Holy and blessed St. Helena, with love and devotion you sought to find the Cross of Our Savior.
I plead for your intercession that I may have the same love and devotion to Jesus my Lord. Like you, may I accept the trials of life with patience and hope.
Under your protection, may I carry the Cross which the Lord has given me in this life and one day may I share with you the Crown of life eternal.
St. Helena, finder of the Cross, pray for us. Amen
Every parish has a special feastday. Our Parish Feastday is celebrated on September 14, the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. On this feastday Christians throughout the world honor the Cross of Jesus, the Cross on which He died for our salvation. But on this feastday, we here, the people of this parish, honor also the one who found the Cross on the hill of Calvary, our holy patroness, St. Helena. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, went with her son’s soldiers to Jerusalem. Her mission—to find the buried Cross of Christ, the Cross that had been buried on the hill of Calvary for three hundred years. Helena’s soldiers dug on the hill and they found three crosses, one belonging to Jesus, the other to the two thieves, but each unmarked. Helena put her trust in the Lord to give her a sign. There was a crippled woman there and Helena touched each of the crosses to the woman. When she touched the True Cross of Jesus, the woman was cured. We are blessed to have a relic or piece of that Holy Cross in our church, in the reliquary over the statue of St. Helena. It was given to our founding pastor, our beloved Monsignor Arthur j. Scanlan, by then Archbishop (later Cardinal) Francis Spellman when our parish was established in 1940.
What a beautiful feastday we have! This feast celebrates the Cross and it celebrates St. Helena, finder of the Cross. It celebrates St. Helena’s faith, her determination, her trust in God. She was an old woman in her eighties when she took upon herself her mission to find the True Cross. This old woman defied the world with the youthfulness of her love of Christ.
The great British writer Evelyn Waugh wrote about our patroness and mentions many things about St. Helena, but I draw your attention to these special words, “What we can learn from Helena is something about the workings of God, that He wants a different thing from each of us, laborious or easy, conspicuous or quite private, but something which only we can do and for which we were each created.”
Those words deserve our careful reflection. St. Helena did not have a charmed life. Her life was filled with turmoil, rejection, and pain. St. Helena experienced heartache in her marriage. She was married to a Roman general Constantius Chlorus and loved him and their son Constantine dearly. But then she was divorced by her husband so that he could marry a princess to further his political ambitions. Yet St. Helena persevered, both in her devotion to her son Constantine and to her faith in the Lord Jesus. And the Lord gave her a task to accomplish. To paraphrase Evelyn Waugh’s words, it was “something which only she could do and for which she was created,” namely finding the Cross of Jesus on the hill of Calvary. If Helena had given up, if she had given in to her troubles, then she would not have accomplished the task for which she was created. Simply put, God needed St. Helena to disclose His Cross to the world. How marvelous that the Lord needed this 80-year old woman to reveal the Cross of our salvation!
The lesson for us in clear: we too must accept the trials of our lives, knowing that somehow God will accomplish His plan through us. All we have to do is put our lives in His hands, whatever problems we are facing, and let Him do the rest. May we all learn that lesson from our patron saint on this parish feastday. May St. Helena, who found the Cross of Jesus, help us on our journey of life, to find our purpose on earth and then one day to find our path to heaven.
“St. Helena, finder of the Cross, pray for us.”
Father Thomas B. Derivan
Saint Helena is distinguished in history as the woman led by God to find the True Cross of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
This is attested to by the early church with such formidable sources as St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, St. Paulinus of Nola and others. St. Helena, born in 248 AD in Bythinia, part of modern day Turkey, was the wife of the Roman Emperor, Constantinius Chlorus.
She was the mother of Constantine the Great, proclaimed Roman Emperor at the death of his father, Chlorus, in 306 AD. Although a pagan, Constantine was greatly influenced by Christianity and by the Christian faith of St. Helena. Consequently, he turned to the God of the Christians in a desperate prayer for victory when his rule over the empire was seriously threatened by the vastly superior military force of Maxentius.
At the battle of the Milvian Bridge, in a suburb of Rome, in 312 AD, he was given a startling sign of victory. He saw a flaming cross in the sky. Beneath the cross were the words, “In hoc signo vinces” – “In this sign you will conquer.” Conquer he did and the empire was saved.
Soon after, with a sense of gratitude, Constantine planned to build a basilica in Jerusalem venerating the cross and sepulchre of Jesus. St. Helena at the age of 80 went to Jerusalem to supervise this work.
She found that the sacred place of the crucifixion and resurrection had been desecrated by the Romans, who had filled the area with rubble, erecting a temple to Venus and a statue of Jupiter. Seized with a burning desire to find the True Cross, St. Helena ordered the temple and statue demolished and excavations made in the pile of rubble. Three crosses were found together with some nails and a sign inscribed in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The sign, however, was found separated from the crosses.
There was the question as to which was the true Cross. Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem suggested the application of each cross to an incurably ill woman. The application of the first two failed. The third was successful. She was instantly cured. Thus, the True Cross was identified by a divine sign.
We honor our patroness St. Helena and ask her to pray for the saving graces won by Christ on the cross will fill out parish and school, our homes, and families.
Monsignor Philip M. Mulcahy
A PRAYER TO ST. HELENA
Holy and blessed Saint Helena, with the anguish and devotion with which you sought the Cross of Christ, I plead that you give me God's grace to suffer in patience the labors of this life, so that through them and through your intercession and protection, I will be able to seek and carry the Cross, which God has placed upon me, so that I can serve Him in this life and enjoy His Glory ever after. Amen.
ST. HELENA - Feast: August 18
St. Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great, and she was born around 248 AD in Drepanum, which is located in modern day Turkey.
She married Constantius Chorus, who would later became co-Regent of the Western part of the Roman Empire, but in order for that to happen, he had to divorce Helena and marry Theodora, the step-daughter of the Emperor Maximinianus, but her son remained faithful to her, and following the death of Constantius Chlorus, Constantine succeeded him and summoned his mother to the imperial court and conferred on her the title of Augusta. He ordered that all honor should be paid to her as the mother of the sovereign, and he had coins struck bearing her effigy.
She embraced Christianity following her son’s victory over Maxentius, and, according to Eusebius, she “became a devout servant of God,” and her influence helped Christianity spread throughout the empire. She had churches built over the sacred spots in Palestine, and at an advanced age, she undertook a journey to Palestine in the year 324 AD, once her son had become the sole emperor of the Roman Empire. During this journey, she had two special churches constructed, one in Bethlehem, near the Grotto of the Nativity, and the other on the Mount of the Ascension. She had great concern for the poor, financially assisting both individuals and entire communities. It was during this time that a legend, first recorded by Rufinus, began circulating about how she had “found” the true cross.
There are several versions on how the cross is found. In some, Helena has a dream telling her where the cross is buried. In another tradition, the Ethiopian Coptic tradition still celebrated as Mesquel, she follows smoke from a bonfire to the site.
However, in the version that received the most circulation and became popular in the Middle Ages, she asks the people of Jerusalem to tell her the location. When the Jewish leaders of the city are silent, she places one of them, a man named Judas, in a well until he agrees to show her the site. After seven days, he prays to God for guidance and reveals the location. Afterwards, Judas converts to Christianity, and takes the name Kyriakis, "he who belongs to the Lord.”
Helena finds three crosses, nails, and the title under a pagan temple. To determine which is the right cross, a deathly sick girl is brought to the site. She is touched by all three crosses, but upon being touched by the True Cross, she is restored to health.
St. Helena lived in a lavish house near the Lateran, and after her death, her residence was demolished, and the Church of the Holy Cross was built on that site. In 325 AD, she received the title Augusta, and in 327 AD, Constantine changed the name of his mother’s hometown to Helanopolis. She was about eighty-two when she died in 330 AD, with her son at her side, and her body was brought to Constantinople and laid to rest in the imperial vault of the Church of the Apostles. She was buried in the Mausoleum of Helena, outside Rome on the Via Labicana. Her sarcophagus is on display in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum. Next to her is the sarcophagus of her granddaughter Saint Constantina (Saint Constance). Her skull is displayed in the Cathedral of Trier, in Germany. As the Muslims began advancing, her body was transferred to the Abbey of Hautvillers in Reims, France in 849 AD.
St. Helena is the patron saint of difficult marriages, divorced people, converts, and archaeologists. Her Feast Day is August 18.
The mother of Constantine, St. Helena (248-329) found the True
Cross in Jerusalem and, for many centuries, devotion to Saint
Helena has been linked to devotion to the Holy Cross. But there
is another, sadder facet of Helena’s life. After 22 years of
marriage, Helena’s husband, Constantius, divorced her.
Sources are also unsure as to the exact nature of their
relationship: some say it was a legal marriage, others a common-
law marriage; some say she was his wife, others his concubine.
Whatever the specifics, the two were in a relationship that produced an heir, Constantine, around the year 272 A.D.. They remained together for at least 15 years, but in 289 A.D. Constantius, who was Roman Emperor Caesar, divorced Helena to enter into a politically advantageous marriage with a younger woman, Theodora, who was the stepdaugher of Maximian, Roman Emperor Augustus at the time. Today, as civil divorce becomes more prevalent, St. Helena is offered to unhappy spouses as a heavenly patron who can truly sympathize with their anguish and offer prayers and on their behalf.
St Helena, pray for us!