Bear your share of hardship for the gospel
with the strength that comes from God.
He saved us and called us to a holy life,
not according to our works
but according to his own design
and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began,
but now made manifest
through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus,
who destroyed death and brought life and immortality
to light through the gospel. (Paul's 2nd letter to Timothy, Chapter 1, verses 8 to 10)
A strange thing happened to me as I was sitting in the pew listening to the lector deliver the second reading from Sacred Scripture. It was read so perfunctorily that it is a good thing that it was short. This gave me the time to look back on the moment not quite halfway through when the lector did not make the proper inflection to give the message its deepest meaning. I highlighted the words that I thought should have been stressed, but were not.
These days we seem to be running away from the difficulties of life. These days we are so full of the conviction that as long as we believe in Jesus that everything will be fine. We are full of the conviction that Jesus and His Father are so merciful that they could not possibly be so displeased with us that they would condemn us to Hell for all eternity. We are so comfortable with being surrounded by crosses that have no suffering represented on them that we ourselves don't feel called to join Jesus and consider the cross as the tool of torture that it really is. Yes, we are so busy seeking the comfortable life that we have bleached suffering out of our lives.
We don't like to think that the Cross is meant to be a part of our lives too. Jesus made a point of reminding us that we too have to carry our cross on the road of life. Jesus came to show us the way to Salvation. Jesus came to show us the value of sacrifice. Jesus came to show us that to love is to serve and to serve is to die for those among whom we live. Jesus came to show us that suffering is not a personal belonging. Suffering is a shared way of life between us and Him. A cross without Him on it reminds us of our desire for the easy way out. It doesn't show us where He told us we should be. In all three Synoptic Gospels His quoted words tell us where our place is. St. Paul doesn't mince words either when he writes to Timothy. If we want to get through the Pearly Gates, we have to share in the passion and death of Jesus...yes, a death on the cross.
Think about it. Jesus saying that we have to take up our cross. St. Paul agreeing with Him and saying that we have to share in His hardship in the Gospel so that through His grace we can walk by His side and get through the narrow gate that leads to Heaven. Don't take your eyes off your crucifix. Remember that you have one of those to carry. Remember that what leads up to death is not easy. It's not necessarily painful, but it is necessarily difficult. There is no easy road to salvation. Anyone who thinks that there is, is delusional. Remember, we don't get there by doing it our way...we get there by living according to His designs.
So, in the words of Jesus Himself: "Stay ready because you know not the day nor the hour." (Matt. 25;13)
When you remember that I wrote these words, you will have not the slightest inclination to cry at my funeral.