“Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” ~G.K. Chesterton
I think we can all agree that the constant trouble aspect to the life of a Christian is, well, troublesome; yet, it is good to know that Our Lord is aware of our troubles and sufferings, and is aware of the crosses we encounter. All of us have our own particular crosses which we must pick up to follow Christ. The Christian life requires an ongoing assent, a brave-heartedness, even with tears in the eyes.
St. Louis de Montfort (b. 1673- d. 1716) wrote about what it means to be a friend of the Cross, and the following is a portion of his teaching:
“26. Friends of the Cross, disciples of a crucified God, the mystery of the Cross is a mystery unknown to the Gentiles, rejected by the Jews, and despised by heretics and bad Catholics. But it is the great mystery you must learn to practice in the school of Christ, and which can only be learnt from him. You will look in vain in all the schools of ancient times for a philosopher who taught it; in vain you will appeal to the senses or to reason to throw some light on it. It is only Jesus, through his all-powerful grace, who can teach you this mystery and give you the ability to appreciate it. Strive then to become proficient in this all-important science under your great Master, and you will understand all other sciences, for it contains them all in an eminent degree. It is our natural and supernatural philosophy, our divine and mystic theology, our philosopher’s stone, which by patience transforms the basest metals into precious ones, the bitterest pains into delight, poverty into riches, the most profound humiliations into glory. The one among you who knows best how to carry his cross, even though in other things he does not know A from B, is the most learned of all. The great St. Paul returned from the third heaven, where he learned mysteries hidden even from the angels, and he proclaimed that he did not know, nor did he want to know anything but Christ crucified. Rejoice, then, you ordinary Christian, man or woman, without any schooling or intellectual abilities, for if you know how to suffer cheerfully, you know more than a doctor of Sorbonne University who does not know how to suffer as you do.
27. You are the members of Christ, a wonderful honour indeed, but one which entails suffering. If the Head is crowned with thorns, can the members expect to be crowned with roses? If the Head is jeered at and covered with dust on the road to Calvary, can the members expect to be sprinkled with perfumes on a throne? If the Head has no pillow on which to rest, can the members expect to recline on feathers and down? That would be unthinkable! No, no, my dear Companions of the Cross, do not deceive yourselves. Those Christians you see everywhere, fashionably dressed, fastidious in manner, full of importance and dignity, are not real disciples, real members of Christ crucified. To think they are would be an insult to our thorn-crowned Head and to the truth of the Gospel. How many so- called Christians imagine they are members of our Saviour when in reality they are his treacherous persecutors, for while they make the sign of the cross with their hand, in their hearts they are its enemies! If you are guided by the same spirit, if you live with the same life as Jesus, your thorn-crowned Head, you must expect only thorns, lashes and nails; that is, nothing but the cross; for the disciple must be treated like the master and the members like the head. And if you were to be offered, as was St. Catherine of Sienna, a crown of thorns and one of roses, you should, like her, choose the crown of thorns without hesitation and press it upon your head, so as to be like Christ.
28. You know that you are living temples of the Holy Spirit and that, like living stones, you are to be set by the God of love into the building of the heavenly Jerusalem. And so you must expect to be shaped, cut and chiseled under the hammer of the cross; otherwise, you would remain rough stones, good for nothing but to be cast aside. Be careful that you do not cause the hammer to recoil when it strikes you; respect the chisel that is carving you and the hand that is shaping you. It may be that this skillful and loving craftsman wants you to have an important place in his eternal edifice, or to be one of the most beautiful works of art in his heavenly kingdom. So let him do what he pleases; he loves you, he knows what he is doing, he has had experience. His strokes are skillful and directed by love; not one will miscarry unless your impatience makes it do so.
29. The Holy Spirit compares the cross sometimes to a winnowing-fan which separates the grain from the chaff and the dust. Like the grain before the fan, let yourselves be shaken up and tossed about without resisting; for the Father of the household is winnowing you and will soon put you in his granary. At other times the Holy Spirit compares the cross to a fire which removes the rust from the iron by the intensity of its heat. Our God is a consuming fire dwelling in our souls through his cross in order to purify them without consuming them, as he did of old in the burning bush. Again, he likens the cross to the crucible of a forge in which the good metal is refined and the dross vanishes in smoke; the metal is purified by fire, while the impurities disappear in the heat of the flames. And it is in the crucible of tribulation and temptation that the true friends of the cross are purified by their constancy in sufferings, while its enemies are swept away through their impatience and murmuring.
30. My dear Friends of the Cross, see before you a great cloud of witnesses who, without saying a word, prove what I have been saying. Consider, for example, that upright man Abel, who was killed by his brother; and Abraham, an upright man who was a stranger on earth; Lot, an upright man driven from his own country; Jacob, an upright man persecuted by his brother; Tobit, an upright man stricken with blindness; Job, an upright man who was impoverished, humbled, and covered with sores from head to foot.
31. Consider the countless apostles and martyrs who were bathed in their own blood; the virgins and confessors who were reduced to poverty, humbled, persecuted or exiled. They can all say with St. Paul, “Look upon Jesus, the pioneer and prefecture of our faith,” the faith we have in him and in his Cross; it was necessary that he should suffer and so enter through the Cross into his glory.
At the side of Jesus, see Mary his Mother, who was never stained with any sin, original or actual, yet whose pure and loving heart was pierced through. If I had time to dwell on the sufferings of Jesus and Mary, I could show that what we suffer is nothing compared to theirs.
32. Who, then, would dare claim to be exempt from the cross? Which of us would not hasten to the place where he knows the cross awaits him? Who would refuse to say with St. Ignatius of Antioch, “Come, fire and gibbet, wild beast and all the torments of hell, that I may delight in the possession of Christ.”
33. But if you are not willing to suffer patiently and carry your cross with resignation like God’s chosen ones, then you will have to carry it, grumbling and complaining like those on the road to damnation. You will be like the two oxen that drew the Ark of the Covenant, lowing as they went; like Simon of Cyrene who unwillingly took up the very cross of Christ and did nothing but complain while he carried it. And in the end you will be like the impenitent thief, who from the summit of his cross plunged into the abyss.
No, this accursed earth on which we live is not destined to make us happy; in this land of darkness we cannot expect to see clearly; there is no perfect calm on this stormy sea; we can never avoid conflicts on this field of trial and battle; we cannot escape being scratched on this thorn-covered earth. Willingly or unwillingly, all must carry their cross, both those who serve God and those who do not. Keep in mind the words of the hymn:
Three crosses stand on Calvary’s height;
One must be chosen,
so choose aright;
You must suffer like a saint or repentant thief,
Or like a reprobate, in endless grief.
That is to say, if you are not willing to suffer gladly like Jesus, or patiently like the penitent thief, then you will have to suffer like the unrepentant thief. You will have to drink the cup of bitterness to the dregs without the consoling help of grace, and you will have to bear the whole weight of your cross, deprived of the powerful support of Christ. You will even have to carry the deadly weight which the devil will add to it by means of the impatience it will cause you. And after sharing the unhappiness of the impenitent thief on earth, you will share his misery in eternity.” source
I once heard a priest say in a talk that if you do not have time to pray all fifteen decades of the Rosary every day, to at least pray the five Sorrowful mysteries, for these mysteries will assist the Christian in becoming a friend of the Cross, of understanding the Cross. The Sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary will also impart to the Christian (us) the graces to suffer in a patient manner like the penitent thief (or if you are a saint, to suffer like one).
Yes, the Christian life is marked with constant trouble, but Our Lord, the Church, and the saints, tell us that there is an absurd happiness in knowing Christ Jesus and in fearlessly following Him.
“Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
In the time given to us, let us, like our Catholic ancestors, be friends of the Cross.
May you have a beautiful day and Lenten season.
~For further listening: The Necessity of Momento Mori from The Modern Lady podcast, link. Information on the podcast (from the podcast website, link above): “‘Momento Mori’ is a Latin saying which translates to, ‘Remember Your Death’. To our secular and modern minds, this is a jarring and uncomfortable clarion call to be sure, but it is one that we neglect at our own peril. This week, Michelle and Lindsay discuss how people have historically practiced ‘Momento Mori’, how it ties into Lent and Ash Wednesday, and why it’s necessary for us to remind ourselves often of the inevitability of our deaths.”