Thursday, May 23, 2024

Disciples in the Face of Affliction

As I was preparing for the holy season of Lent a number of years ago, the Holy Spirit “asked” me if I was willing to carry the cross for someone that season. Not believing that I “heard” Him correctly, I asked, “What?” Once more, the question came back to me clear as day.  I hesitantly said yes.

Immediately, my life was turned upside down. Prayer became as dry as the Mohave Desert. The Sisters with whom I live irritated my every waking hour. It was not that their actions or conversations were different, it was just that life irritated me. My students in my classroom were equally irksome. Suddenly, they forgot how to behave and the fact that they had to complete homework!

Completely distraught, I called out to my Beloved, who reminded me that I was carrying the cross for someone who was hurting far deeper than I was. This overall “difficulty” continued until Good Friday’s liturgy that Lenten season. The moment that I reverenced the cross, I felt like a 100-pound weight fell from my shoulders. Honestly, as I walked away from the cross, I felt like skipping back to my pew. You see, I was finally “free” of it!

Several months later, I was having a conversation with a friend over lunch. I asked her, “How was your Lent and Easter season?” She related to me that during the season of Lent, she was struggling with her depression. She was even discerning whether or not she would admit herself to the hospital. But, she got a sense that someone she did not know was helping her carrying this cross. She was now in a better place and felt she didn’t need this assistance. All I could do was smile and whisper, “Thank you, God!”

I am reminded of this story as we continue into this Lenten season. Recently, I came across a Bible study about the people involved in the Passion of Christ. In the introduction of this Bible study, the author writes, “One of the challenges posed by the season of Lent is how to be a disciple in the face of hardship and affliction. Jesus stated that the test of a true disciple is related to the cross: ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ (Mark 8:34)  By undertaking the trials of this penitential season, we come to understand the meaning of the cross in our lives and thus grow in the quality of our discipleship. We become more faithful disciples through caring for the needy, denying our selfish desires, facing our fears, letting go of control, grieving our loses, and forgiving mistakes. … But the gospels do not leave us in a state of eternal regret and guilt for our failures. Following the passion is the resurrection, which is not only the victory of Jesus over death but his reconciliation of the disciples. The resurrection is the call to begin again. The risen Jesus renews the call of his failed disciples; Jesus forgives them and issues the call again to share in his mission. Those who abandoned Jesus become the nucleus of the new community. The sufferings of the passion have become the birth pangs of new life.”1

If nothing else, as I age, the crosses that I carry become my love gift to my Beloved. You see, every crucifix on the face of the earth has an empty side on which we are called to hang with Jesus.

So, when you experience difficulty or any other “cross” in your life, just pray, “Thank you, Jesus! I am just hanging with my best friend!”

This prayer does not lessen the difficulty, but it puts in perspective that “I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Col 1:24)

Remember, we are all in this together!

1 Blinz, S., People of the Passion, 2018. New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, p.1, 5.

By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, The Catholic Witness

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