Instagram has taken off like a rocket. In just under two years this unique social network has gained over 80 million registered users. Instagram thrives on turning photos of everyday life into trendy, artsy images. Photos are squared to resemble old Polaroid images, and filters are applied to give the photo an artistic look, with the saturation adjusted to emphasize different parts of the picture. As more and more people choose to transform their snapshots with Instagram, I ask, “Why are Instagram images preferred over a normal photo?” I think the answer is that the Instagram filters do something our eyes cannot: They adjust the color and the saturation of light in order to distract us from seeing the reality of the entire picture. We focus on one thing while the rest is blurred or skewed.
It is tempting to apply something like an Instagram filter to today’s feast, The Exaltation of the Cross, because this is a feast that puts our faith to the test. Today we celebrate the supreme paradox: an instrument of death became the sign of everlasting life. This is a startling reality that is hard to blur or soften. One of the cruelest and most barbaric forms of execution ever devised is now a revered image and a commonplace sight. The cross adorns the walls of our homes and is even worn as jewelry around our necks. Christ has transformed the cross into a thing of beauty and has claimed it as a symbol of his victory. As St. Thomas the Apostle can attest, the very wounds of the crucifixion now reveal the glory of the Resurrection (cf. Jn 20:27–28).
Christ came to conquer death and destroy sin by shedding his blood on the Cross. By the redemption won upon it, the Cross has become the source of all grace. We now share in the victory of the Cross by uniting ourselves to Christ in a life of supernatural virtue, for “the goal of the virtuous life is to become like God” (CCC 1803). The infused virtues are freely given to the soul and “adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature” (CCC 1812). Through the Cross we are granted access to the divine, not just to view God as a spectator, but to be united with Him. In virtue of this union we look upon the world from his perspective, seeing the reality of his creation. He draws us to Himself, healing our vision, which has been blurred and darkened by sin.
Through the use of a camera phone, Instagram blurs an image, modifying what was a true depiction of reality. Through the Cross, Christ discards anything that blurs reality, conforming us to himself through the life of supernatural virtue. As we find in St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue, Christ has become for us a bridge between heaven and earth. Speaking to Catherine, God the Father says,
“The bridge has walls of stone so that travelers will not be hindered when it rains. Do you know what stones these are? They are the stones of true solid virtue. These stones were not, however, built into walls before my Son’s passion. So no one could get to the final destination even though they walked along the pathway of virtue. For heaven had not yet been unlocked with the key of my Son’s blood, and the rain of justice kept anyone from crossing over.”
Today we exalt the Cross. For by the Cross the fullness of the virtues has been unlocked for us, and now we have a sure path to God.
Image: Piero della Francesca, Recognition of the True Cross