This day is observed as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. An exaltation is a “lifting up” and we are in doubt as to in what sense we celebrate its lifting up.
Emperor Constantine converted from paganism to Christianity in the year 315, and his mother St Helena celebrated the freeing of Christianity by going to Jerusalem in search of the sepulcher of Jesus. When she located the spot, she found that a temple to Aphrodite had been constructed over it.
She tore down the Temple of Aphrodite, and began the construction of the church of the Holy Sepulcher. The workmen, In digging for a foundation came upon three carefully preserved crucifix crossbars.
The story is that a dying woman was carried in to touch the beams, and on touching the third of them she was cured. To the present, segments of that beam are preserved as relics of the true cross.
There are three instances that are honored on this feast of the exaltation of the cross.
First, referring to today’s Gospel, we celebrate the fact that by the cross’s being lifted up, all men come to believe in Christ.
Secondly, it refers to John, 12:32, where Jesus said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men to me.”
Third, the lifting up of the cross might refer to the St. Helena’s finding of a remnant of the cross when she was building the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
What I remember on this day is those four Roman soldiers lifting the cross from the ground, after they had nailed Jesus to it.
They lifted it up, and with a terrible jolt for Jesus, they dropped its base into the hole they had dug for it.
We should think of the generosity of Jesus toward us. He gave himself to that pain, even though he always saw it coming, and could have avoided it.