Sometimes, it seems like the weight of all our difficulties will crush us. Last Friday, I shared some of my recent challenges with my spiritual director. His response affirmed my general feeling: “Wow. That’s heavy!”
When we consider the central teaching and central action of our Christian faith, we clearly see that struggle is inherent in our Christian way of life:
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Lk 9:23)
Our ‘cross’ means our suffering. When a convicted criminal carried his cross, he could not drop the cross and run. The cross was his, and he must carry it. Similarly, suffering is a reality in our lives. We may run from it, but we cannot escape it. Remember, too: This is not God’s invention. Suffering is evil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that suffering is a result of original sin (cf. no. 418).
Why, then, does the Son of God tell his disciples to accept and carry such evil?
We find the answer in Jesus’ Cross. His Cross was placed on his shoulders, bringing the worst imaginable suffering, due to the worst of evils. Yet, Jesus’ Cross was transformed by grace into something that brought about the greatest good: salvation; healing and eternal life for all who accept these gifts. Do we realize that our suffering, too, can be transformed by God? This is why Saint Paul teaches, “God brings all things to good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Rm 8:28). In other words, our daily cross-carrying can actually help Jesus save the world. Sin and suffering may be present, but with our help, God can make even those miserable, ugly things work for good.
But, how can anything good come from this? Cross-carrying is exhausting! Sometimes, gasping for air, we look up to Heaven wondering, “God, how can I keep going?”
Jesus says: Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mt. 11:28-30)
Notice that in this oft-quoted Scripture passage, Jesus does not say, I’ll take that yoke from you; you don’t have to carry anything. No. Instead of throwing away our burden, Jesus says: I will offer you a different yoke; a different instrument to carry this burden. When you accept my yoke, I will carry the load with you. Learn from me, and your burden will become light.
What is Jesus’ instrument to carry burdens? What is this mysterious instrument which transforms heavy loads into light loads? Saint Jean-Marie Vianney explained, “The good God does not require of us the martyrdom of the body; He requires only the martyrdom of the heart, and of the will.” Jesus’ instructions were important: We must first deny ourselves. When we deny ourselves of the desire to control our lives, this is called “denying ourselves.” Jesus did this, too. He prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” First, we must hand over control of our lives to Jesus. Then, we learn from him.
How did Jesus teach us to carry our burden? Jesus carried his Cross with love. He did not complain. He did not feel sorry for himself. He did not look for someone to blame. He just loved. He carried that Cross, loving every person he encountered. He carried the Cross loving you. Love is the instrument Jesus gives us, which turns heavy burdens into light ones. From Jesus, we learn to love.
Jesus, when my cross seems too heavy, send your Holy Spirit to show me how to deny myself. Teach me to give you control. Then, teach me to carry my cross fueled by love. Remind me that Our Father will transform my cross into something good and light, if I deny myself and carry everything with love.
Would you like a weekend to learn about lightening your burdens and becoming free from their weight? We invite all women to our fifteenth annual Catholic Women’s Conference in San Antonio, Sept. 9-10, 2016. The theme: “Come to me…” Men, mark your calendar for March 18, 2017, the Catholic Men’s Conference. Especially for seniors, the Catholic Seniors’ Conference will uplift you February 4, 2017.