Liturgy of the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Homily of the Patriarch His Em. Rev. Cardinal Angelo Scola
Venice, 18th January 2009
1. «We will take glory in nothing other than the Cross of Jesus Christ, our Lord: he is our salvation, life and resurrection: through him we were saved and freed» (Entrance Àntiphon). That is what we prayed at the beginning of this Eucharistic celebration.
The cross, which in the pre-Christian world represented the most fearsome way of torture, is the tree of life for the Christian, the marriage bed, the throne, the altar of the new alliance. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which is comparable to that of Easter in the Eastern Church, is linked to the dedication of the Holy Sepulchre Basilica in Jerusalem, the mother Church of your Order, where your glorious and almost millenary history started.
At the beginning of this Eucharistic celebration, which concludes your important international Seminar, I am glad to remember His Eminence Cardinal Patronus Pio Laghi, recently departed, whose merits as a man of the Church I had the pleasure to appreciate in my years as Rector of the Lateran Pontifical University. I associate him in my memory with Fra’ Andrew Bertie, who served for many years as Grand Master. I am also pleased to send my Christian respects to the Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing, to the Prelate of the Order, H. E. Angelo Acerbi, to the Sovereign Council, to the High Offices of the Order. I especially greet the Great Prior of Lombardy and Venice and his close collaborators, as well as all of you here present.
2. The cross is the symbol of charity par excellence, the symbol of objective and effective love whose source lies in God. This is the reminder that the Order’s ensign with the eight-pointed cross’ reminiscent of the eight Beatitudes ‘ continues to bring into the world.
But before being a human action, charity is a divine action. In fact, it is possible for humans only as a totally gratuitous fruit of imitation and identification with divine Charity, that is, with the person of Jesus, our Lord. «God so loved the world as to send his only begotten son, shat whoever believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life» (John 3: 16)
The passage we have heard proclaimed from the gospel of John allows us, while we tremble in front of the great mystery, to turn our eyes to the measure of divine love. Man could never have supposed that the eternal Father, giving all his love entirely in the Son he generated, could love the created world to the point of delivering his beloved Son to the darkness of God’s abandonment and to the extreme torments of the cross. Thus the folly of the Cross acquires meaning solely in the love of the One and Triune God. Going right to the depths of his love («having loved his own, he loved them til the end») the Son shows all the Father’s love. And the love between the Two is demonstrated by means of the power of the Holy Spirit. In the crucified dedication of the Son lies his supreme glorification [«For this God exalted him» (Phil 2:9)].
3. As Paul writes to the Christians of Philippi (Second Reading) we too can have the same sentiments as Christ the Lord. Only on the strength of this identification with Him is communion not an unachievable utopia, an abstraction merely on our lips; only thus can it really be practised in objective terms because it is welcomed and received through the Eucharistic power of Jesus, who gave his life as an innocent on the Cross in order to generate this communion. For this reason, as the late lamented Cardinal Pio Laghi wrote in a recent publication of your Order, «Applying to our Order John Paul II’s words to the Church (and it is by no means an exaggeration!), to be able to be faithful to God’s plan and answer the needs of the society we are part of and that we serve, we must make our Order ‘the home and school of communion’» (Per una spiritualità di comunione, Roma, 2002, p 26). Identifying with the Divine Master is what characterizes all the members of the Order of Malta, according to the three-fold forms of belonging to the charism in which the Lord calls them: the Professed knights, the Knights of Obedience and the members of the Third Class (Knights and Dames, Conventual and Magistral Chaplains, and Donats).
4. «While being in the form of God, Jesus Christ did not hold it a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant» (Phil 2:6) Only by conforming yourselves to Christ the Lord will you continue to live out the logic of service which has characterized your Order from the beginning, according to the chivalric spirit well summed up by your programme: Tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum (defence of the faith and veneration of the poor). And thus you will continue to be servants of the ‘poor and the sick’ even today, just as your founders put themselves at the service of pilgrims in Jerusalem. I think of your vast and intelligent initiatives in health care, of which the St John the Baptist Hospital in Rome is a crowning achievement. But I also think of your operations in war situations, natural calamities, pilgrimages with the sick, and the multifarious activities in which your mission is lived out, which has recently gained you the prestigious recognition of the UN and the participation of an Ambassador and Permanent Observer of the Order to the United Nations General Assembly.
5. From faith to action: faithfulness to its origin is where lies the secret of the life of your charism, now over a thousand years old and yet still fresh with youth. Let us entrust your work and yourselves to the Madonna of Nicopeia, whose icon has come down to us from the times and places where your history flowered most gloriously. May she sustain and bless your precious commitment on behalf of all men and women – our brothers and sisters. The Church is deeply grateful to you for it. Amen.