I Couldn’t Understand the Cross Until Jesus Explained It to Me
For years I struggled with the message, until I heard him speak …
FEBRUARY 11, 2016
Thus the Cross of Christ is God’s judgement on all of us and on the whole world, because through it he offers us the certitude of love and new life.—Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 21
Then he said to all, if anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me—Luke 9:23
I’ve spent the past few years trying to articulate both in my mind and on paper the message of the cross. A difficult endeavor. (Just ask my poor husband, Mark, who’s had to hash this subject out with me multiple times.)
But it wasn’t until I knelt at Mass praying that I heard the Lord speak directly to me on the subject.
“What is the message of the cross, Lord?” I asked silently as I meditated upon the life-sized, very real looking corpus hanging above the altar.
“Take courage, I have overcome the world!” I heard the Lord speak so clearly that my eyes welled with tears. I took out my journal and quickly wrote it down so I would not forget. Please, Lord, help me to remember.
It’s easy to forget that Jesus has overcome the world when we regularly bump up against the reality of suffering in life. Clearly, Jesus’ “overcoming” the world did not mean that he eradicated sin and its temporal consequences — suffering and death — from this planet. In fact, immediately before Jesus told his disciples that he has overcome the world, he spoke the words that every human being knows are all too true: “In the world you will have trouble” (John 17:33).
If Jesus didn’t eliminate the troubles of this world, particularly the dreaded human experiences of suffering and death, then how did he overcome the world? By giving those difficult earthly realities — and this is the message of the cross — an entirely new meaning.
In and through the cross, suffering, which the world views as an enemy to be avoided at all costs, becomes a pathway to holiness and deep intimacy with God as it strips us of ourselves and turns us toward him. Death, which is seen through carnal eyes as the ultimate curse and loss, is transformed into the sacred threshold of eternal life and the door to ecstatic communion with God. The most confounding human troubles, which appear to be worthy only of avoidance, become the very means by which we are able to enter into communion with God. The world’s understanding of these hard realities is turned on its head. Christ overcomes the world through his death and resurrection — and through all suffering and death united to his — making them a life-giving offering. That is the message of the cross.
Our human tendency is to shun the cross, and I’ve done plenty of that. Yet Jesus tells us to deny ourselves that urge, to take up our cross and follow him. Taking up the cross doesn’t mean that we run around looking for trouble or asking for more of it. That’s unnecessary. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:34). It does mean that when the cross presents itself in our lives, we ask God for the grace to turn toward it and embrace it with courage; that is, with heart. We trust God’s grace to strengthen us unto endurance, and with each new challenge to give us more strength, so that, one day — maybe today — we may run this race with ease.
The message of the cross is foolishness to the world, but it is the power of God to those who are being saved (1 Cor. 1:18). A heavenly perspective seen only with the eyes of faith, made possible only through the reality of Christ’s bleeding grace.
Judy Landrieu Klein is an author, theologian, inspirational speaker, widow and newlywed whose book, Miracle Man, was an Amazon Kindle Bestseller in Catholicism. Her blog, “Holy Hope,” can be found at MemorareMinistries.com.
Father Barney told a story in Mass this morning. It was about a man who was in a terrible car accident.
The man awoke several days later and discovered that he couldn’t move his feet, his legs, his arms, his head. He couldn’t move anything. The doctors explained that his spinal cord had been severed and that he was completely paralyzed and would be for the remainder of his life. He could see and hear and that was it. His ability to speak was gone. Even his ability to breathe on his own.
At first, everyone came to visit him. But over time most of them began to fade away. Even visits from his wife and children became less and less frequent. They had their lives to live. It was just too hard to sit with someone they knew was so unhappy, too awkward trying to communicate.
The man sunk into a deep depression. All he could do was think about what he had lost.
Late one night, an angel of the Lord visited the man. “The Lord has sent me to heal you,” the angel announced. He touched the man’s forehead and disappeared. Instantly, the man could feel that he was healed. He could move. He sat up in bed and pulled the respirator tube out of his mouth and began to breathe. He climbed out of bed and nearly ran from the room, laughing and crying at the same time.
“Now,” Father Barney asked us, “who do you think would be the happiest man in world?”
Everyone in the congregation knew the answer: That’s easy! It would obviously be this man. He would be overjoyed that he could breathe and talk and walk and experience life. Obviously, he would be the happiest man in the world!
Then Father Barney tossed the spiritual hand grenade: “But you can do all these things,” he said. “You can breathe and talk and walk and experience life. So why aren’t you the happiest man in the world? Why aren’t you the happiest woman in the world?”
What’s the answer?
“The man in the story is happy,” Father Barney explained, “because he is aware of what he has been given. He’sgrateful. I think we could almost say that gratitude is the very key to happiness. Most of us aren’t happy enough because we aren’t grateful enough.”
At this point Jesus might have said to the crowds, “Let him who has eyes to see, see. Let him who has ears to hear, hear.”
What the Lord said to me as I walked out of Mass into a beautiful sunny morning in Ventura County, CA, blue skies overhead, car keys in my pocket and money to buy a cup of coffee on my way to the office, was more along the lines of: “If the shoe fits, wear it.”
How should we deal with difficult people?
By: Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP
Some people in our lives may be difficult simply because they challenge us. Or they may be difficult because they are different. Or they may be difficult because we live with them (and close proximity amplifies foibles). Or they may be difficult because we are difficult and something about us just rubs them the wrong way.
Or they may just be difficult.
Regardless, by growing in holiness we can learn to accept the inconvenient, the incongruent and the bothersome (people and events) in our life not just as necessary nuisances but as gifts.
Heather King writes:
[W]hen we are open and receptive to all the world has to offer, and all the world has to teach us, then everything becomes illuminated from within.
Then we see that everything is, or can be, connected to our quest for beauty and order. Everything “belongs”: old dolls, decrepit diaries, discarded buttons. Difficult people.
Seeing difficult people in such a positive light seems like a tall order. But we can start by learning to deal with other people in a Christ-like way.
Scripture teaches us some ways that Jesus dealt with difficult people:
- Jesus Asks Questions: In Chapter 12 of Luke, Jesus is asked to settle a family dispute and basically responds, “Who do you think I am, Judge Judy?” (a loose translation). It is interesting to note that Jesus asksa lotof questions in Scripture. Jesus’ questions were sometimes rhetorical, or challenging, and at other times he was also seeking feedback. By using questions, Jesus emphasizes his openness to the other person.
It is funny, but we humans tend not to ask a lot of questions. We assume, we pontificate, we lecture, we observe, we interrupt and we judge. But we rarely make it a point to ask other people questions. In using questions frequently, I think Jesus is modeling the behavior of a good communicator, one who cares about the other person enough to engage with them and challenge them. Even, and perhaps especially, when they are being difficult.
- Jesus Is Never Cornered: In Chapter 6 of Luke, Jesus is taking a Sabbath stroll with his disciples and the Pharisees pop up out of nowhere and accuse them of breaking the Sabbath by picking grain. Jesus is unflustered. He is never scared of the people who try to slip him up or think the worst of him, because what other people think is not his focus.
Sometimes people corner us with their assumptions and judgments and we can begin to wonder if the way they see us is more objective than how we see ourselves. It is hard when we feel like others misunderstand us or do not take the time to get to know us before judging. But, like Jesus, we do not have to feel defined by the projections of other people. Our identity resides and is found in God, not in what other people try to push on us.
- Jesus Knows When to Ignore: Remember that time when Jesus ticks off all of his former neighbors and friends in his hometown of Nazareth? They are so worked up that they decide to throw him off a cliff. Jesus, seeing that there is no reasoning with these people, walks through the crowd, ignores their rage, and “went on his way” (Luke 4).
Sometimes difficult people throw tantrums, speak harshly or treat us in an abusive way (this happens online all the time). This is the cue to disengage and walk away. Jesus knew how to keep his blood pressure in check and his eyes on the prize. Of course, if we have to deal assertively with someone who does this in person, a face-to-face discussion might help. Later.
- Jesus Is Not Defensive: In Chapter 10 of Mark, James and John say to Jesus: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Wow. Talk about overstepping boundaries! But Jesus is not codependent, so neediness and boundary crossing is not threatening to him. He knows when to say no and when to say yes and does not beat himself up when he doesn’t make other people happy.
Sometimes people can demand more from us than what we can give them. They may try to sway us with guilt trips. Before we know it we find ourselves bending over backward trying to satisfy a needy or aggressive person (who is rarely satisfied!). But Jesus does not try to people please. Jesus does not need to protect himself from other people; God’s will is enough security. This is where his non-defensiveness comes from.
- Jesus Is Flexible: In Matthew 15, a Canaanite woman demands that Jesus heal his daughter and Jesus says no. But then he is moved by the woman’s response of faith and heals her daughter. Jesus approaches others with an open mind. Even when he had preconceived notions, he allowed the Spirit to move him and go against his instincts.
When a difficult person approaches us, we may think, Oh great, here we go again, or I know how this will go, but Jesus kept an open mind when he was approached by others. You never know. The Spirit may move you, or the person who is normally difficult, to act in a different, unexpected way. Being closed to others closes us to the Holy Spirit who is working in us and in the other person.
Jesus, help me see you in everyone, even the people who challenge me. Light me up with your radiant love so that I may see you even in the most difficult of people. Every human being is made in your image. Help me to recognize you and love you in them.
Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, is the author of The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. She recently pronounced her first vows with the Daughters of Saint Paul. She blogs at Pursued by Truth.