The cross has always been the primary symbol of Christianity. From the earliest times, Christians were identified by the cross. The cross was the most cruel and most ignominious penalty in the Roman empire. It was so humiliating Roman citizens were exempted from it and it was reserved only for their slaves, non-citizens and conquered people. It was a slow and painful death.
Christ transformed the cross from a symbol of utter defeat to the symbol of ultimate victory. The early Christians, facing unending persecutions by the Romans, knew that following Christ meant certain death on the cross – like their Master. And the Master’s call has always been for his followers “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Even as He went around preaching, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, healing the sick, inspiring and giving strength to the crowds; He constantly talked about His coming passion and death. Suffering was to be a condition that His followers were to accept.
Today, we have almost forgotten the roots of our faith in the cross. We have been so enamoured by the gospels of prosperity, we have forgotten Christ’s call to take up our crosses daily. We constantly pray for blessings, as if God owes us more than the gift of life we have received. We feel entitled to God’s graces and blessings just because He brought us to existence. There is something about that attitude that does not sound right. It is so selfish and too self-pre-occupied.
Didn’t Christ promise us happiness and eternal joy? Yes, He did. He said, cryptically, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” So, do we pray for the cross instead of blessings? If we really listen to our Master, I think we should.
Sufferings are painful and take us out of our comfort zone. But it is the trials and tribulations that we face that determine where and how far in life we advance. I would love to avoid pain and suffering. But looking back, I am grateful for all the crosses I have borne successfully.
Our life is not our alone. We share our lives with others. We can pray that we be allowed to take on suffering of others. We can pray that we be allowed to suffer in place of a loved one who is going through difficult times. Or, we can ask to share in the pain of a dear one suffering from a debilitating disease. Or, we can offer our positive attitude towards suffering as a counterforce to all the negativity there is in the world.
The cross makes us aware of our basic emptiness. We often try to fill this emptiness with materials things and physical possessions. We look to pleasures of the flesh as antidotes to the pain we feel inside. Our emptiness makes us more predisposed to allowing God into our lives. A seed germinates in darkness under the ground. God works His wonders in our lives when we go through our suffering in emptiness. When we take us the cross, He makes us stronger. And when we lose our life for His sake, that is when He raises us up.