On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Pope Francis preached on the “mystery of love” that is the Cross of Christ and warned against two spiritual temptations related to it.
The first temptation, he said, is to think of Christ without a cross or to reduce him a “spiritual teacher.” The second, he said, is to think of a cross without Christ or to remove all hope in a type of “spiritual masochism.”
Pope Francis said the Liturgy speaks of the Cross as a noble and faithful tree, pointing out that it is not always easy to understand the Cross. “We advance in the mystery of love only through contemplation,” he said.
Mystery of the Cross
In the day’s Gospel, Jesus explains the Cross to Nicodemus with the verbs “to go up” and “to come down”.
“Jesus comes down from Heaven to raise all of us up to Heaven. This is the mystery of the Cross,” he said.
In the First Reading, St. Paul says that Jesus “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
“Jesus’ descent is to the lowest point, even unto humiliation. He emptied himself for love, and because of this God exalted him and made him go up. Only if we succeed in understanding this complete descent can we understand the salvation which this mystery of love offers us.”
Pope Francis pointed out that true understanding is not easy, because there is always the temptation to aim for one goal instead of the other.
St. Paul rebukes the Galatians for “giving in to the temptation not to enter the mystery of love but to explain it”. As the serpent had bewitched Eve and had poisoned the Israelites in the desert, Pope Francis said the Galatians were bewitched “by the illusion of a Christ without a cross and a cross without Christ.”
“A Christ without a cross is not the Lord: he is a teacher, nothing else. This is perhaps what Nicodemus, without realizing it, was seeking. It is one of the temptations. Yes, Jesus: ‘What a good teacher’, but… without the cross, [only] Jesus. Who bewitched you with this image? Paul is angry. Jesus Christ is presented but not as crucified. The other temptation is a cross without Christ, that is, the anguish of remaining down, depressed by the weight of sin and without hope. This is a type of spiritual masochism: only the cross, without hope and without Christ.”
Mystery of love
Pope Francis said the Cross without a Christ would be a “mystery of tragedy”, like a pagan tragedy.
“The Cross is a mystery of love; the Cross is faithful; the Cross is noble. Today we should take a minute to ask ourselves these questions. Is Christ crucified a mystery of love? Do I follow Jesus without a cross: a spiritual teacher who fills me with consolation and good counsel? Do I follow a cross without Jesus, without complaining, with this masochism of the spirit? Do I let myself be carried by this mystery of lowering, that is, of total emptying and lifting up of the Lord?”
Pope Francis concluded with the wish that the Lord grant His grace, not just to understand, but to enter into this mystery of love “with the heart, mind, and body. Totally.”