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.