From the Pastor – August 28, 2011

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life.” (Mt. 16:24-26)

I spent five years of my seminary formation in Rome, studying at the Pontifical Gregorian University. During the first three years, I obtained a Bachelor in Sacred Theology, which would be similar to a Masters of Divinity. During my final two years of seminary, I spent most of my time studying canon law. Anyway, one day I was discussing the Scriptural passage above with a friend who was in advanced Scripture studies, and I asked him: “To what was Jesus referring to when he told His disciples to ”˜take up his cross.’? Since Jesus hadn’t been crucified yet, what would that phrase meant to his disciples?” My friend told me that the phrase had no “symbolic” meaning. It was a literal statement. Crucifixion was the way the Romans punished disobedience, and they forced the ones to be crucified to carry their crosses to the place where they would be crucified. “If that’s the case,” I said, “the disciples must have been shocked at the statement. “Exactly,” he said.

In many respects, our society has “drained” some of the meaning out of the expression “carrying the cross.” We live in a world where crosses are fashion accessories. Sometimes they’re diamond studded, hanging from a gold necklace. Sometimes they’re big and gold, around the neck of a rapper. I often see them on the end of Rosaries, hanging from rearview mirrors.

Think about it: if Jesus were killed today, He might be killed by lethal injection. Imagine what we would think if we saw someone wearing a syringe full of poison around their neck. When we see the cross – wherever we see it – it should cause some sort of reflection in us. A cross shouldn’t be ignored; it should remind us that Our Lord suffered in a terrible way so that death could be destroyed.

And when it comes down to it, that’s what it means to carry one’s cross. It’s to recognize that Jesus destroyed death to give us life. It’s to recognize that voluntarily embracing suffering is to unite ourselves to Christ so that we might share abundantly in Heaven. “Carrying one’s cross” means to willfully suffer, whether by graciously bearing illness, by accepting criticism, or by voluntarily denying ourselves the things of the world.

We might not get literally crucified in this life, but our willing embrace of life’s difficulties helps us to understand the true meaning of the Cross of Christ.

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty