Editors Note: This is the fourth of a six-part Lenten/Easter series on the “The Glory and Power of the Cross.” The articles also include discussion questions to allow them to be used in Lenten discussions groups.
Empowered to Carry a Cross. As we are praying for healing, we also face a crucial question: If I am meant to embrace this cross, will I do it out of a “noble” position of faith or through an “empowered” position of faith? There is an important distinction here: A “noble” person who accepts a cross does so with good intentions, trying his or her best not to complain or give in to self-pity. While this is the right way to embrace the cross, if it is done solely out of our own noble intentions and human strength, there will likely be some degree of discouragement, anger, or self-blame attached. After all, some crosses are downright heavy, and their burdens are just too painful to bear on our own.
This is where the “empowered” position of faith comes in. God wants to give us his own divine grace to help us embrace the crosses of life. Jesus once told St. Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” These words so moved Paul that he was able to write: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” ?(2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Embracing a cross with the help of God’s grace is quite different from nobly trying our best to accept a cross without grace. Those who embrace a cross through grace find themselves depending on God more and more each day. They find reserves of strength, trust, and surrender that they know are not their own but that come from a loving, merciful God. Rather than dwell on their own sufferings, they find themselves moved with compassion for other people, even as they themselves endure pain and difficulty. In short, they become more and more like Jesus.
This is the paradox of the cross: We accept suffering not because it is good and not because we like it but as part of our vocation as followers of Jesus Christ. These crosses can become opportunities for us to grow closer to Jesus and give him glory.
Suffering Unites Us with Jesus. Pope John Paul II gave all of us a very moving example of displaying the joy of knowing Jesus, even while suffering the pains of old age. At his last public appearance, in March of 2005, he appeared in the window of his residence in the Vatican, frail as could be, near death, and struggling to speak. No words came out, and after silently blessing the crowds gathered below, he withdrew, and the curtains were drawn. He couldn’t say a single word, yet everything in his nonverbal display showed that he wanted to encourage everyone. Watching him on that day, you could imagine him saying: “Press on. Win the race to heaven.” It was a dramatic illustration of how united he felt with all people — and how much he loved.
Throughout his life, Pope John Paul II taught that suffering unites us with Jesus. And during the last few years of his life, he lived out what he taught. In February of 1984, he issued an apostolic letter on the mystery of suffering entitled Salvific Suffering. In that letter, the Holy Father wrote in what would turn out to be a prophetic way about bearing our cross with the help of God’s grace:
“The interior maturity and spiritual greatness in suffering are certainly the result of a particular conversion and cooperation with the grace of the Crucified Redeemer. It is he himself who acts at the heart of human sufferings through … the consoling Spirit. It is he who transforms, in a certain sense, the very substance of the spiritual life, indicating for the person who suffers a place close to himself. It is he — as the interior Master and Guide—who reveals to the suffering brother and sister this wonderful interchange, situated at the very heart of the mystery of the Redemption. Suffering is, in itself, an experience of evil. But Christ has made suffering the firmest basis of the definitive good, namely the good of eternal salvation” (Salvifici Doloris , 26).
If you have been asked to carry a certain cross, by all means pray for healing or resolution. But if the cross remains, ask Jesus for his grace to help you embrace it. Know that he will come to your aid. As John Paul said, all suffering is evil. It will not be a part of the new Jerusalem when Jesus comes again. But God is able to bring good — even great blessings — out of this evil. He can teach us all how to embrace suffering in a way that draws us closer to Jesus.
So take a moment now to bless everyone you know who is carrying a heavy cross. Ask Jesus to send abundant grace to them, to help them and to bring them his peace.
(Joe Difato is the publisher of The Word Among Us devotional magazine. Many thanks to The Word Among Us (http://www.wau.org/ ) for allowing us to use his articles from their 2009 Lenten Issue. Used with permission.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion
1. The article begins by describing the difference between embracing our crosses with a “noble” position of faith versus an “empowered” position of faith. How would you describe this difference and why is it important to know it?
2. Do you feel you tend to embrace your crosses with a “noble” or “empowered” position of faith? What steps can you take to make it a more empowered position?
3. The article movingly describes how Pope John Paul II embraced his cross of suffering in his old age. In what ways did Pope John Paul II’s life and example teach us that “suffering unites us with Jesus”?
4. The article goes on to say: “If you have been asked to carry a certain cross, by all means pray for healing or resolution. But if the cross remains, ask Jesus for his grace to help you embrace it. Know that he will come to your aid. As John Paul said, all suffering is evil. It will not be a part of the new Jerusalem when Jesus comes again. But God is able to bring good — even great blessings — out of this evil. He can teach us all how to embrace suffering in a way that draws us closer to Jesus.” Romans 8:28 says that “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In what ways has God worked a good from your own sufferings?
5. The article ends with these words: “So take a moment now to bless everyone you know who is carrying a heavy cross. Ask Jesus to send abundant grace to them, to help them and to bring them his peace.” If you are in a men’s group take some time at the end of your meeting to pray for one another and for those you know who are “carrying a heavy cross”?