03 May 2014

A Photo From Rome: Levate crucem sublime! (Lift high the cross!)

Since my arrival in Rome last September, I have taken many photographs during my wanderings through the Eternal City. Of all of these pictures, I do not know that any are as beautiful as the one I took this evening on my back to the Casa Santa Maria after successful walk to buy a few cans (19) of Dr Pepper:

It is even more beautiful when cropped:

The picture is taken on the famous Ponte Sant'Angelo (The Holy Angel Bridge), not too far from the Basilica of Saint Peter. The bridge was first built by the Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 134 to connect the mausoleum he built for himself across the Tiber River with imperial Rome. As such, the bridge was first named after him and was called the Pons Aelius.

Over time, Hadrian's mausoleum was fortified and eventually became a fortress for the Popes after Pope Saint Gregory the Great had a vision of an atop the mausoleum announcing the city of Rome would be saved from the plague. After that, naturally enough, both the fortress and the bridge leading to it were named after the angel.

Today the bridge is flanked by ten statues of angels, each one holding a different instrument of the Lord's Passion, as envisioned by the great Bernini and commissioned by Pope Paul III. Regrettably, the bridge is in great need of a thorough cleaning, as has recently been given to Bernini's colonnade in St. Peter's Square, though I do not think one is planned. Even with the many black market peddlers who block the sidewalks on the bridge selling rip off bags and sunglasses to tourists and police alike (if I were mayor of Rome, removing them would be my first act in office), the bridge is one of my favorite sites in Rome.

At any rate, as the light of the sun shone upon the angel with the cross against the backdrop of the powerful storm clouds, I could not help but think that the cross always stands as a great light in the midst of the darkness of the world. For this reason, we are always called to life it high.

At the same time, my mind thought instantly of those beautiful words preached by Saint Peter Damian for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I do not have his exact words available to me, but I do have the text of a homily I gave in which I adapted his sermon:
It was a piece of wood that put us in opposition with our Creator and so it is fitting that another piece of wood should bring us salvation. It was on a piece of wood that Moses lifted up the serpent of bronze when the Lord commanded the people to look upon it and be healed (cf. Numbers 21:4-9). In doing so, Moses gave us a sign to remember when the one true cross would come; it is a sign that the Lord has promised never to abandon us to ourselves.

You must remember, dear brothers and sisters, that on the Day of Judgment each of us must stand before the Lord to give an account of our lives. The holy cross will be carried solemnly in the arms of angels and placed before all of humanity. It will not be adorned with jewels or gold, for what could be more honorable, more precious, than the Blood of the Lamb? God himself will make this cross, this wood, shine more brightly than all of the stars of heaven.

The cross will be the new scales of justice on which we will be weighed and be found either lacking or accepted. The measure against which we will be weighed is none other than the measure of Christ’s own cross: how much have you loved (cf. John 13:34)?

You can be sure of this, that those who lovingly embraced the cross throughout their lives will receive their glory. You can be sure of this, as well, that those who refused to take up the cross will know only disgrace.

The cross is a footpath to those of us just beginning on the journey of faith, a highway for those of us fighting the good fight, and a secure resting place for those who have been good and faithful servants.

For the cross of Christ is the way. “Whoever wishes to come after must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” says the Lord. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

To the world the cross looks like hardship and pain, but to those of us who believe, it is a fortress against the night and an oasis against the heat. The cross bears momentary death only to reward us with eternal life. It robs us of earthly things only to compensate us with things from heaven itself. It instructs us in humility in order that we too might be exalted like the Lord our Savior.

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