Taking Up Our Cross. . . In Abandonment
Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. ROMANS 13:12–14
“Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one ever sat; untie it and bring it. If any one says to you ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” MARK 11:2–3
A young Israeli whose family immigrated to Brazil was studying to be a rabbi. The rabbinical school happened to be near a Benedictine monastery, where one day the young man heard the monks chanting the Hebrew psalms. Fascinated, he ventured closer. Wanting to learn more about the men who prayed the psalms so beautifully, one day the Jewish man introduced himself to one of the monks. As their conversation deepened, the monk told the young man of Jesus, the Messiah. Some months later, the student was in Rio de Janeiro when, passing by a large Catholic church, he was drawn to step inside. He walked in and made his way to the front of the sanctuary, where there hung a larger-than-life crucifix. Standing in front of the cross, he said aloud to the crucified Christ, “Tell me if it is true. Are you the Messiah?"
When he told me the story and I asked him what happened, the young Catholic priest replied, “I’m here.”
His family had disowned him, but he remained strong in his belief and trust in Jesus, who had answered him from that cross.
Most of us who were raised in Catholic households may not appreciate the price of believing. We take it for granted. When I read the stories of converts, I am moved at the distance some will travel in order to come to Christ.
The early church fathers, always seeking the fuller sense of Scripture, thought that the colt “on which no one ever sat” represented the Gentiles who had not had the Word of God preached to them. By mounting the colt that the apostles brought to him, the fathers saw Jesus as symbolically inviting the Gentiles to take on his yoke. Abandoning ourselves to Christ requires something more than throwing off our cloaks and cutting palm branches. It involves “drinking from the chalice that he will drink and undergoing the baptism that he will undergo.” This can lead to a radical redirection in our lives.
Going Wherever He Leads Us
In the case of my friend, abandoning himself to Christ involved the rejection of his family—as Christ had prophesied would happen to those who followed him (see Mark 13:12–13). For many of us this won’t be the case. However, when we truly open our hearts to the cross of Christ and plead, “Tell me if it is true. Are you the Messiah?” we can be sure he will answer us. I recently worked with fourteen women converts to put together a book, The Catholic Mystique, in which each recounted her entrance into the Catholic Church from other Christian traditions. Each story entailed Christ pulling them along the path he had chosen for them. What is remarkable about their stories is the abandonment to Christ they share in common. Some of the women were ordained priests or ministers in the churches they had left in order to become Catholic. Many had left behind families and friends, just as my Jewish friend had done.
The person who is truly abandoned to Christ, goes where the Lord calls him or her to go—even if it is “where they would not go.” In a recent interview, British journalist John Bishop asked Father Benedict Groeschel about his future plans for the thriving community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, which Father Benedict had co-founded. Father kept insisting that he had no plans except to be led. When Bishop pressed him, the friar answered all the more insistently, “No plans, just be led.” No one knows what the future holds. Abandoning oneself to the cross of Christ, one does not try to impose “my will” against “God’s will”; rather, one prays daily, “God’s will be done.”
Lord, Save Us!
When the Lord entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he was greeted as the Messiah. On Good Friday, the same crowd offered him up as the sacrificial lamb. We tend to interpret this as the crowd turning on Jesus, and indeed from a worldly perspective that is what seems to have taken place. We can relate to this fickle response. But if we look at what happened to Jesus, we’ll see God’s mysterious plan being enacted. “Hosanna!” the people cried as Jesus entered the city. This is one of the few words in Scripture that is not translated into English (like Alleluia; Amen; and talitha, koum). How does “Hosanna” translate into English? In most English translations of Psalm 118:25, this word is translated “Save us!” It seems that it may have been this psalm that the people of Jerusalem were proclaiming as Jesus entered the city: “Save us, we beseech thee, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech thee, give us success! Blessed be he who enters in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar!” (Psalm 118:25–27). They were crying out to be saved by God and his Christ. Ironically, a few days later they cried out, “Crucify him,” bringing about that very act of salvation. At times we lose sight of how this mirrors the actions of their ancestors, the patriarchs of the original twelve tribes, who sold one of their brothers into slavery—and God used that act of treachery for his own end. Thus at the end of Genesis we hear Joseph proclaim, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant if for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”(Genesis 50:20). St. Paul tells us that we are to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”—we are to conduct ourselves as people of light. Too often people try to escape or reject their cross; they flee to the darkness, escape in alcohol or sex, or immerse themselves in anger, all because things have not gone their way. Without the grace of God, this is our fate as well. Yet when we are handed a cross, if we abandon ourselves and trust in God as Christ did, what seems like defeat is in fact a victory! The evil that is done to us, God can mold into good. Then we can sing Hosanna to God in the highest, because the light of God will live in us and we will see everything in his light.
The Power of the Cross by Michael Dubruiel is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.