By Archbishop Francesco Follo

Roman Rite – XXII Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – August 30, 2020

Jer 20, 7-9; Ps 63; Rom 12: 1-2; Mt 16: 21-27

Ambrosian Rite – Sunday after the martyrdom of St. John the Precursor

Is 65,13-19; Ps 32; Eph 5: 6-14; Lk 9: 7-11

1) Scandalous words[1].

It may seem strange that Peter becomes a stumbling block to Christ a few moments after having recognized him as the Son of the living God. And yet, even if it is the direct and immediate continuation of last Sunday’s, today’s Gospel passage presents Peter’s inability to understand that Christ speaks of his destiny as Crucifix. These are two moments in the same episode which presents two apparently contradictory aspects. On the one hand, the faith of Peter and the authority of service entrusted to him for having “understood” who Christ is; on the other hand, the incomprehension of the mystery of the Cross by the First of the Apostles and the reproach addressed to him by Jesus. Peter’s weakness does not contradict his being a rock for the Church. It means that Peter is such by grace, by virtue of a divine election, and not by his natural qualities.

However, in this Sunday’s Gospel there is more: Jesus wants to make his disciples, including us, walk a path from faith in Him as Son of Go to faith in Him as the suffering Son of man and passion of God for man. Indeed, one can accept that Jesus is Lord, but refuse that He should suffer. It can be professed that Jesus is the Son of God, and yet not accepted that He is a crucified God.

Peter, and us with him, is still a prisoner of the logic of men and tries to prevent Jesus from conforming to the logic of God. Then Jesus replies to the disciple: “Go behind me, Satan”, that is, get behind me[2] to follow me, learn how to reason like God and not like men, and follow the Way of God and not the ways of men. To be clear what it really means to follow him, once again Jesus reminds his disciples: “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me”.

To deny oneself means to renounce one’s idea of ​​God and to accept that of Jesus: no longer a glorious and powerful God, but a God who reveals himself in the love and in the gift of himself.

Today, Christ renews his insistent invitation to each one of us to take up our own cross every day and follow him on the path of total love for God the Father and for humanity: “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me – he tells us, – is not worthy of me. Whoever keeps his life for himself will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it “(Mt 10,38-39). Like his, our arms must open to offer and not to take, to give life and not to possess the one of others.

It is the logic of the grain of wheat that dies to sprout and “give life” (= give birth) (cf. Jn 12:24), it must “give its life” (= die). Jesus himself “is the grain of wheat that came from God, the divine grain of wheat, which lets itself fall on the earth and allows himself to be broken, broken by death and, precisely through it, opens up and can bear fruit in the vastness of the world “(Benedict XVI).

2) The wise logic of the Cross.

God is not the projection of our desires but Love that gives himself: this is fundamentally the logic of the Cross, both for Jesus and for his disciples. Christian existence implies the gesture of taking the cross on oneself every day. With Christ the Cross reveals that the powerful and glorious Son of God manifests himself not with the force that kills, but with the loving gift of self to God and to neighbor. The gratuitous and merciful love of God is manifested on the Cross.

In fact, if the Cross were not suffering charged with God’s love, it would be absurd and useless.

We could also say that denying oneself means changing the logic of one’s existence: no longer a life lived for one’s own benefit, but a life lived as a gift to share the salvation received as a grace.

To deny oneself means to walk behind Christ with one’s own cross to ascend with Him on His Cross. This is an aspect to be taken into account because walking, progressing, and growing means becoming capable of the gift of self that the cross ultimately demands, but also becoming capable of accepting the gift that is received in it, that of an expensive love. In fact, to defeat sin will cost to God much more than to man.

Of course, it should be borne in mind that, for all that it represents and therefore also for the message it contains, the Cross is scandal and foolishness. The Apostle Paul wrote it with impressive force: “The word of the Cross is in fact foolishness for those who are lost, but for those who are saved, that is for us, it is the power of God … it has pleased God to save believers with the folly of preaching. While the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, we instead proclaim Christ crucified, a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the pagans “(1 Cor 1,18-23).

Why is the word of the Cross so fundamental to the life and preaching of Christ? The answer is not difficult: the Cross reveals “the power of God” (cf. 1 Cor 1:24) that is different from human power; in fact, it reveals his love: “What is foolishness of God is wiser than men, and what is weakness of God is stronger than men” (ibid. v. 25). Centuries after Paul we see that in history it is the Cross that has won and not the wisdom that opposes the Cross.

The Cross of Christ is wisdom because it truly manifests who God is, that is, the power of love that reaches the Cross to save man. God uses ways and tools that seem to us at first sight only weakness. The Crucifix reveals, on the one hand, the weakness of man and, on the other side, the true power of God, that is, the gratuitousness of love. Precisely this total gratuitousness of love is true wisdom.

We all must form our lives on this true wisdom: not to live for ourselves, but to live in the faith in the God of whom we can all say: “He loved me and gave himself for me”. To say the truth, every love means giving a “little” of one’s life to the loved one. Jesus gives it all and shows us that the heart of his mission, and ours too, is Easter: only his death and resurrection make us understand the ultimate meaning of every one of his works and words. Not only! What Jesus announces about himself is the meaning of all human existence and the secret of creation itself. At the center, there is always the question about the meaning of life and death, the mystery of evil and the ultimate victory of love. Death is the beginning of life and life is an offering of love. This explains the severity of the reproach to Peter, compared – paradoxically – to the prince of evil and death. Jesus cannot accept reproach, because now, in Him, Death itself is redeemed and torn from its old face. Now, his life given totally is the supreme obedience to the Father, the summit of the sacrifice of love of Jesus.

The Cross that the Lord asks us to take are not the inevitable “crosses” of the limitation of the human condition, those that others place on us or that we find on our shoulders due to an illness, a constraint, a difficulty.

The Cross that Christ asks us to embrace is the one that comes from following him, from the freedom to love, always and in any case, without distinction and to the point of loving the enemy, the one who is hurting us.

The cross is a symbol and icon of virginal love, because the cross of Christ is the maximum fullness of love, human and divine, for God and for every man, which embraces everyone and excludes no one; it is the synthesis of the highest degree of love received and given, of love crucified and already risen or illuminated by the light of the dawn of the resurrection. The cross is the heart of the world; it was in the history of salvation. The virgin consecrated in the world, choosing virginal love, must have this heart.

Virginal love is fundamentally “paschal love”, crucified and risen. Therefore, it must travel a precise path so that the consecrated person may have the same sentiments as his crucified Spouse, the Son of God who gives life while receiving it from the Father. She must live a life in virginity as a way of receiving and offering her own life. Virginity, like martyrdom, is a great act of love in response to the immense love of God. This idea was proposed in the Ordo Virginum in 1970. In chap. I, it is also added that “Those who consecrate their chastity under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit do so for the sake of more fervent love of Christ and of greater freedom in the service of their brothers and sisters…. They are to spend their time in works of penance and of mercy, in apostolic activity, and in prayer, according to their state of life and spiritual gifts. (CONSECRATION TO A LIFE OF VIRGINITY, Introduction, 2). A certain clarification in this regard comes to us from the homily included in the Rite of Consecration of the Virgins: “Make your whole life reflect your vocation and your dignity. Our holy mother the Church sees in you a chosen company within the flock of Christ. Through you, the Church’s motherhood of grace bears its abundant fruit. Imitate the Mother of God; desire to be called and to be handmaids of the Lord. Preserve the fullness of your faith, the steadfastness of your hope, the single-heartedness of your love. Be prudent and watch: keep the glory of your virginity uncorrupted by pride. Nourish your love of God by feeding on the Body of Christ; strengthen it by self-denial; build it up by study of the Scriptures, by untiring prayer, by works of mercy. Let your thoughts be on the things of God. Let your life be hidden with Christ in God. Make it your concern to pray fervently for the spread of the Christian faith and for the unity of all Christians. Pray earnestly to God for the welfare of the married. Remember also those who have forgotten their Father’s goodness and have abandoned his love, so that God’s mercy may forgive where his justice must condemn. Never forget that you are given over entirely to the service of the Church and of all your brothers and sisters. You are apostles in the Church and in the world, in the things of the Spirit and in the things of the world. Let your light then shine before men and women, that your Father in heaven may be glorified, and his plan of making all things one in Christ come to perfection. Love everyone, especially those in need. Help the poor, care for the weak, teach the ignorant, protect the young, minister to the old, bring strength and comfort to widows, and all in adversity. You have renounced marriage for the sake of Christ. Your motherhood will be a motherhood of the spirit, as you do the will of your Father and work with others in a spirit of charity, so that a great family of children may be born, or reborn, to the life of grace.

[1] Etymologically speaking, the word “scandal” does not mean a bad example indicating a bad road, but a “stumbling”, an obstacle that prevents the path causing a fall.

[2] The word of the gospel in the Greek text is “opiso” which does not mean from me but puts yourself “inside” me. Jesus does not drive away those he loves but he asks them to follow him by taking up their cross.

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