'Don't reduce the cross to superstitious object or ornamental necklace,' warns Pope Francis

“The cross is the holy sign of God’s love and of Jesus’s sacrifice, and is not to 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 City, to 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 speaks to his disciples about his approaching death and resurrection. In response, Peter says, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” – only to be rebuked by Jesus, ““Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (verse 23).

As Pope Francis explained: “But his [Jesus’] words are not understood, because the disciples have a faith that is still immature and too closely tied to the mentality of this world (Romans 12:2). They think of too earthly a 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, a ‘hindrance’, whereas Jesus considers the ‘hindrance’ [to be] escaping the cross, which would mean avoiding the Father’s will, the mission that the Father has 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 also had 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 Francis. “It happens to us all. In moments of devotion, of fervour, of good will, of closeness to our neighbour, we look at Jesus and we go forward.

“But in moments in which we approach the cross, we flee. The devil, Satan – as Jesus says to Peter – tempts us. It is typical of the evil spirit, it is typical of the devil to make us stray from the cross, from the cross of Jesus,” he said.

The papal leader explained that in Jesus’s next remarks – “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (verse 24) – he teaches that a true disciple “renounces oneself” (ie. not with a superficial change, but a conversion that changes their mentality and values) and also “takes up one’s own cross”.

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

“It is not just a matter of patiently enduring daily tribulations, but of bearing with faith and responsibility that part of toil, and that part of suffering that the struggle against evil entails …” Francis said. “Thus the task of ‘taking up the cross’ becomes participating with Christ in the salvation of the world.”

It is for this reason that Christians “allow the cross hanging on the wall at home, or that little one that we wear around our neck, to be a sign of our wish to be united with Christ in lovingly serving our brothers and sisters, especially the littlest and most fragile,” he said.

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

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

“And let us not allow ourselves to be drawn to the other side, by the temptation of the evil one. As a result, if we want to be his disciples, we are called to imitate him, expending our life unreservedly out of love of God and neighbour.”

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