Embracing the Cross of Love

I remembered coming to a good priest friend and confidant, telling him about the burdens of ministerial life. He told me something that really made me think:

“It is easy to say to the Lord that ‘I love you.’ It seems to be appealing to desire a martyr’s death or to be a missionary in foreign lands to preach the Gospel. However, the Cross that the Lord gives to each and every one of us is hidden and found in the little things of life when we have to choose to ‘die’ for the love of Him.”

With that one advice, my priest friend made me think much about how I pray in, with, and for my priestly ministry.

I also remember an advice that was given to me at a recent retreat, which is similar to the last one: “The lens with which you see the world colors your life.” Hence, as you can see from my featured image, the lookout hole resembles the Cross. I believe for us, as Christians, the lens by which we see the world has to be of and from the love of the Savior, which is the Cross. Only through the personal and intimate understanding of self-giving love from the Cross can we learn how to truly sacrifice and give ourselves genuinely. I will be honest with you… Even as a priest, I often questioned divine providence, and at times, doubted God’s goodness. I have asked Him why He allowed this or that to happen or why He could not stop them. Sometimes I wondered if God really cares. However, I know that is just my human and personal doubts, and I know the Devil is also trying his very best to cloud and exaggerate the situation, too. Nevertheless, through those moments, the saints taught us that we can learn to choose to love and abide with Christ.

It is easy for us to only choose a simple image of God as the Provider, taking care of our needs as long as we believe or choose Him. However, that is not who He truly is nor how He would like to invite us to see Him as is. He wants our love and desires that we return this love with a personal and intimate trust in His faithfulness. Just as love is sometimes hard and complex, the journey of life has its own levels of challenges and blessings. That is why our image and understanding of God cannot simply be something that can fit in our front pocket. Our understanding and relationship with God have to be based on the love that He had manifested for humanity on the Cross. As He stretched out His hands between heaven and earth as the expiation for our sins, our own embrace of the Cross is the personal and intimate unity and offering of ourselves to Him.

Many saints wrote similarly in their writings as well. It is so easy to dream of magnificent or glorious ways to glorify one’s self than to bear the Cross daily. I will admit to you that I often have similar temptations as well. It is easy to think that my “gifts” and “talents” could be used elsewhere, especially on days that are hard or challenging, but that is just the self-centered deception that the Devil wants to instill in us. To love is to be faithful days in and out! To love the Lord is then to embrace the daily inconveniences and challenges for Him and with His grace.

For those who are married, these daily crosses could be from their spouses or children, or even relatives and extended family members. For those who are working, these crosses could be inter-colleague interactions and workplace dramas. For those who are going to school, these struggles could come from academic settings as well as interpersonal interactions. For those who are having health problems, the crosses could come in form of physical inconveniences and sufferings. For those who are retiring or older, these hardships could come in different forms of human, financial, health, or even relational limitations. No matter where we are or what state we are in, images of the Cross are unavoidable. We can choose to avoid them or blaming everything on God, or we can choose to embrace them reflectively and prayerfully.

Sometimes we all wish that our faith and prayer life would be better or at their best state. Yet, it is so easy to dismiss inconveniences, trials, and hardships as opportunities and invitations for deeper reflection, meditation, and prayer times. My spiritual director would often remind me in the past:

“WHAT do you think God is trying to teach you at this moment? WHERE was He in the midst of what you have described? HOW can you use this opportunity as a way to sanctify yourself? WHEN can you bring this into prayer?”

Even in the midst of wrongdoings, hardships, and sufferings that are happening right now, God is using them to teach us many things. I know that I would be one of the first people to ask Him: “WHY? Couldn’t it be another time?” Yet, it seems like His divine timing is always right and I can always look back to see how much I have grown, even though I was kicking and screaming in those moments.

I want you to do some retrospective reflection as well. Look back at all your trials and see if you can identify only the wrongdoings or sufferings, or do you also see the grace-filled moments that come along with them? God never abandoned us! He always sent the right people to assist and allow the right moments to teach us, even when we were too hurt or myopically looking at the problems themselves. We are not alone, even in our toughest trials! Therefore, let us take some time to reflect on what is important and how God is constantly asking us to learn to love and depend on Him. If human love is already hard and trying at times, imagine the greatness that comes from the divine love that sometimes requires us to go beyond what our feeble understanding can comprehend, feelings or emotions can analyze or know at the time! Therefore, I hope our lens of faith will color and help us understand the richness of the faith and life journey in, through, and with the Lord. May our prayer be, “Lord, even when my life is filled with inconveniences and what I do not like, help me to seek your loving presence there, too”, even at times we might not necessarily understand why.