It is the ultimate paradox. A scandal, really.
In Roman times, the cross was the greatest image of humiliation, of torture, of criminals, of death. It was bloody and horrifying and gruesome. I wonder how many people turned away from the scene of Christ on the cross, his side cut open by a spear and his body bruised and broken. I wonder how many people sensed that there was something different about this crucifixion. I wonder who recognized with the centurion at the foot of the cross, “Surely, this man was the son of God.” And I wonder how many felt that recognition or felt the call of Christ and still turned away.
I, too, turn away from that call.
The crosses we are called to take up daily are often frightening. We are given people to love, roles to fill, tasks to complete. Every cross calls us to death. We are asked to die to ourselves, to sacrifice our own needs and desires on the cross.
Whether single or married, a parent or a sibling, whatever our place in life, we are called to many deaths, to a myriad of letting things go, to a daily releasing our own plans and desires. It often hurts. This fall, I will leave my three-month old daughter at home to return to work so that my little family can eat and pay rent. It feels like a death. There is death even in those smallest moments of our day like when I put the dishes in the dishwasher instead of subtly criticizing my husband for leaving them in the sink.
We all have deaths like this—great and small—that we are walking through or that we see ahead on the horizon.
The cross is suffering, yes. It is even agony at times. But do not fear. Do not shrink back. Here lies the paradox. Here is the glorious reality that is more than a nice-sounding idea. The cross is life. Your cross is your life—and not just life on this earth, but life eternal.
Every cross we face is another part of our journey to sainthood. We are asked to pick up our cross and carry it as we struggle up the hill to glory. It is not always easy, and we need not be ashamed when it hurts. Christ stumbled and even fell under the weight of His cross. So, too, we may fall and fail but Christ carried His own cross so that He could then give us strength to carry our own.
Christ’s cross led him to complete isolation, to a death we are never asked to die. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Our deaths are a small joining with His, but we can be confident that He will never forsake us. God’s good will for us is perfection, and every cross that we carry is chiseling us and fashioning us into the likeness of Christ.
And our small deaths—even in all of their pain—lead to life, to life eternal in the presence of Him who is Life itself.
So we take heart and pray with Christ in the garden, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
Shannon Lacy is a wife to a theology student and the mother of their first daughter. She is a recent convert to the Catholic faith.