There’s a reason that folks get angry when they learn that the reality of the Christian life leads straight to the cross. Remember that time the disciples were arguing amongst themselves about who would be the greatest? And then the Sons of Thunder got their mommy to ask Jesus if they could sit on his right hand and on his left?
Good times! That’s what we want, too.
Jesus gave them a counter offer that included his own bitter cup, though. It’s the same offer he makes to you, and to me, today. Gulp!
But we don’t want to hear about the possibility that the space reserved on the cross is for our own flesh and blood. What we would prefer is to bargain our way into the Kingdom of Heaven in the least painful way possible.
I’m not the first to notice this, and surely I won’t be the last. Heck, that was my modus operandi for the longest time, too.
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Rats! And just like how Jesus was betrayed, and abandoned, by the Twelve? Odds are, so will you be. Well, it might not be as bad as that, seeings how the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured upon us. The first batch of disciples had to wait until Pentecost for that, you know.
Yeah. For us it might be more like how it was for Sts. Ignatius of Antioch, Felicity, Perpetua, Simon Peter, and Paul. Their brothers and sisters in the faith didn’t all scatter when they were jailed, and martyred. I mean, they actually got visited in jail, or had their deaths witnessed by their confrères, for Christ’s sake. And they had many people praying for them as the unjust took away their earthly lives.
Thomas à Kempis, my faithful friend, didn’t die on the cross (though he probably was buried alive). But he knew that folks generally loathed the idea of being abandoned, and crucified. Usually, folks are lined up none deep to get the chance to be killed because they unflinchingly stay faithful unto death.
He wrote a couple of paragraphs to that effect in The Imitation of Christ.
Few Love The Cross of Jesus
Jesus has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus — love that is flee from all self-interest and self-love!
Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing? Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all things. And who shall find a man so truly poor in spirit as to be free from every creature? His value is like that of things brought from the most distant lands.
If a man give all his wealth, it is nothing; if he do great penance, it is little; if he gain all knowledge, he is still far afield; if he have great virtue and much ardent devotion, he still lacks a great deal, and especially, the one thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one thing? That leaving all, he forsake himself, completely renounce himself, and give up all private affections. Then, when he has done all that he knows ought to be done, let him consider it as nothing, let him make little of what may be considered great; let him in all honesty call himself an unprofitable servant. For truth itself has said: “When you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: ‘we are unprofitable servants.'”
Then he will be truly poor and stripped in spirit, and with the prophet may say: “I am alone and poor.” No one, however, is more wealthy than such a man; no one is more powerful, no one freer than he who knows how to leave all things and think of himself as the least of all.
Not exactly the measure of success in our time. And yet our lifespan isn’t truly measured by our existence in time on this world. If we truly believe in the Word, and in his words, and in the teachings of his Apostles, we know that despite the fact that our body will pass away, we who endure to the end will be resurrected, as Christ, our brother, and our King, was.
Among the adversaries of us Catholics, there are those who promise to fight against the teachings that our Church holds to be true to the death, if necessary. We, though, should consider that our old ways have already gone down to death. Nay, we should know with utter certainty that we have died to the world already, and so we have no reason to fight to the death with anyone.
Because dying restores us to life.
Are our adversaries bluffing about their willingness to die in the struggle to overthrow the truth contained in Our Mother’s teachings? Our wealth, our freedom, as à Kempis reminds us, is obtained when we bear the wooden beams of the cross for Jesus today. After all, we believe in life everlasting,
The Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards him and an entrance into everlasting life. When the Church for the last time speaks Christ’s words of pardon and absolution over the dying Christian, seals him for the last time with a strengthening anointing, and gives him Christ in viaticum as nourishment for the journey, she speaks with gentle assurance:
Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father,
who created you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God,
who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit,
who was poured out upon you.
Go forth, faithful Christian!
May you live in peace this day,
may your home be with God in Zion,
with Mary, the virgin Mother of God,
with Joseph, and all the angels and saints….
May you return to [your Creator]
who formed you from the dust of the earth.
May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints
come to meet you as you go forth from this life….
May you see your Redeemer face to face.
So we should not fear those who hate us, nor should we shy away from upholding the teachings, all of the teachings, of Christ that have been passed on to us. Nor should we be afraid to explain our love for the truth and for our fellow man. For as our first Pope enjoined upon us,
Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.
St. Peter, pray for us.