ROME – After the summer break, Pope Francis resumed his weekday morning Masses in the Casa Santa Marta on Thursday – which was the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross – warning against what he called the two spiritual temptations in front of Christ’s cross.
On the one hand, the pope said, there’s the risk of thinking of Christ without a cross, meaning, turning him into a “spiritual master” or, on the other hand, thinking of a cross without Christ, meaning being without hope, leading to a kind of “spiritual masochism.”
The Vatican doesn’t release the full text of the pope’s homilies during his Masses in the Casa Santa Marta, but Vatican Radio publishes a summary.
At the heart of the pope’s reflection was the “mystery of love,” constituted by the cross. The liturgy, Francis said, speaks of it as a noble and faithful tree.
The pope noted that it’s not always easy to understand the cross: “Only with contemplation can one move forth in this mystery of love.”
Reflecting on the day’s Gospel, in which Jesus explains to Nicodemus the mystery of the cross, Francis said Christ does so using two verbs: “lift up” and “come down.”
“Jesus came down from heaven to lift us all up to Heaven,” Francis said. “This is the mystery of the Cross.”
In the first reading of the day, St. Paul says that Jesus “humiliated himself,” becoming obedient unto death on the Cross: “This is Jesus coming down: To the bottom, the humiliation, he emptied himself for love, and for this God exalted him and made him ascend,” the pope said.
“Only if we can understand this descent to the end can we understand the salvation that this mystery of love offers us,” he said.
This is not easy, Francis said, because there’s always the temptation to consider one half and not the other, which is why, he said, St. Paul warns the Galatians not to fall into the temptation of explaining the mystery of God’s love instead of entering it.
Speaking about the temptation of a Christ without a cross, meaning reducing him to a “spiritual master” who keeps you calm, Francis said when treating him in this way, Jesus is no longer the Lord, but a teacher and nothing else.
The other temptation, he said, is the cross without Christ, the anguish of remaining at the bottom, held down by “the weight of sin, hopeless.”
This, he said, is a sort of spiritual “masochism. Only the cross; without hope, without Christ.”
The cross without Christ would, however, be “a mystery of tragedy,” he said, like pagan tragedies.
“But the cross is a mystery of love, the cross is faithful, the cross is noble. Today we can take a few minutes and ask ourselves: Christ crucified, is it for me a mystery of love? Do I follow Jesus without a cross, a spiritual master who is filled with consolation, good advice? Do I follow the cross without Jesus, always lamenting, with this “masochism” of the spirit? Do I allow myself to be carried by the mystery of the lowering, total emptying, and elevation of the Lord?”
The pontiff closed his homily by asking God for the grace “not to understand but to enter” the mystery of love: “then with the heart, with the mind, with the body, with everything, we will understand something.”