The Cross: Our Strength and Happiness

The Lord in His great love for us has given us a cross to carry.  We may think, “If God loves me so much then why does he use an instrument of torture and a tool of shame to strengthen me and bring me happiness?”  Carrying a cross these days seems absolutely impossible, especially in a world that calls strength – great wealth, intelligence and a healthy body; and happiness – success, popularity and pleasure.  Sure, we can have great wealth, intelligence, good health, success, popularity and even pleasure without sin, but when we think that these things are the only way to be strong or be happy then we are deceived, especially when these things make us greedy, vain, prideful, lustful and slothful.  It becomes worse when someone turns envious, then angry and will even murder to acquire sinful treasures.  Our wounded human nature has an inclination for sin and evil, thus making the values of a sinful world enticing and promising.

The Lord uses the cross as a remedy to heal the wounds caused by sin.  He knew the pain and torture of the cross and if He could have found an easier way, He would have.  Jesus asked the Father three times, “If it be possible let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will but as thou will.”  Christ in His love for the Father and for us obediently took on our sinful human nature and showed us how to love God through avoiding sin and through suffering.  He became the victim of sin by allowing Himself to endure the cruel death of crucifixion.  He suffered in body and soul feeling every pain we feel.  His suffering included the pain of each individual who has lived and ever will live.

Christ tells us in Matthew 16: 24 “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  In Luke 14: 27 He says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  In addition He says in Matthew 7:13 – 14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  God calls us to carry a cross and to carry it through a narrow gate!

We can learn how to carry our crosses faithfully through praying and meditating on the Stations of the Cross.  Through the way of the cross Jesus demonstrates for us how we should carry our crosses.  We see how Jesus persevered from the first station to the crucifixion.  He also reveals to us that we are never alone while we carry our cross.  In the fourth Station, our Blessed Mother Mary appears and walks with Jesus.  In the same way she walks with us too.  In the fifth station St. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross and in the sixth station St. Veronica wipes His face.  God also sends us people in the body of Christ to help us on our way of suffering.  Tradition tells us Jesus fell three times carrying His cross.  He fell because of the weight of our sin.  He did not stay down; he got up every time and finished the course.  We fall through our sins, but we cannot stay down. We must rise through an act of contrition and confession.

Our way of the cross is not as severe as His, but is always difficult and even impossible in a natural sense.  Crosses come in different forms; for some it is the pain of illness, while for others it is rejection, temptation, fear, loneliness, depression and despair or all of the above.  When we say ‘yes’ to God and take up our cross we have now made our channel of grace much wider.  The grace that is our strength to carry our crosses comes through prayer, the sacraments, penance and good spiritual reading.  As we move along our way of the cross, we lose our dependence on self and learn to trust and depend more on God, thus allowing Him to be our source of strength.  St. Paul says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

True happiness comes from God.  As we carry our cross we leave behind those things which turned us away from Him and like St. Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14, we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Suffering causes pain, but life without God is misery.  It is possible to suffer pain and be happy.  This happiness occurs when we unite ourselves with Christ.  As we unite ourselves with Him, we begin to think as He thinks, love as He loves and are no longer enamored by the treasures of earth. Our treasure then becomes doing the will of God and contemplating eternity with Him in Heaven.  When Jesus carried His cross He was not consumed with self, but He was consumed with love for the Father and for us.  St. Francis prayed to suffer the exact way Jesus suffered, but also prayed to experience the love Jesus experienced during His passion.  We too can experience this great love while we suffer.  This happens when we go from the natural to the supernatural, from virtue to heroic virtue.

Although nobody has ever reached or will reach perfect union with Christ, except the Blessed Virgin Mary, we can share in his divinity and likeness. All of us will have to suffer, but let our suffering be redemptive.  Saint Paul says, “If we die with Christ we will also rise with Christ.”  Remember we are coheirs with Christ.  Everything prophesied about Him in the Old Testament is for us too.

Many saints had a holy zeal for the cross.  St. Francis and St. Paul did everything for the love of Christ and Him crucified.  St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  The way of the cross is not a curse, but it is the way of love and victory over sin and death.  It is the way to know, love and serve God.

by Br. Leonard Mary, MFVA