Oviedo (Spain), July 5, 2008
In the Holy Year of the Cross,
Evening Mass of Sunday,
the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary
Time, in the Cathedral
My dear brothers and sisters:
I thank Archbishop Carlos Osoro for his invitation to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice in this Cathedral during the Year of the Cross in Asturias. Two very significant anniversaries are being commemorated this year: the granting of the Cross of the Angels and the Cross of Victory, preserved for centuries in the Holy Chamber of the Principality’s capital.
In this regard, I have a vivid memory of how St. Josemaría Escrivá loved and adored the Holy Cross, and how he insisted, in his preaching, that we have to venerate the Cross of our Lord and graft it into our lives, in order to proclaim to the world God’s infinite love for every man and woman. For on this holy Wood Jesus gave his life for us.
Within your temple, we ponder your loving kindness, O God. As your name, so also your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with justice. The entrance antiphon from today’s Mass invites us to thank God for all the gifts we have received, while striving to help others to acknowledge him and give him glory. And what greater gift is there than the Redemption carried out by Christ on Calvary? The Church proclaims this every year at the beginning of the Paschal Triduum, when she reminds us: We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection; through him we are saved and made free.
The Holy Cross is the sign and guarantee of victory in the struggle for holiness. To the north of Rome there is a site that recalls the apparition of the sign of the Cross, in the year 313 of the Christian era. It refers to an ancient tradition that Constantine, on the eve of a great battle, had a vision of the Cross with the following inscription: in hoc signo vinces, with this sign you will conquer! With that victory, the bloody persecutions against the Christians of the first centuries came to an end.
The crosses preserved in the Holy Chamber of Oviedo carry a similar memory. When convoking this Holy Year, his Excellency the Archbishop invited you: “Let us enter with gratitude into the roots of our past and reflect upon the significance of the Cross of the Angels and the Cross of Victory for the men and women who lived in this land during those centuries.” This advice is quite timely today, despite quite different historical circumstances. We see something in common between those events of more than a thousand years ago and our epoch: the duty to defend the Christian faith.
Right from the beginning of his pontificate, Benedict XVI has spoken against the temptation of relativism, which can lead a person to view the Gospel as just one teaching among others, and Jesus Christ as simply one of many important figures in the complex history of mankind. But Christ is not merely a great sage or a great teacher; or a great revolutionary who changed the course of humanity with his teachings. As the Pope insisted: “Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution. . . Jesus was not engaged in a fight for political liberation. . . Jesus, who himself died on the Cross, brought something totally different: an encounter with the Lord of all lords, an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within.”
Christians are the great defenders of freedom, fighting against all forms of slavery and totalitarianism, both old and new. The power to keep this “holy rebelliousness” alive is found not in physical or moral violence (which we reject, following the teachings of the Gospel), but in faith, hope and love: the three theological virtues infused by God into our souls, true powers that act in history, although often people fail to recognize them.
On the wood of the Cross, Christ gained the definitive victory for us. Our Lord canceled the bond which stood against us nailing it to the cross, we read in the epistle to the Colossians. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them. We have to unite ourselves to his triumph with a living faith, a sure hope, an ardent charity.
Let us apply this perennial teaching to our own circumstances: in our own family, in the city where we live, in our nation. Let us never lose hope, even though our personal or social situation might seem difficult. Let us nourish our hope in prayer and in the sacraments. What a magnificent opportunity is offered to us in this Holy Year of the Cross to receive with greater fruit the sacrament of penance, where our Lord forgives our sins, and to go with greater devotion to the Holy Eucharist, where he gives himself to us as food for our soul.
Each of you will naturally strive to bring forward specific initiatives in the sphere of the family, in your professional work and personal interests, always open to the needs of others, for the spirit of solidarity, concern for others, forms part of human nature and constitutes an essential component of the Christian message. Benedict XVI insists. “We need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain.”
With the faith and hope of God’s children, we can fight the battles of our Lord. First in our own soul, to allow Christ to reign in us; and then in the great battle of love and peace that we all have to carry out—each in our own way, in accord with our possibilities—so that civil society rediscovers the Christian roots that were forged in the history of Spain, of Europe and of many other nations. Let us strive to speak with those we know, so that they in turn may speak to others; let us think of the apostolic example of the first Christians who little by little, with perseverance, converted the pagan world.
We have just begun a Pauline Year, on the occasion of the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of St. Paul. The Apostle’s preaching centered on Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. Christ comes to meet us in the difficulties, great or small, that all of us confront in life. Let us as God for the grace to find in these adversities a way to share in Christ’s Cross. We have to ask humbly for this divine gift, as today’s Gospel reminds us: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
If we receive the Cross with love, if we discover there an opportunity to unite ourselves more closely to our Lord, we will find on the Cross the splendor of truth, rest from fatigue, joy on our way. And not only later, in eternal bliss, but also now, in our present life. As St. Josemaría said: “Far from discouraging us, the difficulties we meet have to spur us on to mature as Christians. This fight sanctifies us and gives effectiveness to our apostolic endeavors.” Have no doubt: the Christian life is an apostolic life filled with joy.
Let us go to our Lady, popularly venerated in Asturias under the advocation of la Santina. I know that St. Josemaría prayed more than a few times in Covadonga (because I heard him mention it). My memory also goes to Bishop Álvaro del Portillo, who went there on various occasions. On one of those visits he spoke to our Mother with filial trust, using some words that, before concluding, I invite you to make your own.
“We go to your intercession for the Holy Church, for the Pope, for pastors, for all the faithful; and we also ask you for the different countries of the world, especially for Spain, that there be peace, and that evil not enter into the hearts of people.”
May Almighty God listen to us through the intercession of Our Lady of Covadonga. Amen.