This morning, I meditated on the day's gospel, which was Matthew 10:34-11:1. From this particular passage, most people focus on the well-known line, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
However, true to the nature of Ignatian prayer, the line that actually caught my eye was something unexpected: "He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." I allowed my mind to settle into this phrase which, for whatever reason, seemed to be calling out to my soul this morning.
It's a tough phrase. After all, isn't Jesus supposed to be all sweetness and light? I thought about the great saints (Bishop Fulton Sheen comes to mind) who have said that one of the great tragedies of modern time is that people make of Jesus what they want him to be: they want Christ without the Cross, an impossibility. Here He seems to be saying so himself. It also reminded me of this quote from the great St. Padre Pio: "Our Lord sends the crosses, we do not have to invent them."
So I wondered, why would Jesus tell us to take up our own cross? And - what is my cross? What is yours?
There is something I have been thinking a lot about since my return to the church, which is that out of even horrible or confusing circumstances - the times when things do not go our way - God is able to create good. A job loss makes room for a more suitable job, a lost love frees up time to spend in creative pursuits, and so on. That is not to say that sadness is not a natural condition and that we cannot mourn that which we lose, but it does mean that God will always bring good out of bad - if you let him and you pay attention - and that much of life is accepting this as truth. More importantly, it seems to me that much of life is still trusting God - hanging on, even if by a thread - when we do not understand his will. That's the more critical part.
So back to the cross: what does all this endurance get us? Well, it gets us sainthood. We hear that all the time from the church, that suffering brings sanctification. And I think the most practical way to see that is true is in molding ourselves, in times of trouble, to accept our cross and also the knowledge that God has our best interest in mind - even when that seems completely impossible. It is, I suppose, the truest form of faith you can have.
I believe, too, that the cross changes. At 17 what worried you is not the same at 47. Circumstances change and hopefully, we change as well, in the knowledge that God loves us through everything. But it is absolutely true that fighting your cross - rather than carrying it - is counterproductive. Carrying your cross means co-creating and working with God. Fighting it means having a tantrum and saying, "Life is not fair." Of course life is not fair. Ultimately, it is the attitude you have that will determine what comes from carrying your cross.
By the way, other people's crosses are not yours. They are not yours. Both in the sense that everyone has to deal with their own issues, but also it is never anyone's cross to fix someone else. That is not a burden you bear - only people can change themselves. So, sometimes we watch others make choices that are absolutely mind-boggling, and the best we can do is pray for them. And to pray is a lot, because as you know, I sincerely and wholeheartedly believe in the power of prayer to change circumstances. God can change what humans cannot even begin to touch. It is better that way.
Your cross is your cross because God gave it to you and because, carried properly, it leads you to sainthood and sanctification. That is why Jesus wants you to carry the cross. Trust him that it is there for a purpose. Rather than fight it, talk to him about it. Ask how you can handle it. Ask for true faith, always. And remember that the best way to handle the sadness is to forget self and turn toward others, and how you can serve someone else.
As St. Padre Pio said, "In all the events of life, you must recognize the divine will...especially in the things which are hardest for you."