by Fr. Tommy Lane
In the lives of each of us there may be something painful, big or small, something that we wish to be different. In the lives of each of us there is a cross. The cross can be caused by somebody else, or we may bring a cross on ourselves due to our choices or sometimes the cross is neither the fault of others nor ourselves, but because of the accidents of life or simply because we are human and do not have the perfection of God.
At first we may deny that we have a cross. Perhaps we do not want to face the pain of the cross so we pretend that everything is fine, we have no cross. But one of the mysteries of life is that a grace awaits us if we carry our cross just as resurrection awaited Jesus after he died. If we deny our cross we are losing out on the grace God has planned to give us.
After we move beyond denying our cross and admit that we have a cross we may experience anger. We ask the question, “Why?”, “Why me?”, “I didn’t deserve this.” “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” It is natural reaction. We see Peter reacting like this in Matthew’s account of what we read today from Luke. When Jesus indicated that he would suffer and die in Jerusalem, in Matthew’s Gospel Peter rebuked him and said, ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord. This must not happen to you’ (Matt 16:22). At this stage of coping with our cross we may be angry with others, or even angry with God. It is easy to blame God when we cannot understand why we are in pain. But God did not cause your cross and blaming God is making an unjust accusation against God. Blaming others who are innocent is also unjust. Surely blaming God for some trouble is because we are afraid to face the pain of the real cause of the problem. Get to the real root of the problem or cross. For some people this type of inner work and healing needs therapy or counseling. Look at the life of Jesus. Do we see Jesus blaming his Father for his cross? No. The Father did not kill his son Jesus, it was Roman soldiers who scourged him, crowned him and crucified him. The Father did not give them the orders, the orders came from Pilate even though Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent. (Luke 23:4,13,15,22) But the blame doesn’t lie totally with Pilate. Some of the Jewish leaders made false accusations against Jesus before Pilate (Luke 23:1-2). So in the life of Jesus we do not see Jesus blaming the Father for his cross and in fact we see there is a whole group of people who paved the way for Jesus’ cross. When we have a cross instead of blaming God let us get to the root of the problem. For some people this type of inner work and healing needs therapy or counseling. Blaming God for the problems of the world is only passing the buck instead of facing up to our own culpability for what has gone wrong. As I have said before, no one has yet come up with an adequate answer to explain the mystery of human suffering, all we have are bits and pieces of answers.
After admitting the pain, and accepting that there is a painful situation some people make bargains with God such as, “God, if you get me out of this I will be a priest” or similar bargains, “God if you get me out of this I will make a pilgrimage.” And indeed going on that pilgrimage or becoming a priest is indeed a wonderful grace and sometimes it takes a cross to prepare our souls to receive God’s grace.
After feeling anger towards God or others previously it is possible later to experience anger with oneself because of one’s cross. Anger turned in towards ourselves is sometimes called depression.
When we move beyond anger with ourselves or depression because of our cross we arrive at where it was meant to lead us all the time, grace. We accept and cherish a grace in the plan of God for us because of our cross. One of the mysteries of life is that a grace accompanies every cross or we will receive a grace if we carry our cross. Jesus would not have risen from the dead if he did not die on the cross and we are running away from a grace that awaits us if we are running away from our cross. Any cross is painful but with prayer and the help of other people we can carry our crosses, and we need to pray a lot if we have a heavy cross. Jesus, on the night before he died, suffered in agony in the Garden in Gethsemane. “Father if it is your will, let this cup pass me by. Not my will but yours be done.” (Matt 26:39) Sometimes we also say ‘let this cup pass me by.’ But grace awaits us if we can say ‘not my will but yours be done.’ If the cross is particularly heavy we may be a long time waiting for the grace because we may get stuck for a while in one of those stages we go through after a cross, but the grace will certainly follow if we work our way through all the thoughts that go on inside us and arrive at acceptance.
Perhaps we could describe receiving the grace after the cross as a healing. After the cross comes new life, resurrection, grace, thanksgiving. So we can say “Thanks be to God I have come through it.” We know we are healed, we know we have received the grace only when we can say “Thanks be to God.” The particular grace we receive is often in proportion to our cross. If we know the pain of being hurt by others, we end up being more sensitive to others, not wishing to impose hurt and injury on others ourselves. Some parishes have bereavement support groups; those who were bereaved in the past forming a group to give support to those who experience bereavement. Ireland has experienced the pain of famine and is now noted for its generosity in helping famine stricken countries.
To receive the grace that accompanies our cross it is important not to become stuck in any of the stages we can go through when responding to suffering. So it is important to move from
to anger with ourselves or depression
to acceptance of our cross and grace.
We move through these stages of healing by sharing our pain with the Lord when we pray. We don’t have to be perfect when we pray. We can tell the Lord everything. Another help in moving through these stages to arrive at acceptance and grace would be to tell a trustworthy friend. There is a saying “A trouble shared is half a trouble.” If we are a caring Christian community we should be helping each other to carry our crosses. If we’re not helping each other to carry our crosses we’re not a caring Christian community.
I think there is something holy about our cross. It keeps us close to God. When there is some pain in our lives, when we have to carry a cross we depend more on God. I think it is part of God’s mysterious plan that we carry a cross because it keeps us close to God. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said that sufferings are the kisses of Jesus in our lives.
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)
More for the Twelfth Sunday Year C
Related Homilies: The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering according to Pope John Paul II 2008
First reading Jesus’ suffering as revealed by the Shroud of Turin
Psalm: my meditation mp3 (quality reduced for 56k dial-up modems)
stories about carrying our cross