The Exaltation of Christ’s Mercy on the Cross, Exaltation of the Cross, September 14, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
September 14, 2016
Num 21:4-9, Ps 78, Phil 2:6-11, Jn 3:13-17


To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted: 

  • As we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross during this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, it’s fitting to examine how this is a feast of God’s mercy on the Cross. “God so loved the world,” we read in today’s Gospel, “that he sent his only Son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God’s who plan of love was mercifully to save us from perishing and to bring us to life. As we pray on this feast in the words of the ancient hymn sung each day on Calvary during the Stations held each afternoon at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, “Ave, O Crux, Spes Unica,” (“Hail, O Cross, our only Hope”), we look at the Cross as our only hope in two ways: without Christ’s mercy on the Cross we would be goners; and without our embracing our Cross each day in following Christ along the path of cruciform, self-sacrificial mercy, we will still be goners. The Cross is meant to be our “power and wisdom,” in which we alone “boast” not just words but in life so that we, with St. Paul, may be “crucified with Christ” and “live by faith in the Son of God who,” in mercy, “loved me and gave himself up for me.”
  • The way that salvific mercy was exercised, by God’s design, was on a Cross. This is why we in the first half of today’s Gospel Jesus mentions that he has to be lifted up like the serpent in the desert, today’s first reading. After the Jews were unfaithful in the desert, God sent among them poisonous saraph serpents, which led the Israelites to remember that just like Adam and Eve had gone the way of sin by means of the machinations of the devil in the disguise of a serpent, so, too, they had forsaken the Lord. The people turned to Moses to intercede for them with God to save their lives. Moses prayed and God had him make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole, saying that whoever looked at this serpent on a pole will live. They were going to have to face-up to what was killing them, that they had chosen to follow the way of sin, and after having acknowledged that and having turn prayerfully to God for forgiveness they would be saved. That was a prophetic act to what would happen with Jesus on the Cross. Jesus said in today’s Gospel, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Just as with the snake bitten Israelites in the desert, so we have been bitten by the poison of sin, we have negotiated with the ancient serpent and chosen against God. We need to come face-to-face with our own sins, seeing what they did to Jesus, and then with real contrition turn to the Lord for salvation. We do this not just as an antidote to the poison in the moment of suffering, but to lead us through the desert of life all the way to the eternal repose. To embrace the way of the Cross means to reject the life of sin and commit ourselves to following the life of grace. That means embracing Christ’s mercy and living it, by doing what today’s second reading describes, emptying ourselves and taking on the form of a servant until uniting ourselves to Christ’s self-giving death on the Cross.
  • The greatest way for us to be strengthened in living the mystery of the Cross is here at the Mass, in which we share live in the sacrifice of Christ that began at the Last Supper and was consummated on the Cross, when he gave his body and his blood for us and our salvation. To celebrate the Mass is to exalt the Cross, to echo Jesus’ words “This is my body,” “This is my blood,” “given for you.” The connection between the Cross and the Mass indelibly impressed upon a priest on the day of his priestly ordination. Right after he has become a priest by the bishop’s laying on of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the new priest kneels in front of his bishop, who puts in his hands the chalice and paten with bread and says: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” The latter part of that prayer is an instruction applicable to each of us. Know what you are doing — we’re about to enter into the greatest reality a human being can share, as we prepare to receive the fruit of the Tree of the Cross, Jesus himself. Imitate the mystery you celebrate — which is the call to live the Eucharist, to become whom we eat, to emulate the self-giving love enfleshed in the Eucharist. And finally: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross. Today God wants to give us the help he knows we need to base our entire existence on the love we celebrate on the Cross, so that we may not only experience in this world a foretaste of Christ’s victory upon this new Tree of Life, but come by his mercy to be exalted together with him upon it eternally.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
nm 21:4b-9

With their patience worn out by the journey,
the people complained against God and Moses,
“Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!”
In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents,
which bit the people so that many of them died.
Then the people came to Moses and said,
“We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you.
Pray the LORD to take the serpents from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses,
“Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,
and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.”
Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole,
and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent
looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

Responsorial Psalm
ps 78:1bc-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38

R. (see 7b) Do not forget the works of the Lord!
Hearken, my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable,
I will utter mysteries from of old.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
While he slew them they sought him
and inquired after God again,
Remembering that God was their rock
and the Most High God, their redeemer.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
But they flattered him with their mouths
and lied to him with their tongues,
Though their hearts were not steadfast toward him,
nor were they faithful to his covenant.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
But he, being merciful, forgave their sin
and destroyed them not;
Often he turned back his anger
and let none of his wrath be roused.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!

Reading 2
phil 2:6-11

Brothers and sisters:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

jn 3:13-17

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.