Take Up Your Cross?

Palm Sunday raises at least two important spiritual questions for Christians: What does it mean to be like Jesus? And what does it means to take up our crosses, just like he did?

First, you don't need to go looking for your cross. Life gives them to you. Whether it's an illness or a tough family relationship or trouble in school or problems on the job. The real cross is the one that you don't want.

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Because it's hardly a cross if you want it.

Just like it was for Jesus.

Second, we are asked by Jesus to accept our crosses.

Now, what does that mean? Well, first it means accepting that suffering is a reality in your life, and being honest about it. Perhaps more importantly, it means not passing along the bitterness that you feel. That doesn't mean that when you're with friends or family members or counselors, you can't talk about it or complain about it or even cry about it. That's both healthy and natural.

But it does mean that if you're angry about your boss or about school or about your family, you don't pass along that anger or bitterness or meanness to others. If you have a lousy boss, does that mean that you should be mean to your family? If you have a difficult family situation, does that mean that you should be angry with your coworkers? If you are having problems at school, does that mean that you should be cruel to your family?

Your cross is your cross. It shouldn't become someone else's.

Read the rest here.

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Mani Chandy
7 years ago
Thanks for the reflection, Fr Martin!  While I agree that ''Your cross is your cross.  It shouldn't be someone else's'' (that is, we shouldn't take out our resentment or frustration over our cross on others), it's always a humbling and amazing experience when someone voluntarily shares the burden of your cross with you.  Even Jesus stumbled under His cross, and had help bearing it. 

I read a moving NYT piece about just this sort of love here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/fashion/10Modern.html
Molly Roach
7 years ago
Like the Buddhists say, suffering is inevitable.
Crystal Watson
7 years ago
"The real cross is the one that you don't want.  Because it's hardly a cross if you want it.   Just like it was for Jesus."

Thanks, Fr. Martin - I really liked the article.
7 years ago
Thank you. Fr. Martin.  Once again you provided me with something to think about for Holy Week: not to pass along one's bitterness or frustrations to others!  Instead as Monsignor Tinsley would say: Be a blessing to your loved ones (friends, family members specially).    Yes, I will make lemonade with my lemons! 
David Nickol
7 years ago
Fr. Martin,

How likely is it that Jesus actually said ''take up your cross''? Certainly it would have been utterly bewildering to his followers before the crucifixion and resurrection. Whatever foreknowledge Jesus may have had, his followers would not have seen crucifixion as something in Jesus's future. It was a horrible and humiliating way to die. Before the crucifixion and resurrection, why would anyone say ''take up your cross''?

Even after the crucifixion and resurrection, Paul said, ''But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.''  What could ''take up your cross'' possibly have meant to Jesus's followers during his lifetime? 
7 years ago
Anyone who likes this reflection should also listen to the ownderful podcast for the week of Fr.Rohr.
Makes a nice bookend
7 years ago
Thank you, Fr. Jim for another reflection that gives us much to ponder, to pray about and to work on in the days and hopefully, the years ahead.  I also like to reflect on Jesus's saying :  "my yoke is light and my burden easy" .  That is the essence of the hope and redemption that Christ promises us.  It enables us to live through the suffering in a more patient way, knowing what happiness awaits us.

I think we have to be careful in how we understand acceptance of one's cross and not fall into a state of resignation.  There is always God's grace (the God of surprises) working in our lives and we need to be open to it and embrace it, even when it means moving out of our "comfort zone" and taking risks.

When my children who are disabled were young, people talked to me about the cross and burden I had.  I found that abhorent as no human being is a cross.  Their care may be a cross  and it is important to make that distinction.  This is where Christians modelling themselves after Simon of Cyrene, can make a significent contribution to parents such as myself.  Helping us with the care of our children is helping us to carry our crosses.

Yves Congar said:  "I have often thought of the words of St. Paul: 'patience breeds hope.'  One would have thought that it was just the reverse....but the order in  which St. Paul puts it reveals a more profound truth.  Those who do not know how to suffer, do not know how to hope...The patient sower, who entrusts the seed to the earth and the sun, is a person of hope."
david power
7 years ago
@David Nickol,

I too stumbled upon the same question many years ago and never resolved it.I would be interested in how others can explain it.
The Chronology seems wrong. The Cross symbolism would have been unkown completely to the disciples and at best would have been linked to imminent death.On the other hand if the translation is correct is puts to bed the Jehovahs witness theory that Jesus died on a straight pole.

Answers on a postcard please. 
Bill Mazzella
7 years ago
Jesus also said that "my yoke is sweet and my burden light" and that I have come that we "may have abundant life." It is surely a privilege to serve the Lord who turns work and sorrow into joy. While we live Jesus Crucified we realize what a privilege it is to serve such a loving God, with our brother and friend. We give thanks always for all things.
7 years ago
Bill M.

Thanks for giving us the correct quote of Jesus.  I had used the Johnson edition of the Bible which is (too) often in error.  :-)
7 years ago
Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins; but we can't go on sinning and expect to come after Jesus.  When Jesus took up His cross he took up our sins, so it makes sense that when we take up our crosses we are also taking up sins: our sins.  Not the ones that we've already committed, but the ones that we might be in the future commit if we succumb to our human desires.  And this makes sense when we look at what Jesus said before He says to take up our crosses.  He says that we must deny ourselves.  

So, when we are faced with a problem in life, the "cross" is not the problem itself; the cross is the sinful things that such problems lead us to, such as taking out our anger on others or failing to care for, and/or complaining about, a sickly parent. 

But beyond how we react to our problems, the denial of self and taking up the cross also involves the active resistance of things that we desire but are sinful.  Thus, we take up our cross when we, e.g., are tempted to have an affair, to have an abortion, to engage in homosexual acts, or any other self-abosrbed activity that denies God's will.  These latter ones are the ones we tend to ignore and are oftentimes harder because they involve denying ourselves human pleasure, an especially tough thing in a society where self-abosrbed sinful activity has become commonplace.

Posters on America like to skip the self-denial part that precedes taking up our crosses.  "Don't deny yourself, be who you are, just do it with love," seems to be the new pseudo-Catholic mantra.
david power
7 years ago
Thanks  Jim Keane for the response.
The bible is a lot richer when it is read in an existential key and not overloaded with an ecclesiastic  optic. Truly Christ is a lot more clothed today than when he gasped his last breath...
7 years ago
Among the Jews, no form of death was considered more disgraceful than crucifixion. And among the pagan Romans, no form of execution was considered more painful than to be crucified.

The Crucifixion… was not the original, and for centuries, the favorite means of executing criminals among the Romans. This is one thing the Romans learned from the Eastern people they conquered. Roman writers of that day exhaust the Latin vocabulary in describing how awful this form of capital punishment was. It was the most excruciating, the most prolonged and the most humiliating. –Hardon
CRUCIFIXION. Execution of a criminal by nailing or binding to a cross. Originally used in the East, it was adopted by the Romans and was commonly inflicted on any condemned person who could not prove Roman citizenship. Normally preceded by scourging, it was later (from A.D. 69) imposed on certain lower class citizens. Emperor Constantine abolished this method of capital punishment.
The crucifixion of Christ between two thieves is recorded by all four Evangelists. According to tradition, the cross of Christ was a crux immissa, with the upright extending above the transom. Also, most probably, Christ was fixed to the cross with four nails and covered with a loincloth, as prescribed by the Talmud.—Catholic Modern Dictionary
david power
7 years ago
Maria, this is taken from the unimpeachable wikipedia.It suggests that our Lord left this life as naked as he entered it. This is given as the reason why the disciples or female disciples stood at a distance but does not explain how HE  could have spoken to His mother .  


While a crucifixion was an execution, it was also a humiliation, by making the condemned as vulnerable as possible. Although artists have depicted the figure on a cross with a loin cloth or a covering of the genitals, writings by Seneca the Younger suggest that victims were crucified completely nude.[12] When the victim had to urinate or defecate, they had to do so in the open, in view of passers-by, resulting in discomfort and the attraction of insects. Despite its frequent use by the Romans, the horrors of crucifixion did not escape mention by some of their eminent orators. Cicero for example, in a speech that appears to have been an early bid for its abolition,[13] described crucifixion as "a most cruel and disgusting punishment", and suggested that "the very mention of the cross should be far removed not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears."[13]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion
7 years ago
David: I am not a scholar. Maybe Wikipedia knows something Fr. Hardon didn't. Wikipedia seems to be right on Cicero. Hardon had this to say: " The Romans did on occasion crucify. But Cicero, the name of the great Roman orator, Cicero, he says… and here is the strongest word in Latin and then he uses the superlative of that adjective to say that the pain was terrerum, the most terrifying pain that any human being can possibly experience being nailed to the cross. And Cicero wrote that before Christ was crucified".
7 years ago
"The symbolism of the cross was connected not only to the letter chi, but also to tau, the equivalent of the last letter in the Phoenician and Old Hebrew alphabets, and which was originally cruciform in shape." [from Wikipedia]
In a talk a few years ago, Roger Karban offered a possible interpretation of the words of Jesus ("Take up your cross...").  Roger conjectured that "cross" might really be "tau" in the original, indicating that people should take up their tau (we would say their omega-the finish of the alphabet), which means their goal, and follow him.  I vaguely remember Roger saying the it was a custom of the time for some Jews to carry a tau-shaped object with them-I could be mis-remembering.
If the gospel writer is remembering such words from Jesus, then the connection to the crucifixion and the meaning for the early Christians of such words becomes much more pointed.
7 years ago
“We adore you O Christ and we praise you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world!” Whether or not Jesus actually said “Take up your cross and follow me”  or that those lines were inserted later, is no big deal! If they were inserted later it goes to show that the writer caught the significance of another  of Jesus’ teachings, “Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart!” It is instinctively human to want to imitate people we love, or admire - we want to be “like them!” Like carrying a cross.
There is nothing more degrading than crucifixion, the Cross, nothing more de-humanizing, a reality grasped by St. Paul when he says, we must become as “dung” for Christ’s sake! A scripture lecturer once explained  that the word “dung” is a watered-down version of what St. Paul actually said - he really said we must become (forgive the bluntness)   like “shit” which is what the Cross is,  for Christ’s sake! an experience  leading to that “light” at the end of the tunnel - EASTER! The dark clarity of Faith assures this. And paradoxically it is so rewarding.

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