Today in my Church we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I always think of my daughter, interestingly enough, when this day comes around on the calendar because she studied at and graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts about 10 years ago. They would sing Lift High the Cross at virtually every Mass or religious service I attended there while she was a student. I’m sure they still do and it is certainly appropriate to do so when that’s the very name of your academic institution!
Today, in what I can only describe as a coincidence or Alexa is reading my Instagram messages, I sent my daughter a meme about the Exaltation of the Holy Cross because of the aforementioned connection to her alma mater. Minutes later I realized a song entitled, The Wonderful Cross was playing on my Alexa which I had carried upstairs with me while I got ready for the day. I was in the process of placing fresh sheets on the bed when the song began. Like I said, a mere few minutes prior I’d sent my daughter the Holy Cross message.
The song, this version by Phillips, Craig, & Dean, sort of weaved its way from my ears to my conscious brain and I thought, “Hey! That’s kinda like The Holy Cross! Cool!” And then I thought, “Creepy! I just sent a ‘private’ Instagram message to Maggie about this being the Holy Cross feast day…” I soon got over my surprise and just listened to the lyrics. Or tried to. The accompanying music gets really loud and sort of overpowers the words, I’m sorry to say. So I asked Alexa what the name of the song was and she replied, “This is The Wonderful Cross by Phillips, Craig, and Dean.” I sort of figured that was the title because the only words I could make out clearly were, in fact, those 3 words in the title.
Once I finished with my upstairs chores, Alexa and I came back downstairs. I carried her; don’t worry, I know she’s not a real person! And I began my online quest to find a YouTube video of the song with lyrics. Well, now I was surprised again to learn that the lyrics were written by Isaac Watts in the 1700’s! They are beautiful words, and well worth contemplating while gazing at a crucifix, which I’m fairly certain Mr. Watts was doing when he was inspired to write these amazing, powerful words. By the way, he wrote over 600 songs!
Another ‘coincidence’ about the song/day is the fact that I, only yesterday, found a prayer by St. Francis of Assisi on line I was searching for, that I have known for going on 4 decades, to use in my graduate Spirituality class next week that . I discovered just yesterday that it is often referred to as “Prayer before a crucifix by St. Francis of Assisi!” Well, I knew it was one of his, but I honestly don’t recall anyone ever referring to it as his “Prayer before a crucifix.”
Amazing. So, here I am today finding this poem by Isaac Watts that was set to music back then, and again in recent years, about the Cross and its role in our salvation. That’s why we ‘exalt’ it to this very day. I won’t go on for too much longer about any of this. For two reasons: 1) the words are powerful enough and stand on their own; 2) I also want to share some things I learned about St. Francis today from a totally unrelated source. That excerpt is below the link for the video of the contemporary song. I chose a version by Chris Tomlin (with Matt Redmon) because I just like it better!
So, have a blessed, grace-filled Exaltation of the Holy Cross Day today and I urge you, if you are a Christian reading this, to always remember to not only honor the Cross on which Christ died for us, but to spend some time contemplating what that profound truth authentically means for you. I’m fairly certain that’s what God is directing me to do with this series of seeming unrelated events from yesterday afternoon and this morning. I need to take more time to ‘be still’ and know that God, in the Body of Christ, suffered and died for me. Of course, we celebrate with great joy that He rose again to ascend to Heaven and there prepare a place for us. But the suffering and the dying matter very much, as well. (And then, as our earthly bodies suffer, we can find consolation in our Lord’s suffering. Our shared suffering can be joined with His for a salvific effect, our faith teaches us. I can write more on that at another time.)
The entrance antiphon at Mass for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is: “We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection: through him we are saved and made free.” Isn’t that beautiful?
“In Francis’s life, it was the crucified Savior who spoke to him from the cross of San Damiano and whom he saw in lepers. And it was the crucified Savior he first fell in love with. The suffering Jesus moved him to tears, and in pity and compassion he wanted to join Jesus in his suffering to show how much he loved him. And so he did “foolish” things at times to show his love, to keep focused and faithful to the Christ who revealed himself to a shopkeeper’s son who longed to be a knight and ended up choosing instead to be a happy beggar who sang songs of love and lived and preached the Gospel of the love of God who was made real for him in the words and life of God’s Son. The human condition being what it is, love in the end involves a choice to love the Love that created and redeemed us, even in the face of affliction, abandonment, and death. ‘And that, Brother Leo, is perfect joy, a love purified by the love of God.’ That is the secret and perfect teaching of St. Francis of Assisi.” – Murray Bodo, OFM (from his book, Surrounded By Love: Seven Teachings from St. Francis)