“From the contemplation of the Crucifix comes the second step: giving witness. If we immerse our gaze in Jesus, his face begins to reflect on ours: his features become ours, the love of Christ conquers and transforms us I think of the martyrs who bore witness to the love of Christ in this nation in very difficult times, when everything advised to remain silent, to be safe, not to profess the faith. “
APOSTOLIC JOURNEY TO HUNGARY AND SLOVAKIA
HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER
Divine Byzantine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, presided over by the Holy Father
(Prešov – Mestská Sportová hala from Prešov, 14 September 2021)
«We – declares St. Paul – preach Christ crucified (…), power and wisdom of God». However, the Apostle does not hide that the cross, in the eyes of human wisdom, appears different: it is “scandal”, “madness” (1 color 1, 23-24). The cross was an instrument of death, and yet from it came life; it was something no one wanted to contemplate, and yet it revealed to us the beauty of God’s love. Therefore, the holy people of God worship her; and the Liturgy celebrates it on today’s feast. The Gospel of St. John takes us by the hand and helps us to enter into this mystery. In fact, the evangelist was there at the cross. He contemplates Jesus, already dead, suspended on the tree, and writes: “He who has seen these things bears witness to them” (jo 19, 35). Saint John see and bear witness.
First, we have the to see. But, at the cross, what did John see? Certainly what others saw: Jesus, innocent and good, dies brutally between two evildoers. One of so many injustices, one of the countless bloody sacrifices that do not change history, one more proof that the course of the vicissitudes in the world does not change: the good ones are eliminated, while the bad ones win and prosper. In the eyes of the world, the cross is a failure. And we too run the risk of lingering on this first superficial glance, of not accepting the logic of the cross; not accepting that God saves us, letting the evil of the world be unleashed upon Him. Only accept in words the fragile and crucified God, and then dream of a strong and triumphant God. It’s a great temptation. How often do we aspire to a Christianity of victors, a triumphal Christianity, one that has relevance and importance, receives glory and honor. But a cross-less Christianity is worldly, and it becomes sterile.
On the contrary, St. John saw at cross the work of God. He recognized in Christ crucified the glory of God. He saw that He, despite appearances, is not a loser, but is God who willingly offers Himself for every man. Why did you do it? He could have spared his life, he could have kept his distance from our most miserable and crudest story. Instead, he wanted to get inside her, to dive into her. For this he chose the most difficult path: the cross. So that there would be no one on earth so desperate that they could not find Him, even in anguish, in darkness, in abandonment, in the scandal of their misery and of their own mistakes. Even where you think God cannot be, He has come. To save those who are desperate, I wanted to experience despair, to take on our bitterest discomfort, I cried out on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mt 27, 46; salt 22, 2). A cry that saves. Saved, because God even assumed our abandonment. And now, with Him, we are no longer alone, ever.
How can we learn to see the glory of the cross? Some saints taught that the cross is like a book that, in order to know it, it is necessary to open it and read. It’s not enough to buy a book, have a look at it and put it up at home. The same goes for the cross: it is painted or carved in every corner of our churches. There are countless crucifixes: around the neck, at home, in the car, in the pocket. But this is of no use to us if we do not stop to look at the Crucified One and open our hearts to Him, if we do not let ourselves be impressed by His wounds opened for us, if our hearts are not moved and we cry before God, wounded with love for us . If we do not do this, the cross remains an unread book, whose title and author are well known, but which does not influence life. Let us not reduce the cross to an object of devotion, much less a political symbol, a sign of religious and social relevance.
From the contemplation of the Crucifix comes the second step: bear witness. If we immerse our gaze in Jesus, his face begins to reflect on ours: his features become ours, the love of Christ conquers us and transforms us. I think of the martyrs who bore witness to the love of Christ in this nation in very difficult times, when everything advised to remain silent, to be safe, not to profess the faith. But they couldn’t, couldn’t not witness. How many generous people have suffered and died here in Slovakia for the name of Jesus! A testimony given out of love to Him whom they had contemplated for a long time, even to the point of becoming like Him, even in death.
But I also think of our times, when there is no lack of opportunities to give witness. Thanks be to God, there is no one here to persecute Christians like in so many other parts of the world. But the testimony can be contaminated by worldliness and mediocrity; while the cross demands a clear testimony. For the cross does not want to be a banner raised high, but the pure source of a new way of living. Which way? That of the Gospel, that of the Beatitudes. The witness who has the cross in his heart, and not just around his neck, sees no one as an enemy, but sees everyone as brothers and sisters for whom Jesus gave his life. The witness of the cross does not recall the injustices of the past, nor does he complain about the present. The witness of the cross does not use the ways of deception and worldly power: he does not want to impose himself and his own, but to lay down his life for others. He does not seek his own profit, and immediately shows himself pious: it would be a religion of duplicity, not the witness of the crucified God. The witness of the cross follows a single strategy that belongs to the Master: humble love. He doesn’t expect triumphs here on earth, because he knows that Christ’s love is fruitful in daily life, making all things new but from within, like a seed that has fallen to the earth, which dies and bears fruit.
Dear brothers and sisters, you have seen witnesses. Keep grateful memories of the people who nursed you and made you grow in faith: humble and simple people, who gave their lives loving until the end. They are our heroes, the heroes of everyday life; and it is their lives that change history. Witnesses beget other witnesses because they are life-giving. This is how faith spreads: with the wisdom of the cross and not with the power of the world; with the witness and not with the structures. And today, starting from the vibrant silence of the cross, the Lord asks all of us and he also asks you, you, you, me: “Will you be my witness?”
With John, on Calvary, was the Holy Mother of God. No one like her saw the book of the cross open and witnessed it as humble love. Through her intercession, let us ask for the grace of converting the gaze of the heart to the Crucified One. Then our faith can blossom to the full, then the fruits of our witness will ripen.