THE Saints of God have ever loved to venerate the instrument on which the Lord of men and angels died to procure the salvation of the world, and the story of the invention or finding of the Cross may well close these sketches of their lives, for it is by that Cross they have obtained their crown in heaven.
A British lady named Helena—the mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor was converted to Christianity about the year 311, and some fifteen years afterwards she so earnestly desired to visit those places rendered sacred by the life, death, and glorious resurrection of our Divine Lord, that she started to Jerusalem on pilgrimage.
But where once the Holy Sepulchre had been, a temple in honour of Venus was raised; one dedicated to Jupiter stood close by, and Christians were thus driven from the spot where they had loved to pray. The Cross of the Sinless One was hidden from the sight of men, for it was the custom to bury in the earth the cross on which criminals had met their death, as well as every other instrument of their suffering. St. Helena longed to find the sacred wood, and though three hundred years had gone by since that death on Calvary, she set a number of working people to dig deeply into the earth at the spot where it seemed most probable the treasure might be found.
It was not in vain. After long and patient search they discovered the sepulchre, and next came upon three crosses, to one of which some writers affirm there was the title affixed, "Jesus of Nasareth, King of the Jews." The nails were also found which had pierced the sacred hands and feet of the Saviour of the world.
In order that there might be a full assurance as to which of these three was the Cross of Christ, Macarius, the Bishop of Jerusalem, had them carried to one who at that time lay sick in Jerusalem, for he had a strong faith that by the infinite power of God the wood of the Redeemer's Cross would certainly restore health. He was not mistaken, for at the touch of that Holy Cross, health and strength were restoredto the sick person, and then St. Helena knew that she had indeed discovered the object of her desire.
A portion of it was sent to Constantine, some was entrusted to the care of the Bishop of Jerusalem, while the remainder was reverently conveyed by Helena herself to Borne, there to be deposited in the church which she caused to be erected in honour of the Holy Cross. One of the nails is said to have been placed in a costly diadem which St. Helena gave to her son, the other three were also carefully preserved.
Constantine built a magnificent Basilica upon the spot where the Cross was discovered, and the day following its solemn consecration, the sacred wood was exposed for the veneration of a vast crowd there assembled.
In the year 614, Jerusalem was conquered by the Persians, and they carried away to their own country the Cross of Christ. Heraclius, the Christian Emperor, sued for peace in vain, he was tired of war and dispirited by reason of the many and great losses which had befallen his army, so he began to give himself to fasting and prayer, imploring the help of the Almighty against his adversaries. At length these supplications were answered, and the Persians were not only defeated, but forced to retreat into their own land.
Peace was now made, one of its conditions being the restoration of the Holy Cross, after it had been lost to Jerusalem for full fourteen years. Great was the rejoicing of the Christians then, glad indeed were they to regain the symbol which tells ever of the love of Christ in suffering for us. Heraclius the Emperor desired to make his thanksgiving by bearing the Cross upon his own shoulders up the rough mountain road our Divine Lord had traversed some six hundred years before, bowed beneath its heavy burden. In his costly imperial garb, glittering with gold and gems, Heraclius raised the Cross and strove to mount the steep ascent, but some strong though invisible power hindered him, so that he was unable to advance even one pace.
The Patriarch sees this, and he can tell the reason. "Oh Emperor!" he cries; " thou canst not indeed carry this sacred wood up this rough path clad in rich robes and costly ornaments. It was in poverty and in humiliation that Christ bore the Cross, and thou must imitate Him if thou wouldst indeed bear it also."
Upon this, Heraclius cast aside his glittering garments, he even removed his shoes, and barefooted and meanly clad, he went along the Via Crucis and placed the Cross on Calvary's height. When, in the year 635, this pious Emperor saw that Jerusalem would shortly fall into the hands of enemies, he carried the Holy Cross to Constantinople for safety; but it is believed that some small portion was still preserved in the city, for when the Crusaders had gained possession, we hear of them bearing a part of the Cross, which from century to century had been carefully concealed from the Turks.
In the year 1239, a portion of the sacred wood was sent to St. Louis of France, who built a palace to keep so sacred a relic, and when it was being conveyed to him, he went out to meet it barefoot and with uncovered head.
A large fragment of the Cross is also preserved at Rome.
We are told by tradition that once upon the eve of some great battle a luminous cross appeared to the Emperor Constantino. He was not a Christian then, but he had heard of the God of Christians, and i n his anxiety he called upon Him to aid his army in the coming struggle. About the hour of noon on the day before the encounter was to take place, Constantine beheld a bright Cross in the sky having inscribed upon it in Greek letters," In this conquer." That night Our Lord Himself appeared in vision to him and bade him use the image of the Cross as his standard in the battle field. Constantine obeyed, and was victorious over his enemy.
"In this conquer." What a motto for us all as we strive to battle against the temptations of the world, our great enemy, and our own weak flesh. Only the Cross can be our safeguard as we pass through life, only the daily following in the way of the Cross can prepare us for the crown hereafter.
"In this conquer." A mighty warfare rages against the Church of God in these days, even though it may often be a covert warfare.
Which shall be the standard under which we fight? shall we be the soldiers of the Cross, or the enemies of the Crucified One?
The holy Apostle St. Paul gives our answer; let us pray that from our inmost hearts we maybe enabled by Divine Grace to say with him, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."
What a comforting story for the times we life in, as Catholics we can say with Constantine, "In this sign we shall conquer." Onward Christian soldiers!
Source: Stories of the Saints for Children, Vol IV, 1878
A coloring picture can be found below.