With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, "Why have your brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!"
In punishment the Lord sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died. Then the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned in complaining against the Lord and you. Pray the Lord to take the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, "Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live." Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.(P) The word of the Lord.
Listen, my people, to my teachings; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable, I will utter mysteries from of fold. (R)
While he slew them they sought him and inquired after God again, remembering that God was their rock and the Most High God, their redeemer. (R)
But they flattered him with their mouths and lied to him with their tongues, though their hearts were not steadfast toward him, nor were they faithful to his covenant. (R)
Yet he, being merciful, forgave their sin and destroyed them not; often he turned back his anger and let none of his wrath be roused. (R)
Brothers and sisters: Jesus Christ, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: "No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that he who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
There are a number of liturgical practices that have disappeared from use over the decades. One of the practices was that the priest faced the same direction as the people while celebrating Holy Mass. But with the introduction of the Tridentine or Roman Rite Mass in the early 1970s the priest is required to face the people. Although the change has had many positive effects there has also been a significant negative impact on our faith. I would like to point out two effects of the change:
Today as we celebrate the feast of the exaltation of the cross I invite all of you to look at the cross or crucifix in the church. What does the cross mean to you? For Jews the cross was the symbol of oppression and death because the ancient Romans used to execute most of their criminals by hanging them on a cross. But the cross took a new meaning after the death of Jesus on it. Today the cross is the most familiar and widely recognized symbol of the Christian faith. It is loved and respected by millions of people. It is found on paintings, statues, jewelry and so on. It is placed on the top of buildings as a reminder of the presence of Christians. Some people wear one around their neck as a declaration of their faith in Jesus Christ. The Catholic cross is a crucifix with Jesus' crucified body on it to remind us of his suffering. Protestant Christians display the empty cross, emphasizing the resurrection of Christ. Many other Christian groups associate the cross with the exhortations of Jesus such as, "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me", Mark (8:34).
The cross is also manifested in physical gestures. We begin and end our prayers with the sign of the cross. Some of us make the sign of the cross when getting up in the morning, before leaving the house for work, before driving, when passing a church or a cemetery, upon entering a church, after receiving communion and in times of trouble or fear or temptation. Just before the reading of the gospel at Holy Mass we trace three small crosses with the right thumb - one on the forehead, one on the lips, and one on the heart. Another sign is the large sign made by bishops and priests when blessing persons or religious objects.
Friends, whether you use a cross or crucifix in your worship or wear it around your neck or place it in your house as a declaration of your faith or trace the cross on your body, the question I pose to you today is, "Do you understand the primary importance and value of the cross? In this world, many people despise the cross of Jesus Christ. They think the message of the cross is foolishness. This is because the cross is just seen as a stark reminder of betrayal, denial, humiliation, pain, suffering, loneliness, sin, guilt and shame. However, the same cross is precious because it is on which Jesus shed his blood for our sins. The Bible teaches us that Jesus humbly laid down his life for us and paid the bitter penalty for our sins. By his death on the cross, Jesus atoned for our sins so that God could be satisfied and reconciliation between God and us could be achieved. By dying on the cross, Jesus paid the essential ransom price to buy us back and set us free from our slavery to sin. When he died on the cross Jesus bought us forgiveness.
Friends, today we have an opportunity to look at the cross of Christ and see what God wants us to see. God wants us to see the demonstration of His great love for you and me. He wants us to see the cross of Christ not as a symbol of a tragedy that should have been avoided but as symbol of His great wisdom and power to save us from our sins. However, only seeing what God wants us to see is not enough. When we look at the cross of Christ we also need to do what God wants us to do. God wants us to repent of our sins and receive His free gift of salvation. Let us always humbly and gratefully come to the cross of Christ which instruments forgiveness for our sins and promises everlasting life. Just as the people of Israel who looked at the bronze serpent mounted on a pole lived, let us keep our eyes on the cross of Christ and gratefully reflect on His love for us so that we too may live forever.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!