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I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | Love of the cross frees us from fruitless self-enhancement

‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’

Whoever thought that taking up one’s cross would bring freedom and joy? I didn’t, but I do now!

Think for a moment. What is your greatest cross? Is it in-laws or in-laws that have become outlaws? Is it a family member or a co-worker? Really, it’s none of these. Our greatest cross is the failure of our self-project.

We are, without exception, engaged in self-enhancement. Our constant obsession is to become other than we are and our utter failure to achieve our goal is somewhat masochistic.

Think of the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Every morning Sisyphus would engage all his energy in rolling a huge stone up to the top of a tall hill, only to find out the next morning that the stone rolled back to the bottom of the hill.

To separate ourselves from our own failed self-improvement projects, we need outside help. God created us as very limited persons with a desire for infinite perfection. Without seeking the Creator’s further help, we never realize the perfection we so desperately desire.

St. James tells us how to get out of this: by entering into someone else’s suffering. “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

You see, when someone receives from God the call to answer the needs of the poor, then God calls him or her out of their self-project to participate in a God project. That is received faith. The desire to help the poor is already God entering the person’s heart and calling him or her out to participate in Godliness.

That is what Jesus meant when He said: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.” Those who embrace poverty for the sake of the Gospel are driven by joy; those who pray for the salvation of their irritators are filled with joy; those who patiently bear the hardships of family living are driven by joy.

In these cases, God puts His love between the individual and his or her self-project and calls them to participate in heavenly life on this earth. St. Augustine tells us that whatever seems hard becomes easy when love enters in. Love gives it a divine purpose, and places in the human spirit a desire to participate in Christ’s mission of bringing about the kingdom.

Love of the cross is not masochism, but welcoming God’s help to come into freedom from self.

How does one get started in this process of becoming freer from self? It certainly doesn’t come from working harder to oppose one’s self will. Rather, it’s receiving a call from on high to come into freedom. Faith comes not so much from doing as from first hearing.

Isaiah says: “The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, and my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”

What Isaiah heard was an invitation from the Lord to give faith witness to a voice from heaven. He then entered into performing a heavenly work on earth, in order to be a sign to others that God was present in his actions.

This was not Isaiah’s project, but a divine calling. “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah was not concerned with momentary suffering in his body, but with obedience to God in his heart. He knew that if he obeyed God, people would recognize not just Isaiah, but a special heavenly presence in his behavior.

“He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Who disputes my right? Let that man confront me. See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?”

Did not Jesus say in John chapter 12: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

Let us apply this to the present sex abuse crisis. Yes, we must pray for the victims and we must pray for the bishops and for the perpetrators themselves. However, this is all a part of the Evil One’s agenda to destroy the Church.

However, someone has recently stated: “Now Mary is blowing Satan’s cover. She is purifying the Church and she will spare no one.”

Satan wants us to turn against each other in anger, or to walk away and drop out of the Church. We will have none of it.

We will embrace any hardships, any shame, any embarrassment in standing with Jesus against the Evil One. Aside from Jesus, no one understands the tactics of the Evil One better than Mary. We need more help than the bishops or the Holy Father can provide. We need Mary’s intercession, and we have it on good authority from the Book of Genesis that Satan doesn’t mess with Mary.

How better to participate in the renewal and purification of the Church than by saying the daily Rosary for this purpose? This is calling us out of ourselves.

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