Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." - from today's Gospel, Matthew 16:24-28
My worst nightmare in black and white. I follow Jesus. That's somewhat easy. I skip along happily in faith. I struggle, but you know, it's the end result that I try to keep focused on. However, it's denying myself and taking up my cross that literally reduces me to a puddle.
When it comes to denying myself, the only child in me rears up its ugly head and I'll come up with every excuse why I should not be denied! During Lent it is one of my big challenges. There have been times when I've done quite well in whatever I've decided to give up and then there's other times when I fail miserably.
For me, taking up my cross is the biggest fear of all. I'm probably not alone in fearing suffering. When I have my little trials, I pray fervently for a resolution. But in my own opinion, I don't think I've suffered much. Sure, my childhood was a bit rough, but I know people who suffered at the hands of their own parents and others way more then I did.
I was reading Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality. Mother has a lot to say about suffering and she's one of those rare people who truly understand it. Let me share with you here, her types of suffering:
God can use suffering to prevent us from committing sin, from making errors in judgment, from becoming worldly or proud. He at times will bless us with disappointment and frustration to direct us toward His Path. This suffering prevents us from making the wrong choices and keeps us away from danger and evil, though we are often unaware of it as it is happening.
When a person violates the law of God, the Commandments for instance, untold suffering follows. We cannot blame this suffering on God. It is the inevitable result of disobedience. Still, God loves us, and His love brings good out of every mistake we make. The suffering incurred by disobedience can be used to purify the very weakness that produced it. He uses the suffering to correct us and to return us to His ways.
The suffering heart, broken over its infidelities, broken out of love for so great and good a God, is a sacrifice that rises to heaven and is accepted by God more than many good works.
Repentant suffering cleanses our souls, brings down upon us the compassion of God, and enables us to begin anew.
But probably the best explanation of suffering I've ever heard was from Fr. Benedict Groeschel on his recordings of the Rosary. On the introduction to the Sorrowful Mysteries, Father says, "Whenever good comes in contact with evil, there is suffering. And when the greatest of all goods comes into contact with evil we must expect great suffering."