When I think of love, I think of the Cross. When I think of sacrifice, of excruciating pain, of what it means to be Christian, I think of the Cross. When I think of joy, I think of the Resurrection...which only came by virtue of the Cross.
Some segments of modern Christianity tend to focus primarily on the joys and blessings of knowing and loving Jesus. We have all heard of the so-called gospel of prosperity, aka the ‘health and wealth’ gospel. I certainly believe that God desires to bring us a joy that this world cannot offer. What father does not want to bring joy and happiness to his beloved?
While all this is absolutely true, there is more to the story and more depth to the message of the gospel. The Lord loves us so much that he bestows upon us the dignity, as mere humans, to enter into his mystery and follow him to live the very life that he lived. What do I mean by that? Well, he allows us to endure crosses and resurrections. He allows us to freely choose these sacrifices. And through the grace of his Cross and Resurrection, he gives power to ours so that our sacrificial lives may be redemptive to others as well. We do not become the Redeemer, but we do become cooperators with the Redeemer. When we offer our sacrifices and sufferings in union with the grace of the Cross, they are given divine power. I want us to hear this loud and clear—we are given divine power! Our lives can become immersed in the mystery of redemption.
Consider these somewhat scandalizing words of St. Paul, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…” (Colossians 1:24). Is Paul saying Christ did not suffer enough? What exactly is lacking?
Brothers and sisters, what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions is our participation in them! Christ paid the price once and for all, but he calls upon us to follow him along the way, to live the life he lived. To be a Christian is to be a “little” Christ. There is no Christianity without the Cross.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus reveals to us the ultimate guide to the depths of an authentically Christian life. Described by many as Christ’s greatest teaching, the Beatitudes progress in the order in which they are proclaimed. For example, the first Beatitude is blessed are the “poor in spirit”, signifying that the spiritual life begins with humility. So where do the Beatitudes end? “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
St. Paul embraced this fully and with such freedom that he could even rejoice in his own sufferings for the sake of others. He embraced it so fully that he could say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20).
When Christ lives in us it is his light that will shine through us. Pain and suffering will still come our way, but upon arriving at the Illuminative or Unitive state our hearts now have the eyes to see the redemptive value. Perspectives begin changing, leading to deeper contemplation into the sublime mysteries and wisdom of God. Like Christ (and St. Paul), you yourself become an offering for others. You have become another Christ...a Christian.
When we gaze into a stained-glass window we see and experience the beauty and splendor of the Saints. What we are really seeing is the light from the sun shine through the multi-colored glass. The glass allows the sun to shine through it. His light must become our light. His life must become our life.
May our freedom be expressed in loving sacrifice. In doing so, we become like God himself as we partake in his divine nature and power. His love, lived through us, can transform the world:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4).