Each of us has a cross to carry. There is no need to make one or look for one. Living every moment of our life and fully embracing our humanity inevitably brings us to our crosses. My older brother and I often joke that following Jesus is easy, if only we can choose the cross – the suffering – we want. Yet, the cross is precisely the manner of suffering that we do not prefer. Jesus’ call to discipleship echoes: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Maybe we can't study; maybe we have been laid-off; maybe we are handicapped; maybe we suffer from depression, from poor self-image, from a serious disease; maybe we experience conflict in our families; maybe we are victims of violence or abuse. We didn't choose any of it, yet these things are our crosses. We can ignore them, reject them, refuse them or hate them. But we can also embrace these sufferings, and allow them to help us be united with Jesus on the cross. Even in darkness that suffering often brings, we can risk that God’s wisdom and love can transform our crosses into greater life.
Both my cousin and maternal grandmother suffered greatly at the end of their lives. Although they died two decades apart, they taught me a similar lesson. In their own ways, they struggled yet embraced their crosses. Despite my ability to accept her impending passing, my grandmother had come to peaceful acceptance of her death. She shared with me that Jesus was with her, that she was sharing his suffering. That he was sharing hers. And in much of her life, this was her experience, her crucible of faith – Jesus’ way of drawing her close to him. When suggested by her pastor to unite her suffering to Jesus’ and offer them to help children in hospital nearby, my young cousin Thy understood fully and said “yes”. She allowed her husband, families and relatives, and so many friends and hospital staff to be with her in her last moments. We sang the Prayer of St Francis in tears as she gave up her spirit. Like our grandmother, she embodied Jesus’ stance before the cross; she taught us how to die with grace. While the doctors and our earnest prayer could not save her, our presence may have eased her suffering and accompanied her home to God.
Like Jesus, we cannot choose our cross. Yet, embracing our cross while struggling to entrust ourselves to God can make room for greater life and meaning.
“Help us Lord Jesus, to trust that by your holy cross you have redeemed the world! Help us to embrace you though our crosses these days.”