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Pope at Angelus: Why Exalt the Cross?

Renconter Jésus / CEF
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Francis remembers Christians around the world bearing an especially heavy cross.

“Why do Christians exalt the Cross of Christ?” asked Pope Francis of pilgrims and tourists Sunday who had gathered beneath the window of his study to for the midday Angelus.  Because, he told them, that Cross on which Christ was nailed “is the source of the mercy of God that embraces the whole world.” It’s not just any cross, it is the source of our salvation.

And today – on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – the Pope said we should pray for Christians who are being persecuted and killed because of their faith in Christ. “This happens especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or fully realized. It happens, however, even in well-to-do countries which, in principle, protect freedom and human rights, but where in practice believers, and especially Christians, encounter restrictions and discrimination. So today we remember them and pray especially for them.”

Here is a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s reflections before the Angelus prayer:

Dear brothers and sisters,

On September 14th the Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Some non-Christian person might ask: why "exalt" the Cross? We can say that we do not exalt just any cross or all crosses: we exalt the Cross of Jesus, because God’s love for humanity was revealed most in it. That’s what the Gospel of John reminds us in today’s liturgy: "God so loved the world that He gave only begotten Son" (3:16). The Father has "given" the Son to save us, and this has resulted in the death of Jesus and His death on the Cross. Why? Why was the Cross necessary? Because of the gravity of the evil which kept us slaves. The Cross of Jesus expresses both things: all the negative forces of evil, and all of the gentle omnipotence God’s mercy. The Cross would appear to declare Christ’s failure, but in reality marks His victory. On Calvary, those who mocked him said, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross" (cf. Mt 27,40). But it was the opposite that was true: it was because Jesus was the Son of God, that He was there, on the Cross, faithful to the end to the loving plan of the Father. And for this reason God has "exalted" Jesus (Philippians 2.9), conferring universal kingship on Him.

So what do we see, when we look to the Cross where Jesus was nailed? We contemplate the sign of the infinite love of God for each of us and the source of our salvation. That Cross is the source of the mercy of God that embraces the whole world. Through the Cross of Christ the evil one is overcome, death is defeated, we are gifted life, hope is restored. This is important: Through the Cross of Christ hope is restored. The Cross of Jesus is our only true hope! That is why the Church "exalts" the Holy Cross, which is why we Christians bless ourselves with the sign of the cross. That is, we don’t exalt crosses any but the glorious Cross of Christ, a sign of God’s love, our salvation and journey towards the resurrection.  This is our hope.  

While we contemplate and celebrate the Holy Cross, we think emotionally of so many of our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted and killed because of their faith in Christ. This happens especially there where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or fully realized. It happens, however, even in well-to-do countries which, in principle, protect freedom and human rights, but where in practice believers, and especially Christians, encounter restrictions and discrimination. So today we remember them and pray especially for them.  

On Calvary, at the foot of the Cross, there was the Virgin Mary (cf. Jn 19,25-27). She is the Virgin of Sorrows, whom we celebrate tomorrow in the liturgy. To Her I entrust the present and the future of the Church, so that we all may always know how to discover and accept the message of love and salvation of the Cross of Christ. To Her I entrust in particular the newlywed couples whom I had the joy of joining in marriage this morning, in St. Peter’s Basilica.
 

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