply been faithful to what they knew to be true.  The great triumphant mystery of God-made-man involves facts.  And those facts have been remembered faithfully and handed down to us primarily because they are true.

After all, that’s the only reasonable explanation for us being here together right now, dear reader.

Let’s look at it this way.  A man regarded by the authorities as a delusional political nuisance was executed as a common criminal on the outskirts of a ramshackle city, which the Romans thought of as an outpost in the outer reaches of barbarian hell.  If CNN had existed to report the news of the Roman Empire at the time, the chances that Wolf Blitzer would have mentioned this particular execution:  zero.

The executed man was buried nearby, in a tomb that did not belong to his family–His family being altogether too poor to own any tombs.  The chances of anyone making a written record about the location of the grave:  zero.

little last supperIn other words, we really cannot even imagine anything more obscure and forgettable than the death and burial of this particular man.  Innumerable men and women have died, and been buried, and have been altogether forgotten.  And by all external trappings, the Nazarene carpenter would fit into that human category, the category of the altogether forgettable.

Except for one fact:  He is God.

He rose from the dead.  He poured out His Holy Spirit.  He unites us to Himself through the Holy Mass.  He is the hope and the joy of mankind.

This is what Christians have known from Day One.  So they prayed at the sites of his death and resurrection.  They prayed there even when the worldly powers did everything to try to make them forget.

At Holy Mass, we take our place with these forefathers and foremothers of ours.  The living memory of the living God-made-man survived the ravages of Hadrian and the other Roman emperors who hated Christianity.  The tradition endured to the day when they carried the relic of the true cross into the beautiful new Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, seventeen centuries ago.  And the living memory of the living God-made-man has endured through those seventeen centuries from then until now.

We take our place beside all our forebears, who have held the faith through all these hundreds of years, and we declare with them:  We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You…

Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world!

————–

* Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ, this Sunday I am substituting for the pastor of our local Maronite parish, while my beloved parochial vicars hold down the fort at home.

God’s Obscure Burial

Today a solemn procession carrying the relic of the Cross of Christ entered the newly dedicated Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, almost seventeen centuries ago.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher
The site of our Lord’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection had been covered over by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who hated Judaism and Christianity. He had built a pagan shrine on the site.

But the Cross, as well as the tomb of Christ, remained buried underground for almost two hundred years. The Christians of Jerusalem knew precisely where the holy sites were located. We can safely say that, from the first Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday on, not a single day passed without a Christian going to pray at these locations.

So we can keep today’s feast as an occasion to rejoice in the genuinely amazing faithfulness of the Christian faithful through all the tumults of history. And our forefathers and foremothers in faith have been faithful not necessarily because they had so much virtue—though many of them certainly have had great virtue. The main reason, though, is that it’s all true. All of it has been remembered faithfully and handed down to us because it’s true.

Let’s look at it this way. A man regarded by the authorities as a delusional political nuisance was executed as a common criminal on the outskirts of a ramshackle city which the Romans thought of as an outpost in Barbaria. If CNN had been reporting world events at the time, the chances of this execution getting mentioned by Wolf Blitzer was zero.

The executed man was buried nearby, in a tomb that did not belong to his family, His family being altogether too poor to own any tombs. The chances that the location of this grave would have been recorded in any written form: zero.

In other words, it is hard to imagine anything more obscure and forgettable than the death and burial of this man.

Except for one thing: He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and poured out the Holy Spirit.

Assaulted?

Touching the rock of Calvary. Photo credit Nicky Morrison.

“That day will assault everyone,” says the Lord (Luke 21:35).

The Lord Jesus is saying that the day of judgment will assault everyone.

But let’s ask ourselves this question: Do the days already assault us now?

Does the alarm clock make an unwelcome sound? Does the morning news assault me? Is pulling out into traffic like being assaulted? Am I thoroughly pummeled by mid-morning?

An assault leaves the victim stunned, paralyzed, dazed, passive. An assault knocks the wind out of you, sucks the energy out of you, bewilders you. An assault can make a person lose his way, lose track of where he was headed. Immediately after an assault, it is impossible to focus on one’s goals; it is impossible to focus on the future. There is just pain and confusion.

The roughest part of everyday life can be boredom. The assault can be the oppression of deadening routine. Life comes at you slow—so slow that it hurts with a dull pain, like after a body blow.

What happens when even the special, fun things feel old? Like when you don’t feel like doing any daggone Christmas shopping?

“That day will assault everyone.”

Continue reading “Assaulted?”

Words from the Center of the Earth

Mount Zion, true pole of the earth, the Great King’s city! —Psalm 48

Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Some reflections on our visit to the empty tomb:

That Jesus Christ rose from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher is one of the most solidly established facts of ancient history.

It is not just that there are no bones in the tomb. (We pilgrims can say that we have seen this with our own eyes.)

It is also that there are multiple, independent eye-witness accounts of people who saw and spoke with Christ after He had been crucified and died.

History cannot be an exact science. The smarter bet is: Jesus Christ rose and walked out of the Holy Sepulcher. It is more likely that He did than that He didn’t.

The historical fact that Jesus came back from the dead is not itself an article of faith. We did not go on pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher just because Jesus rose from the dead there. We—and countless pilgrims before us—went to the empty tomb because of what the resurrection of Christ has to do with us.

Other people besides Jesus Christ have come back from the dead. We read in the gospels that Lazarus came back from the dead, the son of the widow of Nain came back from the dead, Jairus’ daughter came back from the dead.

But the man who rose from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher is the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world. The man who came back from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher is the Head of the Body of the Church. The man who came back from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher rose to everlasting life, the first fruits of the final resurrection.

This man’s coming back from the dead has everything to do with us. It is the most important fact of all the facts of life. We believe that because He walked out of the tomb, we can hope for every good thing from God.

Here is how Pope Benedict put it when he visited the Holy Sepulcher in May:

Here the history of humanity was decisively changed. The long reign of sin and death was shattered by the triumph of obedience and life.

Here Christ, the new Adam, taught us that evil never has the last word, that love is stronger than death, that our future, and the future of all humanity, lies in the hands of a faithful and provident God.

The Holy Sepulcher is the center of the world. All time, all history, revolve around it. The entire universe revolves around this little cave.

We do not live in a chaos of darkness careening towards nothing. No: We live in the loving hands of the God who raised His Son from the dead in the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Pope Benedict at the Holy Sepulcher

Sunrise at Ben Gurion

We are sitting at our gate, watching the sun come up, wishing we could start the pilgrimage all over again. There are many things to report…

At the empty tomb

Before most of you dear readers went to bed on Sunday evening–after the glorious victory–we were already in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.

We celebrated Holy Mass in the tomb of Christ itself, receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood in the very place where He rose from the dead.

…I neglected to mention earlier that some of us enjoyed camel rides by the Dead Sea…

…We visited the Mount of Olives:

At the top of it, the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. On the slope of it, He taught His disciples the Our Father. He descended it on a donkey on Palm Sunday–we walked down the ancient pathway that He used.

At the bottom we prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In the Garden of Gethsemane

…We made the Way of the Cross right where the Lord Jesus made it…

…We visited the Pools of Bethesda. The Blessed Mother was born nearby, in the home of Joachim and Anne, near the Sheep Gate of the ancient wall of Jerusalem, near the Temple.

St. Anne, pray for us

Schema, people: I have much more to tell. But it will have to await the gracious period of denouement after a holy pilgrimage.

We will board our flight home shortly. See you back in the homeland.

Saying goodbye to Jerusalem Regency hotel

Remember, man…

...you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
...you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

tseT.S. Eliot wrote a complex, difficult, breathtaking poem for Ash Wednesday.

The Holy Father keeps Ash Wednesday in the Dominican church of Santa Sabina, on the Aventine Hill in Rome. He approaches the church in a solemn procession down Via Santa Sabina from the church of San Anselmo, which is about a quarter mile away.

Continue reading “Remember, man…”

New Features

I know this weblog gets tedious sometimes, and you feel like you want to cancel your subscription and get your money back. But check out the new “Daily Dunk” feature above!

Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Also, for the first time ever, you can click on a link here and go straight to an Adobe acrobat .pdf file!

If you are thinking about going to the Holy Land, and you know how to manage Adobe Acrobat, then peruse this interesting brochure.

If you are like me, you do NOT know how to manage Adobe Acrobat.

I would be glad to mail you a brochure using an actual envelope and stamp. You can send me your address at mwhite@adwparish.org.

The Upper Room
The Upper Room

Sea of Galilee
Sea of Galilee

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