“…and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” – Mt 10:38
As I read this passage from this morning’s (Monday’s) Gospel I asked myself the questions, “What does Jesus mean by ‘take up your cross’?”, and, “What is my cross?”. It was like deja vu. I’ve asked myself those two questions a gazillion times and never took the time to reflect upon them. But, this time the last four words of that verse, “is not worthy of me”, jumped out at me and I decided I really ought to know the answers.
I’ve been thinking about this most of the day. Here’s what my simple brain came up with:
In the first sense, the cross is a sign of suffering. It’s where Jesus suffered and died and it’s where many were crucified by the Romans before and after Him. Our “cross” is that which causes us to suffer.
We all suffer in some way. It may come in the form of real physical or emotional pain. Perhaps our suffering is a physical handicap, the loss of a loved one, the experience of an injustice, or the loss of a job and the inability to make ends meet.
Or, maybe, our suffering is one of inconvenience – the perceived pain of not getting our way, of being “put out” by circumstances beyond our control.
By “taking up our cross”, I think Jesus is telling us in a round-about way that, no matter what our suffering is, we need to deal with it. Life isn’t a bowl of cherries. In this life there will always be a certain amount of suffering. Not until we find ourselves in heaven will we live a peaceful and painless eternity.
Taking up our cross, then, means to accept that which causes us to suffer. It means we need to take ownership and, in doing so, we need to accept our suffering without complaining, moaning and groaning. But, I think there are two kinds of complaining.
The first, the good complaining, is like groaning that your legs hurt after you’ve just completed the fastest mile you’ve ever run. It’s a hurt that is expected, and one you’re glad to experience because it means you’ve grown/advanced/improved. It’s a hurt for which you’re grateful. There’s no cross to be taken up in this case.
The second, the bad kind of complaining, is when we express our misery because of an unfortunate circumstance: we couldn’t get our grass mowed this week because it rained and then our lawn mower wouldn’t start. The irony is that, if we think about it, we should be grateful for the time we have, while we’re not mowing the lawn, to do other things, like improving relationships, that often get pushed to the back burner. In this regard, I think about the verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Jesus Christ.” By doing this, we’re elevating the circumstance to the first level, the good complaint.
With respect to this second type of complaining, taking up our cross is not making another person, intentionally or unintentionally, feel bad because of our situation. This is where taking ownership comes into play. It’s ours and we can’t make it someone else’s. Asking someone to pray for us and hoping for their compassion is fine. But, expecting someone to commiserate with us and personally feel bad over our personal issue isn’t part of taking up our cross.
On the other hand, there is one person whom we can ask to bear our suffering with us – Jesus. He tells us throughout the Gospels that He is there for us, that we can trust in and turn our troubles over to Him. He will make our burdens light.
Taking up our cross means that, in accepting our circumstances, we realize it is in the past, it’s behind us, and we can’t do anything about what’s already happened. We need to let it die.
It’s now that the second meaning of taking up our cross and following after Jesus comes into play. After we’ve let that which causes our suffering to die, we need to start living again. That’s when we not only take up our cross but we begin to follow after Jesus. It’s a resurrection for us.
Jesus died and, upon His resurrection, went to a better place. By taking up our cross and following Him, we, too, can find a kind of resurrection, a better place. We begin to open ourselves up to finding joy in the every day gifts which God provides. In opening up, we begin to accept His love for us, a love that is independent of our circumstances. Then, ultimately, our resurrection is complete when we begin to love others unselfishly in spite of our personal suffering. In fact, we no longer view it as suffering but, instead, as a unique gift.
You know what? I’m not going to expound on what my cross is. That’s because I can see that I have many crosses to bear. After going through this exercise, I realize my crosses can be different from one day to the next, or even one hour to the next. Some crosses are heavier than others. Some I accept quicker than others. I think the important thing is that I have figured this out for myself and can begin to see my suffering, both the real and the inconvenient, as crosses to bear.
And, I resolve to pray to our Lord, Jesus, for His help in lightening the load of each of those crosses.
Won’t you take some time to think about your crosses and how you take them up in following Him?
“Lord Jesus, I know that You know that I know what my crosses are. And, I know that You’re just waiting for me to turn to You, to place my trust in You to lighten my load. I know You will because You have so many times before. I pray for an increase in faith that it is Your will that is done, not mine. Lord, thank You for all your many blessings, even those which I didn’t recognize as blessings at the time. Amen.”
(Take Up Your Cross was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
©2013-2017 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.