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The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

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Glory in the Cross

"It is for us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ in whom is our health, life and Resurrection: through whom we have been saved and set free" (Introit). Celebrating today the mystery of the Cross, we fix our gaze not upon an instrument of torture and of shame but, rather, upon the Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2). We lift our eyes to the royal throne of the King of glory, the sign of the Son of Man that will appear in the heavens at the end of the age (Mt 24:30). To the eyes of faith, the Cross shines like the sun over the eastern horizon.

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

In Rome, the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is the scene of a solemn festival today. Pilgrims from all over the world will cross the threshold of the church established by Saint Helena; they will kneel before the wood of the True Cross. Great numbers of them will go to their confession. The relics of the True Cross will be carried in procession and placed upon the altar during Holy Mass.

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Everywhere in the Basilica of Santa Croce one sees the insignia of the holy and glorious Cross; it is painted, carved, and even woven into the cloth of the vestments. It is the life-giving and glorious Cross of Christ, studded with precious stones, and glimmering with the splendour of the stars. The arms of the Cross are thrown open wide to embrace the very limits of the cosmos. What did we sing at First Vespers? "Hail, O Cross! Brighter than all the stars! To the eyes of men thou art exceedingly lovely!" (Magnificat Antiphon I). The art in the basilica church cries out, over and over again, the essential relationship between altar and Cross. The altar is the bathed in the glory of the Cross.

The Visible Sign of God's Healing Mercy

Today's Divine Office and the Mass infuse in our souls an awe-inspiring awareness of the Cross as the visible sign of God's healing mercy, the cause of our indefectible and abiding joy. "The Royal Banners forward go; the Cross shines forth in mystic glow" (Vexilla Regis, Vespers). We sing in today's introit that the Cross of Christ is the source of health (salus), of life, and of Resurrection. The eyes of the Church are filled with the brightness of the Cross. She looks towards the wood of the Cross and is made radiant by the Resurrection. Look to the Cross, and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed (Ps 33:6)!

The Saving Wood

The wood by which Adam fell (Gn 3:12) is today the wood by which Adam is saved. The wood by which Noah, "his sons, his wife, and his son's wives" (Gn 6:14) were saved from the flood is today the wood by which joy has flooded the world. The wood by which Moses sweetened the bitter waters of Marah (Ex 15:25) is today the wood by which all the world's bitterness is made sweet.

Salus, Vita, et Resurrectio Nostra

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September 14
The Exaltation of the Glorious Cross

Numbers 21:4b-9
Psalm 77:1-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

Glory in the Cross

“It is for us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ in whom is our health, life and Resurrection: through whom we have been saved and set free” (Introit). Celebrating today the mystery of the Cross, we fix our gaze not upon an instrument of torture and of shame but, rather, upon the Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2). We lift our eyes to the royal throne of the King of glory, the sign of the Son of Man that will appear in the heavens at the end of the age (Mt 24:30). To the eyes of faith, the Cross shines like the sun over the eastern horizon.

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

In Rome, the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is the scene of a solemn festival today. Pilgrims from all over the world will cross the threshold of the church established by Saint Helena; they will kneel before the wood of the True Cross. Great numbers of them will go to their confession. The relics of the True Cross will be carried in procession and placed upon the altar during Holy Mass.

Everywhere in the monastery and basilica of Santa Croce one sees the insignia of the holy and glorious Cross; it is painted, carved, and even woven into the cloth of the vestments. It is the life-giving and glorious Cross of Christ, studded with precious stones, and glimmering with the splendour of the stars. The arms of the Cross are thrown open wide to embrace the very limits of the cosmos. What did we sing at First Vespers? “Hail, O Cross! Brighter than all the stars! To the eyes of men thou art exceedingly lovely!” (Magnificat Antiphon I). The art in the basilica cries out, over and over again, the essential relationship between altar and Cross. The altar is the bathed in the glory of the Cross.

The Visible Sign of God’s Healing Mercy

Today’s liturgy -- in the Divine Office and the Mass -- infuses an awe-inspiring awareness of the Cross as the visible sign of God’s healing mercy, the cause of our indefectible and abiding joy. “The Royal Banners forward go; the Cross shines forth in mystic glow” (Vexilla Regis, Vespers). We sing in today’s introit that the Cross of Christ is the source of health (salus), of life, and of Resurrection. The eyes of the Church are filled with the brightness of the Cross. She looks towards the wood of the Cross and is made radiant by the Resurrection. Look to the Cross, and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed (Ps 33:6)!

The Saving Wood

The wood by which Adam fell (Gn 3:12) is today the wood by which Adam is saved. The wood by which Noah, “his sons, his wife, and his son’s wives” (Gn 6:14) were saved from the flood is today the wood by which joy has flooded the world. The wood by which Moses sweetened the bitter waters of Marah (Ex 15:25) is today the wood by which all the world’s bitterness is made sweet.

Health to Sickly Souls Is Given

The First Reading is a dramatic reminder that all of us, without exception, have suffered the venomous bite of the ancient serpent. We cross the wilderness of this life limping, and burning with a fever for which no earthly remedy can be found. Our new Moses, Christ, intercedes with the Father on our behalf and, in response, we are given the mystery of the Cross. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). The Cross is the source of our healing; it is the remedy for every affliction, the antidote for every poison, the medicine for every weakness. One of the antiphons at Matins, rhythmically translated, says: “Cross most gracious / from whose aspect / health to sickly souls is given/ with what praises shall I praise thee / who hast brought us life from heaven?

When We Are Stung by Vipers

Like the children of Israel we have to be brought back again and again. When we are strong and successful, when we “wax fat, grow thick, and become sleek” (Dt 32:15), how easily we forget the works of the Lord! When we experience the gift of salutary failure, when we stumble, fall, and lose our way with darkness all about us, when we are stung by vipers and beset with fever and thirst, then do we turn back, led on by severe and tender mercies to the source of all healing and strength.

The Holy Spirit and the Cross

The Cross is where the weakness of the flesh encounters the power of the Holy Spirit. It was from the Cross that the gift of the Holy Spirit was first poured out upon the Church in the kiss of the Bridegroom’s mouth and in a mystery of water and of blood. “He bowed his head, says Saint John, and gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30). And again, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (Jn 19:34). The breath, the blood, and the water are the abiding signs of the Spirit poured out whenever the Church assembles in faith at the foot of the holy and life-giving Cross. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, at once, an actualization of the mystery of the Cross and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Secure in the Arms of the Cross

Again, the Cross is where every brokenness, injury, and wound encounters the compassion of the Father. We are called not so much to embrace the Cross as to allow ourselves to be embraced by it, for the arms of the Cross are the strong arms of the Eternal Father’s compassion. When the Holy Spirit begins to work in a soul, that soul is compelled to throw herself into the arms of the Cross because there, and there alone, is she held secure in the embrace of the Father’s unfailing compassion. The Cross of the Son shines with the love of the Father; that compassionate love is the remedy for every misery, shadow, weakness, betrayal, and fear.

Jacob’s Mystic Ladder

We celebrate the glorious Cross as a Trinitarian mystery; the healing compassion of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit await us in the Cross of the Son. By the Cross of Christ, as by the mystic ladder beheld by Jacob in a dream (Gen 28:12) the mercy of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit descend even to us. By the same Cross of Christ, we ascend to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jacob dreamed “that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it” (Gen 28:12). This is the mystery of the Cross revealed in figure and foreshadowing; this is the reality of the mysteries we celebrate here and now.

The Place of Christ’s Priesthood

The Cross is the place of Christ’s glorious priesthood with its descending and ascending mediation. Wheresoever and whensoever the liturgy is enacted, Christ the great High Priest stands in our midst, and his glorious Cross is rendered present. Health and joy descend into the world -- and into our hearts -- by the wood of the Cross and, by the wood of the Cross, the ladder that spans the chasm separating time from eternity, and this world from the next, we who are estranged and exiled from the beauty of the divine glory ascend into the splendour of the Kingdom.

The Mass: Presence of the Cross

The Cross is present in every Holy Mass, not as the memory of a hill far away, but as a dynamic reality drawing us together into unity and then, upward, to the Father, with the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The Liturgy of the Word is always a preaching and a presence of the Word of the Cross, “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The Liturgy of the Eucharist is always a confession and a presence of the mystery of the Cross in the fullness of its Trinitarian dimensions, and in the actualization of its power.

Through the Cross into the Kingdom

If you have heard the Word of God, you have been embraced by the mystery of the Cross. Held fast in its embrace, let us go to the altar. Through the Word of the Cross, the compassion of the Father, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the glory of the Son have descended into our midst today; let us then, ascend, by the mystery of the Cross present in this Eucharist, to the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit to whom be all glory and praise, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen, Alleluia!

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This morning in the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI received a group of people belonging to the Italian Catholic Action Movement for an exchange of Christmas greetings. The Holy Father spoke of the Venerable Servant of God, our little Nennolina.

Words of the Holy Father

It pleased me that, a moment ago, you quoted a little girl, Antonia Meo, called Nennolina. Just three days ago I decreed the recognition of her heroic virtues and I hope that her cause of beatification may be brought quickly to a happy conclusion. What a luminous example has this little member of yours left us! (Note: Nennolina was enrolled in the "Benjamins" section of the Italian Catholic Action Movement.)

Nennolia, a child of Rome, in her very short life — only six and a half years —demonstrated a faith, a hope, a special charity, and other Christian virtues as well. Though she was a frail little girl, she succeeded in giving a strong and robust witness to the Gospel and has left a deep impression in the diocesan community of Rome. Nennolina belonged the Catholic Action Movement; today she would certainly be inscribed in the A.C.R. (Childrens' Catholic Action)!

For all of you can consider her your friend, a model to inspire you. Her existence, so simple and, at the same time, so important, demonstrates that holiness is for every age; for little children and young people, for adults and for the elderly. Every season of our existence can be good for us to decide seriously to love Jesus and to follow Him faithfully. In a few years, Nennolina reached the summit of Christian perfection that we are, all of us, called to ascend, she ran quickly the "highway" that leads to Jesus. And so, as you yourselves recalled, Jesus is the true "way" who leads us to the Father and to our permanent home, which is Paradise. You know that Antonia now lives in God, and from heaven, she is close to you; you sense that she is present with you, in your groups. Learn to know her and follow her examples. I think that she also will be happy about this: to be involved still in Catholic Action.

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Anniversary of Nennolina's First Holy Communion

Nennolina received her First Holy Communion 71 years ago on Christmas Eve, 1936, in the chapel of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, 38, Via Germano Sommeiller. Witnesses of her First Holy Communion said that the little girl was transfigured in a kind of ecstatic adoration of her Jesus. A few months before her First Holy Communion, Nennolina had written to Jesus:

"Dear Jesus Eucharist I love You so much! . . .
Really very much!
Not only because You are the Father of all the world, but also because You are the King of all the world, I always want to be Your lamp which burns night and day before You and near You in the Sacrament of the altar.

I'd like You to grant me three favours the first - make me saint, and this is the most important favour;
the second - give me some souls;
the third - make me walk normally, to tell the truth this is the least important.
I'm not saying to give me back my leg, I gave it to You!


Dear Jesus I like my teacher Sister Noemi very much.
I love her so, help her to do all the necessary things that You want her to do.
Dear Jesus Eucharist!
I love You so much so that I'm really longing for Christmas.
Make my heart shine to You when You come into my poor heart.
Dear Jesus, I'll make a lot of sacrifices that I'll offer to You
when I do the First Holy Communion.

Dear Jesus Eucharist! . . .
I want to suffer a lot to redeem also the sins of men, especially of the very bad ones.
Dear Jesus Eucharist I say good-bye to You and I kiss You.
Your Antonietta.
Good night Jesus good night Mary."

Te Deum Laudamus

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Dear Jesus,
I want to be Thy lamp that, close to Thee,
burns with a flame of love,
Thy lily that remains always to adorn Thy altar
and to adore Thee.

Today, 17 December 2007, Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI received in a private audience His Eminence, the Most Reverend Lord Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. In the course of the audience, the Holy Father authorized the Congregation to promulgate the heroicity of the virtues of the Servant of God Antonietta Meo, called Nennolina, a little girl born in Rome, in the parish of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, on 15 December 1930, where she also died on 3 July 1937. Nennolina is buried in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. The Venerable Servant of God attended the school of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, also in the parish of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.


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The garden of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme with the roses in bloom seen from the roof terrace. In the background one can see the May 1st manifestations being held in the park that runs from Santa Croce to San Giovanni in Laterano.

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This is the view from the window directly across from my cell. Looking west across the terrace and gardens of Santa Croce, I can see the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in the morning light. I shall never grow accustomed to seeing such sights. In Jam, Christe, Sol Iustitiae, the hymn at Lauds during Lent, we sing:

O Christ, Thou Sun of Justice, come,
Pierce with Thy rays our mental gloom;
With virtue light our souls once more,
And unto earth Thy day restore.

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Father Jeff Keyes, C.PP.S. tells about his recent visit to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. The highlight of the day was a concelebrated Votive Mass of the Passion of the Lord with the Proper Chants taken from the Graduale Cistercense. Read all about it at Rifugio San Gaspare.

John Henry Newman writes about Santa Croce in Gerusalemme:

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"This Basilica is so called, because St. Helena, not only brought the True Cross there, but earth from Mount Calvary on which the Chapel or the Altar there is built — thus if there be a centre of the Church, we shall be there, when we are on earth from Jerusalem in the midst of Rome." (Ascension Day, 1847)

Brother Ryan tells me that in one of Newman's letters written from Santa Croce, he speaks of the convenient staircase leading from his rooms directly into the basilica below. I have not yet been able to find that letter; it would have been written in 1847. In any case, this is the very staircase that I now use several times a day to go down into the sacristy and basilica. Brother Ryan has dubbed it la Scala Newman.

It is fascinating that, through the intervention of Blessed Pope Pius IX, the English Oratory began here at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. Now, it is impossible for me to go downstairs without thinking of John Henry Newman and listening for ancient footsteps. As the staircase is often treacherously dark, I should also think of the poem Newman wrote at sea in 1833:

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

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Don Carlo's feast was November 4th, Saint Charles Borromeo. Don Carlo is Romanian; he made solemn profession at Santa Croce and was ordained a priest in 2004. Currently he is studying Canon Law. If you are ever in Rome you may see him in the piazza in front of Santa Croce where he has a very effective ministero del sorriso.

Don Martino, wearing the black beret, hails from Milano. He is among our venerable and cherished seniors. More than anything else he gives good example to his younger brethren by his exemplary fidelity to the common life.

Cistercian life at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is never dull. There is always someone or something to celebrate!

Buona festa, Fra Leone Maria!

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November 10th, the feast of Pope Saint Leo the Great is the onomastico of my dear confrère and friend Fra Leone Maria. Fra Giuseppe Benedetto and I affectionately call him "The Lion." Fra Leone is one of the three founding fathers of our monastery of Santa Cruz in Guadalajara, Mexico.

At Santa Croce in Rome Fra Leone was charged for several years with building the presepio in the narthex of the basilica. Now, in Guadalajara, he is in charge of coordinating the construction of the new monastery. Not quite the same dimensions! Fra Leone shares my passion for Gregorian Chant. He plays the zither and enjoys listening to music too, especially Mexican Baroque. Pray for him!

Abramo Becomes Fra Bernardo Maria

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Abramo, a native of Guadalajara in Mexico, began his novitiate on October 31, 2006 in the Abbey of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome.

Reverend Father Abbot Don Simone clothed Abramo in the white habit of the Cistercian novice and chose for him the illustrious name of Bernardo. Fra Bernardo is a gifted musician.

I will be for him both a mother and a father, both a brother and a sister. I will make the crooked path straight for him and the rough places smooth. I will temper and arrange all things that his soul may advance and his body not suffer. He will serve the Lord with joy and gladness. He will sing of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.

Saint Bernard, To the Parents of a Novice

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

Donations for Silverstream Priory

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