I’ve been trying to do some spiritual reading or listening in the evenings instead of watching Netflix or grazing around on Facebook before bedtime. At the moment I’m encouraged by St Teresa of Avila’s advice from her Life, that reading a spiritual book is a good substitute for mental prayer if one finds it hard to pray.
So the other night I was reminded of what Jesus said as recounted in the Gospels about picking up your cross daily and following him: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Seriously, why do I always forget about this? This is Christianity 101 stuff but I rarely consciously do it. I wondered, as I suspect Jesus wants us to wonder, what he meant by this for me?
I have assumed that I know what my daily crosses are – the things that I find difficult or anxiety-raising, especially to do with our children, people I couldn’t get along with, frustrations and disappointments, or memories and fears. I know I’m supposed to bear these patiently and to see any daily difficulties as opportunities to make a contribution to Jesus’ redemptive suffering.
Pope Francis has spoken of one’s daily cross as, “Not doing what I want, but what Jesus wants; [which is] following Jesus. And he says that on this path, we lose our life, in order to gain it back later.”
This involves the continual “loss of doing what I want, loss of comforts, being always on the path of Jesus who was at the service of others, [who was] in adoration of God”.
If I’m honest, my response to even everyday types of losses and deprivation of comforts (a string of freezing cold days, a big credit card bill, the disappearance of my favourite sunnies) is not to view them as part of my Christian journey but to complain, get resentful or jealous, or even depressed.
Or I immediately look to assuage any unpleasant feelings with a bit of online shopping or a glass of wine (preferably both together). And yet I believe myself to be a fairly good enough Christian, when every time the cross comes to my attention in daily life my immediate internal reaction is to swear at it, recoil from it, ignore it, eliminate it, or despair about it.
As I move into middle age I see that increasingly, part of my daily cross is my experience of myself as I struggle to accept life as it is and be grateful for everything in it, including the annoying and distressing bits. In a real way I am my own greatest cross – not the people or the things happening around me. Perhaps for me to carry mine then is simply to happily (or reasonably happily) do each day the things which need to be done and without dwelling too much on how I think and feel about things, or should think or feel about things.
From attending a meeting, to cleaning a toilet, playing with my children, or having a nap, I can simply grasp the opportunity to attend to the need of the moment, regardless of what it is, because it forms a stone along which I walk this path of life with the God who loves me at each moment. This to me seems to be true Christian mindfulness; what the Discalced Carmelite Br Lawrence wrote of as the Practice of the Presence of God, and St John of the Cross taught about learning to love by walking daily with God.
The only way I can stay on my own via crucis and be of real, loving, use to others each day, is if I focus more as the Pope says, on being in service of others while in adoration of God who goes before me.