Embracing the Cross

By Theresa Matula

What do you do when you are at a crossroad facing a decision between the temporary pleasures of this world and the permanent lasting happiness that Christ won for you through the cross?

If you are a Christian, the answer is obvious.

Give up your comfort, give up your power and positions in this world, and run to the foot of the Cross. Well, not literally. Spiritually speaking, give everything you do to Him. Choose the Cross for this world, and in the next you will be fulfilled with the promise of everlasting life.

Unfortunately, even though we know the path that Jesus says is best for us, sometimes choosing it is not the easiest thing to do. Often, there are roadblocks standing between us and the Cross. Because we cannot see beyond them, or perhaps because we cannot even comprehend what the Cross has won for us, we seldom trust that there is anything beyond the earthly pleasures before us. In order to choose the Cross of this world, we have to first remove what is standing in our way.

We must have faith throughout the journey that beyond the roadblocks, beyond the small crosses that Christ bears with us on our journey, and ultimately beyond the Cross that Christ bore for us, is lasting happiness in heaven with Jesus.

Our goal is to get there.

But how do we get there?

The roadblocks that typically stand between us and Christ are everything we’ve ever wanted. They are also visible and physically present to us in this world unlike the promise of everlasting life which we cannot visibly see before us yet.

Perhaps a roadblock is a dream job? Perhaps it is your boyfriend or your girlfriend? Perhaps it is money? Perhaps it is a position of high standing? Perhaps it is fame?

All these things are good, but only if they are ordered towards helping us reach full communion with Christ. If they are holding us back and preventing us from reaching our final destination, the pursuit of them is disordered. If they are leading us to sin, then they are absolutely a roadblock that stands between us and Christ.

Perhaps they are well-intentioned people who tell us that we will be happier with worldly pleasures? Perhaps they are vices or attachments to sins in our life that we don’t want to let go? Perhaps they are pressures from secular media or the world’s idea of perfect?

Needless to say, whatever it is that is standing between us and our faith, it will be perfect, that is, perfect according to the world’s idea of perfect.

As Christians, however, we must reach beyond the world’s standard and grasp for what is truly good. We must strive for what is good for our soul, not just our bodies.

For the human person, this is truly a burden— a cross so to speak— but when united to the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made on the Cross for us, our burden becomes light, our soul is refreshed in the furnace so to speak, and our hearts are made ready to meet the King.

To gain the everlasting joy that Jesus promises us in heaven, we must embrace the Cross, and through this Cross, turn to Christ. Next, we must order our desires and our actions towards what can help us get to heaven.

Everything else that is unnecessary must be removed, especially the roadblocks. Once removed, we will be able to get to know Jesus much better.

At the end of the day, He is the Way. He is the Truth. Everything He teaches us through the Church is for our benefit, and like a Father anxiously awaiting His children, He is there to clear the road for us if we only give Him the opportunity.

Then Jesus said to his disciples “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Matthew 16:24-26
Happy Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross!

Pierced and Poured Out

One Thursday evening, my friend and I enjoyed the leftovers of my grief, a meal that both fills and depletes you. I let the words out before finishing my plate, “My heart has been pierced.”

My friend inquired, “How do you do it? How do you keep showing up with your heart? I admire you for being so vulnerable and real. But also, I just don’t get it. You somehow still choose to trust, to leap and fall, even after you’ve hit the ground.

I looked down at my cup of tea, which was now more a collection of my tears than green leaves. Turning towards the image of the Sacred Heart, I smiled with tired eyes and said, “I had a fight with Mama Mary about this actually. I told her I was done and couldn’t take any more of this pain. I begged her to take my heart away. But she told me it is better to have a heart pieced, rather than no heart at all.”

There was a silence that followed this disclosure, and my heart was comforted by the company of a fellow overthinker. I paused before admitting out loud, “My biggest fear is being buried alive.” At this rather abrupt confession, we both shared an amused burst of laughter before I continued, “C.S. Lewis writes about a heart that is no longer penetrable. It is a heart no longer open to love, scared of rejection, and thus in a constant state of avoiding anything that could make it vulnerable. This kind of heart spends its life in hiding to stay safe, yet it is practically buried in a protective case made up of its own fear.”

Again, we sat in silence as we let the candle dance and burn. 

After a moment, I admitted, “That is much worse: to be buried alive in a coffin of my own fears of loss and rejection. I would much rather be fully alive in the feelings of joy and love, which do inevitably come with the cost of accepting pain. As my dear Brother Titus reminds me:

God gives us roses because He loves us, and thorns because He loves us more.

The kind of lover I want to be is one who does not take offense, but takes every opportunity to learn how to better serve the other person,” I continued. “This love shows up without an agenda. Rather, it becomes purer as it seeks only to give and never to take. I am not perfect at this love and there are many areas in my heart, which desperately need His Refining Mercy. We are not ever going to perfectly love one another. It is only to the capacity of our reception of His Love that we are then able to share Pure Love with each other. A heart that is closed cannot receive and likewise cannot share the gift of its Maker’s Love. That is why we must stay open, pierced and poured out, if we are striving to live in the Image of Our Creator.”

Upon further reflection beyond the setting of dinner with my companion, I came to the conclusion that perhaps it is better to be left hanging, just as Our Lord was left on the Cross… hanging and poured out, pierced and abandoned, loved by only His Mother and dearest friend—this was somehow the chosen vocation for God’s Beloved Son. And so, am I, His Beloved Daughter, not also called to the same fate? Are we not all called to be in His Family, carrying out His Legacy of sacrificial love?