CARRY YOUR CROSS
Fr. Christopher Zajac, OSBM
The main thread that ties all of the Scriptures together is love, not only the great love that God has for each and every one of us, but also our response to that love, as shown towards both God and neighbour. Nowhere is this more apparent that in the Gospels. Reading the Gospels line byline, word by word, we immediately are faced with Jesus’ startling honestly. No one could ever say that he was induced to follow Jesus by false promises. Jesus never tried to bribe people by the offer of an easy way. He did not offer people peace; He offered them glory. To tell a person that he must be ready to take up his cross was to tell that person that he must be ready to suffer and even die for the love of God!
During recent times, we have wonderful examples of people truly living their lives as witness to this kind of love: Pope John Paul II, preaching this gospel of love throughout the world, in spite of recent illness and ill-health; Mother Teresa, ministering to the poorest of the poor for the love of God; Father Maximilian Kolbe, who gave up his own life so that a father could be reunited with his wife and children; Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky and Bishop Pavlo Goidych, who worked throughout their lives to the point of death for the cause of freedom of worship; and the many priests, brothers and sisters, men and women carrying their crosses during those difficult times in the Ukraine, professing their faith in dangerous and difficult times, completely for the love of God and neighbour. In the gospel of St. John, Jesus tells us that “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).
In St. Mark’s gospel, we hear these words spoken by Jesus, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mk 8:34). We must realize that Jesus never tried to lure men and women to Himself by the offer of an easy way; He wanted to challenge them, to waken the sleeping greatness that God had placed in their souls. Jesus offered a path which could not be higher and more difficult. He came not to make life easy, but rather, to make men great. Most importantly, however, Jesus never called on anyone to do or to face anything which He, Himself, was not prepared to. And that’s exactly what happened to Him on the cross. At Gethsemane, right before His arrest, Jesus prayed to His Father, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39).
Jesus had said to a young man who had wanted be His disciple: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). If we wish to follow Christ, we must say “no” to our own love for an easy and comfortable life. We must say “no” to every course of action that is self-seeking and based on self-will. We must say “no” to the instincts and desires which prompt us to touch, taste, and handle the forbidden things. We must without hesitation say “yes” to the voice of Jesus Christ. We must be able to say, as did Paul, that it is “no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). We must no longer live only to follow our own will, but to follow the will of Christ, and only in that service do we find perfect freedom. In other words, we must make our will the will of God.
Jesus also tells us that “for whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25). There are certain things in life that become lost when they are hoarded. The only way to save them is through their use. Our talents are exactly like that. If we use them, they will develop into something much greater; if by laziness or neglect we refuse to use them, we will in the end, lose them. And life is also like that. Life is to be lived and lived to the fullest.
God gave us life to spend and not to keep. If we live every moment, always thinking primarily of own profit, ease, comfort, and security, life is constantly slipping away from us. If, however, we spend life for others, forgetting our everyday concerns for our own health, time, wealth, and comfort and actually do something for Jesus and for the people for whom Jesus died, we emerge as winners every time.
The very essence of life lies in risking it (never foolishly, of course). The path that Jesus presents to us is a way of weariness, of exhaustion, of giving to the utmost. As popular parlance says, “It is better any day to burn out than to rust out.” The way to happiness and the way to God require a sincere and continuous effort on our part.
Jesus continues, “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life?” (Mk 8:36). Jesus is asking each one of us what our priorities are. What is it that we truly consider the most important thing in life? An unfortunate paradox of this life is that some people can appear really successful, but yet at the same time realize deep down that their lives were not truly worth living. Each one of us can put the wrong values on the activities and things in our life and discover our misplaced priorities only too late.
Too many people today, sacrifice honour for profit. Society has an ever-increasing appetite for material things and is not overly careful about how it gets them. The whole world is full of temptations towards profitable dishonesty. Too many people sacrifice principle for popularity leaving people of principles often ignored. But life has a way of revealing the true value and condemning the false as the years go by. Let us hope that we don’t wait too long to recognize the good in life.
In reference to carrying our cross, Jesus is telling us that although doing the right thing is often difficult, the results of failing to carry our cross are even more disastrous, for we would have missed the whole point of life.
The cross is the symbol that connects the great gulf, the chasm that exists between the human and the divine. The cross is the symbol of one who was both the Son of Man, as well as, the Son of God, and His life history was anything but spectacular. He was born in an obscure village. Until He was thirty years of age, He worked in a carpenter’s shop. His teaching career only lasted three years. He had no formal education. He held no office. He never even traveled more that 150 miles from the place where He was born. In His own town, the place where He grew up, He was seen to be a failure. His teachings rejected by His own people. The few friends He had, deserted Him in His hour of greatest need. One of His disciples even betrayed Him for the paltry cost of a slave. He was finally condemned by His own countrymen and sentenced by the Roman governor to be nailed to a cross between two notorious criminals. While He hung on the cross His executioners gambled for the only material thing He owned, His cloak. When He died, He was buried in a borrowed tomb.
Yet after twenty centuries, He is the crowning glory of the human race, the adored leader of millions. Every ruler that has ever reigned, every governor that has ever legislated, every army that has ever marched, every bomb that has ever exploded, when put together, have not affected the lives of people on this planet as much as did Jesus of Nazareth.
The chief reason for this incredible phenomenon is the cross. Christ chose the most important, ignoble moment of His life, when He appeared to be most helpless and forsaken, for His most glorious moment. Not only did He conquer death by His own death, but He also shattered all the forces of the world dedicated to the destruction of the spirit of man forever. The cross has driven a wedge between the highest and lowest orders in created nature.
In the center of the cross is Christ crucified. In the center of our lives we must also place Christ. If anyone or anything becomes more important in our lives than the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then we have lost the true meaning of life. The cross is our victory. That is why we make sign the cross before every meal, before every prayer. That is why it hangs in our rooms in our homes. That is why Christ told us: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mk 8:34). To follow Christ is to love God with your whole heart, mind, and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself. It means to do unto others what you would have them do unto you. It means to do God’s will in everything that we say. It means the Ten Commandments. It means the precepts of the Church. Above all it means love without reservations.