IT’s Holy Wednesday—midway between the beginning of Holy Week on Palm Sunday and the end of the Holy Week and the Lenten season on Easter Sunday.
To be a Christian who lives his faith authentically—and not just enjoying day in and day out the comfort of belonging to our Church—one must take seriously the Lord’s admonition to the disciples to “Take up your cross and follow me.” So now on Holy Wednesday, isn’t it a good time to ask ourselves: How do we carry our cross?”
A book of daily meditations that millions of Christians all over the world use is Fr. Francis Fernandez “In Conversation with God.” It has reflections for mental prayer based on the Mass of the day throughout the year.
Let’s go through the meditation he offers for Holy Wednesday. The over-all title of today’s meditation is “The Way to Calvary.” It has three sections. The first is titled “Jesus with the Cross on his shoulders passes through the streets of Jerusalem. Simon of Cyrene.” The second section is “Jesus accompanied by two thieves on his route to Calvary. Ways of carrying the cross.” The third is titled “Meeting his Mother.”
Let’s dwell a bit on the second—particularly “Ways of carrying the cross.”
“A little later on this journey to Calvary, Jesus passes by a group of tearful women, who are weeping for him. He consoles them. Here is the call to repentance, true repentance, genuine sorrow in the truth of the evil that has been committed. Jesus says to the daughters of Jerusalem, who weep at the sight of him: ‘Do not weep for me but weep for yourselves and for your children.’ (Luke 23: 28). One cannot merely scrape away at the surface of evil; one has to get down to its truth, its causes, the inner truth of conscience…Lord, let me know how to live and walk in the truth! (K. Wojtyla, Sign of Contradiction, The Way of the Cross, Eight Station).
Forming part of the procession their presence making his impending death yet more painful, are two convicted criminals, described as two thieves. A recently arrived spectator to the scene would see three men, each laden with a cross, walking toward death. But only one is the Savior of the world. Only one of the crosses is the redeeming cross.
Today, too, the cross can be carried in different ways. There is the cross carried furiously or sullenly, in a rage; man writhes and squirms, filled with hate, or at least, with a deep and burning resentment. It is a cross without meaning and without any explanation, useless; such a cross may even separate one from God. It is the cross of those in this world who seek comfort and material well-being, who will put up with neither suffering nor setback, for they have no wish to understand the supernatural meaning of pain. It is a cross that does not redeem. It is the cross carried by one of the thieves.
On the road to Calvary is a second cross, carried this time with resignation, perhaps even with some dignity, with an acceptance of the situation simply because there is no alternative to it. This the one carried by the other thief. Little by little he realizes that close by him is the sovereign figure of Christ, who will radically change the final moments of his life on earth, and for eternity; he will be the one converted into the good thief.
There is the third way of carrying the cross. Jesus embraces the saving wood and teaches us how we ought to carry our cross; with love, co-redeeming all souls with him, making reparation at the same time for our own sins. Our Lord has conferred on human suffering a deep meaning. Being able, as he was, to redeem us in a multitude of ways, he chose to do so through suffering, for greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15: 13)
Saintly people have discovered that sorrow, suffering and contradictions cease to be merely negative as soon as the cross is not seen to be on its own, but with Jesus who is passing by and coming to meet us. My God, I hate my sin, and unite myself to you, taking the Holy Cross, into my arms, so that I in my turn, may fulfill your lovable will…stripped of all earthly attachment, with no other glory but your glory…generously, not keeping anything back, offering myself with you in a perfect holocaust. (J.Escriva, Way of the Cross, Ninth Station.)