Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
When I was a post-novice, at the Floriana Capuchin friary, it always touched my heart the beautiful beneath the niche at the centre of the stairway of this historic convent: Ave Crux Spes Unica, its english rendering, Hail O Cross, our only hope! The obvious question that used to come into my mind was the following: Why is the Cross our only hope?
The first and logical answer that comes into my heart is the following one: It is the principal instrument of our salvation. On the Cross Jesus fulfilled his own prophetic word when he told us, in the Gospel of St John: and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (John 12:32). For the evangelist of the Fourth Gospel this word of Jesus was so important that he could not refrain from commenting on it! Thus, he wrote in the following verse: He said this to show by what death he was to die (John 12:33).
Entirely led by the Holy Spirit, as present in the Bible, the Church and their personal lives, the saints powerfully teach us why the Cross is our only hope. First, the Cross is our only hope because it is the school of love. St Maximilian Kolbe says: The cross is the school of love. Second, the Cross is our only hope because it is the hub of true love. St Francis de Sales writes: Mount Calvary is the mount of lovers. All love that does not take its origin from the Savior’s passion is foolish and perilous. Unhappy is love without the Savior’s death. Love and death are so mingled in the Savior’s passion that we cannot have one in our hearts without the other. Upon Calvary, we cannot have life without love, or love without the Redeemer’s death. Third, the Cross is our only hope because it is our very salvation, provided that we really desire it. St Leo the Great teaches: No one, however weak, is denied a share in the victory of the cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ. His prayer brought benefit to the multitude that raged against him. How much more does it bring to those who turn to him in repentance.
Fourth, the Cross is our only hope because it is our living relic of Christ’s constant love for you and me. St Augustine encourages us with these words: As they were looking on, so we too gaze on his wounds as he hangs. We see his blood as he dies. We see the price offered by the redeemer, touch the scars of his resurrection. He bows his head, as if to kiss you. His heart is made bare open, as it were, in love to you. His arms are extended that he may embrace you. His whole body is displayed for your redemption. Ponder how great these things are. Let all this be rightly weighed in your mind: as he was once fixed to the cross in every part of his body for you, so he may now be fixed in every part of your soul. Fifth, the great Bishop of Hippo even tells us that the Cross is our greatest hope because Christ in you and my place. The death of the Lord our God should not be a cause of shame for us; rather, it should be our greatest hope, our greatest glory. In taking upon himself the death that he found in us, he has most faithfully promised to give us life in him, such as we cannot have of ourselves. Sixth, the Cross is our only hope because God’s sinless Son bore our suffering to show us how much He really cares for us. Again St Augustine says: God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.
Seventh, the Cross is our only hope because its fruit is life and life in abundance in and through Jesus Christ. St Theodore the Studite says: How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! In the cross there is no mingling of good and evil, as in the tree of paradise: it is wholly beautiful to behold and good to taste. The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness but light. This tree does not cast us out of paradise, but opens the way for our return. Eighth, the Cross is our only hope because the devil and death are crushingly defeated by it; thus the cross now offers eternal life, and death vanquished. St John Damascene writes: By nothing else except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has death been brought low: The sin of our first parent destroyed, hell plundered, resurrection bestowed, the power given us to despise the things of this world, even death itself, the road back to the former blessedness made smooth, the gates of paradise opened, our nature seated at the right hand of God and we made children and heirs of God. By the cross all these things have been set aright…It is a seal that the destroyer may not strike us, a raising up of those who lie fallen, a support for those who stand, a staff for the infirm, a crook for the shepherded, a guide for the wandering, a perfecting of the advanced, salvation for soul and body, a deflector of all evils, a cause of all goods, a destruction of sin, a plant of resurrection, and a tree of eternal life.
Ninth, the Cross is our only hope because it is the school of patience. St Thomas Aquinas writes: If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid. Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Tenth, Ninth, the Cross is our only hope because, at its very core there is the newness of life in the Holy Spirit. St Pope John Paul II teaches us: There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us. And on the far side of every cross we find the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, that new life which will reach its fulfillment in the resurrection. This is our faith. This is our witness before the world.
Today, Tuesday 14th September 2021, on this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, let us kneel down before the Cross and, with St Francis of Assisi, we pray:
Most high, glorious God,
cast Your light into the darkness
of my heart.
Give me right faith,
and profound humility,
with wisdom and perception,
O Lord, so that I may do
what is truly Your holy will.
Hail O Cross, our only hope!