Then he said to all, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?" — Luke 9:23-25.
Historically, Catholics have done a magnanimous job of carrying their crosses. So much so that we have often overlooked, or underplayed, the glory of the Cross as witnessed in the Resurrection. But today, even Catholics, vigilant carriers of the cross, are succumbing to New Age teachings that deny the necessity of such an action; of carrying a cross. New Age thinking has infiltrated the staunchest of our pews and Catholics everywhere are abandoning Christ's call to pick up our crosses in favor of some New Age "Secret" that purportedly reveals the underpinnings of the Universe (New Age capitalization, not mine). If, after all, we have a choice to carry a cross and unite our sufferings with Christ, versus abandoning our crosses to fill our lives with untold riches, health, and well-being, well, who wouldn't opt for the Universe's treasures? I would. In fact, not doing so has become a whole new cross for me bear.
But why shouldn't we pursue such a glorious life experience? Doesn't God "want" us to be rich and healthy and happy?
"And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?" — Luke 11:9-13
Catholics have always understood that all good things come from God in heaven; not from the Universe with a capital "u." We have followed His word and petitioned Him through His Son, understanding Christ as the way to the Father. We have venerated His saints and made use of novenas. We have honored Mary and prayed for the souls in purgatory. And yet our lives haven't always been a beacon of prosperity that the world clamored to emulate. Many people have looked at us and thought, "Those things don't seem to be working. I think I'll try something else." And that's fine. We have always known that to be set aside is to live in the knowledge that His ways are not our ways; that His plans are for our good. We only have to look at Job for confirmation of God's sovereignty.
But when New Age thinking pokes its nose around in our dogmas and edicts, we begin to wonder, "Why am I suffering when Ralph, over there, isn't?" A door is opened and a nagging takes hold as we continue to lament the difficulties in our lives. We wonder, "How beneficial is this cross I continue to carry?" We ask ourselves, "Would it be so bad to put it aside and join my fellow man in petitioning the Universe for just a small share of its treasures?"
If we are not careful, the entire camel will soon be in the tent. Our rituals and customs begin to seem archaic and we long for the excitement and appeal of the New Age thinkers. We want to hear, know, and experience the secrets of the Universe and are tempted, just as Eve was in the garden, to take but a small bite of the shining apple. The message taunts us, "Doesn't your God want you to be rich and healthy and happy?"
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." — Luke 22:42
Would I say that I serve a God who wants me to be rich and healthy and happy? I would. And yet I would quickly follow up with the clarification that I believe I serve a God who knows what is best for me. Jesus Himself uttered the words which gave us the perfect example of living life for God. He let us know where the ultimate authority was found and that our petitions, while valid and valuable, are to take second place to God's will. If we live with the realization that everything we do and experience has merit for His kingdom, then we live righteous lives for Him. God bestows righteousness as a gracious gift, given not because of our meritorious nature but because of His great love for us. Sidestepping crosses that we are able, or meant, to bear for His kingdom would be detrimental indeed. St. Paul recognized the value of pain and suffering in that it allowed him to empty himself of self and in such serve Christ more fully, more completely.
"Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple" — Luke 14:27.
It bears repeating and that is why Christ said it again: We must carry our cross to be a disciple of Christ's. He does not mince words or offer parables on this matter. He doesn't want a case of mistaken understanding to be our downfall. He says, "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple." Words that are in direct opposition to the New Age thinking that the world is filled with treasures for our taking and that with enough concentration, imagination, and focused thinking we become creators of our own reality. No room for crosses to bear in this philosophy. No wise acquiescence to God's will.
This isn't to say that the world isn't filled with God's treasures, because it is! But they belong to Him and are His for the giving; not ours for the taking. While we are able to work diligently towards earthly goals, and God is often a willing and wonderful partner for these goals, we are still, nonetheless, at His mercy. He is not called to do our bidding, but rather we are called to do His.
Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build — Psalm 127:19.
It is clearly an unpopular idea that without the Lord, we labor in vain. That cuts the New Age philosophy to the core. It reduces our role to less than the sovereign masters of our own destiny, an unthinkable position for a New-Ager to take. It indicates a reliance on God. And not just any god; not whatever god I imagine, but the God. This doesn't mean that we can't labor without God, or that such labors won't produce success. Some of these New Age bags of tricks are sold by people dripping with worldly wealth and rolling in worldly success. They often suggest that everything fell into place for them because they came into "harmony with the Universe." But did not satan (now there's a name I won't capitalize) tempt Christ with riches and glory and honor? The evil one was more than willing to deliver to Christ a bag of goods that did not come from God. He hasn't changed his tricks. The Secret is one shiny, appealing apple.
Rely on the mighty Lord; constantly seek his face — Psalm 105:4.