The truth (very well-known to Padre Pio, to Saint Therese and to countless others) is that Christ did not make Christianity easy and plainly said so. He made very clear that we, redeemed by His cross at the price of suffering, shame and death must be ready, whenever asked, to pay whatever suffering, shame and death He in His wisdom will want to allot to us. We are saved by His Cross, but on the condition of being willing to carry, whenever asked, the cross that He will pose on our shoulder. He took the Cross first, we take it from Him in the measure inscrutably chosen by Him. He loved us carrying the Cross, we love Him by carrying His cross in the measure requested from us. Our love for the Lord is not only in enjoying His gifts, but also in sharing His sufferance. We can’t take the pleasant part and just pretend that the unpleasant one will disappear or that it has never existed. If you love, you suffer with the beloved. No amount of self-delusion will take the chalice – lovingly prepared for us, so that we may lovingly share His sufferance – away from us.
Jesus said: “If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”. He didn’t say “If any man will follow me, let him express whatever wish he has and believe in it and I will invariably deliver his wildest dreams”. And what he said, he said publicly, emphatically directing his attention to the general public around him. This is clearly a public warning that even with Redemption paid for us and Salvation in our reach, it won’t be a walk in the park just because we wish it.
This was, once, common Catholic knowledge. The suffering of saintly lives was stressed and honoured. Suffering was constantly remembered in daily prayers (“…. to thee do we send our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears”); the Passion was known to every faithful, literate or not, in minute details through the Stations of the Cross; the Seven Sorrows of Mary had the clear aim of uniting ourselves with Mary’s and Christ’s suffering, and so on. In a word, the reality of suffering was not just wished away and subsequently ignored, but was embraced as a way to grow, and an extremely efficient one at that. Not much of this has remained today. Today, you go to a Mass with a liberal priest and he is even ashamed to remind his audience that yes, they’ll have to give back the spoon one day.
It is better to say the one or other charitable word to the people around us who might happen to regurgitate erroneous concepts, than to have them utterly crushed when the test, invariably, arrives.
In these times of “Christianity by hearsay” it is all too frequent to find people whose concept of Christianity is rooted in deep error; or better said, in ignorance leading to error. We see them around us all the time in form of friends, acquaintances and colleagues. This post is devoted to saying a couple of words on the concepts of “taking up the Cross”.
It is a sad reality of our day that either vaguely “new age” ideas or analogous “prosperity Gospel” concepts find their way to the minds of Catholics through popular books. Which is no surprise if you consider that upon entering every “Waterstone’s” in London you will be confronted with a “gay and lesbian” section but the “Christianity” section will be underdeveloped, mainly filled with popular let-us-make-things-easy-for-ourselves, so-called “self-help” book and a sad joke as far as Catholicism is concerned.
The casual client browsing through a modern bookstore’s shelves will not easily find books who properly explain the Catholic view of “taking up the cross”. Rather, they will easily find books that subscribe either to one of the many “law of attraction” variations or to some variant of the so-called “prosperity Gospel”. Both of them (particularly the former) have a fundamental concept in common: that God is willing to make your sojourn on earth pretty much of a paradise, if you but allow him to do it. Here we see the clear desire to expunge the uncomfortable news and focus only on the good part. Unfortunately for us, it doesn’t work in this way.
Firstly, the idea that God wants everyone to be healthy and prosperous (and prosperous, and prosperous to boot; and did I mention prosperous?) is in marked contrast with the most obvious experience of the human condition, filled with people who were extremely saintly without ever being healthy, let alone prosperous. Saint Padre Pio or St. Therese of Lisieux come to mind, but you’ll certainly have many other examples. Therefore, this theory implies that these saintly people had it all wrong and – what is worse – just couldn’t see how wrong they were so that they could help others. Ah, they reason, if only padre Pio had come to the conclusion that he only had to attract health! How many people he would have been able to help, and a saintly man like him would have been given the most wonderful clinical record ever, just for the asking! Alas, these people should read a bit about Padre Pio, or St. Therese. If they did, they would know what bearing the cross means.
Secondly, the theory is an obvious post hoc, ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. Let us say that one thousand people dream of becoming, one day, a billion-dollar-heavy TV presenter and producer. They all try with the same passion, positive energy and unrelenting optimism. They are all equally persuaded that they will succeed. In time, nine hundred and ninety-nine fail to achieve the objective and their lives go along different rails, in which by the way they may find their true happiness. The one-thousandth is a lady called Oprah Winfrey who, after the fact, starts to subscribe to the idea that the simple fact that she wanted to be extremely successful and accepted this as a given started a chain of events which then led her to the “attracted” result of becoming a billionaire. This is the same as the one winning the jackpot at the lottery maintaining that he did so because he drunk skinny caramel latte at Starbuck’s every second Tuesday of the months ending with “er”.
Of course this doesn’t mean that we must go around expecting disgraces, or even wishing them. It is good to have a fundamentally healthy outlook on life and joy, and enthusiasm and faith in the Lord will – if this is God’s will, and with the assistence of our Guardian Angels and of all those in Heaven we will ask to help us – clear a great deal of obstacles from our way and open the way to all the graces God will deem fit to bestow on us (the one or the other might, by her effort and the grace of God, even become a billion-dollar-heavy Tv presenter and producer….). But this doesn’t mean becoming a Pollyanna, or rationalising every problem a posteriori by saying ourselves that in some strange way – and unknown to us?! – we must, truly must have attracted that truck coming straight against our bonnet….
END OF PART ONE…..