05 February 2016

On carrying a cross

St. Agatha
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise…” and so here we are – the Foolish – to listen to Jesus say to us just a few days before the start of Lent: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Fools, indeed. But Happy Fools. IF we are foolish in the wisdom of the Cross, the wisdom what it means to haul such a grotesque thing onto our backs and carry it about. Our Crosses are not daily burdens, large or small; they are death, the always closing up of one’s life in sacrifice. To carry your Cross daily is to daily carry the cross of your transience, your impermanence; your cross is sign of surrender to mortal being and a spit in the face of despair – one final foolish loogie spat in the Devil’s eye! Our crosses make us both victim and king. At what point in Jesus’ life is he both Suffering Victim and Conquering King?

Carrying your cross is not a task like washing the car or doing the laundry. It is not a burden like taxes or daily reading quizzes. Nor is the cross meant to be a sign of pride or shame, something we find a way to excuse or explain, or something to brag about. A properly carried cross rests on the shoulder and pinches the skin just enough, rubs the bone just enough to keep vivid in our hearts and minds the ministry we do as we trudge along behind our Lord. We follow. That’s what we do: we follow. Doing as he does, preaching as he preaches, teaching as he teaches, healing as he heals. . .dying when he dies. This is not a job. It is a love. Paul reminds us, “Consider your calling, brothers and sisters. . .It is due to [God] that you are in Christ Jesus…” It is because we asked to carry our cross with Christ that we are allowed to do so. 
What do we carry when we carry our Cross with Christ? Variously, “the cross” has been described as sin or physical disabilities or a bad marriage or some sort of addiction, something that unavoidably weighs on us, makes it difficult for us to walk a straightened path. This is too small. How will shouldering the “burden” of an addiction or a mental illness save my life for eternal life? How do I lose my life to save it if my cross is an inordinate love of Krispy Kreme Chocolate Filled Chocolate Covered doughnuts!? Our inordinate desires, illnesses, sins, disabilities – all of that and more attach to the Cross when we lift it to our shoulders. But they will all die with us. None, however, will survive our transformation into the Christ – perfect God, perfect Man.

Jesus reveals four steps or movements in joining oneself to the Saving Cross. He says, first, “If anyone wishes to come after me;” second, “he must deny himself;” third, “and take up his cross daily;” and, fourth, “follow me.” Knowing what you know about the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, do you wish to go after him? If you do, then you deny yourself, renounce yourself; that is, surrender to an inevitable, mortal death; cease flirting with the temptation to become God without God. Now, pick up your death as a Cross like Christ’s and live daily with no fear of dying alone or without purpose. Freed from the suffocating burden of dreading death and what comes after, follow Christ! You have lost your life by embracing daily a sacrificial death. And whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will save it.


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