September 14, 2023 –
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Numbers 21:4-9 + Philippians 2:6-11 + John 3:13-17
… He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
We know that silence can be deafening. Sometimes silence is very embarrassing, as when a teacher asks a question about something that’s been studied for weeks, and no one knows the answer.
On the other hand, silence can be a very good thing. It is in silence that the highest kind of prayer happens. St. John of the Cross is supposed to have said that silence is God’s native language. Regardless, there are many different ways to pray. One of the first ways that we learn is prayers that others teach us, like the “Our Father”, the “Hail Mary” and the “Glory Be”. Prayers like these let us pray together as a group, so that we’re praying the same thing at the same time.
Other times, though, we pray on our own, and so we make up our own words in prayer. In this kind of prayer—which is like a conversation with God—we can say anything we want. We don’t have to remember the right words to pray. We just pray from our heart, and offer to God whatever is most on our mind.
But there’s another part of prayer that sometimes gets overlooked. That is silence. Actually, in our prayer, most of our time should be spent listening rather than speaking. As the saying goes, this is why God gave each of us two ears, but only one mouth: we are to listen twice as much as we talk. This is as true of prayer as it of conversations with our fellow human beings.
It is in our silence—in listening to God—that our deepest prayer can take place. This makes sense, if we think of it, because after all, isn’t what God wants to say to us probably more important than what we want to say to Him?
Humility is one of the virtues, and silence is one form of humility. That’s why it’s often difficult to quiet ourselves down. When we’re forced to be silent, we usually want to talk instead.
Even though we have lots of opportunity to grow in humility, as human beings our greatest call to be humble is when we face death: the deaths of others whom we love, but eventually, our own death. This is where Christ reveals to us God’s love. This is what we celebrate today, on the Feast of the Triumph (or Exaltation) of the Holy Cross.
Picture in your mind the scene at Calvary. Saint John was the only apostle who stood at the foot of the Cross in silence, and it was into his care that Christ, the only child of Mary, entrusted His Blessed Mother. In turn, Christ entrusted John to the care of Mary. In these words we hear the only teaching that is possible from the Cross: that we must entrust ourselves to each other’s care, bound to each other by Our Father’s love.
Christ Surrounded by Musician Angels [central panel], Altarpiece of Santa Maria la Real de Nájera, by Hans Memling (1430-1494)