In a homily in Assisi where Pope Francis reflected on why he chose his papal name, the Holy Father pointed out that the peace of Christ is born from the love of the Cross. Every human being has a cross. For some it may be their physical health or that of loved ones, for some it may be more related to financial or emotional well being. For some it may be combinations of all of the above. The point is, we all have crosses and we all suffer. Our tendency is to want to run from that which causes us pain, to escape it, to avoid it.
But, I challenge you, not this Lent.
Lent is the perfect time to revel in the beauty of the Cross.
It seems paradoxical to think of finding beauty in the midst of so much pain, but it is possible. This is how we fall in Love with our crosses and learn to embrace them. It’s all part of dying to self and “embracing our cross”. But, the key is finding out what that really means and how we can do it?
It’s a 2 part Process:
1 Acceptance (A perspective change)
The first step toward embracing, our crosses is acceptance. A recognition of the fact that regardless of whether or not I choose to embrace my cross, it will still be there. Once I realize that suffering is an integral part of life, no matter what I do to avoid it, I run out of reasons to continue fighting it… and, only when there is a break in the war can we have a chance for peace.
To give you a specific yet simple example, for me, one of the biggest crosses of motherhood is constantly having to feed people. I hate having to decide what to give them all the time. If I don’t have pre-prepared food waiting in the fridge then they have to wait for me to make it while whining at me every five seconds to see if it is done yet… and of course, while I am frantically trying to cook as fast as humanly possible (which is never fast enough) it never fails that someone has to go to the bathroom, gets in a fight or has an accident. Not to mention Trying to keep your kids on a balanced, healthy diet is almost impossible when you can only think of four things that they will eat. Besides, every time they want food, they want it five minutes ago, they all want something different and, once I make it, I either serve it too hot or too cold or in the wrong bowl, on the wrong plate, or with the wrong spoon.
Often, because I hate trying to figure out what to feed people so much, I avoid thinking about it at all – avoiding my cross – by doing things that I enjoy, like writing or cleaning the house. However, doing this ensures that next time people are hungry, the hateful situation will inevitably repeat itself.
On the other hand, if I swallow my hatred for the inevitable and accept that this is my reality at this point in time it enables me to process the problem differently. If I recognize that this is my reality instead of fighting it or avoiding it, I can take steps to meeting the problem head on in order to deal with it in the most productive way possible.
This can be the case too with any cross, big or small. By accepting that they are an inevitable part of our reality instead of expending all our energy trying to run away we can use some of that energy to figure out how best to approach the situation.
Which leads us to the next point:
2 Action (Taking steps to meet the challenge head on)
This is the point where you learn to build your life around your cross rather than attempting to mold your cross to the life you think you want to have.Build your life around your cross rather than attempting to mold your cross to the life you think you want to have.
In the case of my above example, I have noticed when I plan ahead (despite having to think about the next meal more often than I would like) and, while no one is hungry, pre-prepare snacks to have on hand, when someone does ask for food, the ensuing chaos is reduced from over 30 minutes to typically less than 3. In the end, lunch time is a far more peaceful and joyful experience.
No matter your cross, you can probably think of ways to meet it head on, to stop running from it and figure out ways to meet the challenge head on. If none come to mind immediately, I challenge you to ponder this thought beyond this moment. Think about it for a few hours. If your challenge is your health, maybe you need to consider dietary changes. If you are crippled in some way, instead of thinking about all the things you can’t do, think about what you can do in your position. If you are going through bad relationships or breakups, think about what you have learned / are learning, how you have grown and what you want to do in the future to improve or avoid similar situations.
But the biggest thing is this: at a bare minimum – Leave behind the whining and complaining. (Also, note the difference between whining and complaining, and genuine explanations of a situation where it is warranted such as for counseling purposes).
Whining changes nothing. Complaints resolve nothing. They don’t even make us feel better really. In the end they only make us focus on the parts of the cross that we hate the most, making them seem bigger and more disagreeable than they really are. Attempt to find the “silver lining”, look for potential positives. If you cannot find them, trust (Read post on 4 Obstacles to Trust and How to Overcome Them) and have patience. Wait for hindsight to become 20/20.
Why should we bother?
Embracing and facing your crosses makes them suddenly seem less heavy and give you a sense of accomplishment and empowerment, not to mention, it takes away the negativity that generally taints our view of our crosses and makes them feel lighter, if not altogether conquered. It’s pretty exciting.
Also, Pope Emeritus Benedict explains that:
…Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people. He becomes hard and selfish. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand why it is so important to learn how to suffer and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity. (March 29, 2014)
If crosses are so great, should we seek them out?
The short answer is, NO. There are some people who justify bad decisions by saying, “Because it’s hard, it must be right.” Yes, we must accept the consequences of our actions, but that doesn’t mean that one mistake, such as becoming pregnant out of wedlock, should be combined with a worse mistake, such as terminating the pregnancy or marrying the father out of guilt or an attempt to “legitimize” the child.
There will always be crosses in every calling. We don’t need to make bad choices in order to “ensure that we have enough”, or justify bad choices as “God’s will” because they contain crosses. God actually wants us to be happy. Yes, your calling will be both your cross and your joy but in a calling, the crosses are especially designed gifts from God to help us become who we are meant to be. When we make bad choices our crosses are more like punishments or consequences meant to get us to turn around rather than proofs that we should stay.
Reveling in the Beauty of the Cross
So, is the cross beautiful? Is it “embrace-able”? Think about Calvary as you pray this Lent. What beauty did Christ see in the cross He embraced? He didn’t see a mere cross. He didn’t even look at the pain, the struggle or the weight. He saw the ability to prove love, to point those who see His suffering to something else, to something greater. Now because of this, when we look at the cross, we too no longer simply see meaningless pain. We see Passion, strength, and love beyond condition and beyond measure. We see man, we see God… and, with our own crosses, now we too have the opportunity to share in it.
Lift high the cross
The love of Christ proclaim,
‘Til all the world
Adore His sacred name.
I lift high the cross of my vocation to marriage and motherhood because I am proud to sacrifice myself for my family. This is my Passion, this is my way of being like Christ, of pointing my children and those around me to something greater, to love…. and I’ve never felt more peace.
What is your cross and how can you find it’s beauty this Lent? Please, share below!
Other suggested readings/resources on this topic:
Take Up Your Cross: The risen Christ and daily life by Fr. James Martin SJ