In the book Saint Gianna Molla: Wife, Mother, Doctor, Pietro Molla recalls his wife saying to him as she was dying:
Pietro, I am cured now. Pietro, I was already over there and do you know what I saw? Some day I will tell you. But because we were so happy, we were too comfortable with our marvelous babies, full of health and grace, with all the blessings of heaven, they sent me down here, to suffer still, because it is not right to come to our Lord without enough suffering.
These words from St. Gianna came to my mind today as I listened to Christ’s words the Gospel reading for today’s Mass:
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Lk. 14:27)
We cannot follow Jesus Christ without sharing in his Cross. Whether big or small we all have a cross to carry at some point (sometimes many points) in our lives. These can be a subtle as a disagreeable co-worker/classmate/neighbor/son/daughter or as devastating as a terminal disease or life-altering disability. And, as St. Gianna discovered, the crosses that we carry are our keys to heaven, if we let them be, because they purify us (1 Peter 1:6-9) and produce perseverance (James 1:2-4). They remind us that we are creatures and totally dependent on God and teach us humility and self denial so that the power of Christ may more easily dwell in us (2 Corinth 12:9-10).
By taking up our own personal crosses we also “[fill] up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24). Not that Christ did not do enough Himself, but he invites us to participate with him in our own salvation and the salvation of the world. In his book Death on a Friday Afternoon, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus explains that Christ’s victory is not a way of avoidance, but of solidarity in suffering:
When Jesus calls us, he calls us to come and die (Jn. 12:24). We will die anyway. The question is whether we will die senselessly or as companions and coworkers of the crucified and risen Lord. (p. 160)
It is not by fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our willingness to accept it, mature through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love. (Spe Salvi, 37)