“The Cross marks out the militant dimension of our existence. With the cross, it is impossible to negotiate. The cross is either embraced or rejected. If we embrace the cross, then by that very decision, we lose our life. We leave it in the hands of God. If we decide to reject it, our lives are left in our own hands, encased in the petty confines of our short horizons,” Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus, by Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis).
Those words reflect a powerful mind, informed with a deeply lived faith and an apostolic heart. I believe, if you want to understand Pope Francis, you need to get this book.
That quote was a paraphrase, by the way. I need to get my hands on the book myself. I copied those words down several times during my lenten retreat last weekend. Every time the retreat master repeated them, at the beginning of each meditation, they resonated more and more deeply in me, and I kept thinking, “I’ve got to get that exact quote!” Didn’t get it when I had the chance, so that’s it — I’m buying the book!
*[Note: Rober Bruckner gives the full quote in a comment below. Thanks Robert!]
I hope you don’t mind that brief endorsement, based solely on my still glowing post-retreat fervor. If there’s only one thing you do this Lent, embrace the cross!
There really is only one way to identify with Christ, and that is through his cross. Every word of the Gospel calls us to the reality of Christ’s sacrifice, a reality that we as Christians are all called to assimilate.
We often hear talk about doing more for the poor. We may even hear ourselves saying it: “What’s being done to help the poor?” When I hear the talk, I hesitate to ask, are you walking the walk?
Those words are far more difficult to hear and accept than the mere reminder that there are people who suffer far worse than we’ve ever experienced — we and our first world problems. But every Christian has to accept those words — talk the talk and walk the walk — just as we must accept and embrace the cross. The difficult reality to accept and live is this: if we share the cross of Christ, we must share all of his suffering.
When we open our eyes to it, we quickly recognize the cross in every corner of our lives. In the face of this reality, there are only two options, and we must chose: we can choose to shun it or embrace it. Whether we realize it or not, we make that choice every day of our lives, all the time.
The season of Lent is the opportunity for us to reflect on how we make this choice and on how we will choose differently, or better, from now on. The prayer, sacrifice, and almsgiving we should intensify during this penitential season is how we make it real.
I can sacrifice more of my time. Instead of watching so much TV or distracting myself with social media, I can give more of my time to others.
I can sacrifice more of my material possessions. By getting by with less of the things I don’t need, I’ll have more to offer to those who don’t have what they need to get by.
I can sacrifice my self-love. When I turn my heart and mind to the spiritual and material needs of others in prayer, I am forming the heart and mind of Christ within me. I will be more prone to see Christ in my brothers and sisters and moved to be more responsible toward them.
But there is no sacrifice without the shedding of blood. When we offer the short amount of time God gives us each day and give to others from our own means, we must take away from things we’ve worked hard to achieve. We should feel the pinch when this happens. That is what makes it a sacrifice. And you know when you experience that pinch and you accept it, you are accepting the cross of Christ. You accept his suffering by uniting yours with his and with others who suffer. You become a true suffering servant, like Christ.
As a Christian, that is what you ought to be. Do you realize this?
In one word, this is how we are called to live our Christian faith: Embrace the Cross of Christ. Embrace it!