“Anyone who does not Carry their Cross cannot be my Disciple”
These are challenging words of Jesus and are addressed to every one of us. If, however, we were to take them solely at their face value, I believe very few of us would be willing to hand over our lives completely to God, to do his will at all times. I am sure that, on the day of our Profession, we would have been full of zeal and enthusiasm, and if challenged then, the majority of us would have said “Yes,” to whatever Cross we might be asked to carry.
Yet, that same challenge has been offered to us many times in our life, maybe not as drastically as the Cross which was offered to Oscar Romero, who, because of his love for the poor and his persistent campaigns for justice and peace was murdered while he was celebrating Mass. I personally know a priest in Brasil who, for many years now has lived in fear because of threats against his life. He was so moved by the injustices and violence around him that nothing was going to stop him, not even death! He certainly is carrying a heavy Cross, yet he is one of the happiest and committed people I have had the privilege to meet. All these people took to heart Jesus’s challenging words: “Anyone who does not take up their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”, and lived their lives accordingly, putting their trust in God.
We may not all be called to carry such heavy crosses as these people have faced, but we can think of many people whom we know who are, in their own way, carrying heavy crosses with courage and trust in God. They have received great graces to cope with their lot and, having been through a similar experience themselves, are now ready and willing to reach out to others in their need.
Every day we are confronted with some kind of cross, be it sickness, worry about the future, loneliness, poverty, fear, loss of a job, unjust accusations, emigration and many other examples in life that caused pain and suffering. The list is not exhaustive, but the cross-bearers embraced the pain and persevered through thick and thin. I recall an event which I experienced a few weeks ago. It was at a train station and two elderly parents, grief stricken and lonely, were there bidding farewell to their three sons, all of whom were emigrating to Australia. The likely chances were that they would never meet again. What pain, what grief, what a heavy cross to carry. And yet, as I was sympathising with them, the mother, with tears running down her face said: “I know that God and his Mother will look after us.” She had the comfort of prayer, and the love of friends to see her through.
I find reflecting on “the Cross” and suffering very puzzling and hard to understand and at times I have asked myself the question “Why?” Why do good people have to bear such suffering? All I can say is that encountering those who are weighed down by suffering somehow elicits our empathy and often brings out the best in us. It encourages us to be more caring, more eager to confront injustices and corruption, more thankful for the gifts we have been given, and leads us to appreciate our own health and lot in life. I myself have been touched by those who are carrying burdens of one kind or another and have been changed for the better by meeting them.
Yes. We are all called to be Cross-bearers and are invited to take up our Cross and follow Jesus. But hard as that may be at times, we can be encouraged to keep going when things are hard by the assurance that we are not alone in life’s journey. Jesus has invited us to place our trust in him. “Come to me all you who are heavily burdened and I will give you rest.”
Today, let us listen once again to the call of Jesus – “If you want to follow me, take up your Cross daily and have no fear – I will be with you always”- and respond to that call, in love.
Sr. Padraigín Mc Kenna OP