Monday, July 12, 2010

The True Cross

I hear this sad news today from The Pilot. Because there is no link to the article I am posting the text here so it doesn't go away:

Spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, Terrence Donilon, released the following statement Monday July 12:
Relic of the True Cross Stolen from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross
On Thursday, July 1, staff from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross learned that the relic of the true Cross was stolen from the Cathedral’s Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Boston Police were immediately notified and an investigation was begun to determine who might be responsible. That investigation continues.
The relic of the true Cross is an important sacramental that helps Christians contemplate the crucified Savior and the great suffering he endured for the salvation of the world. The true Cross was discovered in the fourth century, and since then its particles have been diffused to the Church throughout the world. The Cathedral’s relic of the true Cross was brought from France in the Nineteenth Century and given to Bishop Cheverus, Boston’s first Bishop.
In the Christian faith, the Cross of Christ is an expression of the triumph of Christ over the powers of darkness. Fr. Kevin O’Leary, the Rector of the Cathedral, added: “We are deeply troubled that this sacred relic was stolen, and we pray for those responsible. We ask the faithful of the Archdiocese of Boston to join the Cathedral’s parishioners in praying every day for its return.”
 In googling for information I also found this from last September:
.- The Spanish daily La Razon reported this week that a relic of the Holy Cross was stolen from the Benedictine Monastery of the Valley of the Fallen, which had been in possession of the precious relic since 1960.
So, what is the true cross, and why do people want to steal it? To put it simply, the true cross is the cross on which Jesus was crucified. In researching this I learned about the legend of St. Helena, which we will get to in a moment, but historically what appears to have happened is as follows. We have to go back to 70 AD. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. The area was laid waste, and the locations of important places were lost. The rest I got from New Advent:
Under Constantine, after peace had been vouchsafed to the Church, Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, caused excavations to be made (about A.D. 327, it is believed) in order to ascertain the location of these holy sites. That of Calvary was identified, as well as that of the Holy Sepulchre; it was in the course of these excavations that the wood of the Cross was recovered. It was recognized as authentic, and for it was built a chapel or oratory, which is mentioned by Eusebius, also by St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and Silvia (Etheria). From A.D. 347, that is to say, twenty years after these excavations, the same St. Cyril, in his discourses (or catecheses) delivered in these very places (iv, 10; x, 14; xiii, 4) speaks of this sacred wood. An inscription of A.D. 359, found at Tixter, in the neighbourhood of Sétif in Mauretania, mentions in an enumeration of relics, a fragment of the True Cross (Roman Miscellanies, X, 441).
 I don't know how it was known to be authentic. The legend of St. Helena speaks about this, but it is unsubstantiated and there are several conflicting versions:
In the year 326 the mother of Constantine, Helena, then about 80 years old, having journeyed to Jerusalem, undertook to rid the Holy Sepulchre of the mound of earth heaped upon and around it, and to destroy the pagan buildings that profaned its site, Some revelations which she had received gave her confidence that she would discover the Saviour's Tomb and His Cross. The work was carried on diligently, with the co-operation of St. Macarius, bishop of the city. The Jews had hidden the Cross in a ditch or well, and covered it over with stones, so that the faithful might not come and venerate it. Only a chosen few among the Jews knew the exact spot where it had been hidden, and one of them, named Judas, touched by Divine inspiration, pointed it out to the excavators, for which act he was highly praised by St. Helena. Judas afterwards became a Christian saint, and is honoured under the name of Cyriacus. During the excavation three crosses were found, but because the titulus was detached from the Cross of Christ, there was no means of identifying it. Following an inspiration from on high, Macarius caused the three crosses to be carried, one after the other, to the bedside of a worthy woman who was at the point of death. The touch of the other two was of no avail; but on touching that upon which Christ had died the woman got suddenly well again. From a letter of St. Paulinus to Severus inserted in the Breviary of Paris it would appear that St. Helena. herself had sought by means of a miracle to discover which was the True Cross and that she caused a man already dead and buried to be carried to the spot, whereupon, by contact with the third cross, he came to life. From yet another tradition, related by St. Ambrose, it would seem that the titulus, or inscription, had remained fastened to the Cross.
Since that time, fragments of the true cross are kept in various places around the world as relics. For readers who aren't familiar with relics, they are objects associated with a holy person which are venerated (honored, not worshiped) as reminders of that person. A secular analogy would be a superbowl game ball. You might display and cherish the ball because it had been used by your favorite team in a superbowl game. Likewise we keep George Washington's false teeth and Abraham Lincoln's hair brush. Relics are important to remind us of the actual saints. The true cross, is, of course, one of the most important relics, being not only a relic of Jesus, but being associated with his suffering and death.

The Catholic Church has some rules about relics, to prevent them from becoming "trophies". Relics may not be bought or sold. Yet it happens. I hear that a relic of the true cross was on eBay. Whether or not it was authentic is another story. Once the provenance of a relic is lost it is very hard to know whether the object is genuine. In fact, not only can't a relic be sold, a relic actually cannot be owned. The holder of a relic is merely safeguarding it for others.

So why would someone want to steal it? I can only think of two reasons. One is for money. The other is out of hatred for Christ. I hope that it was for money, as there is then a chance of recovering it safely. I do hope i is recovered safely. Not because I worship it or want the Catholic Church to "control" it, but because it is important as an object of faith and devotion and as an archeological artifact. It belongs to everyone.


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