Jesus has called us to share in the work of Redemption, to take up our own cross and walk with Him on the road to Calvary. He asks us to embrace our crosses for His sake and offer our sufferings with His so that they may gain eternal merit. His Holy Passion was the greatest act of torture, the severest pain, turned into the greatest act of love. Through His bodily wounds and His spiritual torments, and finally through His death, He has given a model of love that we are called to imitate.
While most of us are not unfamiliar with the call to carry our cross, there are some misconceptions where the nature of that cross is concerned. We call every little ailment or discomfort our cross to bear, and sometimes become overwhelmed when ailment piles upon ailment. We reach a point where we begin to ask "why has Jesus allowed me to carry so many burdens? Why has God given me so much to suffer?" However, we make so much of our various sufferings and trials that we forget the nature of Christ's Passion.
Jesus was scourged almost beyond recognition. His flesh was torn to shreds and He was fast losing blood. I imagine that He had a headache, He was probably ill, and the gospel doesn't mention anything about His stomach being full as He carried His heavy wooden cross. He was tired and sustained several injuries, like the one to His shoulder where the cross pressed. If this were not enough, He suffered gravely in spirit. He felt alone, abandoned by everyone, including God, and was exposed to the deepest humiliation. Further, He knew us, how we would betray His love, and how hopeless His sacrifice would be for some.
When we carry our crosses, we tend to expect to be in perfect health as we are carrying them. We simply assume that we would be perfectly happy without the crosses, and every discomfort is our cross. A headache AND too much to do AND spiritual crisis seems far too much for us to bear, let alone to be expected to then embrace a cross. We get upset with Jesus because we ourselves are far from perfect health when our burdens are laid upon us. "Why do you trust me to endure so much, Lord?" Our natural impulse is to approach God and say that it has become too much when we really begin to suffer. We forget that our human nature is fallen, and that we only reach perfect happiness in heaven. God does not ask us to carry a million and one crosses, the health of our spirit is already disrupted by sin and, in this state, we should embrace the cross that God does ask us to bear for our own good, for love of Him, and for the good of the world.
Last night at work I had a pounding headache and I clearly remember thinking to myself "so this is what it is like to die..." All too often we expect to die on our crosses, and even secretly wish to die on them. It is far easier to die for God than to live for Him; far more dramatic and far more over with. Under the image of heroism, we hide a cowardly heart that is more afraid of living and doing than facing the mystery of death. St. Therese said that "she always knew that she would die young, but she never asked to; that would be the act of a coward." God does not call us always to martyrdom in the finality of death, but instead to a living martyrdom in separation from Him, so that we can continue to show our love.
In addition to these common responses to sufferings, we are also often tempted to "play the martyr" alone. God gives us many comforts in our trials, and is ever with us in our suffering. He also gives us the blessings of friends who support and help us in our troubles, and who we should support. To settle comfortably in our discomfort of pain and destitution is not actively receiving and carrying our cross, but allowing it to oppress and overcome us. It is important to remember that God desires our happiness and our love... He wants what is best for us and does not cruelly wish our agony. Therefore, He will be far happier if we accept both trials and consolation with a smile than if we subject ourselves to relentless pain, refusing to be consoled.
When embracing our crosses we give to God, as Jesus did, an immense declaration of love. Let us not allow ourselves to become depressed and despairing, but ever prepared to say "Jesus, this and more..." Whoever feels himself overly burdened by God does God an extreme injustice, for God not only asks of us only what we can bear, but considers our many frailties and upholds us on the way of the Cross. He never calls us to suffer what He has not first suffered Himself. We must never fall into the habit of self pity, but rather remember the sufferings of Jesus whenever we feel oppressed, and receive the consolation of freely bearing our burden.