How many crosses do you carry? And I am not talking about the jewelry you wear, the rosary in your pocket, or possibly the tattoo on your body. I mean the spiritual, sacrificial hardships that are uniquely yours to bear. Is there more than one? Or does it change as your spirituality grows?
Luke’s gospel (9:23) records Jesus indicating the call of discipleship is for us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross daily, and follow Him. While many, especially in our modern culture of “me,” would think that the cross Catholics are called to carry is the denial of putting ourselves first, in reality the crosses we are meant to carry can many times be categorized as a weakness towards sin. Even St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians acknowledges the thorn of the flesh he was given. (2 Cor 12:7). For some of us it may be an addictive pattern, for others it may gossip or judging others. Although we may share the same inclinations with another, how we handle ourselves and address our weakness is unique to each individual.
Life is ever changing. If we focus on one particular area in our life to improve, it often seems that we falter in other multiple areas. Then as we shift our focal point to those other problem areas, the original element of focus ends up back in the same way prior to trying to fix it. Some may call it an endless battle and eventually give up. Yet Jesus didn’t indicate that we only needed to pick up one cross (or needed to pick it up once) but rather daily; that thought alone can be overwhelming. When we notice ourselves falling back into a pattern of sinful behavior, it is a golden opportunity to lean on Jesus and also the saints and angels for assistance. Just like Simon the Cyrenian helped Jesus carry His cross, Jesus does not abandon us to our own devices unless we specifically push Him away. Some days the weight of our cross can feel like it’s about to crush us, on other days it could simply be an annoying inconvenience. Our journey with our crosses span the length of our lives and it’s how we embrace certain moments of spiritual exercise overall that will determine our success.
Not all crosses we bear are a direct reflection of our actions. Illness, separation, or death can also be burdens that challenge our spiritual journey. Yet these, too, are temporary and do not define our spiritual lives. They can ultimately bring us closer to God and others as we navigate our way through these times.
It can be easy to look at others and be thankful that we don’t have the crosses they bear. Comparing our crosses to theirs may not only minimize the severity of ours in our minds, but can also minimize the impact and effect of addressing the weaknesses we do have. But venial sins can stack up quickly. Minimizing the impact of our actions can lead us dangerously into the sin of pride, as evidenced by the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). We also need to be cautious not to “decorate” our crosses just so that others can see what we are dealing with.
We can’t choose which cross we want to pick up, but we are asked to acknowledge our cross (or crosses) and daily pick them (all) up with the Lord’s assistance. Carrying this burden sensitizes us to have compassion for others. Yet we don’t just pick it up and hold it; we carry it and follow Jesus. He has shown us that even when we fall, we need to rise up again and continue in the path He has made with His cross – all the way through to the resurrection.