Welcome back! Today's post will by my last meditation on the Cross for the near future. In this post we will finish up an analysis of Pope Francis' thoughts on the Cross begun in the previous post.
(The numbers you encounter in brackets while reading refer to sources listed in the "view attributions" link at the bottom of the post.)
In speaking of the Cross, Pope Francis introduces in his homilies two wonderful images of the disciple's encounter with the Cross: the “gaze of God” and “new creation.”
Pope Francis introduces the image of the “gaze of God” first in his homily at the Shrine of “Our Lady of Bonaria” [#10]. He speaks of Our Lord gazing upon the Blessed Mother and St. John the Apostle, entrusting John—and “we are all present in John”—to “the maternal care of the Mother.” This image comes up again during Pope Francis' visit to Assisi [#11], where he speaks of St. Francis' “journey to Christ” beginning with the “gaze of the crucified Jesus.” In both cases the gaze of Christ from the Cross is one of compassion for all mankind; but because Our Lord's eyes are open (see the San Damiano Cross of St. Francis), the Cross “speaks to us about a death which is life, a death which gives life” [#11]. Jesus' very act of giving His life for us should draw us to Him, that we may sit at the master's feet and learn from Him.
The notion of “new creation” is also brought up during the visit to Assisi, but is first introduced by Pope Francis during his homily to a group of Christians discerning a religious vocation [#7]. Here he emphasizes that the “Cross without Christ... has not [sic] purpose.” Rather, the “Cross with Christ... guarantees the fruitfulness of our mission.” Why? Because the Cross is the “supreme act of mercy and love,” and therefore is life-giving: “we are reborn as a 'new creation.'” Here Gal 6:15 is cited. When Pope Francis once again mentions the idea of “new creation” during his Assisi visit, he associates it once again with the “gaze of God” while quoting Gal 6:14:
When we let the crucified Jesus gaze upon us, we are re-created, we become “a new creation”. Everything else starts with this: the experience of transforming grace, the experience of being loved for no merits of our own, in spite of our being sinners. That is why Saint Francis could say with Saint Paul: “Far be it for me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14). We turn to you, Francis, and we ask you: Teach us to remain before the cross, to let the crucified Christ gaze upon us, to let ourselves be forgiven, and recreated by his love.
That the final chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians appears to be the nexus of Pope Francis' thoughts on the “gaze of God” and “new creation,” I think it is worth looking at the entirety of Paul's “final appeal” at the end of this chapter:
See with what large letters I am writing to you in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good appearance in the flesh who are trying to compel you to have yourselves circumcised, only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those having themselves circumcised observe the law themselves; they only want you to be circumcised so that they may boast of your flesh. But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation. Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God. From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. (Galatians 6: 12-18)
Read this excerpt carefully: I think you will find its echoes is a great deal of Pope Francis' preaching, on the topic of the Cross and otherwise. How so? This writing of St. Paul's can be viewed as a call to authenticity in Christian life: embrace the Cross and all it entails, and don't be satisfied with singular, external acts as a guarantee of your salvation. Is this not what Pope Francis is saying in his thoughts on discipleship, witness, and evangelization? The comment on the USCCB website regarding Gal 6:12-15 is apt: “[S]ince Judaism seems to have had a privileged status as a religion in the Roman empire, circumcised Christians might, if taken as Jews, thereby avoid persecution from the Romans. In any case, Paul instead stresses conformity with the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; cf. Gal 2:19–21; 5:11.”
Pope Francis seems to be suggesting that looking upon Christ on the Cross brings about a spiritual movement within us which opens us to the life-giving grace that He obtains for us through His sacrifice. This is something for each of us to remember when we next gaze upon the Crucifix.
Finally, Pope Francis speaks regularly of the Blessed Virgin Mother in connection with the Cross. She is, first of all, the perfect example of Christian discipleship. He speaks often of her dwelling at the foot of the Cross [#4, #13], not in sadness but in hope. This dwelling at the Cross is a sign of her most profound sharing in the Passion of her Son, “to the depths of her soul”: in this vein, he describes her experience of the Cross as a “martyrdom of the heart” and “of the soul” [#8]. But Our Lady's dwelling at the Cross is not characterized by brooding. Rather, her gaze meets her Son in love and hope, and His meets hers in compassion. Thus, when she turns to look out upon the world, Mary is “attentive and solicitous to human affairs”: she is the “mother of hope” [#13]. The Blessed Mother dwells at the Cross “heartbroken, yet faithful and strong” [#12], and turns outward to bring us to the Lord in prayer that we might become increasingly conformed to the “love of the Cross” by her example [#7]. The Magnificat is the hymn which resounds at the foot of the Cross, for “this song is particularly strong in places where the Body of Christ is suffering the Passion” [#8].
Thus, the Queenship of Mary is perhaps best characterized by bringing others to the “royal throne” [#4] of her Son: the Cross.
What I've written so far must suffice though it is unsystematic and barely scratches the surface of the depth of Pope Francis' understanding of the Cross. Yet I think you will find useful observations and thoughts within what I've presented, hopefully aiding you in your own spiritual life.
Until my next post, may God bless you with a joyful Christmas season and a peaceful year to come!