Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today's Gospel, Jesus explains to his disciples that he must "go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (Matthew 16:21). Everything seems to be turned upside down in the heart of the disciples! How is it possible that "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (verse 16), can suffer to the point of death?
The Apostle Peter rebels, he does not accept this, so he spoke up and said to the Master: "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you" (verse 22). What appears evident is the difference between the loving design of the Father, which goes so far as the gift of his only-begotten Son on the cross to save humanity, and the expectations, the desires, the plans of the disciples.
And this discord occurs also today: when the fulfillment of one's life is directed solely to social success, to physical and economic wellbeing, then one no longer reasons according to God, but according to men (verse 23). To think according to the world is to put God aside, not to accept his plan of love, almost impeding the fulfillment of his wise will. Because of this, Jesus says something particularly harsh to Peter: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me" (ibid.).
The Lord shows that "the path of the disciples is to follow him, the Crucified. In all three Gospels, however, he explains this following in the sign of the cross ... as the way to 'lose oneself,' which is necessary for man and without which it is not possible for him to find himself" (Gesù di Nazaret, Milan 2007, 333 [cf. Jesus of Nazareth, pg. 287]).
As with the disciples, Jesus also addresses the invitation to us. "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). A Christian follows Christ when he accepts his cross with love, which in the eyes of the world seems a defeat and a "loss of life" (cf. verses 25-26). But the Christian knows that he does not carry the cross alone but with Jesus, sharing in his way of donation. The Servant of God Paul VI wrote: "In a mysterious way, Christ Himself accepts death ... on the cross, in order to eradicate from man's heart the sins of self-sufficiency and to manifest to the Father a complete filial obedience" (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete in Domino).
By willingly accepting the cross, Jesus carries the cross of all men and becomes the source of salvation for the whole of humanity. St. Cyril of Alexandria comments: "The victorious cross has illumined him who was blinded by ignorance, has released him who was a prisoner of sin, has brought redemption to the whole of humanity" (Catechesis Illuminandorum XIII, 1: de Christo crucifixo et sepulto: PG 33, 772 B).
We entrust our prayer to the Virgin Mary and to St. Augustine, whose memorial is today, so that each one of us will be able to follow the Lord on the way of the cross and allow ourselves to be transformed by divine grace, renewing our way of thinking, so that we "may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).