Growing up, my sisters and I had a habit of watching and re-watching movies until we knew every single word from the movie. During our Hercules phase, one of the lines we repeated to one another all the time comes from the dramatic moment when Meg pushes Hercules out of the way of a falling column, is crushed, and says with a smile as she dies, “people do crazy things…when they’re in love”. Swoon!
This line is mushy and cliché and well…Disney. But it’s not false.
In the first reading, St Paul says, “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. And Jesus says that any person wanting to be His disciple must “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”. We’ve heard these lines (or similar) so many times in our Catholic life that they can start to lose meaning. But what Paul is saying - when we really think about his words - is absurd. Glory in the cross of our Lord?? I’ve spent the last couple of weeks sitting at my grandmother’s bedside watching her carry her cross. She has suffered a stroke and now bears little resemblance to the grandma I have known all my life. She’s often confused and needs help doing very basic tasks. This cross is not pretty, it is not easy. It is painful, frustrating, and humiliating. What does it mean to glory in this cross? And who could do that?
I know that when I am faced with a cross to carry, I often respond by venting, losing my temper at others, and angry-praying to God. I don’t have time to concern myself with others because I am dealing with my own issues. Rather than glorying in my cross and using this opportunity to grow spiritually (as I am sure God intended), I turn away from God and His commandments. I do things that make me feel better in the moment, but that ultimately damage my everlasting relationship with God. Which of course seems very illogical when I write it out like this.
Why is so hard for me to glory in my cross as St Paul did? Part of the reason I suspect that we all struggle with this is that we do not fully understand the depths of God’s love for us. To reference Fr. Matthew Spencer again - if we knew how much God really loves us, we would shudder to think about turning away from Him for any temporary comfort. This is where an intellectual knowledge of the faith falls short. Sure, knowing right from wrong helps lead me down the straight and narrow. But when I am really tested, this is often not enough to keep me on that path. What can give us enough courage to remain steadfast in our faith, choose joy, and treat others with kindness despite our pain? Only love. St Paul had the courage to accept death rather than stop spreading the gospel because he had such a deep, passionate love for Our God.
So how do we get on St Paul’s level? (Because, let’s remember, we are all called to be saints.) Well, the same way anyone gets to the level of crazy-in-love - we must build up a relationship. We need to get to know God better through the Eucharist, scripture, and fellowship. These are all opportunities to talk to Him, listen to Him, and learn from and about Him. Our love for God will grow with time and we will become more and more unified. Ultimately we strive to get to a point where we would do ANYTHING to avoid damaging our relationship with the God who loves us so much. And yes, people will probably think it’s crazy. But we will not be ashamed of our love, no matter what it costs us.
Dear Jesus, help us to get to know you better. Help us to open our eyes to opportunities to grow in our relationship and give us the courage to glory in our crosses as St Paul did.