7th May 2023 – Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
Solemnity of the Discovery of Christ’s Cross
Homily of the Custos of the Holy Land fr. Francesco Patton
Nm 21,4-9; Sal 95; Fil 2,5-11; Gv 3,13-17 1.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
May the Lord give you His peace!
We are in the heart of the ancient stone quarry that preserves the remains of Calvary at its peak, a little lower houses the Sepulchre and here where we are celebrating that which preserves the memory of the discovery of the true Cross by Saint Queen Helena. It is as if this complex place, that is the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, witnessed a progressive attempt first to eliminate Jesus Christ physically and then to erase His memory. Yet it is an attempt destined to fail, from the beginning. The physical elimination occurred through His death on the Cross and subsequent burial. The attempt to eliminate the memory occurred through the persecution and dispersion of the disciples (witnessed in the Acts of the Apostles), then through the concealment of the Cross at the lowest point of the quarry, and at the time of Emperor Hadrian (second century) through the covering of Calvary and the Sepulchre under pagan temples.
- Divine providence, however, arranged otherwise. Jesus' death and burial corresponds to His Resurrection on the third day. The persecution of the first Christian community of Jerusalem corresponds to the spread of the Church throughout the world. The concealment of the Cross, Calvary and the Sepulchre corresponds to their discovery and the transformation of this place into the heart of Christianity, into the place from which hope emanates and gives meaning to the life of each one of us and to the history of humanity.
- Throughout history, the attempt to erase the memory of Jesus' Passover, to remove His Cross as if it were an annoying presence, and to eliminate the Christian presence has been repeated several times. In the last century, all totalitarian regimes have tried, regardless of their ideological inspiration to do just that. In more recent times, both religious fundamentalists and secular ideologies have tried and continue to try. The name of Jesus must not be pronounced and His word must be silenced, the crosses must be removed both where ISIS governs and where very liberal governments govern that have made secularism an idol. Again and again, Christians are forced to leave their homelands because of forms of direct persecution or creeping discrimination. We ourselves are personally witnesses to this.
- But Jesus Christ, Son of God incarnate, who died and rose for us and for our salvation, is more alive than ever. Golgotha continues to tell us the mystery and glory of the Cross and the Crucified One, which manifests the greatest love: the love of Jesus Christ who comes to love to the point of giving Himself completely to redeem us from our inability to love, to reveal to us our deepest dignity, to help us understand how much God loves us and how much we are worth to Him. The empty tomb continues to speak to us, attracting millions of faithful by offering them the possibility of having the same experience as the Apostle John, that is, of seeing the empty tomb and believing that Jesus is risen, passing through death and bringing us to live in God. The Body of Christ (which is the Church) also continues to be alive and vital; and in spite of all appearances, even if it seems to be dying in the West, it manifests itself alive and vital in other continents.
- Today we celebrate the discovery of the true Cross and once again we are invited to raise our gaze to Jesus Christ lifted up on the Cross. It is the only effective antidote against the bites of the many snakes that poison contemporary culture and that derive from an insufficient ability to trust God and his word, as happened to the chosen people on pilgrimage in the desert. We need to look up to the Crucified One to be healed from the pangs of selfishness that leads us to think of ourselves to the point of making it impossible for us to love others. We need to be healed of the pangs of murmuring and complaint, which prevent us from recognizing and enjoying the good that God gives us every day and in the most diverse circumstances. We need to be healed of the pangs of enmity and hatred, which at the personal level produce misunderstanding and violence and at the collective level fuel wars and oppression of all kinds, on a local and international scale. We need to be healed of the pangs of a culture that has eliminated God from its horizon and leaves people alone and desperate in the face of the mystery and harsh reality of suffering and dying.
May the Lord help each one of us to rediscover the true Cross and its deepest meaning at the peak of Golgotha and at the bottom of this quarry, but even more in the depths of our Christian conscience. May the Lord help us to raise our gaze to Him the crucified One, every time our faith falters or we doubt the reality of His love. Amen.