I was driving this morning, and heard a snippet on EWTN radio of Bishop Gilbert (!) Sheldon, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Steubenville, and he said, paraphrased, “Winston Churchill spoke of Britain’s Finest Hour. The Finest Hour for the world is the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Today is a Friday in Lent, wherein Catholics around the world are not only abstaining from meat (trying for one day to forget the glories of bacon!), but thinking of the Cross of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and of our own crosses. Our Lord said to be His disciples, we must pick up our cross and follow after Him. Bishop Gilbert (!) Sheldon also said, again paraphrased, “The way to eternal life is through the Cross. We must pass through it to gain eternal life. Death is followed by life.” That was quite lovely and consoling. The Cross of Christ is our life, and our hope. We need to befriend it, and our own crosses, whatever form they take.
Around the year 1708, St. Louis de Montfort (b. 1673- d. 1716) wrote a letter titled, Friends of the Cross, to an association of laypeople who had united to support one another in following Christ Crucified. The letter is a small treatise on the “science” of the Cross. That the letter survived, and is posted on the internet, is a gift to all of us, for it is as if Fr. de Montfort, the great missionary priest and son of Mary, is speaking to us today; and, yes, it is a foolish (St. Paul) letter, completely opposed to the maxims of today, and the maxims of the world. Here is an extended excerpt followed by a link to the entire letter:
Friends of the Cross, you are like crusaders united to fight against the world; not like Religious who retreat from the world lest they be overcome, but like brave and valiant warriors on the battle- field, who refuse to retreat or even yield an inch. Be brave and fight courageously.
You must be joined together in a close union of mind and heart, which is stronger and far more formidable to the world and to hell than are the armed forces of a great nation to its enemies. Evil spirits are united to destroy you; you must be united to crush them. The avaricious are united to make money and amass gold and silver; you must combine your efforts to acquire the eternal treasures hidden in the Cross. Pleasure-seekers unite to enjoy themselves; you must be united to suffer.
A. Greatness of Your Title
3. You call yourselves “Friends of the Cross.” What a glorious title! I must confess that I am charmed and captivated by it. It is brighter than the sun, higher than the heavens, more magnificent and resplendent than all the titles given to kings and emperors. It is the glorious title of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. It is the genuine title of a Christian.
4. But, if I am captivated by its splendour, I am no less frightened by its responsibility, for it is a title that embraces difficult and inescapable obligations, summed up in the words of the Holy Spirit, “A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people set apart.”
A Friend of the Cross is one chosen by God, from among thousands who live only according to their reason and senses, to be wholly divine, raised above mere reason and completely opposed to material things, living in the light of pure faith, and inspired by a deep love of the Cross.
A Friend of the Cross is an all-powerful king, a champion who triumphs over the devil, the world and the flesh in their three-fold concupiscence. He crushes the pride of Satan by his love of humiliations; he overcomes the greed of the world by his love of poverty; he retrains the sensuality of the flesh by his love of suffering.
A Friend of the Cross is one who is holy and set apart from the things that are visible, for his heart is raised above all that is transient and perishable, and his homeland is in heaven; he travels through this world like a visitor and a pilgrim, and, far from setting his heart on it, he looks on it with indifference and tramples it underfoot with contempt.
A Friend of the Cross is a glorious trophy gained by the crucified Christ on Calvary, in union with his holy Mother. He is a Benoni or Benjamin, a child of sorrow and of the right hand, conceived in the suffering heart of Jesus, born from his pierced side, and baptised in his blood. True to his origin, his life embraces the cross, and death to the world, the flesh, and sin, so as to live here below a life hidden with Christ in God.
In short, a perfect Friend of the Cross is a true Christ-bearer, or rather another Christ, so that he can truly say, “I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me.”
5. My dear Friends of the Cross, do you live in accordance with the noble title you bear? Or, at least, have you a real desire and a sincere determination to do so with the help of God’s grace, under the shelter of Christ’s Cross and of our Lady of Sorrows? Are you taking the means necessary for this? Are you walking along the true way of life, which is the narrow and stony way of Calvary? Or are you, without perhaps realizing it, on the wide road of the world which leads to perdition? Are you aware that there is a highway which is to all appearances a straight and safe road, but which really leads to eternal death?
6. Do you clearly distinguish the voice of God and his grace from that of the world and of human nature? Do you listen to the voice of God, our heavenly Father, pronouncing his three-fold malediction on all who follow the desires of the world: “Woe, woe, woe to all the people on earth;” the Father who stretches out his arms to you in loving appeal, “Come out, my chosen people,” dear friends of my Son’s Cross, away from worldlings, who have been cursed by myself, rejected by my Son, and condemned by my Holy Spirit? Beware of following their counsels, of sitting in their company, or even lingering on the road they take. Hasten away from the infamous Babylon. Listen only to the voice of my beloved Son and follow only him, whom I have given you to be your way, your truth, your life, and your model. (Ipsum audite.) “Listen to him.”
Do you listen to the voice of Jesus who, burdened with his Cross, calls out to you, “Come after me; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark; be brave; I have conquered the world.”?
B. The Two Companies
7. My dear brothers and sisters, there are two companies that appear before you each day: the followers of Christ and the followers of the world.
Our dear Saviour’s company is on the right, climbing up a narrow road, made all the narrower by the world’s immorality. Our Master leads the way, barefooted, crowned with thorns, covered with blood, and laden with a heavy cross. Those who follow him, though most valiant, are only a handful, either because his quiet voice is not heard amid the tumult of the world, or because people lack the courage to follow him in his poverty, sufferings, humiliations and other crosses which his servants must carry all the days of their life.
8. On the left hand is the company of the world or of the devil. This is far more numerous, more imposing and more illustrious, at least in appearance. Most of the fashionable people run to join it, all crowded together, although the road is wide and is continually being made wider than ever by the crowds that pour along it like a torrent. It is strewn with flowers, bordered with all kinds of amusements and attractions, and paved with gold and silver.
9. On the right, the little groups which follow Jesus speak about sorrow and penance, prayer and indifference to worldly things. They continually encourage one another saying, “Now is the time to suffer and to mourn, to pray and do penance, to live in retirement and poverty, to humble and mortify ourselves; for those who do not possess the spirit of Christ, which is the spirit of the cross, do not belong to him. Those who belong to Christ have crucified all self-indulgent passions and desires. We must be true images of Christ or be eternally lost.”
“Have confidence,” they say to each other. If God is on our side, within us and before us, who can be against us? He who is within us is stronger than the one who is in the world. The servant is not greater than his master. This slight and temporary distress we suffer will bring us a tremendous and everlasting glory. The number of those who will be saved is not as great as some people imagine. It is only the brave and the daring who take heaven by storm, where only those are crowned who strive to live according to the law of the Gospel and not according to the maxims of the world. Let us fight with all our strength, let us run with all speed, that we may attain our goal and win the crown.
Such are some of the heavenly counsels with which the Friends of the Cross inspire each other.
10. Those who follow the world, on the contrary, urge each other to continue in their evil ways without scruple, calling to one another day after day, “Let us eat and drink, sing and dance, and enjoy ourselves. God id good; he has not made us to damn us. He does not forbid us to amuse ourselves. We shall not be damned for so little. We are not to be scrupulous. ‘No, you will not die’.”
11. Dear brothers and sisters, remember that our loving Saviour has his eyes on you at this moment, and he says to each one of you individually, “See how almost everyone deserts me on the royal road of the Cross. Pagans in their blindness ridicule my Cross as foolishness; obstinate Jews are repelled by it as by an object of horror; heretics pull it down and break it to pieces as something contemptible.
“Even my own people – and I say this with tears in my eyes and grief in my heart – my own children whom I have brought up and instructed in my ways, my members whom I have quickened with my own Spirit, have turned their backs on me and forsaken me by becoming enemies of my Cross. ‘Will you also go away?’ Will you also desert me by running away from my Cross like the worldlings, who thus become so many antichrists? Will you also follow the world; despise the poverty of my Cross in order to seek after wealth; shun the sufferings of my Cross to look for enjoyment; avoid the humiliations of my Cross in order to chase after the honours of the world? ‘There are many who pretend they are friends of mine and protest that they love me, but in their hearts they hate me. I have many friends of my table, but very few of my Cross.’ (Imit. II, 11, 1).”
12. At this loving appeal of Jesus, let us rise above our human nature; let us not be seduced by our senses, as Eve was; but keep our eyes fixed on Jesus crucified, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection (Heb 12.2). Let us keep ourselves apart from the evil practices of the world; let us show our love for Jesus in the best way, that is, through all kinds of crosses. Reflect well on these remarkable words of our Saviour, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16.24; Lk 9.23).
Full text from the EWTN website: Montfort, Friends of the Cross
Have a good Friday, dear Friends of the Cross.