When we’re feeling tired out by life, says Francis, we have to turn and look at the Crucified One
The pope said this today at Mass in the Casa Santa Marta, as he reflected on the Israelites grumbling in the desert as recounted in Numbers 21,4-9. The people were exasperated because of the long journey and were tired of eating the same food. They complained about the food saying they would die in the desert because of God and Moses.
As they drew closer to the Promised Land, some of the Israelites had become skeptical because the scouts sent by Moses reported a land rich in produce but inhabited by a people who would be impossible to defeat. “By looking only at their own strength, they forgot the Lord’s strength which had liberated them from 400 years of slavery,” Pope Francis noted.
Pope Francis then compared these Israelites who complain about the journey with those people who begin to follow the Lord but then abandon the journey when it gets too tough.
It is at these moments that one says, “I’ve had enough! I quit. I’m going back.” Then one begins to reminisce about the past—about the meat, the onions, and other wonderful things…. Such are the illusions the devil proposes. Once we begin to feel the heat of the day on the journey of conversion, the devil makes us see everything we left behind in a beautiful light.
This is a sickened memory, symbolized by the bites of the serpent in the desert. It is a distorted nostalgia.
“These are the illusions that the devil brings: In the moment of the desolation of the journey, when you still haven’t arrived to the Lord’s promise, the devil makes you see the good aspects of something you’ve left behind, of something from which you’ve converted. This is a bit like the journey of Lent, yes, we can think like that — of seeing life like a Lent. The tests and the consolations of the Lord are always present. The manna is there, the water is there, the birds that he gives us to eat … but that food [from back then] was better, [we say]. But don’t forget that you ate it at the table of slavery!”
The serpents who bit the people and poisoned them are an external symbol of these poisoned hearts and memories. And so the Lord tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole. This serpent healed anyone who looked at it. “It was prophetic: it was the figure of Christ on the cross,” Pope Francis said.
Here is the key of our salvation, the key of our patience along the journey of life, the key for overcoming our deserts: To look at the Crucified One. To look at Christ crucified. ‘And what should I do, Father?’ ‘Look at him. Look at his wounds. Go into his wounds.’ By these wounds we have been healed. Do you feel poisoned, do you feel sad, or do you feel like your life isn’t going right, that it’s full of difficulties and sickness too? Look there.”
Pope Francis concluded his homily with a memory of his own childhood. One Good Friday he was with his grandmother at a candlelight procession in the parish. When the life-size marble statue of the dead Christ came by, his grandmother had him kneel down. “Look at that,” she said, “but tomorrow he will rise!” And so, “my grandmother, when she heard the church bells pealing announcing the Resurrection, had tears in her eyes because she was then beholding Christ’s glory.”
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