By Fr. Erik Esparza
“When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross, and when we profess Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord.” - Pope Francis
There is a constant temptation in the life of a Christian to walk the journey of faith without the cross. After all, Jesus suffered so we didn’t have to! Jesus conquered the cross and is risen! Right? Yes, indeed we celebrate at Easter and every Sunday the Resurrection of the Lord.
Nevertheless, we must not forget that the Resurrection is only part of the story. Yes, it is essential and the culminating moment. Yet, it remains incomplete without the other elements of the Paschal Mystery, without the suffering and death on the cross.
We have reflected with the help of the Gospels and during this Season of Lent, on the Stations of the Cross. Jesus was faithful in carrying the cross all the way to Golgotha. Instead of abandoning the cross, Jesus chose to transform it and give to it a whole new meaning. Jesus’ embrace and ultimate death on the cross offered humanity redemption and the forgiveness of our sins. Something we could never do on our own nor something we could have ever earned.
So it is in gratitude that we respond to live as disciples. Being disciples is not picking and choosing when it is convenient to carry the cross nor to run away from it. Jesus never told his disciples He would carry the cross so that they need not. Quite the opposite, Jesus commanded his disciples to take up their cross. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23).” Jesus challenges you and me, His disciples, to take up our cross daily!
Be Not Afraid! The Good Shepherd does not abandon His sheep. It is Jesus who helps us to embrace the cross just as He embraced it. It is Jesus who helps us to carry it when it gets heavy and we want to let it go. It is Jesus who gives new meaning in the suffering endured while with the cross. It is Jesus who gives us new life in the pain.
One day each of us will stand before God. What cross will we place before God? Will we even have a cross to present? Until that day, Jesus commands us to follow His example. Along the way Jesus gives us reminders of His presence. Those reminders often come about when we choose to embrace the cross. His reminders are glimpses of the new life that come through the “mini” paschal mystery moments in our lives. Those glimpses come when we embrace the cross, when we find meaning in the suffering, and when we allow “mini” deaths to occur now so as to better equip us and prepare us for the final death, our exit from this world into the next.
Until then, keep taking up your cross, keep walking, keep searching for meaning in the suffering and pain, and believe that Jesus will one day say to you, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
Now go forth and be a joyful witness!
Father Erik Esparza is Associate Director of the Office of Priest Personnel in the Diocese of San Bernardino.