Scars are visible reminders of past injuries and sometimes a significant event or emotional story is associated with each scar. Jesus was no exception and in that memorable meeting with Thomas, he showed him the scars or wounds left by his passion thereby confirming the reality of his resurrection. The cross serves a similar purpose and our veneration of this otherwise frightful instrument of execution reflects our faith in the saving and ineffable love of the one who hung upon it and imbued it with glory. Our veneration and devotion to the cross is thus not for the purpose of focusing on the pain and suffering of the one who was nailed to it, but rather to proclaim the incredible love this manifested.
Unlike Jesus, though, in addition to physical scars we all have spiritual and psychological scars that are virtual spiritual signposts marking the road we have traveled. The sufferings and injuries these scars represent are part of our version of the cross. But as the two criminals executed with Jesus show us, the cross can be either an occasion of grace and liberation or serve to deepen our bitterness and alienation from God. Our celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross is therefore our faith-filled conviction that all sufferings can, with grace and our loving surrender, become transformative. However, bitterness and abandoning God because of suffering is also a possibility and a choice—one that Judas Iscariot made in the end.
Nevertheless, even for those who resist succumbing to this embittered turning away from God, the transforming effect of suffering doesn’t always proceed smoothly or quickly. Indeed, some of our inner scars remain painful reminders of earlier struggles and traumatic events that still await full integration into who we are becoming in Christ. In contrast, other scars represent the healing and integration that has occurred and now serve as reminders of the power of God’s forgiving and healing mercy and so become occasions for wonder and deep gratitude.
I have spoken of great struggle and traumatic events, but this is equally true of those inevitable small daily crosses and sufferings that can also be transformative when patiently born in a spirit of charity and detachment. Indeed, these daily struggles train us to more easily absorb and integrate those greater and traumatic sufferings. And as each small daily trial or suffering is allowed to become transformative, this seemingly insignificant cross is itself transformed and exalted and thereby reflects—however dimly—something of the radiant glory of the Cross of Christ.
And so on this our patronal feast let us glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and renew our faith in Saint Paul’s insistence that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Let the Exaltation of the Cross become a proclamation of our faith in God’s power to transform even our worst sufferings and make them instruments—like his cross—opening us to grace and bringing us to eternal life and eternal glory.