Reflections for Good Friday: Pope Francis on Suffering and the Cross
‘By dying on the cross, he surrendered himself into the hands of the Father, taking upon himself and in himself, with self-sacrificing love, the physical, moral and spiritual wounds of all humanity.’
Editor’s Note: As we recall the love of Christ this Good Friday, we offer past reflections from Pope Francis on suffering and the cross.
Let Christ’s Love Shine Through Care of the Suffering
Pope Francis, on Nov. 5, 2021, encouraged Catholics to let the love of Jesus, as demonstrated by his most Sacred Heart, speak through their care for the sick and suffering. He celebrated Mass outside Gemelli University Hospital, where he spent 11 days that July following colon surgery. While recovering from the operation, he stayed in the same hospital room where Pope St. John Paul II was treated during his pontificate. He also went to Gemelli Hospital this March for three days, to be treated for bronchitis.
In his 2021 homily, Francis reflected on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. “When we serve those who suffer, we console and gladden the Heart of Christ,” the Pope said, recalling a passage in the Gospel of John that recounts the moment a Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side as he hung on the cross.
“The torn Heart of God is eloquent. It speaks without words, because it is mercy in its pure state, love that is wounded and gives life. It is God, with closeness, passion and tenderness.”
Pope Francis said that closeness, compassion and tenderness are all qualities Catholics could learn from the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“Let us encourage ourselves with this certainty, with God’s comfort,” he said. “And let us ask the Sacred Heart for the grace to be able to console in turn.”
“What does this suggest?” he later asked. “That, if we really want to love God, we must be passionate about mankind, about every man, especially the one who lives in the condition in which the Heart of Jesus was manifested: that is, pain, abandonment, rejection.”
“If we look at reality from the greatness of his heart,” the Pope encouraged, “the perspective changes, our knowledge of life changes, because, as St. Paul reminded us, we know ‘the love of Christ which surpasses all understanding’ (Ephesians 3:19).”
To Those Suffering ‘at the Foot of the Cross’: God Loves You
Pope Francis told those who are sick and suffering in November 2019 that the world needs their prayers.
“You, who are at the foot of the cross, perhaps alone …: Be aware that God loves you. God especially listens to your prayer,” Pope Francis said in a video message to pilgrims in Lourdes, France.
“The world suffers, and your prayer moves the Lord.”
Jesus Suffers With Those Who Suffer
The Way of the Cross shows Christ’s embrace of everyone who hungers, suffers and dies — and the imperative for Christians to do works of mercy, Francis reminded young people at World Youth Day in Krakow in 2016.
“Jesus himself chose to identify with these, our brothers and sisters enduring pain and anguish, by agreeing to tread the ‘way of sorrows’ that led to Calvary,” the Pope said that July 29. “By dying on the cross, he surrendered himself into the hands of the Father, taking upon himself and in himself, with self-sacrificing love, the physical, moral and spiritual wounds of all humanity.”
“By embracing the wood of the cross, Jesus embraced the nakedness, the hunger and thirst, the loneliness, pain and death of men and women of all times.”
He reflected on the question: “Where is God?”
“Where is God if evil is present in our world, if there are men and women who are hungry and thirsty, homeless, exiles and refugees?” he asked. “Where is God when innocent persons die as a result of violence, terrorism and war?”
He asked where God is in the face of cruel and deadly disease, in the exploitation and suffering of children and in “the anguish of those who doubt and are troubled in spirit.”
“These are questions that, humanly speaking, have no answer,” Pope Francis said.
“We can only look to Jesus and ask him. And Jesus’ answer is this: ‘God is in them.’ Jesus is in them; he suffers in them and deeply identifies with each of them. He is so closely united to them as to form with them, as it were, ‘one body.’”
The Pope told young people of the importance of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, saying they open us to God’s mercy and help us appreciate that “without mercy, we can do nothing.”
These are the only answers to evil, he said.
“In the face of evil, suffering and sin, the only response possible for a disciple of Jesus is the gift of self, even of one’s own life, in imitation of Christ; it is the attitude of service,” the Pope declared.
The Pope stressed the importance of both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
“We are called to serve the Crucified Jesus in all those who are marginalized, to touch his sacred flesh in those who are disadvantaged, in those who hunger and thirst, in the naked and imprisoned, the sick and unemployed, in those who are persecuted, refugees and migrants,” he said. “There we find our God; there we touch the Lord.”
He said the credibility of Christians is at stake in how they welcome both those who suffer physically and those who suffer spiritually.
“The Way of the Cross is the way of fidelity in following Jesus to the end, in the often dramatic situations of everyday life … because it fills ours hearts with the fullness of Jesus.”
“The Way of the Cross … is the way of hope, the way of the future,” the Pope said. “Those who take up this way with generosity and faith give hope and a future to humanity.
“And I would like you to be sowers of hope.”
Register and CNA staff added to this report.