Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 25, 2002
We struggle to carry our cross
Jesus walks beside us as we suffer our resurections
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Step back 20 years and you would find Glenda Carline suffused with chronic, intense pain.
She tried 30 different remedies. But it was not meant to be fixed.
In the onset of this debilitating illness, she accepted it as her personal cross God asked her to carry.
For Christians, the cross is the most powerful symbol of faith. It is also the way salvation was brought by Jesus Christ. He died on a cross and resurrected on the third day.
In the Scripture account of the life of Jesus Christ, he spoke about the cross even before he suffered crucifixion. Luke and other synoptic writers reported Jesus saying, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me (9:23)."
This text being recorded in the synoptic Gospels says this is the way to Christian discipleship.
Finding your cross
"When we're simply awake to our own life, the cross is going to be quite obvious," Carline said.
However she acknowledges "there are certain things around us - compulsions, addictions, or just being constantly busy - that prevent us from being awake to our lives. But if we are awake, the cross is going to be clear.
The program coordinator at Providence Renewal Centre, Carline was in her 20s suffering from back pain when she first became awake to the cross in her own life.
"It's just in my face everyday in terms of demanding energy, attention and time."
But then she also became aware it is not just a problem to be solved but a cross to be carried, demanding a bigger response from her.
Patrick Stewart of Edmonton's Marian Centre, agreed with Carline saying, "Live life. That's how you find out what your cross is. But you have to be attentive to what's happening inside you and around you.
"I personally struggle with depression in my life and that is one of my crosses."
While Stewart, the new director of the centre, considers his self to be the biggest cross of his life, the second is the people he lives with and he loves the most.
For 48-year-old Stewart, living in a community with other people provides more opportunity to find more crosses to carry.
Members of their community share their sufferings, pains and agonies. This sharing allows for a bearing of each others' crosses.
Differences in personality can also yield added crosses for community members.
Because of the nature of their ministry with the poor of the inner city, Marian Centre members see the different faces of the cross that people carry - crosses the Marian folk, in turn, also shoulder.
Sister Frances MacDougall said, "Most people would understand what our cross would be in our lives. Anything we find hard to bear emotionally, physically and spiritually is a cross."
Christians are invited to take up their cross daily. But take time for discernment and spiritual direction.
"We live in a such a fast-paced society and we don't always take the time to reflect. We just live at the surface level."
MacDougall suggests one ask "What's really going on? What is God trying to do in my life? What's the invitation from God?"
The invitation is simple but complicated - follow the will of the Father as Jesus did.
MacDougall thinks every person has a certain degree of reluctance.
"But I think if we recognize this is a loving God, that we're not going to be invited to take more than what we can bear, God's grace to look deeper on what's really happening will eventually come."
How do we bear our cross?
"As a Christian, the call of the Gospel or the call of discipleship is to first of all recognize that these events in our days are a journey with Christ," advised MacDougall.
It is crucial to remember Christ has already taken this journey and is continually journeying with the people he redeemed, she said.
In the journey of Christian discipleship, self-emptying is inevitable to be able to do the Father's will as Jesus did.
"But there's a difference with our journey and that is we have Jesus helping us carry our cross. And if we remember that, it certainly helps us to carry the cross."
So as people carry their cross, they don't do it alone. It is God inviting them to enter to a deeper level of living.
"As we do that, the self gets a little bit out of the way, which is really what self-denial is all about.
"We allow God to be in the centre of our lives, rather than be focused on the self," explained MacDougall.
The more people do that, the more they put on Christ. And as people become configured to Christ, the more they become compassionate to each other.
But Stewart believes people can be inundated with suffering coming from the self and from others.
So for him it is important to identify what cross to carry and what not to carry.
It is one thing to identify the crosses, but it is another step to be able to go to God and ask, "Which one do you want me to carry?
"I take the burdens of the day to the Lord and tell him, 'Lord this is what I've got today, but I really believe that you will carry some of these.'"
A U.S. Navy officer before he joined the Marian Centre, Stewart said, "I really believe that God takes something that is not ours to carry because I personally experienced that."
One is dependent upon the Lord for his grace to carry the cross and carry it with faith. Stewart believes it is vital people carry their crosses with assurance from God they only take what God wants them to carry.
"If you're doing more than God wants you to do, you're not going to be peaceful, but overburdened."
Carline agreed discernment and prayers are fundamental in carrying the cross.
"My initial response was to get rid of it (the pain). Fix the problem and get the cross away.
"Nobody wants that. Who would?"
But then she realized what was at stake was a deeper relationship with God. "Adversity and suffering demands prayer and relationship with God."
MacDougall said seeing "meaning in suffering" is the defining moment of the journey, but that is the challenge as well. People have not been taught to enter into the deeper process of discerning and listening to what God is doing in our lives.
"We have not been very good at helping people realize that the Gospel is being written in their lives today."
She believes many people think the life of Jesus is something of the past. "And so to realize the life of Jesus is being re-incarnated in your life everyday will help people search in a deeper way and I think will be less afraid to do so."
Stewart believes there are two sides of the cross: the bitter side and the sweet side. The bitter side of the cross is the suffering coming from the longing for perfection and peace in one's life and in other people's lives.
"We're on that journey and I can't deny that suffering is happening everywhere in the world."
So that side of the cross is bitter, but we have to see the meaning of that to relate it to the sweet side, Stewart said.
The sweet side of the cross is mystical and spiritual, because it is in the cross where we reside with our Lord.
"Catherine (Doherty), our founder (of the Madonna House community) talked about the two sides of the cross. Christ is on the one side and there's a place for us on the other side."
And in this life, we get closer to our Lord when we're hanging on the cross, back to back, with him, Stewart said.
There is a sweetness in following our Lord, because it is just a natural human reaction that when we love someone, we want to be near that person.
Says Stewart, "There is a struggle, but it can be a triumphant one when you're doing it with love and for the one you love."
Resurrection a must
MacDougall stressed, "What gives meaning to suffering is that this suffering is going to lead to resurrection and resurrection is what transformed the ugliness of the cross into the beauty of life."
And we're talking here not just the physical death of Jesus Christ, or the dying to self that we do as Christians. "All of life was radically transformed through the resurrection."
Even in our earthly life, Carline believes moments of resurrection happen.
Quoting St. Ireneaus, she thinks to be fully human, fully alive in God is the resurrection that we experience on earth.
We have a cross, but as we carry it, we are led to resurrection.
After about 20 years of chronic intense pain, Carline found a way to deal with it and no longer experiences the pain. For her, that was a resurrection indeed.