– FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
Jesus tells us today: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). In the time of Jesus – Roman times – taking up the cross meant the death penalty. Taking up our individual cross of life means accepting it, carrying it and eventually be crucified on it – with and after Jesus
Suffering is our cross, the cross that will save us, if we take it after Christ and thus make it a co-redemptive, saving suffering. Permeated by love, pain may become a path to meet God, “an appointment with the Crucified Lord” (JM Cabodevilla). St Paul says: “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (Col 1:24). Certainly, Christ’s Cross is sufficient to save all peoples and persons. Nevertheless, He asks his followers to share in his sufferings, and thus contribute with him – the only Redeemer – to the salvation of the world and continue his mission.
Our inevitable cross of life may come in two ways: one, the red and royal cross of martyrdom; the other, the pure and white cross of a good life (St Cyprian). For most of us the cross comes in our journey of life. I remember the motto of the first visit of St John Paul II to the Philippines (February 1981) to beatify Lorenzo Ruiz and Companions Martyrs (now canonized): To die for the faith is a gift to some; to live the faith is a call for all.
The saints and mystics show us the path to follow. For the saints – the truly happy ones – when the cross comes, it is the Lord who comes. For them – and for us – suffering love means the embrace of God’s love, the love that purifies and strengthens us, a joyful love that turns our wounds – the mystics tell us – into “sweet wounds.”
Like St Paul, we preach a Crucified Lord (cf 1 Cor 1:23). The cross, the saints show us, is the gift God makes to his friends. Lovely St John Vianney says that the cross is the ladder to heaven.
Do we accept our cross patiently and prayerfully? Yes, we do, if we carry it out of love for God, and sorrow for our sins, and for our salvation and the salvation of others. We bear our cross walking the way – the way of the cross – that leads to heaven, to our resurrection. Crucified on our own cross, we are not alone. Christ is with us. We are co-crucified with Christ (cf Gal 2:19) to be glorified with him (cf Rom 8:17). On the journey to Rome – to be martyred – St Ignatius of Antioch asked the Christians to, please, do not impede in any way his journey: “He who died for us is all I seek; he who rose again for us is all my desire”; “I am willing to die for God… For I am the wheat of God; and I shall be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may become the pure bread of Christ…only let me enjoy Christ” (Letter to the Romans).
Is it hard at times to accept and carry our own cross? Lord, why this cross? Why for me? Why now? We remember the words Jesus keeps telling us: “Come to me all of you who are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). When the cross comes, we try hard not to blame our loving and merciful God for it; we pray constantly to the good Lord asking him for help either by eliminating our suffering, or by strengthening us to bear our cross patiently and – if possible – joyfully.
THE OTHERS’ CROSS
Meditating on the Cross of Christ, another question comes to our mind: Where are we, when they crucify our Lord today, when others are crucified today? And we also hear the recurring questions from our brothers and sisters – and nonbelievers: Why is there so much suffering in our world? Why do innocent children suffer? Where is your merciful God? The mystery of evil is linked to the mystery of God, of an omnipotent and merciful God! We know that God is love and that He loves us, and we believe that the only answer we have to those intriguing questions is Jesus on the cross: Jesus, the Son of God, is the Crucified Lord! “In the love of the crucified Lord is God himself identified with all who suffer, shouting against all the injustices and forgiving the executioners of all times” (JA Pagola).
Facing the terrible sufferings of other human beings, our brothers and sisters, we are asked by our Christian vocation to help them as much as we can carry their cross. Like Simon of Cyrene, we are asked to help the wounded on the roads of life carry their heavy crosses. We can always do something, little, perhaps, but something! We can light a candle by praying, caring, sharing and forgiving. We may offer those around us a consoling and hopeful word: the cross of Christ, our cross, is a cross of hope, which points to the resurrection. In particular, we are asked constantly in the liturgy, in the Sacred Scriptures, in the magisterium of the Church, in theology to practice love for the needy and poor, who are for us Christ carrying his cross: the option – or love – for the poor the downtrodden is not optional but obligatory. It is part of the option for Christ. From time to time, we hear Jesus’ words knock at our hearts: I was hungry and you gave me food. I was sick, and you visited me… Remember, what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to me (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Henri Nouwen writes: “I was hungry…’’ Jesus is saying (in the poor) ‘This is me’. How radical and how simple” (Our Second Birth).
We believe in the Crucified and Risen Lord. We cannot jump from Palm Sunday and its hosannas, to Easter Sunday and its Alleluias! Easter Sunday is only possible after Good Friday! That said, we never forget that in this life we are always on the way to Easter: as witnesses of the Risen Lord and as pilgrims on the way to heaven. Here on earth, we are tent dwellers because we are citizens of heaven. Thus, we never forget that we are Easter People and Alleluia is our song.
To know Jesus, to follow him, to carry our cross after him and help others carry theirs is really a difficult mission. This is why we need to pray continually. Prayer permeates, strengthens and improves our whole life.
Let me close our meditation with a true story and a prayer. The story! Two young women students in Manila – a Chinese Buddhist, and a Filipina Catholic – decide to visit their respective temples on Holy Week. First, they visited the Buddhist Temple in Binondo, and afterwards the popular Catholic Church of Quiapo. At the main entrance of the Church the Catholic showed to the Buddhist the large cross with Christ crucified. “Who is this?” the Buddhist. The Catholic girl answered: “He is Jesus Christ; He died for us.” When they were leaving the Church, the Buddhist girl asked the Catholic: “What did you say? That He died for you?” “Yes.” The Buddhist: “What have you done for him?” (Thereafter, she became a nun). Jesus died for us. What are we doing for him?
The prayer! We pray with Mary, the Mother of the Son of God and our Mother, Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Hope:
We thank you, Lord, for your wounds, for your cross, for your death – for your love! We love you, Lord; we are sorry for offending you and others; we ask your continuing grace and mercy. To you, dear God One and Triune, be honor and glory and power forever and ever. Amen