Monday, March 4, 2013

Embrace Your Cross--Follow Christ

So what's the shape of your cross today?  At this moment in time, at this stage of your faith journey, what form is your cross taking?  Perhaps it didn't initially appear to have vertical and horizontal crossbars, but can you name the one burden or challenge that most concerns you right now?

It might be some physical pain or the suffering of a loved one.  It might be a self-imposed Lenten commitment (ongoing or failed), or it might be a self-inflicted consequence of a bad habit in need of uprooting.  But whatever your cross is right now, it's definitely your cross, isn't it?  Mine seems to "have my name on it".

In the Diocese of Joliet's framework of monthly themes for the Year of Faith, "Embrace Your Cross--Follow Christ" is March's theme, and this has been a helpful realization for me: The Lord has custom-designed my crosses and has personalized them just for me.  Jesus repeatedly says, "take up your cross."  Your cross is a perfect fit for you; my cross wouldn't be able to transform your heart right now.  And though I get tempted to think your cross doesn't look so bad, I know that yours is designed to accomplish the conversion and growth you need.  And mine are meant to help me say "Yes" to my ongoing metanoia or change of heart.  Today.

This is not to say that God wants us to suffer.  No, God's will is that we be saved from suffering and death; that's why he became one of us and died and rose.  However, out of respect for human freedom and in the hope of drawing us to an authentic relationship with him, God allows pain and suffering to enter into the world, into our lives.  The Lord never abandons us to our crosses, after all, but walks with us--strengthening us with his grace and inviting us to embrace the personal transformation we need.

Sometimes it's easier to see this in retrospect.  Can you remember a cross you were carrying a few years back?  At the time, perhaps it seemed too much to bear.  Perhaps it seemed like there was no end in sight.  Perhaps you felt isolated and abandoned.  But can you now see the grace that carried you--the people or circumstances that helped pull you through it all?  Perhaps you still struggle with the same cross (why do I continue to confess some of the same sins??): has your struggle with it made you more humble or more compassionate?

In the end, our crosses probably teach us as much about ourselves as they do about God.  Following Christ is a life-long journey of conversion and transformation.  It is a long walk with the Lord who says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). 

So let's keep taking up our crosses--whatever shape or size they come in (even if it means returning to a failed Lenten commitment)--and let's look for ways to help others with theirs as well.  In doing so, we will join ourselves more closely to our crucified and risen Lord, and we will come to realize that he's already carrying more than his fair share!

P.S.  Here's a great prayer from the Knights of Columbus for the next pope,
who will embrace the cross which is the office of Peter:
Good Shepherd, who founded your Church
on the rock of Peter's faith
and have never left your flock untended,
look with love upon us now,
and sustain your Church in faith, hope, and charity.
Grant, Lord Jesus, in your boundless love for us,
a new Pope for your Church
who will please you by his holiness
and lead us faithfully to you,
who are the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Amen!