The experience of carrying the processional cross at a recent funeral for one of the sisters in my religious community was a powerful one for me. Although I was not experienced at the task, our Sister Superior had called and asked me if I would do it. Honored, but unsure, I agreed.
On the morning of the funeral, I headed to the chapel to get the processional cross ready before Mass. I wanted to do a good job, to hold the cross properly and at the right height. I also wanted to have a good hold on the cross so it wouldn’t slip down while I was carrying it ahead of the casket.
The experience of holding, even grasping, the cross was touching to me. It inspired me, especially during Lent, that this is a metaphor for what I should be doing in my daily life.
As much as we may wish it were escapable, there is no getting away from the cross in our lives. Whether it’s a conflict at work, a struggle with one’s spouse, or any number of challenges, the cross is a Christian’s frequent companion. Really, no human being is exempt from suffering.
Luke’s Gospel inserts the word “daily” in its reference to taking up the cross. It is a daily thing. The cross, in one shape or form, is there to meet us each time the sun comes up over the horizon (or even before). It is universal. Suffering is part of our human condition. We may struggle with a troublesome neighbor who puts his leaves over on our side of the fence or be facing the diagnosis of a serious chronic illness. The cross is there. The important thing is how we choose to deal with it. We can try to try to hide from it or complain, or we can take it up with care.
The inspired writer to the Hebrews refers to the Christian life as “running the race” and encourages us to do so with “our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
In taking up our cross, we are not alone. We do it for love of the One who goes before us, who first took His cross up out of love for His Father and each of us. On Good Friday, Jesus suffered so much for us, never complaining. He did not exhort us to carry the cross without doing so Himself. We reflect on this especially during these holy days, but we would do well to remember it throughout the year.
Carrying the cross at a Sister’s funeral was a reminder to me to embrace my own cross. Recent challenges related to my work duties and my convictions, needing to be an unpopular voice for change, had been very difficult for me. I needed to keep my eyes on Jesus and take up the cross, difficult as it may be, each day for love of Him.
The deep suffering brought me to cling to Christ as I never had before. These trials certainly were not my first experience of the cross; I have known others. Born with a vision impairment, I faced my share of teasing and mistreatment from my peers in grade school. Looking back on these experiences of the cross, however, I am touched at how much I have gained from them. If I had not faced this as a child, I would not have grown into the person I am today. And I would not have the empathy that I now have for those less fortunate.
Despite the discomfort they caused at the time, I’m grateful for the crosses I’ve had to bear because of what they’ve offered me: a chance to give my love to our Lord and an opportunity for personal growth.
I’ll need to keep that in mind tomorrow when another daily cross will surely present itself to me. I’ll need to take it up in love, together with Jesus.