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March 1, 2006

Our Crosses and The Cross

Elsewhere I posted a response that I wish to remember here because too often I forget it. I will not repeat the original questioner's name out of deference to him, but I post the question asked and my response. Not because my response was particularly good, but rather because when I went back and read it, it spoke to me as though someone else had written it--thus I assume God means the message for me. That happens sometimes. (And if by this, I give offense to the original poster, I beg your pardon. Drop me a line and I'll remove this. Otherwise, I thank you for your charity in allowing me to share it.)

Q: Do you equate the routine trials, discomforts, griefs, aches, pains and frustrations of normal human existence as *the Cross*?

A: And I would ask--do you maintain they are not part of it? St. Therese of Lisieux said that there was sufficient mortification in daily life to bring about the detachment necessary to join with God. Many of the Saints have said that the suffering of daily life was enough. Is it equivalent? No. But Jesus didn't say we would carry HIS cross, we were to carry our own. If we were to carry HIS how could he say, "My yoke is easy, my burden light"? A cross is a cross--some part of that comes through the routine of the day and some part of that is extraordinary. That is the principle of the sacrament of the present moment. God sends to us moment by moment what it is He means for us to have, cross and consolation, joy and sorrow--they all come from Him, through Him, and by His grace. So, yes, the ordinary trials of the day are part of the cross we bear--and no they are not nor have they ever been the equivalent of the cross Jesus bore. But then there is no one who ever carried the burden of that Cross save Jesus Himself--nor was there ever anyone who was expected to.

Posted by Steven Riddle at March 1, 2006 9:23 PM

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Dear Steven:
I thank you for not naming me as the poser of the question of above, but this was not necessary. I will own the words I speak, whether they are accepted or rejected by others.
I, too, have had occasion to meditate over the night on my question and the several responses that I received to it yesterday. At first, I acquiesced to those objections, all similar to the one you raise here; but now I must defend my original point.
The routine human pain that we must endure as part of human existence do not rise to the level of a "cross." These are the result of Original Sin, and we own them--they are ours to endure. The proper response to these things is thanks. We thank God for our existence, and in thanking Him for our lives, we accept the pain that comes with human life due to our fallen state.
But I firmly believe that it borders on blasphemy to equate the pain that comes of illness, failure of expectations, even loss of loved ones to death, as "crosses."
The only kind of affiction that rises to the level of a cross, is afflication that is endured for the sake of the Word. When one is afflicted for the sake of one's Christianity, and one accepts that afflication with praise for Our Lord at the opportunity, then, and only then, has one taken up one's Cross.
It is pretty easy in life, never to put oneself in the position where one *is* afflicted for the sake of the Word. This is Kierkegaard's radical criticism of Christendom, or what was called by Chris Sullivan "social Christianity." We are comfortable, content, and risk little in, or for, our faith. We don't witness where witness will bring scorn, but only where it will bring praise. Our crosses stay in the closet.
Please forgive me for being so direct.

Posted by: Rob at March 2, 2006 6:44 AM

Dear Rob,

There is nothing to forgive in directness. We amicably disagree on this. It is not blasphemy to state the truth as one perceives it and I do see the "everyday" sufferings as part of the cross we are told to pick up. Those sufferings, if the individual is properly disposed are always for the sake of the Word. If we thank God for them, then we are accepting them as our cross. And, I might add, some of those "everyday" trials and turmoils are more of a cross than many people bear in a lifetime--a person with a chronic debilitating condition or with a handicap suffers in ways that those of us who ar fit cannot imagine.

Everyday suffering is the crucible in which we are refined for the Lord. The suffering need not be for the Word, but if it is taken on as God's will for us in the day, then we have accepted the cross. If we ask God to remove it and accept with thanksgiving that He has not, then it is part of the cross.

The problem I see with your reasoning is that you too strongly draw the line between the actions in the world and the actions in the heart. You make the assumption that if we suffer because we are black, or Chinese, or speak no English in an English-speaking country, or for any other reason, that is not from the Lord and it is not purifying.

Job did not suffer for the sake of the word, and yet he stayed true to the faith. Would you say that Job's sufferings were not a cross to bear. When our lives are given over to God it means that everything we do is in Him, by Him, through Him, and for Him. Because we are His, our sufferings are sent as a "chastisement" meant to bring us closer to Him. The Cross was all about the Obedience of the Son to the Father. So, too, our Crosses. What we suffer in a day, if it is suffered with Him, in Him, and through Him amount to our crosses. If I were to wait to suffer for the word, I would never carry a cross. As much as I might like to complain about things, I have yet once to suffer even the slightest indignation as a result of being a Christian--and I make it explicitly clear in my office decor, in the days and reasons I take off, in everything I do that i am a Christian.

I would say that the attitude that separates suffering from the cross tends to make a mockery of human suffering. The strong implication of your words is that human suffering really doesn't have any meaning at all. I would pointedly differ with this. But if we accept that it does have meaning, then it only has meaning as united to the sufferings of Christ on the cross.

When Paul referred to the "thorn in his flesh" and "I make up in my body what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ," he was saying that his bodily suffering (which was not for the sake of the word if he was referring to arthritis, or any number of other pains suffered as part of the human condition--and we cannot infer from his letters that he was mistreated while under arrest) was united to the suffering of Christ on the Cross.

This is my reasoning. You may disagree still and if so, I'd love to hear it. But I do not see it as blasphemy to unite the sufferings we experience on a day-to-day basis to the suffering of Christ on the Cross. Indeed, it is the only way to make sense of suffering at all.

One more example, St. Edith Stein, martyred at Auschwitz was not martyred because of her Catholic Faith, she was martyred because she was a Jew--does this mean that her sufferings were not united to those of Christ on the Cross. When she went to the camps, she did not say, "Come Rosa, let's do this for Jesus." Rather, she said, "Come Rosa, let's do this for our people." Does that make her suffering any less of a Cross? The purpose for which we suffer (whether we are conscious of it or not) does not define the cross we bear. God does. And God sends the cross we can bear because, as Jesus promised, we will never be tempted beyond what we can bear. God tailors our crosses to our faults. As I said before, the cross we bear is an orthopedic device to straighten the spirit that we might walk upright before God. As such, it differs for every person, and what we suffer may not be suffered for the sake of the word. If so, remarkably few people in the history of the world would have suffered the cross. And Jesus tells us that we will all expeience it if we are to follow Him properly.

I suppose finally, that I believe that even a little suffering has meaning. My small headache, I accept, with the ardent hope that it lifts the burden for another in the Body of Christ, if only for a moment. I do not make suffering, but when I must suffer, I remember that suffering has meaning, both for me and for the body as a whole, and the only meaning it can have is found in the shadow of the cross. Absent the Cross, all suffering is meaningless, and if we unite the sufferings to the suffering on the Cross, then they are our crosses, small and meager as they are, they are what God has prepared for us.

No, Rob, I simply must disagree with you--I believe you articulate the ancient error of the puritans who too firmly separated body and soul, the physical and the spiritual. What our bodies suffer affect our spirits. These sufferings have a meaning we cannot see because they are all our share of the sufferings of Christ on the Cross, delivered to us for our good and our ultimate redemption; delivered to us for our purification here and now so that we may walk upright in the life beyond.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at March 2, 2006 9:16 AM

Dear Rob,

To further help amplify the Catholic understanding of the Cross, this passage from In Conversation with God (providentially enough, today's readings).

. . . However, we will normally find the Cross each day in the sort of petty annoyances that may occur at work, but which usually present themselves to us through people around us. It may be something unexpected, the difficult character of a person with whom we have to live, plans perhaps that have to be changed at the last minute, stubborn materials or instruments of work that fail us when we most need them. Discomfort, maybe caused by cold, or heat, or noise. . . misunderstandings. . . .

We have to accept these daily pinpricks courageously, offerning them to God in a spirit of reparation without complaint. Those mortificaitons that crop up unexpectedly can help us, if we receive them well, to grow in the spirit of penance that we need so much, and to improve in the virtues of patience, of charity, of understanding: that is to say, in holiness.

[Steven back again] Note, nothing about suffering for "the Word."

But I have to thank you for your first note, because you forced me to go back and refine my thought, because you forced me to look into what I really thought and to seek the truth there. Such dialogue is truly charitable, truly generous, truly life-giving. Thank you for speaking boldly and thank you for accepting the invitation to discussion. I cannot tell you how much you have blessed me today.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at March 2, 2006 9:34 AM

Thank you for the lengthy explanation of the basis for your view of what constitutes a person's personal cross.
I still disagree with it, however. Enduring the discomfort of the necessary without cursing God for the pain it entails is certainly a virtue, but it is not, in my opinion, a cross, in that it is not *chosen*, but only accepted.
Christ *chose* His cross, and He chose it for a purpose; it did not just happen to Him; it was not inflicted upon him by forces beyond His control, as is a death in the family, or a case of cancer for any of us sinners. When we *choose* to witness for the Word, despite the scorn it will bring us; or if we lay down our life for our friend out of love; or if we deny ourselves so that others may share the bounty God gives us; then we have picked up our crosses and are bearing them out of love.
The ordinary things we don't choose, and we oppose them and try to avoid them, we don't merely endure them. When we are sick we don't thank God for our disease and wait for Him to cure us, we see a physician. We work hard to avoid or ameliorate every danger, discomfort, and petty frustration that life brings us. If you say that these are crosses, then you say that we are avoiding the cross. How can that be good?

Posted by: Rob at March 2, 2006 11:53 AM

Dear Rob,

I couldn't possibly disagree more. Christ did not CHOOSE his cross. It was chosen for Him. It was in God's will. He chose to accept it. That is the critical point. Did Jesus not say, "If it be thy will Father, let this cup pass from me?" How is that choosing your cross? One point of Christ's sacrifice was the utter kenosis and humbling to the Father's will that occurs as a result.

Jesus did not choose--even though He knew the end to which He was headed. He did however obey and embrace the destination. He was utterly subject to the Father's will and endured and more than endured the Cross for our sakes.

To say that Jesus chose His cross would be to say that Jesus said to the Father, "My will be done." He did not. Chosing to accept and selecting are two different things.

We cannot choose our crosses--that is the height of spiritual arrogance, and it is the crime of which too many Christians are accused. Choosing a cross would mean a velvet-lined cross with extra cushioning in those bony areas. What we must do is not choose a cross, but choose to accept the Cross that comes to us through the Father's will. Otherwise we too would be saying, not thy will Father, but mine be done.

Acceptance and choice are two different things. Jesus didn't choose His end. In fact He prayed for it to be taken from Him. Nevertheless He did choose to accept it. We do not choose our Crosses, they come to us. We can rail against them, we can reject them, or we can say, "Nevertheless Father, thy will be done." That's the only choosing we do.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at March 2, 2006 12:10 PM

Even if we overlook the fact that Christ IS God, He still chose the Cross by *choosing* to be obedient. As God, He did not need to submit to human designs on His life, if He didn't choose to so submit. This is true, whether you say He was doing His own will, or strictly that of God the Father. He didn't have to submit to the humiliation of men, and He didn't have to obey the Father, He chose both.
He had to endure the thick-headedness of His disciples. And perhaps He had to endure, as wholly human, all of the little things that we all have to endure. We know, for instance, that he was aggrieved by the death of Lazarus.
But He definitely submitted to the Cross of His own free will; he was not coerced.

Posted by: Rob at March 2, 2006 12:22 PM

Dear Rob,

We oppose illness. But we nevertheless suffer through the illness and we can thank God for the graces to make it through.

And take a major illness such as cancer--the opposition to the disease is as much suffering to the disease.

Surely you would not suggest that we should not use the means we have been given to allay the difficulties caused by the disease? We don't avoid the Cross, but we face it with the means God has given us to face it. To attend to bodily needs still does not avoid the cross because I know of no cure for any illness that does away with the suffering of the illness.

To suggest that using the means available avoids the Cross, I think misses the point. The Cross consists of all the circumstances that surround the illness as well as the illness. For some things--Dengue fever for example, there is nothing that alleviates the suffering. For a headache, we take aspirin. But in the time that it takes for the aspirin to work, we still suffer and we can accept that and not snap at others and not curse the world.

The reality is that you cannot avoid the Cross. It is inevitable and unavoidable. All you can do is shape how you respond to it--just as Jesus did. He could not avoid it and remain obedient. There is no disobedience in aspirin.

The everyday trials we face make up our cross for the day, "Sufficient unto the day are the evils thereof." You may disagree, but I don't see your viewpoint supported either in scripture or in the exegesis thereof from earliest times. For example, where does Jesus tell us, choose your Cross for the day, take it up and carry it? It is merely, take it up and follow me. What then are we to take up? What if there is no great struggle for the word in that day. There is no Cross? In that we can say that a great many Christians through all of time could not follow Jesus because Christianity was the state relgion and they never had caused to lay down their lives for their faith. Only some people need to take up a Cross. Your reading of what a cross may be seems to exclude a great many people from ever taking one up and thus from ever following Jesus.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at March 2, 2006 12:23 PM

I hesitate to add my comments here - I think I'm probably out of my depth. But I wonder if part of your disagreement is semantic?

Pain (or discomfort) is NOT usually chosen. Suffering, on the other hand, means to BEAR or ENDURE the discomfort. We may not choose WHETHER we suffer, but we may choose HOW we suffer. Do we suffer with grace? choose to take up our crosses? Or do we sit and ... I don't know... wallow?

I think it might have been Edward Hays who expressed the idea of sacrifice as doing anything against your own will. Anything you don't want to do. Being nice to the rude person. Doing your exercises. Not ingesting meat, candy, whiskey. Suffering pain with good cheer - or even just suffering in silence and not sharing your misery. These are all sacrifices, according to Hays (IIRC) and count as prayer. We deny our own wishes and offer that denial, that sacrifice to God. (I might note the Hays book was about different ways of prayer).

Luke 9:23 says that we are to take up our crosses DAILY:

"Then he said to all, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

Rob, I also don't understand what you mean about Christ choosing his cross. He would have avoided it if it were possible. But it was not possible -- so he accepted the Father's will (Mark 14:36). How is this different from one of us accepting unavoidable pain? (other than the obvious differences in scale and value)

Thank you.

Posted by: Talmida at March 2, 2006 12:28 PM

Dear Rob,

But you are still trying to get around that Jesus did not choose his cross. He choose obedience to his cross, and that is, in fact, what you say in response.

But submission to the Cross and choosing the cross are two different things. And if you read carefully what I wrote, I have said, we do not choose our Crosses but we choose whether or not to accept them, just as Jesus does. Those crosses then, being something we do not choose for ourselves, are something that come to us from God's will, and they are the incidents of daily life.

Choosing obedience is not choosing direction. Choosing obedience is not choosing your cross. Very, very few of us are given the opportunity to make much of any sacrifice for our faith--but whatever sacrifice we make for love of God is part of that Cross.

The Cross gives meaning to all human suffering, and ultimately all human suffering endured for love of God is united to the sufferings of Christ on the Cross, thus Paul could say, "I make up in my own body what was lacking in the sacrifice of Christ." This is meaningless if the suffering he endured was not a Cross. It is a bunch of empty words. How can enduring bodily suffering make up anything that was lacking. By your reasoning, it was a personal, but largely meaningless exercise of virtue. (Largely meaningless meaning that its merits were confined to a single person.) I don't believe this. I believe that the little suffering I do when I go hungry contributes to the overall economy of salvation. Yes, it's the widow's mite compared to Jesus himself. But we give out of our poverty.

You seem to imply that only extraordinary sacrifices can be meaningful in life. But most of us have no opportunity for that. Most of us have the ordinary sacrifices of parents raising children, of spouses living in a committed relationships, of people struggling to relate to other people. If these are not part of our cross then the post-modernists are right, suffering is meaningless and life is meaningless. Because it is only from the cross that either suffering or joy in life has any meaning or substance.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at March 2, 2006 12:33 PM

Dear Talmida,

To the contrary, I do think you have hit the nail squarely on the head. Thank you.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at March 2, 2006 12:41 PM

Thank you very much for your comments. Clearly, it is me, and not you, who is out of his depth! Still, I carry on.
Steven--I think that you will have to admit that, if we could, we would eliminate every instance of what is being called a "cross" in this discussion. We would eliminate every disease, along with polio and others that are pretty much eradicated. We would eliminate hunger, poverty, war, hatred. We would even eliminate death, if we could. And perhaps one day we will. Again, I don't say it is not spiritually virtuous to face what we have to face without letting it embitter us towards God, or towards the gift of life.
But Jesus knew where He was going when He said that if you want to follow me, you must pick up your cross daily; He meant that He was going to *voluntarily* sacrifice Himself for the sake of others. He didn't mean that He was on His way to put up with the trials of physical existence, and that this is where we should follow Him. He meant that we should follow Him into a life of radical self-sacrifice.
"Sufficient unto the day..." is not about enduring the present moment, it is about not worrying about the future, which is only imagined, so that one can focus on doing the good in the reality that is the present (but you know that).
You suggest that there might be a day in which there was no need to defend the Word. A day without evil? I doubt it. You can always right a letter to the editor, or post something on a blog, if nothing more immediate arises to offer an opportunity to witness for the Word.

Posted by: Rob at March 2, 2006 1:51 PM

Dear Rob,

And you suggest there is something wrong with doing away with these trials. Jesus prayed, it was not to be, he obeyed. We pray and work in grace and do away with what we can, and we accept the rest. It is all in God's will.

As to "sufficient unto the day." I think your reading is far too narrow--yes, it is about not worrying about tomorrow. But He said that in many ways--"Consider the lilies of the field, they toil not neither do they spin." But here, Jesus is very readily acknowledging that there are REAL evils in the day, crosses to bear, and they are sufficient. What God brings us moment by moment is sufficient.

You suggest that writing a letter to and editor is taking up your cross in the same way as struggling to breathe with emphysema, or battling cancer, or sitting at the side of your pronounced brain-dead relative. No, in fact, you say that it is more of a Cross than any of those things. I respectfully disagree. I'd say writing a letter to an editor is no cross at all, not even the shadow of one, even in the name of Christianity. Suffering for christianity is what the martyrs did and what the people of some Muslim dominated nations do now. If you want to talk about "soft" Chrisitianity, I'd say that is a prime example. If you think writing a letter to an editor is taking up the Cross, then I don't see how we could possibly ever come to anytihng like similar terms. Bloessed Miguel Pro suffered for Christianity; Molly Benitz of Peoria writing to the Tribune is not suffering, even if writing a letter makes her sweat bullets.

Taking up a cross is about more than witnessing to the word. It is about accepting the trials and sufferings that come to you as the will of God for that time. We know this, because that is precisely what Jesus did on the way to the Cross. He took up all the sorrows, hardships, difficulties, emotional, physical, and otherwise. That is the way of the Cross--day by day, one step at a time.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at March 2, 2006 2:16 PM

You're right, writing a letter to the editor was a very poor example of what I'm getting at. Standing up to a bully in the street who is doing that thing about which you might have written a letter to protest, is the true instance.
If suffering from illnesses is "taking up the Cross", then why was Jesus a healer? Was he denying the afflicted their opportunity to passively suffer their way into the Kingdom?
That sounds snarky, but I mean it. If the endurance of unsolicited suffering is, in itself a cross, which means that it qualifies one as a disciple, then it cannot be good to oppose it. We should all be Christian Scientists and oppose it only with prayer: we do not.

Posted by: Rob at March 2, 2006 2:29 PM

If I might join in the discussion here...

I think more than one writer have used the description of a crucifix: one bar pointing upwards toward God, one bar horizontal to indicate the world. At the intersection: the body of the Lord. What is a cross, but the intersection of our will with God's? It need not involve any other people (i.e. witnessing or the persecution involved therein), it only involves death to self.

Rob says there will never be a day in which we will not need to defend the Word... I say he is right, but neither will there be a day when we have done away with all sufferings and especially death. They are both a result of the fallen nature of the world we are in.

Steven, I disagree that writing a letter to an editor can not be considered a cross. Take, for example, the correspondence that St. Therese had with the journalist who was trying to debunk Christianity by faking a conversion. Certainly the ensuing embarassment was a form of mortification for our little Saint, and putting her pen to the page for any following letter was probably a mortification as well. It might not have been, for someone of a different temperment (Mark Shea, for example would probably be non-plussed by the whole event, if it occurred in the modern-day 'blogsphere), but for her it was quite a cross to bear. Certainly, it is not of the same "level" as the modern-day African martyrs, but one of the points of the Little Way is that it matters only to your own self denial.


Posted by: Brandon Field at March 2, 2006 2:48 PM


Your question is not snarky, you hit on an important distinction. I'm probably out of my league in trying to make it, but here goes.

There are things that required, there are things that are good, and there are things that are evil. We can't do the things that are evil, least we sin (murder, etc). We have to do the things that are required, least we sin (fast on fast days, go to church on Sundays, etc). We can choose to do the things that are good, but not doing them does not mean that we sin. Setting aside 30 extra minutes in prayer a day can help me grow in holiness. Giving up chocolate for six weeks can help me grow in self-denial. But failing to do either of these things is not sinful. I'm a member of the Rosary Confraternity, and the only obligation of the members is to pray 15 decades of the Rosary a week, however, I do not sin if I fail to do this.

In the case of medicine, there are two oposing principles at work (as I see it). On the one hand, suffering can be meritous, just as you describe. Certainly it can be meritous to opt not to take an asprin, if you offer your discomfort to God as a small part to make up what is laking from the sufferings of Christ. However, our bodies are also called temples of the spirit, and we are charged with their care. Thus, negligence of our bodies is sinful, and intentional neglect is thus ruled out. In this day and age, that probably means refusing all medical treatment is not the best way to be stewards of our bodies, but some medical treatments (e.g. ones that prolong life artifically) are probably superflurious. Certainly any treatment that attempts to avoid death entirely is not only sinful but impossible, since death only entered the world through sin, and as such it is biblically guaranteed.

I don't know if this addresses your point, but I don't think you're completely off base about this. As I said before in a different post, I know very little about biological and medical elements, and I know even less about medical ethics. Thankfully, I have not yet had to deal with any "end-of-life" questions for myself or my relatives.

Posted by: Brandon Field at March 2, 2006 3:14 PM

I don't think that I spelled out the point of my second paragraph very well in my last post. The point of that paragraph was that you can choose to accept little crosses or you can choose not to accept them, but you are not necessarily sinning if you choose not to accept them. You might be passing up a chance to grow in holiness, but that isn't always directly sinful.

Posted by: Brandon Field at March 2, 2006 3:28 PM

But I am interested in that which *will* help me to grow in holiness. That which will not do so comes easily to me; in that area, you might say I'm a natural.

Posted by: Rob at March 2, 2006 4:28 PM

you might say I'm a natural

No more you than me.

Posted by: Brandon Field at March 2, 2006 4:54 PM

Ahhhh... now this is going somewhere interesting.

We're all naturals. That's the point!.

Like animals, we eat, we have sex, we feel pain, we die. Unlike animals, we have souls, and can choose to do these physical things in a way that includes our souls.

We can restrict certain foods or times of eating. We can place taboos and rituals around sexual behaviour. We can make pain and death meaningful. We can choose to suffer with dignity or cheerfulness or love or whatever, but we can choose to involve our souls in the matter.

That doesn't make suffering good -- that's not the cross (because the cross is ultimately good). The cross is the choice to suffer well, not the suffering itself. The cross is the decision to involve your soul in the suffering and not just your body. To make a good thing out of a bad thing (and that's why we seek to end pain, because it is a bad thing).

Posted by: Talmida at March 2, 2006 6:33 PM

There is a very extreme, sort of Simone Weil sense, in which I agree with what you are saying. But I don't agree with it to the extent that it refers to the hassles of ordinary, workaday life.

Posted by: Rob at March 2, 2006 6:41 PM

Dear Talmida,

On the other hand, I find myself in perfect accord with what you are saying--workaday or otherwise, it is the giving up of self to the service of God or another that makes the act sacrificial and thus a cross.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at March 2, 2006 7:00 PM

Dear Steven, your comment boxes are such a pleasure. :)

Rob, I will have to go now and look up Simone Weil!

Perhaps the answer is that your workaday hassles are not your cross, but mine might be mine? Christ fits the back to carry the burden - perhaps he's given you a stronger back than me.

Or perhaps we will simply have to agree to disagree. :)

Shalom, gentlemen.

Posted by: Talmida at March 2, 2006 7:45 PM

Dear Rob,

I've been wondering how to say this without sounding dismissive. There does not seem to be a reasonable way, so I will say it and trust you understand that the intent is not to be dismissive.

I've thought about this all day on and off, and it occurred to me that the difference of opinion expressed may be a combination of my inability to express precisely what I mean with a "cultural difference" in outlook between Protestants and Catholics.

Just as with the good things of the world, we have a seeming barrier erected. On my side of this barrier, I bring the understanding of the Church Fathers and Catholic exegetical expertise. This is the conclusion we have come to--but it is a conclusion that results from the fact that Catholics have a stronger sense of the communal nature of salvation. Protestants, from the time of Bunyan (and probably before) have viewed salvation as strictly a solitary enterprise. I am no expert on the Catholic sense and understanding of salvation, but my sense is that there is a more communal sense of salvation--not that we aren't each judged on our own merits or lack thereof, but that the community participates in the process in a way that is not possible when the sacraments are not present.

Perhaps that is why we can see individual suffering, regardless of the cause, as part of the Cross of the day--given that it is assumed with good grace and a sense of sacrifice. And perhaps that is why you prefer a heroic sense of deliberately choosing some great act of sacrifice for the faith. While I would acknowledge that such an action is both heroic, and, perhaps, meritorious, I would also say the life of St. Therese which was given over to little more than prayer with nothing whatsoever large or heroic about it (in the eyes of the world) was every bit as much an assumption of the Cross as these great choices. Bearing our suffering with grace, charity, and with a sense of self-giving are, to my minds signs of the Cross. It is entirely possible to be the kind of sick person I tend to be--fussy, demanding, intolerant, and sometimes downright mean.

Well, we will continue to disagree on the matter, and there's little chance that one will convince the other. But you have honored me by the conversation and giving me the chance to figure out precisely what it is I do believe in the matter. Also, you've given me some fruitful ideas for reflection and meditation. Thanks once again for your kindness in sharing your thoughts.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at March 2, 2006 9:18 PM


I was telling my Beloved about my day (including this interesting discussion, of course) and he asked me, 'When Jesus said "Take up your cross and follow me" what did it mean? Was crucifixion so common that the apostles would have understood the reference as metaphor? They didn't know Jesus was going to be crucified. They didn't even think he was going to be die. How would they have understood this? Or did they?'

I was stymied. I had never thought of it. I mean, it doesn't really make sense unless it was a common expression at the time.


Posted by: Talmida at March 2, 2006 9:50 PM

Any person who gives up all that a person like St. Therese gave up in her devotion to Our Lord has certainly *made* of her life a acceptance of the cross. The question is whether one can rise to her level of devotion while holding down a job as an investment banker, or hod carrier, or university professor? I maintain that it is most difficult to do so. If you leave your boats and nets and follow your rabbi into the desert, abandoning your family and your livelihood, have you taken up your cross? I would say so. But most of us pursue, rather than give up, a profession and practice Christianity in the breaches, I think.
You are undoubtedly right about the more communal orientation of Catholics, as opposed to the more individualistic orientation of Protestants. But didn't most of Christ's parables speak of, and to, individuals in existential crisis situations?
Please, don't worry about being dismissive--I've never for an instant felt that from you. And I thank you again for indulging my thoughts and replying so kindly to them.

Posted by: Rob at March 2, 2006 10:17 PM

Yes, crucifixion was very common in Jesus' day. They would certainly known what the term meant. Comprehending that this kind of ignominious death could possibly be inflicted upon Jesus, however, seems to have been beyond them.

Posted by: Rob at March 2, 2006 10:20 PM

Just remember, Talmida, that Jesus Himself was crucified between two ordinary thieves; crucifixion was a standard punishment used by the totalitarian Roman overlords against their subject peoples, throughout their evil, essentially godless, empire.

Posted by: Rob at March 3, 2006 5:54 AM

Rob, thank you, I do remember that. But doesn't that make a command to "take up your cross" that much more odd?

Would it have been common to see prisoners walking by carrying their crosses? I suppose it must have been. But I guess it strikes me as kind of morbid that the disciples just accepted it.

What would an equivalent one be today? "Pick up your coffin and follow me?" "Get ready for the electric chair and follow me?"

If a religious teacher said that to me, I'd be appalled! That means arrest and execution! And if "take up your cross" meant the same thing to the disciples, then I do not think we are interpreting it correctly.

I think it must mean "kiss the wife and kids, you wont be back. Following me is a one way trip." Maybe it's more about detachment than suffering?

Posted by: Talmida at March 3, 2006 11:10 AM


As I understand it, it was common practice to make the condemmed carry his cross to the point of execution as a further humiliation. So, Jesus really was telling them: "be prepared to be humiliated, laughed at, spat upon, and finally killed for the sake of the kingdom." Remember, however, that the gospel writers wrote after the cruxifiction and ressurection, and so the metaphor may have been chosen with that in mind.

Actually, somewhere I read that the condemned actually only carried the cross-bar to the cross; the vertical portion was permenantly mounted in the ground at the execution point. Relating this to the earlier analysis of the meaning of the horizontal and vertical elements of the cross, this means that Jesus bore only the portion representing sinful humanity on His way to Calvary.


Posted by: Brandon Field at March 3, 2006 11:38 AM

You have nicely summarized the basis for the saying "Blessed is he whosoever is not offended in me."

Posted by: Rob at March 3, 2006 12:14 PM

Dear Brandon,

I must agree with Talmida and disagree with anything that too narrowly restricts the full meaning of what Jesus is saying here. Jesus is not saying, "Following me is a death sentence." He is saying, "Following me is trial and hardship." We are taking a metaphorical statement that He makes, knowing full well where His end lies, and by saying that it means this one thing we are limited its application and meaning in ways that restrict the context and content.

When Jesus said, "Take up your cross," He is saying, "Be prepared to die to self--to crucify the old person." He is not implying immediate physical death, although many do die.

Hence my insistence that diases borne patiently is the kind of "death to self" that constitutes taking up a cross. Death to self occurs in a myriad small ways that hopefully add up to a huge change in a person.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at March 3, 2006 1:04 PM

Dear Steven,

I do not mean to imply that the metaphor is in any way restricted, and I agree fully that we can participate in thousands of "deaths to self" each day. However, as 12/13ths of the Apostles (counting Ss. Matthias and Paul to get 13) were martyred, hundreds of members of the early Church were martyred, and thousands of modern day Christians (many in Africa) are being martyred, the gospel writers also had a very literal meaning intended that still applies to this age.

That literal meaning should not detract from the death to self that we all must participate in, and which St. Therese calls a form of martyrdom. I did not intend to imply that the only form of the cross is "physical" martyrdom or percieved humiliation, as I now recognize that my above post may have.

I also agree with your above analysis on the Protestant/Catholic differences in this issue. And in many ways I am still sheding my Protestant training, 9 years later...


Posted by: Brandon Field at March 3, 2006 1:22 PM

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