WHENEVER we see someone suffering, we often say “Oh, that person’s cross is heavy.” Or I might think that my own circumstances, be they unexpected sorrows, reversals, trials, breakdowns, health issues, etc. are my “cross to carry.” Moreover, we might seek out certain mortifications, fasts, and observances to add to our “cross.” While it is true that suffering is part of one’s cross, to reduce it to this is to miss what the Cross truly signifies: love.
LOVING LIKE THE TRINITY
If there was another way to heal and love mankind, Jesus would have taken that course. That’s why in the Garden of Gethsemane He pleaded with the Father in the most enduring terms, calling Him “daddy”, that if another path were possible, to please make it so. “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” But because of the nature of sin, crucifixion was the only way in which justice could be satisfied and man could be reconciled to the Father.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
So, Christ received our wages—and we received the possibility again of eternal life.
But Jesus did not set out to suffer, per se, but to love us. But in loving us, it required that He would have to suffer. In a word, suffering is sometimes the consequence of loving. Here I am not speaking of love in romantic or erotic terms but in what it truly is: the total giving of oneself to the other. In a perfect world (ie. Heaven), this kind of love does not produce suffering because concupiscence, the inclination to sin (to selfishness, to grasping, to hoarding, to greed, to lust, etc.) would be gone. Love would freely be given and freely received. The Holy Trinity is our model. Before creation, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loved one another in such totality, in such complete giving and receiving of the Other, that it produced nothing but unspeakable joy and delight. There was no suffering in this total giving of Self, in this complete act of love.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. (John 15:9)
He did not say this to the birds or the fish, to the lions or the bees. Rather, He taught this to man and woman because we are made in His image, and thus, capable of loving and being loved just like the Trinity.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12-13)
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)
When we hear these words, do we not immediately think of all our pains? This or that health issue, unemployment, debt, a father wound, a mother wound, a betrayal, etc. But even unbelievers suffer these things. The cross is not the sum of our sufferings, rather, the cross is the love which we are to give unto the end to those in our path. If we think of “the cross” as simply our pain, then we miss what Jesus was teaching, we miss what the Father revealed in the Cross:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (John 3:16)
But you might ask, “Doesn’t suffering play a part in our cross just as it did in Jesus’?” Yes, it does—but not because it has to. The Church Fathers saw in the “tree of life” within the Garden of Eden a prefigurement of the Cross. It only became a tree of death, so to speak, when Adam and Eve sinned. So too, the love we give one another becomes a cross of suffering when sin, that of others and our own, enters the picture. And here is why:
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:4-7)
So you see why loving God and loving one another can become a very heavy cross. To be patient and kind to those who irritate us, to not envy or assert ourselves into a situation, to not cut another off in conversation, to not insist on our way of doing things, to not be grumpy or resent others whose lives are blessed, to not be gleeful when someone we dislike stumbles, to bear the faults of others, to not lose hope in seemingly hopeless situations, to patiently endure all these things… this is what gives weight to the Cross of Love. This is why the Cross, while we are on earth, will always be a “tree of death” upon which we must hang until all self-love is crucified and we are remade again in the image of Love. Indeed, until there is a new heavens and new earth.
THE CROSS IS LOVE
The vertical beam of the Cross is love for God; the horizontal beam is our love for neighbour. To be His disciple, then, is not an exercise of merely “offering up my suffering.” It is to love as He loved us. It is to clothe the naked, give bread to the hungry, pray for our enemies, forgive those who hurt us, to do the dishes, sweep the floor and to serve all those around us as if they were Christ Himself. So when you wake up each day to “carry your cross,” the focus should not be on your own suffering but on others. Think to yourself how you can love and serve that day—even if it’s only your spouse or your children, even it’s only by your prayer as you lay sick in bed. This is the cross, for the Cross is Love.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments… This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 14:15, 15:12)
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5:14)
Love is the Cross which we must carry, and to the extent that the sin of others and our own sinfulness pervades, it will bring the weight, coarseness, thorns and nails of pain, suffering, humiliation, loneliness, misunderstanding, mockery, and persecution.
But in the next life, that Cross of Love will become for you the Tree of Life from which you will reap the fruit of joy and peace for all eternity. And Jesus himself will wipe away every one of your tears.
Therefore, my children, live joy, radiance, unity and mutual love. This is what you need in today’s world. In this way you will be apostles of my love. In this way you will witness my Son in the right way. —Our Lady of Medjugorje allegedly to Mirjana, April 2, 2019. The Vatican is now allowing official dioscesan pilgrimages to be made to this Marian shrine. See Mother Calls.
Artwork by my friend, Michael D. O’Brien.
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