“I can’t wait for Lent to be over.”
Those of us with young kids have probably heard this already. Some of us have thought it or said it ourselves because of the sacrifices we chose. In less than two weeks, a chosen, voluntary sacrifice has become unbearable. And at the end of forty days, we’ll put down that cross and go back to eating what we probably shouldn’t have been eating, and drinking what we probably shouldn’t have been drinking, and watching and doing what we probably shouldn’t have been watching and doing in the first place.
But what if Lent becomes our life? What if our cross isn’t voluntary? What about when we don’t have a choice, when our Lord gives us a cross out of love for us? And what if that cross is something we will carry the rest of our life? Out of despair, sometimes people echo Job, and say “Let the day perish on which I was born.” We struggle because our ways are not His ways, and understanding His ways is almost always difficult, and sometimes impossible.
In December, Fr. Dana Christensen of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, at the age of 43. In a recent interview he said, “One of the greatest crosses is that at some point losing the ability to offer Mass…. At some point the day will come when instead of offering the sacrifice, I will become the sacrifice.”
When faced with such a cross, we can find encouragement in the words of St. Alphonses Liguori who says, “In tribulations God enriches His beloved souls with the greatest graces… The Lord sends them to us, not because He wishes our misfortune, but because He desires our welfare. Hence, when they come upon us, we must embrace them with thanksgiving, and must not only resign ourselves to the divine will, but must also rejoice that God treats us as He treated His Son Jesus Christ, whose life upon the earth was always full of tribulation.”
Fr. Christensen is a living example of how to accept our cross in this way. In the interview, he continued: “This is an extension of my priesthood. Living my priesthood in a new way, in a way I don’t want to live it. But clearly the Lord wants me to accept this cross and to accept it with joy, with a sense of humor, and with a spirit of reparation and sacrifice…. It is a humbling reality. Pride has always been my issue. Humility is not my strong suit. Which is why I believe that this is a gift from God. He says, ‘Listen, father, you’re a sinner. You’re a prideful man. So I’m going to give you humility. You’re not going to be able to dress yourself, feed yourself. Somebody is going to help you use the bathroom. You need it. I love you, I want you to be holy, I want you to be a saint. So here you go on a platter.’… I’m a relatively big guy and the Lord says ‘You eat too much, so you’re not going to eat anymore. You’re going to go on a prolonged fast where you’re going to be fed with a feeding tube.’ Again, what a gift! The Lord ordering my disorder.”
When Christ was baptized in the Jordan, it was the first day of Him carrying His cross. He knew everything that would happen to Himself over the next three years. Christ knew that He would be tempted, questioned, denied, and betrayed. Despite knowing this, Jesus was obedient to carrying the cross the Father had ordained for Him, not because He needed perfected, but because we do. So He was obedient to the Father, because He knew the Father’s love for us. He humbled Himself and was baptized. Three years later — as His sacred body was desecrated and defiled, as He was mocked and ridiculed, as He was humiliated in every imaginable way — He remained obedient to the Father. He patiently waited for God’s will to be done. For God incarnate, perhaps His greatest temptation was His bloody Passion, as He endured the desecration of His holy flesh and profanation of His Divine name. Yet God the Son remained obedient to God the Father through it all. Even today, He is still obedient to the Father in the Eucharist. He knew that this would be His fate, that He would need to be patient for not just forty days, not just three years, but thousands of years, until it is the will of the Father that He come again. He carries a new cross as He waits patiently in the form of humble bread, as His Divine presence is mocked, doubted, questioned, and ridiculed. He is silent as His flesh is defiled by filthy hands and sinful tongues. He is still humble, still obedient, still patient, still strong, and still faithful to His cross.
May God give us humility and joy in accepting our cross, whatever it may be. May He give us obedience in being faithful to carrying our cross, no matter how heavy. May He give us patience in carrying our cross, no matter how long we must carry it. And may He give us strength of faith, so that we may trust in His ways, even when we don’t understand them. Mary, Mother of Sorrows… Pray for us.