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  • Sarah Raad

Embrace

The Cross of Christ is the true ground and chief cause of Christian hope.” (Pope Saint Leo the Great).

Christ Carrying the Cross (Orazio Gentileschi)

Recently I have heard from many people about the great crosses that they bear and as I have heard these stories of suffering, I have prayed very much for such souls. And through my prayers, I have reflected very much on the significance of suffering and the connection between suffering and the Cross.


“Then Jesus told His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me…’” (Matthew 16:24).


It is a revolutionary idea, this idea of PICKING UP – EMBRACING – suffering. If you really think about it, such an action – of COLLECTING suffering – is contrary to our very human nature. Everything inside us rebels against it. And yet, the great Saints firmly direct us to the Cross...


Saint Josemaria Escriva famously said that he rejected any notion that the Cross should be considered a burden. Instead, he wanted souls to embrace their crosses, for he saw those crosses as the mechanism of salvation. Pope Saint Leo the Great described the Cross similarly… “The Cross of Christ is the true ground and chief cause of Christian hope.”


The Venerable Fulton Sheen said that he often reflected on wasted suffering when he passed by hospitals. After all, hospitals are places filled with suffering souls and yet it is only when suffering is offered as a sacrifice – when a soul EMBRACES their cross – that suffering merits salvation. For of itself, suffering is merely the fruit of our fallen world, which is why we reject it – because we were made not to suffer but to love – but since the fall of humankind, we must sacrifice to atone for our sins…

As Pope Benedict XVI said, “There can be no love without suffering, because love always implies renouncement of myself, letting myself go and accepting the other in his otherness; it implies a gift of myself and therefore, emerging from myself.”

Saint Teresa of Avila – who herself endured many crosses – said, “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God alone never changes. Patience gains all things. If you have God, you will want for nothing. God alone suffices.”


Saint Monica – the mother of Saint Augustine – carried a terrible cross! Her son, Saint Augustine, was a sinner – a terrible terrible sinner. In fact, Saint Augustine later wrote that he did the terrible things that he did “for the only reason that it was forbidden…” And for more than three decades, Saint Monica suffered knowing that her son was out of control. She offered that suffering as a sacrifice to God through her prayers for the conversion of her son. She EMBRACED that cross to grieve for her child and in doing so, she persevered in prayer! And how wonderful were her rewards!


You see, Saint Augustine, converted, became a bishop, Doctor of the Church (and one of the most brilliant theological minds the Church has known in two thousand years) and a great saint. By EMBRACING her suffering, and offering it as a sacrifice to God, Saint Monica’s prayers changed the course of HISTORY through the conversion of her son.


For suffering can only bear merit when it is sacrificed...


And sacrifice is only possible if we renounce sin and let go of ourselves. And to let go of ourselves, we must first be able to hold onto ourselves – so to speak. And how can we hold onto ourselves? By mastering our own will. And how can we master our own will? By making sacrifices of our sufferings, which is how we can take our lives into our hands…


When we suffer, we are tossed on the stormy seas, and we are afraid. When – so many years ago now – my little baby died before he was even born, I did not understand how to take my life into my hand and to make a sacrifice of my suffering... Instead, I suffered. I suffered terribly and with great anguish and pain. My entire life was a torment of suffering, and it was inescapable and indescribable, and I was isolated, misunderstood and alone.


And then, like the sun coming out after the storm – in an instant, in the moment of my conversion, which occurred by Grace and through no merit of my own, while I was praying so fervently for my very sick little niece last year – I understood how to take my life in my hand. The Holy Spirit came to me to tell me what to do – because I could do nothing for myself. And in that moment, I understood that I could DIRECT my suffering and that suffering directed could have merit because in that way, I could take hold of my pain and offer it as a sacrifice to God.


Scott Hahn in his book, “The Fourth Cup” described this more eloquently than I ever could when he said, “Our suffering is His (Christ’s) Passion. It is passionate, but not passive in any negative sense. Jesus himself emphasizes that point. He takes up His cross and urges us to take up ours. Nobody takes His life. He lays it down. He wants us to do the same, and He gives us the grace to do the same…”


And in Scott Hahn’s book, “A Father Who Keeps His Promises”, he writes, “We no longer view suffering as intrinsically evil; by seeing it as part of God’s plan to teach us love, we can embrace suffering as sacrifice, as a needed remedy for sin… When we disobey the Father’s law, we refuse His fiery love. But we can’t escape it; we seal ourselves off from it. We’re still in it, but it’s not in us. So, we can’t enjoy it, we can only feel burned by it until we open ourselves to it. That’s what repentance does and that’s what God’s wrath is for.”


For there is great merit to be found in sacrifice!


Saint Therese of Lisieux wrote in her autobiography, “Story of a Soul” that towards the end of her life when she was tired and being encouraged to rest, she continued to walk around the grounds of the convent instead. She said, “I am walking for the benefit of a missionary. I believe there is one working far away on the verge of collapse on account of his apostolic undertakings… I am offering my fatigue for the benefit of his soul.”


And so, as I pray for those whose crosses are far heavier than mine, it occurs to me that I too could walk through my fatigue as the Saints have done – for the benefit of those for whom I pray.


For in taking some mastery of myself, I shall be able to take my life into my hand – and only then, shall I be able to make it an offering – a sacrifice – to God.


And only then, shall I be able to imitate my Beloved… Only then shall I be able to EMBRACE my cross…


For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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