The Cross: Burden and Blessing

There are some truths of our Catholic faith that are a burden to me. One of them is the call to redemptive suffering, to take up my cross and follow Jesus (see Mt 16:24-26).

On the one hand, when I confront suffering, I don't want to hear some chirpy person tell me to "offer it up," to remember the many, many martyrs and saints who've had to bear much, much worse. After all, my suffering is still suffering, no matter how light it may be by comparison to the sufferings of others, and my strength isn't always that great. A small child usually can't lift as much as a grown man, for instance; I can't handle the sort of suffering that extraordinary souls like St. Faustina or St. Padre Pio could bear. I am a child of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in a lot of ways. The way of little souls for me!

Burden and blessing
On the other hand, redemptive suffering is the sort of burden that's also a blessing, thankfully. First, we are called to carry the cross by a Man who carried the Cross to the end, quite literally. By suffering in such a way, God laid His holy hands on the mysteries of evil and suffering, and opened them up to becoming tools of our redemption rather than the slides into nothingness they had been. Now, the cross leads to the tomb and Resurrection, rather than into shadow.

Our crosses, then, become potential sources of grace, if we carry them according to the will of God.

This isn't stoicism, however. We are not called to rugged individualism in the name of Christ.

How do I know that? Look at the Passion of Jesus.

Loneliness sanctified
In the Garden of Gethsemane, He was refreshed by an angel (see Lk 22:43). As He carried the Cross, He fell three times, and after the third fall, was assisted by Simon of Cyrene. He was consoled by Veronica, who gave Him her veil with which to wipe His face, and who offered Him water. At the end, His weight was supported by the nails and the wood of the Cross. His Mother, Mary Magdalene, other family members, and the Beloved Disciple were at the foot of the Cross.

Jesus in His suffering was accompanied, assisted, and loved. For all that, He shared in the same essential loneliness we all feel when we suffer.

No matter how loved we are, no matter how well attended or assisted, still at the moment of suffering, there is something lonely about it, something isolating and awful. Jesus knows that, and sanctified the accompaniment, the assistance, the love, as well as the loneliness.

On the Cross (and so in our lesser crosses) is the fount of grace. From the Cross, the blood and water flowed that won our redemption.

Count on the Cross
There is an essential wisdom in the science of the Cross, as St. Edith Stein knew, and as St. Faustina demonstrated throughout her Diary. Take one passage as an example.

I saw ... a path, for it was narrow and strewn with thorns and rocks; and the people who walked along it had tears in their eyes, and all kinds of suffering befell them. Some fell down upon the rocks, but stood up immediately and went on. At the end of the road there was a magnificent garden filled with all sorts of happiness, and all these souls entered there. At the very first instant they forgot all their sufferings (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 153).

We live in a fallen world, one where we are beset by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jesus didn't say, "Blessed are you who think everything's fine, the world is as it should be, and expect money, pleasure, or power to end all suffering." Not at all!
He said, "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Mt 5:4; see also 6-7, 10-12).

Blessed are we
In other words, blessed are we when we don't fit neatly or easily into this fallen world.

Blessed are we when we are a stumbling block to evil, to error, or to sin.

Blessed are we when we persist in the love of God and neighbor even as we are hated or opposed.

Blessed are we when we are odd to a world burning and dying in its sins, when we are bearing our cross and being salt of the earth, light to the world, a city set on a hill.

Blessed are we when we are cracking open sufferings like walnuts and finding nourishment in them.

Blessed are we when our crosses become fountains of life, of grace, of peace, of mercy and love for ourselves and the whole world.

We can count on the cross. The Carthusian order knows this. It's their motto: "Stat crux, dum volvitur orbis" ("The cross stands while the world turns"). It's a strange consolation in the present day, but no matter how the world changes, still the cross abides. And that cross may not just be the obvious physical pain or interior suffering. For some, wealth or power may be a burden, even a cross.

Blessing and burden
That's the blessing and the burden of redemptive suffering, the secret of the world-changing power of the saints. That's how royal saints like Margaret of Scotland or Elizabeth of Hungary can be in Heaven alongside the poor and the servants like Zita of Lucca or Faustina Kowalska.

So let us ask Jesus and His saints to help us take up our crosses and follow them on the well-worn path to Heaven. Let us count our blessings and our burdens, recognizing that some burdens are blessings, and some blessings are crosses to bear. Let us ask the saints and God Himself for help in bearing our crosses, then once again set forth on the Christian pilgrimage, making all things new by making all things channels of grace for the salvation of the world.

Pray for me, that I may practice what I preach. I'll pray for you.


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