“We’re All Going to Have a Cross to Carry…”

“We’re All Going to Have a Cross to Carry…” February 15, 2024

“We’re All Going to Have a Cross to Carry…”

Last night, I had the honor of assisting the good and holy bishop of my area at the Confirmation of school children into the faith. After the event, he turned to me and asked, “How are you doing?” asking about some health issues I’d just faced. I thanked his Excellency for his prayers and assured him all was well again, that I’d received a clean bill of health just a few days before. He turned to me and said, “We’re all going to have a cross to carry. We just don’t get to choose what it will be.”

We all learn that life isn’t fair when we have our first injury. Falling out of trees and breaking an arm. Pop an ACL while jumping hurdles in track or playing football. Playing in the kitchen and touching a hot stove with our hand or elbow as we pass by. We quickly learn we’re not immortal from these self-produced injuries.

But what about the non-self-produced injuries? The four-year-old that contracts brain cancer? The college student who’s diagnosed with bipolar disease? The 50-year-old who has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. These weren’t self-inflicted. Many times, these are called “acts of God.” But are they? Does God actually do these things to us?

A much wiser man than I recently told me, “Ya know, God wishes only good for any of us. But sometimes, he allows bad things to happen.” When I questioned him further, he explained that we no longer lived in the Garden of Eden, where we were protected under God’s Grace 24/7. Nope. Adam and Eve decided for us that we could make our own choices. We could go out and decide for ourselves whether or not we wanted to climb that tree, jump this hurdle, or touch the fire. We knew better than Him. But along with making our own decisions came the reality of sin, evil, and unfairness. It’s mankind’s own self-produced injury.

In my own journey, I’ve faced life-changing cancer. Was it fair? Nope. Did I ever wish for it? Uh-uh. Was I angry at God for giving it to me? Well… not really; however, we did have words. But here’s the odd thing: do I have a much closer relationship with God on account of it? Hands down… absolutely, yes.

There is a process when you are handed your cross that is like no other. It’s like looking down a dark tunnel with a light at the other end and not knowing if it’s the sun or a train barreling down on you. You don’t know if you should jump out of the way or start walking toward it. Your brain freezes. You lose the ability to focus on anything but what’s in front of you.

That’s when it happens.

That ever-slight inner voice clears its throat. Your quiet, constant connection to something higher, something bigger, something outside yourself says, “This is it. This is the thing that will define your soul. How you choose to carry this cross will define who you are to you and to the world. Choose wisely.” I chose to be open with my wife, my friends, and with God on all matters. First and foremost, I asked for prayers from anyone and everyone I knew, particularly my parish families and my brothers and sisters in the Order of Malta. Then, I let go. I allowed the prayers to do the heavy lifting. Was I a burden to my friends? Yup. I couldn’t do a thing for myself. Was I unbearable to watch over and work with for my wife? Oh yeah. She was (and still is) all that is strong and caring in my life. Did I learn anything from the experience? Volumes.

Courtesy of Ben Bongers KM
The pilgrimage to Lourdes begins with washing the feet of “Our Lord’s, the sick and the poor” as they carry their crosses.

Just as Jesus on the Via Delarosa, on His way to Calvery, we don’t carry our crosses alone. I had my wife; I had my friends, and I had thousands praying for me. They were the real cross-bearers. I was simply along for the ride. I’ve been privileged to go to Lourdes on pilgrimage with the Order of Malta twice in the past seven years. Many of the Knights and Dames that care for the blessed Malades (French for ‘the ones with illness’) have had cancer and many other life-threatening maladies. But to a person, they all thank God for having had these illnesses, these sicknesses, these crosses to carry. Without the wake-up call, they would have continued with their self-produced injuries in their self-centered lives. They, we, I became people who are full of hope, full of promise, full of faith.

So, what’s your cross to carry? Has it found you yet? How will you carry it? By yourself, or will you, too, find solace in allowing others to carry it with you?

Courtesy of Ben Bongers KM
After cancer, a Knight of Malta says thank you at the Grotto of Lourdes.
About Ben Bongers KM
Ben Bongers was an international operatic tenor and practicing sommelier for 30 years based in San Francisco, CA, and Europe. He has written monthly articles for trade magazines in wine and singing over a long and lustrous career. After becoming a semi-full-time caretaker for his parents, he earned an MA in Gerontology (the study of aging and care) and was asked to publish in an eldercare textbook in 2020. He has written several books, all published by EnRoute Books and Media. His first novel, THE SAINT NICHOLAS SOCIETY, has won many awards, and his other two, TRUE LOVE—12 Christmas Stories My True Love Gave to Me, and THE FARMER, THE MINER, THE ARTISAN (a children’s book) are both up for writing awards. Ben is a Knight in the Order of Malta and helped start an overnight homeless shelter at his San Francisco, CA parish. Today, he is a Permanent Diaconate Candidate in Kansas City, MO. You can read more about the author here.

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