Editor’s Note: recent DC Service Corps member Josh Maxey reflects on what it means to “take up our cross,” and how he came to a deeper understanding of the phrase through his year of service with FMS.
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” These words recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew in chapter 16 verse 24 are probably one of the most famous passages in the Gospel. In this passage, Jesus gives a very direct and simple response to his followers—and to us—about what it takes to become a true follower of Christ: “Take up your cross.”
If I hadn’t already been familiar with this passage because of regular bible study, it certainly became familiar with the many sessions of spiritual direction that I have gone through. When life would get in the way, and I would begin to lose hope and even at times lose faith, I would time after time be reminded by my spiritual director or close family and friends that I should “take up my cross.” In the second station in the Stations of the Cross, we see Jesus doing that very same thing: taking up his cross.
Jesus was wrongfully sentenced to death, ridiculed, beaten, and spat on. After he was condemned to die, the Romans made Jesus carry his cross. Some scholars believe that this cross weighed over 100 pounds! I don’t even remember the last time I lifted 50 pounds; I certainly cannot imagine carrying a 100-pound wooden cross, while already in a damaged and weak state.
But what is astonishing is that Christ does not give up. He carries his cross, and accepts God’s will and God’s plan for him. This is something that I have had to learn. I have learned not to only accept God’s plan for my life, but also to be resilient and be immovable in my faith. In times of difficulty, it is easy for us to try to run away from our problems or simply pretend that they do not exist. But what I believe Jesus is teaching us through carrying his own cross is that we only find true peace when we decide to embrace our suffering head-on and to move through the challenges, no matter how difficult they become.
I must admit, the meaning of “taking up your cross” never really made sense to me until I began my service year with FMS. While working with the homeless community in DC, I saw this resilience up close everyday. Working with men and women who lacked adequate housing and other resources really gave me a new perspective on suffering. The community I worked with every day carried their cross on their shoulders and soldiered on. They didn’t allow their life’s circumstance to stand in the way of their joy or love for one another.
In fact, if you ask me, carrying our cross is not meant to be a solitary act. In the Stations of the Cross, we see Simon of Cyrene come to the aid of Jesus and help him carry the heavy cross for a while. In our Catholic community, we also have several aids to help us carry our crosses. First, we have the sacraments, the very movement of God’s grace entering into our lives. Second, we have each other. No one ever said that the Christian journey that we walk would be easy, but like Jesus, we are all called to carry our cross, and at times, help others carry their cross and continue to walk towards peace, freedom, and justice for all of God’s creation.
It is my prayer that during this season of Lent, we remember to trust in God and turn to him when the crosses of our lives become too heavy to bear. But also, it is my prayer that we remember those who are ostracized in our society—the poor, the elderly, the sick, the mentally ill, the homeless, and those seeking refuge from dangerous places—who should not have to carry their cross on their own.
Reflection Question: how could you practice “taking up your cross” today? How could you accompany someone around you in their struggles to carry their own cross?