Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant… He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.
For which cause God also hath exalted Him, and hath given Him a name which is above all names: that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth (Phil 2.5-10, DRV).
To comprehend the mystery of God’s love on the Cross, insofar as it is possible to our limitations, is the summit of the Spiritual Life. Christianity is all Divine Love: we are Christians in the measure that we live in Christ’s love, in the measure that we understand God’s love on the Cross of Christ, in the measure that we love as Christ has loved on the Cross. “Love is only repaid by love” (St. John of the Cross).
On this Feast, the Crucified exhorts us to be rooted in charity and in humility. To be rooted in Divine Charity, we must not fall into two aberrations: the aberration of one who pretends to love God while paying attention solely to his own interests, without any thought for the needs of others; and, the aberration of one who pretends to love his neighbor while paying attention only to the demands of secular “humanism”, without any thought for what is due to God. To be rooted in Divine Charity, we must also be rooted then in true Christian humility which inclines us to truth (cf. our post on “True Humility”), keeping us in our own proper place in relation to God and others – of which the Beatitude of the poor in spirit (Mt 5.3) is its hallmark.
In the face of all that life can offer us in the way of honors, satisfactions, affections of creatures, comforts and pleasures, and riches – the same offer of Satan to Our Lord in his attempt to make the Savior pursue rather His mission in an easier, popular, “sensibly” comprehensible fashion and less painful and gruesome manner – the Crucified repeats in the depths of our hearts His words: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast… and come, follow Me (Mt 19.21). This means not only to desire nothing more than what one has, but to give up even this; not to be eager for riches, pleasures and comforts, consolations, fame, nor earthly affections, but to sacrifice all these things which fill our heart with our self and with the world, and prevent it from being filled by God Who Is Charity.
The Crucified also spurs us on to material poverty, teaching us to be content with little, curbing our desires for the necessities of life, but He urges us even more to poverty of spirit, for without this, the former is of no worth. “The lack of things,” says St. John of the Cross, “implies no detachment on the part of the soul if it retains a desire for them, that is, if it is still attached to them… The things of this world neither occupy the soul nor cause it harm, since they enter it not, but rather the will and the desire for them, for it is these that dwell within it.”
This poverty of spirit, the hallmark of Christian humility, includes detachment not only from material goods, but also from moral and even spiritual goods. Whoever tries to assert his own personality, seeking the esteem and regard of creatures, who remains attached to his own will and ideas, or is too fond of his independence, is not poor in spirit, but is rich in himself, in his self-love and his pride. “If thou wilt be perfect,” says St. John of the Cross, “sell thy will… come to Christ through meekness and humility; and follow Him to Calvary and the grave.”
In like manner, one who still seeks the affection of creatures, and the joy and satisfactions which they can give him, is not poor in spirit; neither is he who goes in search of consolations and spiritual delights in his devotions and relations with God. Poverty of spirit consists in being entirely stripped and empty of all these pretensions, so that the soul seeks and desires only one thing: to possess God, and to be thus content, even when God lets Himself be found only in darkness, aridity, anguish, and suffering. Here is that perfect poverty of spirit which frees the soul from all that is not God; this very freedom constitutes the reason for our happiness, because, explains St. John of the Cross, “the soul that strips itself of its desires, delights, and affections that are not of God, will be clothed by God with His purity, joy, and will.” The Beatitude promised to the poor in spirit is the possession of God, a possession which will clothe them with His infinite riches. This is the goal to which the Holy Spirit desires to lead us; let us second His action by responding with docility to His invitation to detachment and total despoliation of the Crucified. The more generously we renounce all that is not God, the more we shall enjoy the beatitude promised to the humble soul who is poor in spirit.