There is a tradition from the former Yugoslavia where a couple getting married bring a crucifix to the church. The priest says a special prayer of blessing over the cross and when the wedding is over the couple bring the cross to their new home and place it in a prominent position. The idea is that they will come before the cross in their sufferings and difficulties and ask Jesus to help them. They will not run away from their problems, but face them and ask for God’s help to work through them. And most importantly, that Jesus Christ is at the center of their home. One of my sisters did this at her wedding.
This is a big problem for us today, because we are being constantly bombarded with the message that you shouldn’t have to suffer, that you should have everything your way, that you shouldn’t have to make sacrifices, even for your children. This is the complete opposite of what Christ teaches us, which means we have to decide who we are following. Am I following the way of Jesus Christ, which is difficult but so worthwhile, or am I following the way of the world, which tells me I can have everything I want, but in fact is empty?
Moses said the same thing to the people in his time after he had been given the Ten Commandments. He said, ‘choose today whom you wish to follow. Choose life or death, blessing or curse. Follow the Lord or not, but make up your mind.’
In the book of Revelations, Jesus uses very strong words. He says:
Here is the message of the Amen, the trustworthy, the true witness… I know about your activities: how you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither hot nor cold, but only lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth’ (Rev 3:14-16).
In another translation it says, ‘I will vomit you out of my mouth.’ That is very strong language. The Lord was not afraid to shock us and he still isn’t. He wants to make us wake up to reality.
Christianity is unusual in that it does not try to run away from suffering, or to rise above it, in any way. Rather it teaches us that suffering is part of the path that brings us to God. This is something we have always found very difficult to understand. Two thousand years ago it was just as hard to understand. Peter is horrified when Jesus announces to them that he is going to suffer and be put to death and he tries to talk Jesus out of it. He says, ‘Lord, this must not happen to you. People won’t believe you, people will turn away from you. You are to be the King and all people will bow down to you.’ And Jesus said, ‘Get behind me Satan (enemy) for the way you think is not God’s way, but man’s.’ Jesus was saying to him, ‘You don’t understand this, but it has to be this way. If you want to follow me you will suffer too.’ Suffering has its place, even though it makes little sense to us.
When we suffer we often cry out to God, ‘Why have you done this to me?’ I shouldn’t have to suffer’. I used to hear this all the time when I worked in the hospital. People say, ‘Fr. why has God done this to me, what did I ever do wrong?’ as though this was a punishment. We forget the line from Scripture that says, ‘If anyone wants to follow me, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me.’ Does this mean that we shouldn’t try to get rid of suffering? Of course not. We should do everything we can to help those who are suffering and to make our world a better place, but we will never be fully rid of it, it is simply part of this life.
Perhaps the most important thing is the reason why the Lord asks us to follow this path. It seems to be some kind of a doorway we have to pass through, which helps to form us as people, and which brings us closer to God. It is not just suffering for the sake of suffering, which would be crazy. The death of Jesus led to his rising from death and winning eternal life for all people. That’s what we have to remember. If we are allowed to suffer, it is because through it God will lead us on to something much greater, although we may not see this until the next life.
We say we are Catholic, we are followers of Christ? Do you have a crucifix in your home? If you don’t maybe it’s time you got one. By having a crucifix in your home where people can see it, you are saying ‘I belong to Jesus Christ’. I believe in what he has done for me, Jesus Christ is Lord for me. We have no reason to be ashamed of what we believe in.
Remember the words of the scriptures where it says, one day ‘Every knee shall bow in heaven, on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.’
‘Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.’