I love being Catholic, I really do. I love family traditions, and I thrive on routines, and both of these are central to the Church. The older I get, the more I immerse myself into better understanding our Sacred Traditions and our liturgical calendar, and I continue to marvel at how much I am still learning and discovering. One area of our faith that has been difficult for me to grasp is our view on suffering. Have you ever been struggling, physically or emotionally and you share this struggle with a friend who responds with “offer it up“? I admit to having said these words myself only to ask myself “What does that even mean Amelia?”
While I wasn’t always clear on what it meant, I was aware that there was a difference between how I suffer and how the saints suffer. They were much better at it. In fact, the saints seem to suffer from a place of joy, patience, and perseverance while I am groaning and ringing my hands in angst! If I look around in my community, in the news, and the world I can quickly identify all the ways that people are attempting to avoid suffering by turning to drugs, alcohol, losing hours scrolling on social media or surfing the web. We see people of all ages checking out of reality for an alternate reality found in video games. We view suffering as something that is evil, something to avoid at all cost! We shrink in the face of suffering! But in doing so, we are missing a critically important opportunity to draw closer to Christ.
In Luke 9:23 we hear Jesus tell his disciples
“if any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
There are two critical points in this passage, first, deny myself and second take up my cross, but what does this mean? To deny myself means to submit myself to God's will humbly, not my will be done but His will be done. But what exactly does it mean to take up my cross? This statement is interesting to me because, in our current culture, we see the cross as a symbol of God’s love, forgiveness, and grace. But in Christ’s time, when these words were spoken, taking up the cross meant one thing, to die a humiliating and brutally painful death. For those sentenced to death taking up their cross meant to literally carry their own torture device to the place they would be executed all while enduring public humiliation. During Christ’s time, the cross was not a symbol of hope. Since most of us will never face the literal meaning of taking up the cross, we can interpret this to mean we must be willing to surrender, a dying of self and complete surrender to Christ. Jesus continues in the next verse
“For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” Luke 9:24
Jesus was willing to suffer and die for our sins; his suffering was enough to transform our suffering into redemptive suffering. If we choose to take up our cross and surrender to Christ, then we face the real risk of public backlash. Often we will be a lone voice in a crowd whose sole objective is to avoid suffering at all cost and make life all about self. Our culture does not understand or embrace any notion of surrendering to God's will which makes it hard being Christian in our current culture. But we have to be brave and remember that no one escapes suffering in this life, whether we take up our cross or not, we cannot avoid suffering; we can only choose how we suffer.
We have been given this incredible opportunity if we are willing to let go of control, to let go of our will, to let go and let God and to take up our cross, not just when it is convenient, but daily and follow Him. Let us remember that all that we do with this Earthly life is in preparation for the very last thing we do with this Earthly life- we die. So let us follow Christ’s example and choose to unite our suffering with His and suffer with love and take comfort in Christ’s reminder
“In the world you will face persecution, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” John 16:33
To Jesus through Mary-Amelia Maness-Gilliland