I am sure we are all familiar with the Catholic cliches that surround the season of Lent. I find myself saying more frequently to my own children and our students, "offer it up" or "carry your cross" in moments of angst or tribulation. But all kidding aside, there is nothing superficial about these statements.
The readings for today set the tone for lent: if we want things to change, we need to focus on our own need to repent with a sense of urgency and authenticity that only seeks to please the maker of our hearts. There is no need to compare ourselves with others, but we do desperately need encouragement from each other.
I came across this reflection on Ash Wednesday this morning, which really captures the meaning of our willingness to embrace the cross WITH others:
We, like Christ, must bear the cross. But must we bear it alone? When we unite ourselves to Christ and resolve to bear a difficult and dangerous cross in a “time of adversity” and of “crushing misfortune,” must we bear that cross alone?
This is the importance of the story of Simon of Cyrene: even Jesus had help bearing His cross. “Bearing your cross” need not be understood as an admonition to Stoic individualism. While it is true that no one can bear your sufferings but you, the Gospel message is that you need not – indeed should not – bear them alone. In times of trial, we trust in the love and fidelity of God and of others: those doctors, lawyers, counselors, and friends who can become, as we are all called to become, instruments of God’s love and God’s healing grace.
Catholics who accept their Church’s sacramental understanding of Creation do not put God and human agents into an “either-or” formula. We look to God for our ultimate help for we know we can do nothing without His grace. And we can also look to others – friends, neighbors, counselors, specialists – to help guide us and comfort us along the way. They can help us bear the cross during those times when it simply becomes too heavy, and we fear we can’t make it even one step further.
And then we do. Somehow. With someone supporting us, someone bearing our burden, and with God bearing us both in His loving arms.
This Lenten season, let us take up our cross and bear it. What we will find, after a time, is that we are not carrying that cross; rather it is carrying us, helping to purify us of our idols and illusions, giving us greater wisdom, and making us more truly like Christ. But let us also look for others whose burdens we can share and with whom we can share ours. This, in the final analysis, is the meaning of “Church” – of what it means to be different members in the Spirit of the one Body of Christ, crucified and risen.
So let us unite ourselves to Christ during this blessed season in order to strip away and purge ourselves of all our unclean idols – devotion to wealth, power, pleasure, vanity, and riotousness – and give ourselves more fully to the One who gave Himself in love for us by giving ourselves in love to others.
Yours Truly In Christ,