Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Embracing the Cross

Thomas a'Kempis

This morning I shared some passages from The Imitation of Christ with the CCS faculty. They were from the last chapter in Book II, "The Royal Way of the Cross." The first paragraph hits you like a brick!

That seemeth a hard saying to many, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his Cross and follow Me. But it will be much harder to hear that last sentence, Depart from me, ye wicked, into eternal fire.

Immediately we are straightened out and ready to take up the cross! There are three points I especially emphasized.

1) No matter how we may try to plan difficulty and challenge out of our schedules, the Lord will not let us escape them. A'Kempis:

Dispose and order all things according to thine own will and judgment, and thou shalt ever find something to suffer either willingly or unwillingly, and thus thou shalt ever find thy cross. For thou shalt either feel pain of body, or tribulation of spirit within thy soul.

That's actually good for us.

2) The cross also does not leave us because we cannot escape the need of it for our own spiritual health. It delivers us from ourselves.

The Cross therefore is always ready, and every where waiteth for thee. Thou canst not flee from it whithersoever thou hurriest, for whithersoever thou comest, thou bearest thyself with thee, and shalt ever find thyself. Turn thee above, turn thee below, turn thee without, turn thee within, and in them all thou shalt find the Cross; and needful is it that thou everywhere possess patience if thou wilt have internal peace and gain the everlasting crown.

The beautiful thing is that the love of God is in all those directions as well, motivating us and encouraging us as we bear the cross after our Lord, our Brother, and our Friend. As St. Paul says:

"For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ... That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:14-19)

3) Lastly, a'Kempis uses an idea that is found elsewhere in his work. It is of the difference that our attitudes make in the trials we face. For the sake of my Ethics class, I likened it to how one responds when they are told to do the dishes. If you do them reluctantly, unwillingly, you do not do them well, probably have to redo things, certainly take more time, and possibly get into trouble over it. But if you do them willingly, with energy, you get them done, done well, and done quickly, and you, and your parents, will be happy about them being done. A'Kempis says it's like that with the cross.

If thou willingly bear the Cross, it will bear thee, and will bring thee to the end which thou seekest, even where there shall be the end of suffering; though it shall not be here. If thou bear it unwillingly, thou makest a burden for thyself and greatly increaseth thy load, and yet thou must bear it. If thou cast away one cross, without doubt thou shalt find another and perchance a heavier.

While the cross is never appealing to our flesh, Brother Thomas makes the cross sound very appealing to our spirits.

Why fearest thou then to take up the cross which leadeth to a kingdom? In the Cross is health, in the Cross is life, in the Cross is protection from enemies, in the Cross is heavenly sweetness, in the Cross strength of mind, in the Cross joy of the spirit, in the Cross the height of virtue, in the Cross perfection of holiness. There is no health of the soul, no hope of eternal life, save in the Cross. Take up therefore, thy cross and follow Jesus and thou shalt go into eternal life. He went before thee bearing His Cross and died for thee upon the Cross, that thou also mayest bear thy cross and mayest love to be crucified upon it. For if thou be dead with Him, thou shalt also live with Him, and if thou be a partaker of His sufferings thou shalt be also of His glory.

With this last quote I concluded.

Thinkest thou to escape what no mortal hath been able to avoid? Which of the saints in the world hath been without the cross and tribulation? For not even Jesus Christ our Lord was one hour without the anguish of His Passion, so long as He lived. It behooved, He said, Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead,and so enter into his glory. And how dost thou seek another way than this royal way, which is the way of the Holy Cross?

The quotations from
The Imitation are from Project Gutenburg and hence their archaic nature!

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