By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published September 13, 2012
At Mass each Sunday one altar server carries a brass-and-wood crucifix up the aisle and places it in a stand. The crucifix is heavy, and this is no easy job.
Last Sunday a small boy was the cross bearer for the first time—and it was clear he was handling a large burden as he made his way slowly up the aisle. In the first pew, I spotted his parents, both seeming to hold their breaths as the little fellow walked by, keeping his legs astraddle to distribute the weight.
I could almost read their minds as he stepped up onto the altar and then managed to successfully put the cross into the stand without dropping it. They shot each other a relieved look with a little smile.
The whole situation reminded me of how heavy suffering can be in our lives. Out of nowhere the cross comes. It may be a doctor’s office calling to say the test for cancer came back positive.
It may be a boss telling us there aren’t funds to keep us on for another month. It may be an adult son or daughter dealing with a parent who needs medical care and constant supervision.
We may stagger under the weight of such burdens. We may think “Dear Lord, why did you choose me to carry this? I’m not young enough, strong enough, emotionally balanced enough. I haven’t practiced carrying the cross, I don’t know how to do it, and I will surely drop it along the way.”
Perhaps a teenage child is killed in a car wreck, and the call comes in the middle of the night telling us something that can’t be true. Perhaps someone we deeply love tells us they’ve fallen for someone else.
Many people seek religion for psychological comfort. They think religion will blot out the cares of the world. And if they pray enough, surely the chalice of suffering will pass them by.
But one great aspect of Catholicism is that it doesn’t shrink from the reality of life, which so obviously includes suffering.
You will notice that in many non-Catholic churches there is no crucifix. Oh, yes, there may be a cross, but the crucifix is defined by the presence of the figure of Christ.
The cross without the body often reflects the belief that we should not dwell on the Crucifixion, but instead on the Resurrection.
But Catholic thinking is more profound.
We are called to stop at the foot of Christ’s cross. We are called to acknowledge that we all will one day carry it.
And we trust that the Way of the Cross leads to the Resurrection. We know you can’t have the glory without the pain.
Jesus said that if we wanted to be his disciples we would have to take up the cross daily and follow him. Daily! That means there could be a new one around the corner at any time.
Sometimes the cross means physical pain, but it can also be psychological distress. Maybe it’s the death of a beloved spouse. Maybe it’s a sibling’s addiction.
When someone hands us the cross, we may say, “No! It’s too heavy! I’m too small. I already have one!” And: “Give it to someone else, someone stronger, bigger and more practiced.”
But then we realize this particular cross is being handed to us—and it is tailor made.
As we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on Sept. 14, let’s be grateful that Catholicism helps us make sense of suffering.
We know that by his suffering Jesus redeemed the world. And if we recognize that our suffering can help in a mystical way in the redemption of others, this doesn’t remove the sting of our pain—but it does give meaning to our trials.
And so each day we pick up the cross and head down the road, nearly falling under its weight. Maybe we don’t realize it, but all around us there are people cheering us on silently. They are hoping we won’t drop it, and they are ready to help us shoulder the burden.
We know that our beloved Jesus fell three times, and we may fall many more. But in the end, it is through the prayers of others, and by the grace of God, that we carry our particular cross to its destination—and place it in God’s hands.