May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14 NRSV).
Today we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross dating back to the fourth century when St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine (the same who legalized Christianity), traveled to the Holy Land in search of the holy sites associated with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
A pagan temple had been built over the site of the Holy Sepulcher and the empress ordered it razed. Underneath were discovered the empty tomb and three crosses.
Theodoret (died c. 457) in his Ecclesiastical History Chapter XVII, gives what has become the standard version of the finding of the True Cross:
When the empress (St. Helena, mother of Constantine) beheld the place where the Savior suffered, she immediately ordered the idolatrous temple, which had been there erected, to be destroyed, and the very earth on which it stood to be removed. When the tomb, which had been so long concealed, was discovered, three crosses were seen buried near the Lord’s sepulcher. All held it as certain that one of these crosses was that of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that the other two were those of the thieves who were crucified with Him. Yet they could not discern to which of the three the Body of the Lord had been brought nigh, and which had received the outpouring of His precious Blood. But the wise and holy Macarius, the president of the city, resolved this question in the following manner. He caused a lady of rank, who had been long suffering from disease, to be touched by each of the crosses, with earnest prayer, and thus discerned the virtue residing in that of the Savior. For the instant this cross was brought near the lady, it expelled the sore disease, and made her whole.
To this day tiniest slivers of the True Cross exist. They serve as a powerful reminder of the sacrificial death of our Lord that conquered once for all our age-old problem of separation from God.
I grew up singing a song that actually makes more sense now as a Catholic.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown. (George Bernard, 1913)
“[Jesus] for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 NRSV).