“Do not reduce the cross to a superstitious object or an ornamental necklace”, warns Pope Francis

ByThomas J. Pawlak

Sep 2, 2020

“The cross is the sacred sign of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice, and should not be reduced to a superstitious object or an ornamental necklace,” Pope Francis said on Sunday.

The Catholic leader made the remarks from his apartment window overlooking St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, in front of crowds gathered to hear his weekly Angelus.

“The disciples think of too earthly a victory, and therefore they do not understand the language of the cross” – Pope Francis

His passage for the day was Matthew 16:21-27, when Jesus tells his disciples about his impending death and resurrection. In response, Peter said, “God forbid, Lord! This will never happen to you! – only to be rebuked by Jesus, “‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle for me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (verse 23).

As Pope Francis explained: “But his [Jesus’] the words are not understood, because the disciples have a faith that is still immature and too tied to the mentality of this world (Romans 12:2). They think of a too earthly victory, and therefore they do not understand the language of the cross.

“For Peter and the other disciples – but for us too! – the cross is a stumbling block, an ‘impediment’, while Jesus considers the ‘impediment’ [to be] to escape the cross, which would mean to avoid the will of the Father, the mission that the Father entrusted to him for our salvation.

The Pope noted that ten minutes before the exchange documented by Matthew 16:21-27, Jesus had praised Peter. He had also promised that Peter would be the foundation of his church. Yet here Peter is with Jesus saying to him, “Get behind me, Satan!

“How can this be understood?” asked Francois. “It happens to everyone. In moments of devotion, of fervor, of good will, of closeness to our neighbour, we look at Jesus and we move forward.

“But in the moments when we approach the cross, we flee. The devil, Satan – as Jesus said to Peter – tempts us. It’s typical of the evil spirit, it’s typical of the devil to lead us away from the cross, from the cross of Jesus,” he said.

The papal leader explained that in the following remarks of Jesus – “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (verse 24) – he teaches that A true disciple “denies himself” (i.e. not with a superficial change, but a conversion that changes their mindset and values) and also “takes up his own cross”.

“The task of ‘taking up the cross’ becomes a participation with Christ in the salvation of the world.” – Pope Francis

“It is not just a question of patiently enduring daily tribulations, but of assuming with faith and responsibility that part of the work and that part of the suffering that the fight against evil entails…” said François. “Thus the task of ‘taking up the cross’ becomes a participation with Christ in the salvation of the world.”

It is for this reason that Christians “allow the cross hanging on the wall of the house, or that little one that we wear around our necks, to be the sign of our desire to unite ourselves to Christ by serving our brothers with love, especially the smallest and most fragile,” he said.

But, the pope stressed, it is important that the cross – “holy sign of God’s love” and “sign of Jesus’ sacrifice” – is not reduced to a mere “superstitious object or an ornamental necklace”.

“Each time we fix our gaze on the image of Christ crucified, contemplate that he, as a true servant of the Lord, has accomplished his mission, giving life, shedding his blood for the forgiveness of sins.”

“And let us not be carried away to the other side, by the temptation of the evil one. Therefore, if we want to be his disciples, we are called to imitate him, spending our life without reserve for love of God and neighbour.