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Christ on the Cross_Eugène Delacroix_c1835 Christ on the Cross, Eugène Delacroix, c. 1835

Last week, we commemorated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross by urging you to view your spouse as your cross, your path to sanctification. This week, we want to delve into the theology behind the exhortation.

Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).

Denying ourselves and taking up our cross entails sacrifice. It means giving up something for the sake of something better. For example, we might give up time that we would have spent taking a nap so that we can read a book to our three-year-old daughter. Or it might mean biting our tongue instead of lashing out at our spouse who has just said something hurtful.

Sacrifice involves pain and suffering. While that does not sound inviting, Scripture exhorts us to rejoice when we share in the suffering of Jesus. St. Peter wrote, “But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed,” (1 Pt 4:13).

St. Paul also instructs the Romans to rejoice in suffering:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that “as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor 1:5). According to St. John Paul II, this comfort is found in the “eloquence of the Resurrection.” In the Apostolic Exhortation, The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, he says that “Man finds in the Resurrection a completely new light, which helps him to go forward through the thick darkness of humiliations, doubts, hopelessness, and persecution.”[1]

John Paul explains that through suffering we become a new person:

Down through the centuries and generations it has been seen that in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace. To this grace many saints, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and others, owe their profound conversion. A result of such a conversion is not only that the individual discovers the salvific meaning of suffering but above all that he becomes a completely new person. He discovers a new dimension, as it were, of his entire life and vocation.[2]

Despite receiving special grace, John Paul says that we must persevere in suffering:

Suffering as it were contains a special call to the virtue which man must exercise on his own part. And this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintains in him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, that it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity linked to awareness of the meaning of life. And indeed, this meaning makes itself known together with the working of God’s love, which is the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit. The more he shares in this love, man rediscovers himself more and more fully in suffering: he rediscovers the “soul” which he thought he had “lost” (cf. Mark 8:35) because of suffering.[3]

Finally, John Paul explains that Christ is present with us in every suffering:

Suffering is, in itself, an experience of evil. But Christ has made suffering the firmest basis of the definitive good, namely the good of eternal salvation…For suffering cannot be transformed and changed by a grace from outside, but from within. And Christ through his own salvific suffering is very much present in every human suffering, and can act from within that suffering by the powers of his Spirit of truth, his consoling Spirit.[4]

So, deny yourself, take up your spouse daily, and follow Jesus.

[1] John Paul II, Savifici Doloris, 11 February 1984, internet: http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris.html, §20 (accessed September 18, 2020).

[2] Ibid., §26.

[3] Ibid., §23.

[4] Ibid., §26.