Catholic Candle note: The article below might seem as if it were addressed to only a select few people. But it is mainly aimed at helping us ordinary people more easily carry the crosses we currently have. Although the strategies (of thanking God for our crosses and praying for more of them) might seem counterintuitive when we struggle so hard even to carry the crosses we already have, these strategies do work in a marvelous way!
We want to go to heaven. But we know that the road to heaven is narrow and few people even find the road, much less, travel along it.
We know that we must not only passively receive the cross placed on our backs but we must take up the cross ourselves and place it willingly on our own backs. But this is very difficult to do!
First, let us remember that the cross is much more valuable than we realize.
St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church, taught us the value of crosses in these words:
If God were to grant you the gift of raising the dead, He would be giving you much less than when He permits you to suffer. In fact, with the gift of miracles He makes you His debtor, but with sufferings He makes Himself your debtor.
Here is how the Imitation of Christ extolls the value of crosses:
In the cross is salvation; in the cross is life; in the cross is protection from thy enemies.
In the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; the cross is strength of mind; in the cross is joy of spirit.
In the cross is the height of virtue; in the cross is the perfection of sanctity.
There is no health of soul nor hope of eternal life but in the cross. ...
If, indeed, there had been anything better and more beneficial to man’s salvation than suffering, Christ certainly would have showed it by word and example.
The Venerable Sr. Mary Victoria Angelini described the value of crosses in this way:
An ounce of crosses is worth more than a thousand pounds of prayer; a day of crucifixion is more valuable than one hundred years of all other holy exercises. It is of more value to stay one moment on the cross than to enjoy all the delights of paradise.
The Church tells us that it is advantageous for us to seek more crosses
Further, not only are crosses extremely valuable, but the great spiritual masters tell us to seek more crosses.
Here is how the Imitation of Christ teaches us that we should seek crosses:
Thou errest, thou errest, if thou seekest any other thing than to suffer tribulations ....
You deceive yourself, you are mistaken, if you seek anything but to suffer.
Alas! How few there are that desire to suffer!
The Imitation of Christ points out that it is a defect in man that he does not desire to suffer for Christ:
Jesus has now many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few that are willing to bear His cross. He has many that are desirous of comfort, but few of tribulation. He finds many companions of His table, but few of His abstinence.
The Imitation of Christ teaches that Christ wants us to love to die on the cross:
He died for thee upon the cross thou mayst also bear thy cross and love to die on the cross.
In 1522, in a cave at Manresa, Spain, Our Lady revealed to St. Ignatius of Loyola that she desired everyone to prefer poverty and dishonor, to riches and honor. In other words, Our Lady instructed St. Ignatius that people should seek to have more crosses.
The great Mystical Doctor, St. John of the Cross, also teaches us that we should prefer and seek additional crosses. Here are his words:
Strive always to prefer, not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult;
Not that which is most delectable, but that which is most unpleasing;
Not that which gives most pleasure, but rather that which gives least;
Not that which is restful, but that which is wearisome;
Not that which is consolation, but rather that which is disconsolateness;
Not that which is greatest, but that which is least;
Not that which is loftiest and most precious, but that which is lowest and most despised;
Not that which is a desire for anything, but that which is a desire for nothing;
Strive to go about seeking not the best of temporal things, but the worst.
Strive thus to desire to enter into complete detachment and emptiness and poverty, with respect to everything that is in the world, for Christ’s sake. ...
He who seeks not the cross of Christ seeks not the glory of Christ.
Strategies for lightening our current crosses
But how can we seek extra crosses when we find it is so difficult to even carry the (smaller) ones we now have—and when the crosses we now have seem so large?
Here are two strategies to use to lighten the crosses we now have (and to carry them better).
Thank God for each cross you have (even though you don’t feel thankful). When you receive a cross, immediately sing a Gloria for the cross (or thank God for it in another way). Be generous in how you thank Him for the Cross. Do it on your knees, if that is possible. But don’t delay your thanksgiving.
Do this every time you receive a cross, although you don’t feel like thanking Him. This practice is meritorious and has an amazing power to lighten the crosses! Try it and you will see! It works!
Ask God for more crosses, unless He decides that it better serves Him not to send you more.
Don’t be afraid to pray for crosses. God wants your happiness more than you do. He will not “trick” you. God teaches you (through His Church) that He wants you to seek crosses, and wants you to trust Him. (Of course, also pray for the grace to carry well the crosses God sends you).
The great spiritual masters (above) assure us that God desires us to pray for crosses. It is astonishing how praying for more crosses lightens the crosses you now have! Try it and you will see it is true!
St. John of the Cross assures us that seeking crosses will lighten the ones we already have. Here are his words:
[I]t is meet [i.e., fitting] that the soul embrace these acts [viz., the ones quoted above from St. John of the Cross, preferring crosses] with all its heart and strive to subdue its will thereto. For, if it performs them with its heart, it will very quickly come to find in them great delight and consolation, and to act with order and discretion.
The Imitation of Christ warns us that the contrary is also true, viz., that the more we are unwilling to carry our crosses, the heavier they will be for us:
If thou carry it [viz., your cross] unwillingly, thou makest it a burden to thee and loadest thyself the more ....
Again, although it is counterintuitive, when we thank God for our crosses and pray for more of them, this makes the crosses we already have lighter and easier. The opposite attitude makes them heavier and harder to bear.
Thank God for each cross he sends you (and thank Him each day when you continue to carry the same cross as the day before).
Pray also for more crosses (and, of course, pray for the grace to carry them well). In praying for more crosses, we follow the mind of the Church, we gain merit and the help of Heaven (and we certainly need this help!).
But also, thanking God for our crosses and praying for more of them, has a marvelous way of lightening the crosses we already have. Try it and you will see!