I often do things backward. In my spiritual life, I was a Protestant first and a Catholic last. I was my own personal Counter-Reformation.
One April morning, Palm Sunday in 1976, my wife and I raised our hands in response to a pastor’s challenge to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. That was how they did it in the church I’d attended for the first time that day. The pastor preached a sermon on some Biblical topic he deemed pertinent, offered up the opportunity to become a christian, and invited you to come forward. Yes, that’s right. On our first day in that church, Liz and I walked to the front, stood before the congregation, and repeated a prayer that was promised to change our lives.
Now, having embraced Catholicism, I see the “altar call” event differently. But, truth be told, that simple prayer did it’s job. From that day forward the two of us have walked a path that has immersed us deeply into the love of God. It changed our lives immediately and continues to do so daily.
That Tuesday, the pastor surprised us with a knock on our door. He wanted to follow up with us about our decision. He wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing and he wanted to give us a framework for our new lives as Christians. He told us about tithing! and he told us that Jesus had called each of us to take up our cross and follow him.
The carrying of our own cross was a topic this pastor, as well as other pastors in my life, revisited often. Mostly, it was an explanation for why Christians still suffered. You have cancer? That’s your cross to bear. Unemployed? Your cross to bear. Cranky mother-in-law? It was that cross again.
Somehow, it seemed to me to be too tidy an explanation. First, My life was pretty good. We always had enough money, no one had cancer, none of our children were in jail. My mother-in-law passed away before we met. All in all, our lives were perfect. I had no cross to bear. It took me years of Christianity to really bring the cross to bear issue into focus for my life. When I did, I wondered how those explanations could be true. Why would we carry our own crosses if Jesus had told us to cast all our burdens upon Him? seemed to me that carrying our cross must mean something else.
After going through RCIA and being received into the Church, I settled into a Jesuit serviced parish. And, not long after that, the carrying of my cross took on a clearer meaning.
I began to see that Jesus, through the Incarnation, placed Himself into total conformity with the Father. Everywhere He went, to everyone he spoke, he spoke the will and the words of the Father. He continued this conformity to the Father’s will right up until His death. His death on the cross. Jesus’ cross to bear, pictured by the wooden one, was His willingness to be conformed to the will of the Father. Ours, the, is to be conformed into the will of Jesus Christ.
That’s why the decisions we make are so important in our daily lives. They are our cross to bear. Can we look on immigrants with disdain? We cannot. To do so would put us in nonconformity with Jesus. Can we walk past the beggar? Can we call political candidates vile names? Can we hate someone based on the color of their skin? Their gender? Their sexual preference? Can we label an entire religious group terrorists? Can we look the other way when we see someone being bullied?
Of course we can’t. We must respond in a way that conforms us into the will of Jesus. We must do it in a way that reflects the love of our Lord. We do that because we are the salt of the earth, the light upon a hill. We do it because it is our cross to bear.