The Cross and Young People, Exaltation of the Cross (A), September 16, 2002

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Bishop Connolly High School
Opening School Mass
Translated feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
September 16, 2002
Numbers 21:4-9; Phil 2:6-11; Jn 3:13-17

I. WYD & Cross
A. Several BCHS students were among the 800,000 young people in Toronto this Summer at an awesome event, WYD, with the Holy Father and young Catholics from around the world.
B. There were so many wonderful things there that all of us experience and that the media picked up upon.
C. But one of the things that didn’t get really any commentary at all, even though it was a part of almost every ceremony, was something that has been crucial to WYDs from the beginning, and which is the glue between every WYD.
D. From the first WYD until the 17th in Toronto, the Pope confides to young people of the nation that will host the next one a huge wooden Cross, that takes about 10-12 young people to carry. In between WYDs, the Cross is carried around the world and particularly around the country that is hosting the next one. The Cross that was brought to Toronto has been to tens of thousands of little villages and big cities around the world. It was brought to ground zero. Carried from place to place by young people.
E. It was solemnly brought into each of the papal events and lifted up, so that the whole world, as we sang in the opening hymn “Lift High the Cross” could proclaim Jesus’ holy saving name.

II. Just yesterday, in his public audience to pilgrims at Castel Gandolfo, his residence outside of Rome, Pope JP II was reflecting on how this sharp image of young people from every nation carrying the Cross of Christ to their own nations, to their own cities and towns, to their own neighborhoods and homes, is the most powerful symbol of hope in the world.
A. For centuries, the Church has called the Cross, “our only hope.” One of the most famous sayings about the Cross, that’s put underneath it in many of the oldest and most beautiful Churches in the world, is “Ave, Crux, spes unica mea,” “Hail, o Cross, my only hope!” The Cross is our hope because the Jesus on the Cross paid the price for our sins and made eternal life possible.
B. But the Pope was saying something even beyond that yesterday. He was saying that there was something even more hopeful in the Cross in looking at young people lifting it high for all the world to see. Young people, he has always said, embody the hope of the Church and the world. To see them lifting high the Cross, placing their hope in the Cross, placing their hope in Jesus through the Cross, is a tremendous witness to hope in the midst of a world that doesn’t know how to handle suffering, doesn’t know how to approach the future.
C. The Cross, the Pope said, is the symbol of Christianity. Wherever Christians are, the Cross appears.
D. The Pope was calling all people yesterday, but particulary the young, particularly you, my younger brothers and sisters in the faith, to make this the definitive symbol of your lives.

III. When non-Christians look at the Cross, most often all they see is the grotesque pain.
A. The Cross was the means for the worst public executions in the Roman empire.
B. To exalt a Cross would be, today, like lifting up an electric chair.
C. To show Jesus bloody on the Cross would be like showing someone dead on an electric chair with parts of his body burned and parts of his internal organs perhaps protruding.
D. The early Christians used to be mocked by the Roman pagans, who used to lambaste them for the fact that they worship someone who was killed on the Cross, who suffered so much, who was made the object of such derision.
E. When they looked at the Cross, all they could see was the pain.

IV. When Christians look at the Cross, they see something much more than the pain.
A. They see the love of Jesus which made even that much pain bearable.
B. The Cross is not just a symbol of the immense pain and suffering Jesus underwent, but of the tremendous love that would make even that much pain worth it.

V. That is why we begin every year at BCHS with the Mass of the Exaltation of the Cross.
A. We start every year focusing on the incredible love of Jesus.
B. This love of Jesus isn’t just in general for all people, but it is in particular for each one of us.
C. Jesus loved you enough that he was willing to undergo all of this because you are worth it. He values you so much that he would give his life for you.
D. The reason why we begin every year here with the Exaltation of the Cross is because this symbol, present in every room of this school, is an incredibly powerful reminder to all of the faculty and staff of the school that if you were worth this much to the Lord, you are definitely worth all of our sacrifices. We need to love you and serve you as he does.
E. You know that many of your teachers do love you very much, that they have given up better paying jobs, lots of their own free time, in order to try to give you the best they can. But, sometimes, any of us can lose focus, especially when, on those couple of days a year when you might try our patience and test our virtues. This symbol is a great reminder for us of the whole reason why we’re here, to strive out of love, to make the extra effort, to love and serve and help you, because you’re worth it.

VI. But it’s not just a reminder to us. We also start each year with the Cross because we hope it will be a reminder to you.
A. These years are wonderful years in which you’re going to be forming the character that will be yours for the rest of your life.
B. Pope John Paul II always talks about how we’re the fathers and mothers of ourselves, insofar as the choices and decisions we make form habits and these habits form our character.
C. If we want to form ourselves well, to become the person that God created us to be from all eternity, we need to form our lives following Jesus and following his love.
D. The whole purpose of human life — as many of you have already glimpsed — is to love. God is love and he created us in his image and likeness, so if we’re ever coming to become who he created us to be, we have to learn how to love, to really love. Love is not just a feeling of attraction. Love is a choice. “No one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends,” as Jesus told us during the Last Supper and then showed us when he layed down his life for us on the Cross the next day. Therefore, if we’re going to become fully human, we have to follow him in loving this much.
E. Your maturity is dependent upon whether you appropriate this type of self-giving sacrificial love.
F. And it starts now. You are the parents of your character.
G. Let everything you do now take on at least two of the characteristics of this type of love:
1) Striving, pushing yourself to do more.
2) Doing so with the proper motivation.
H. In your classes, in sports, in the drama and debate teams, in everything, first, push yourself, strive. It will be hard at times. You won’t want to do it. Jesus didn’t want the pain and suffering of the Cross either and asked his Father during the Agony of the Garden to let the cup of suffering pass from him, but he did it because he loved God and he loved us enough to overcome his abhorrence of the pain.
G. Secondly, do it tangibly with love. If you want to be a good husband or a wife someday, a good father or mother, a good doctor or nurse, lawyer or cop, teacher, priest, nun, ball-player, actor or actress, anything: the choices you make now will dramatically affect that later. If you want to be able to provide for your spouse, but blow off your studies now, you won’t be able to do it well. Love them now in what you do here. Love your future spouse, love your future kids, by first forming your character to be someone who will be worthy of being their hero or heroine, and then work yourself so that you’ll be able to give them all that is possible.

VII. Jesus, the beginning and the end.
A. Each year we start the school year with the Exaltation of the Cross, focusing on God’s love.
B. At the end of your time here at Bishop Connolly, which will be happen to our seniors much sooner than they think, we also do something pregnant with meaning. At the end of the Baccalaureate Mass, on the eve of your graduation, we’ll have you come up to the altar. Several of your teachers, administrators, the campus minister and I, will then invest you with the Cross around your neck. If you come to me, I’ll say to you “Receive the Cross of Christ whose herald you now are. Lift it high, the love of Christ proclaim, until all the world proclaim his holy name!” We invest you with this Cross to take out to the whole world. We invest you with this most important symbol of Christianity. This most important symbol of hope. The greatest sign of love the world has ever seen.
C. Jesus says that if we want to be his follower, we must deny ourselves, pick up our Crosses every day, and follow him in this path of love. We pray that during this year at BCHS, all of us, faculty, staff and students, might help each other to do just that. Let us follow Jesus down this path of love, this way of the exaltation of the Cross, so that through the Cross, we might one day, together, all of us, share in the eternal joy of the Resurrection.