We speak what we know and we testify to what we have seen.
Today’s celebration commemorates both the discovery of the Holy Cross of Our Lord by St Helena in the early 4th century and its recovery in the 7th century. Both events led to triumphal celebrations of the Christian faithful that, ever since the redemptive death and resurrection of Our Lord, looks to the cross as its title of glory, the trophy of the victory of its Saviour. Thanks to Our Lord’s sacrificial offering of Himself out of love and obedience, that hideous sign of torture has now become the fountain of all grace, and it is with great pride that we display it.
St Thomas tells us that in the sacrament of confirmation, the bishop signs us with the sign of the cross on our forehead. Among all the parts of our body, the forehead is the most prominent and manifest and it is hardly ever covered. By being marked on the forehead we are given to understand that our faith must always be visible to all, just as the apostles who, until Pentecost had remain hidden in the cenacle, now showed themselves to the whole world as disciples of Our Blessed Lord.
St Thomas takes the matter further and points out that two things prevent us from making a free and public profession of faith, namely fear and shame, both of which manifest themselves on the forehead: when we have great fear, we pale white; when we are ashamed, we turn red. And therefore the sign of the cross is made on our forehead so that we may neither fear nor be ashamed to profess our faith in the Name of Christ.
In today’s Gospel, we hear Our Lord say to Nicodemus: We speak what we know and we testify what we have seen, and you receive not our testimony. We speak what we know. We know that Jesus is risen from the dead; we know that He is Lord; we know that He will come to judge the world and all will stand before His judgment seat. We know that He will have the last word of human history. We speak what we know, but so few receive our testimony, and so it has been in every age. Man is so inclined to follow the wayward attractions of his heart, he is so little inclined to submit himself to the authority of God, that he very easily finds excuses not to believe. But we must go on speaking what we know, testifying to what we have seen, for in the end, we will not be asked if we succeeded, but if we did everything in our power to bring souls to conversion. Everything in our power. When something really important is at stake, we leave no stone unturned in our efforts to make sure things are secure. The only definitive stakes are our immortal soul, and so we must do everything in our power to bring souls to God. We must heed the words of Our Lord: Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled (Lk 14:23).
That my house may be filled. This command was echoed by Pope Pius XII in the encyclical Mediator Dei, when he encouraged the bishops to “strive with your customary devoted care so the churches, which the faith and piety of Christian peoples have built in the course of centuries for the purpose of singing a perpetual hymn of glory to God almighty and of providing a worthy abode for our Redeemer concealed beneath the eucharistic species, may be entirely at the disposal of greater numbers of the faithful who, called to the feet of their Savior, hearken to His most consoling invitation, Come to Me all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you. Let your churches be the house of God where all who enter to implore blessings rejoice in obtaining whatever they ask and find there heavenly consolation”.
Today’s introit, referring to St Paul, tells us that it behoves us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. There was a time when Christians did that. The cross was to be found in every home, in public places, on graves, even at the crossing of paths. Priestly vestments would carry the cross on every single piece: maniple, stole, chalice veil, bourse, humeral veil; the chalice too and the ciborium always carried a cross. It was as if we could not but make a proud show of this trophy of our salvation. Today, things are different. There seems to be among the Christian people a certain shame of what makes up our glory; we hide ourselves in public; we do not want to be talked about. For many, it is a sign of a loss of faith. They might still identify as Christians, but they are not: their faith is dead. Of such are those who proclaim they believe but do not practice, as if one could seriously believe the truths of our faith and live as if they meant nothing, as if one could believe Jesus Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament but never fall down in adoration, as if one could believe the priest has the power to forgive sins and never make a humble confession in order to be forgiven and reconciled with God.
Others are afraid that the traitors there have been among us, especially among our priests, bishops and cardinals, somehow disqualifies us from preaching to others. The inanity of such an objection is promptly recognised when we consider, on one hand, that every organisation and state has its traitors, and on the other, that there have been traitors in our midst from the very start: one of the twelve apostles sold his Lord. What is most noteworthy is that the betrayal of Judas did not in any way prevent the other apostles from boldly proclaiming to leaders, both civil and religious, their grave errors and sins in rejecting Jesus Christ and His saving message. Let’s be clear: it is not because there have been traitors in the clergy that the other clergy and the laity are somehow deprived of being valid witnesses of the saving truth of the faith. Quite the contrary.
The collect of the 3rd Sunday after Easter, which we commemorate today, contains a profound lesson and a mighty encouragement for us in doing this: “O God, who dost show to them that are in error the light of Thy truth, that they may return into the way of righteousness; grant to all those who profess themselves Christians to reject those things which are contrary to that name, and follow such things as are agreeable to the same.”
All of us who profess ourselves to be Christians must reject all that is contrary to the name of Christ, all that is evil, all that is erroneous, and we must profess the truth before all, so that they too may be snatched away from the paths that lead to damnation. Indeed, as Our Lord tells us in today’s Gospel, the Son of Man was lifted up on the cross so that all who see Him and believe in Him may find salvation; that they may be brought to the saving waters of Baptism and the other sacraments, which are necessary for salvation, and which require physical presence.
Let us, my dear friends, emboldened by the glorious triumph of the Holy Cross, that most holy of symbols, never again be ashamed of our faith; let us not fear to profess it; let us preach it; let us share it; let us never allow it to be taken from us; let us demand all that we have a right to in the Holy Catholic Church, namely a clearly enunciated doctrine free from all contagion of error or ambiguity, and permanent access to our churches, where Jesus Our Lord is truly present and where we receive the life of grace.
Let us be proud to sign ourselves, even in public. When Our Blessed Lady appeared in Lourdes, St Bernadette was impressed by the devout, loving, prayerful manner in which Our Lady signed herself. And at the apparitions in L’Ile Bouchard in France in 1947, the seers tell us that Our Lady made a very slow and reverent sign of the cross, putting into that act the fullness of her faith, for indeed, it does contain all that is essential: faith in the Most Holy Trinity and in the redemptive sacrifice of the Son of God, the grace of which reaches us through the sacraments and sacramentals of the Church which are conferred with the sign of the Cross.
Let’s conclude with the short prayer found abbreviated on the back of the medal of St Benedict: Get behind me, Satan; tempt me not to vanity; what you offer is evil; drink your own poison; let the holy cross be my light, may the devil never be my guide. Amen