Taking Up the Cross

Have you ever been fooled or conned? Jeremiah certainly was. The person who fooled Jeremiah was God himself. As Jeremiah said, “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.”

As if that were not enough, God makes Jeremiah do things he doesn’t want to do. “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

Now this is a fine how-do-you-do. Jeremiah agreed with St Theresa of Avila: “No wonder you have so few friends! Look at how you treat them!”

Jeremiah experienced the same spiritual journey we all are on. At the beginning of the journey there are many consolations. I call them “spiritual candy.” You feel loved by God and cherished. But then it changes. It is kind of like when you take your little one to his or her first day of kindergarten. I remember crying quite piteously at that time. I was sure my grandmother had abandoned me. Yet my grandmother did not abandon me or stop loving me. She merely helped me go to the next step on my development as a human being.

So does God. God wants us to go to spiritual first grade. God still loves us but he expects more from us as we progress on the road to a closer walk with God. That is why Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Jesus had just finished telling the Apostles of his suffering, death, and resurrection. All Peter heard was the suffering and death; he didn’t hear the part about the resurrection. He couldn’t bear the idea that Jesus was to suffer. He wanted a Messiah with no suffering, just triumph. So do I, but that is not what God has in mind.

There could have been no resurrection without the cross. Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Taking up the cross is literally happening in some parts of the world. There are accounts of ISIS, the militant Islamic group, literally crucifying Christians. Those Christians are truly taking up the cross of Jesus, and are deserving of our help. But what about us? We live in a land where freedom of religion prevails. Are we exempt from taking up our cross and following Jesus?

St Paul says, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” That means dying to much that is not God in ourselves.

Thomas Keating, a modern Catholic writer, sees that which must be denied as our false self. Our false self is made of three false programs for happiness: the security center, the pleasure center, and the power /control center. None of these centers are bad in themselves.

It is understandable that we seek security. It is a false program, however, when it becomes too extreme. Buying insurance makes sense; shooting someone because you think he may trespass on your land is a false program for happiness.

Having pleasure is a good thing. But when it is taken to extremes is not. Going to a movie once a week is a good thing; spending all your money and time seeking pleasure is a false program for happiness.

Some control is a good thing. For example, parents need to have control of their children as they grow. But if parents control all aspects of their children’s life as adults, that is a false program of happiness.

So how so we deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Jesus in 2014 America? We, thankfully, do not live in a country where we become subject to persecution simply by proclaiming that we are Christians. So how do we respond to this command of Jesus? By letting go.

Letting go is terribly difficult in 2014. We live in a time when we are bombarded by subtle messages encouraging our false programs of happiness. Listen to the advertisements on Television! They are all selling false programs of security, power, and, particularly, pleasure. We are inundated by them. They influence us even without us knowing it.

The only way we can fight these messages is by prayer, by letting God fight them with us. It doesn’t matter how we pray: the rosary, praying with the scripture, contemplative prayer, music, or any way that you can pray that lifts your heart to God is appropriate. The way you know you are making progress is how you change your behavior. Are you less interested in pleasure and more interested in God? Are you less selfish, less resentful? As you begin to change your pattern to be more in tune with Jesus, you deny the self that is not of God. When you deny the self of false promises, and listen to God, you become the true self God wants you to be.

Father Mike Van Cleve

Father Mike is a priest for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner. 

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