September 14, 2023
by George Butterfield
Creighton University - retired
click here for photo and information about the writer

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Lectionary: 638

Numbers 21:4b-9
Psalm 78:1bc-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

Praying Ordinary Time

Homily by Pope Francis on this Feast

Pope Francis on this Feast, in 2014

An invitation to make the
Online Retreat

Do you have days of the year that have a special, unique significance for you? I do. September 14 is one of them.

First, my oldest sister, known to all of us as Kitty, was born on this day. If you grew up with older sisters like I did, then you can feel my pain. O, it’s not the pain of them being mean or treating me poorly, although they did beat me up until I could outrun them. It’s the pain of seeing Karen, born two years after Kitty, suffer and die. It’s the pain of being an alpha-male and having an older sister, Kitty, who is an alpha-alpha-female. She’s the one who tells each family member where in the church they can and cannot sit for my father’s funeral. I was just happy that I had a seat up by the ambo, since I was conducting the service. I didn’t have to have her tell me where I could sit. Don’t get me wrong: she is a fine Christian woman, and I will celebrate her 79th birthday today.

September 14 has another special significance for me. I grew up during the Vietnam war. The ministers in our small churches were all conscientious objectors. I thought that all Christians had this point of view. My mother certainly did. She regularly preached this to us. World War II Army-Air Force gunnery sergeant Tom Butterfield, my father, sat in his chair and never contradicted her. As we would say where I grew up, Gramma didn’t raise no fool! I bought my alpha mother’s teaching. Then I went off to college and discovered that this was a minority point of view in our denomination. I spent two years studying this and came to reject the conscientious objector point of view. It caused a conflict in my life. How could I continue to have a college deferment from military service when others were going off to war? I didn’t know anyone who enlisted, so that never crossed my mind. Then a solution appeared. The draft would have a lottery and, if your day was one of the first one hundred and fifty or so chosen, you would be drafted. I refused my deferment and determined to be drafted, if my number came up. My number was 200, so I would stay in college. A classmate of mine’s birthday was September 14. That was the first day chosen in the lottery. Off to war he went. Years later he came back to college and eventually graduated but I often wonder how my life would have been different if those days had been reversed.

Of course, to us Catholics, September 14 is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Jesus humbled himself, took the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and became obedient to death, death on a cross. He told Nicodemus that, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Why? Because of God’s love for the world. God wants all to be saved.

Family relationships and life experiences help shape who we are. Days of the year have special meaning to us because of the road we have travelled. On my journey, I constantly remember that God is in the middle of it all working for my salvation. I know this because of the cross. I know this because of Jesus’ promise that “everyone who believes in him” will have eternal life. I have an alpha-sister and had an alpha-mother. In spite of their faults, they both pointed me to Jesus, the Alpha and Omega. How blessed I have been.

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