When the Lord Jesus Christ said to pick up our cross every day to follow Him (cf. Matthew 16:24-26), He did not speak in a passive sense. He did not say that we wait until the cross is given unto us then we choose to drag it. The Redeemer was talking about a daily, proactive, and personal decision to deny ourselves, picking up our cross to follow Him. This is not easy, and we naturally try to avoid it at all costs, but this is the Savior’s personal invitation and calling to each and every one of His disciples. Therefore, as Christians, it is then crucial that we choose to embrace the cross and let it sanctify us.
First, it is important to recognize that there is no other way to achieve the complete and fullness of salvation except through the Paschal Mystery. The Lord Jesus Christ chose to initiate the New Covenant, beginning at the Last Supper by instituting the Eucharist, then follow up what He said by laying down His life for all of us on the Cross, and was faithful to His promise with the Resurrection. The way of the sacrificial and self-giving love is the way of the Savior. His way was never of humanistic standards, posh, easy, or power-based like other rulers. Our Redeemer chose the most personal and sacrificial act of self-donation and self-emptying love by giving His everything to us at each and every Eucharist, just as He did on the Cross. Only God who is so radically in love with us could ever think of such unimaginable action!
When was the last time we actually see a world leader who is willing to live like his or her subjects in all things? When was the last time we see someone in power, with prestige or wealth, choose to exchange his or her own life for someone unworthy of being saved? Perhaps all we have seen nowadays are just nice, appealing, but empty talks of kindness, compassion, and mercy but not many people are willing to be put their words into actions. In the day and age of social media, we hear a lot of people trying to make a name for themselves, sell their products or ideas, influence others with what they think is good or best because they are invested in it, but we rarely see a life-long, personal, and humble giving of one’s self for the greater good of all.
Every time we see a new idea, startup, or revolution on social media, they always seem to pitch their campaigns as something heroic, disrupting the status quo of an industry or society, paving the way to something new, or mind-blowing. They make things sound like they are so amazing, but after a while, we can see the whole internet and social media platforms are filled with similar rhetorics, promising cutting-edge revolutions and progresses but simply are nothing but another set of things to be sold. I do not know about you… but there is only so much one can take before one begins to yawn and get bored when those things appear on our news or social media feeds. When everyone is trying too hard to wow everybody else, everyone ends up bored and disinterested by the empty words of just more people trying to pervade another idea or product to be bought.
We also have many parties, fundraising events, startups, or revolutions, but nothing really affects the world at large in meaningful ways. We have seen many people getting together and feel good about a little something that they believe in, perhaps many will go home happy because they have contributed or done something “revolutionary,” but there is a lack of real personal commitment and sacrificial love. Therefore, we often see the need for constant revolutions and progresses in order to feel like we are doing something!
None of that talks about taking up one’s cross to follow the Lord. On the contrary, those things are simply the many voices trying to be vocal and captivate our attention. As a matter of fact, in a more polarized and noisy world, people no longer know how to communicate and connect with one another, for they only know how to yell, be vocal, voice their disgruntled opinions, or do whatever is outrageous to get their points across. We speak much but we do not know how to listen, discern, reflect, and really connected with one another. What we end up nowadays are more people being more lonely because they are disconnected from others and do not know how to talk with one another from the heart. We have become a society that constantly says, “Look at me!” Nonetheless, we have really end up forgetting how to really look and care for one another. We have made our society noisier but more lonely by the day, each person is miserable and only care for themselves. We have caused ourselves to be in this situation because we have denied the Cross and our call to discipleship. We have become sad and lonely people because we do not know who we are, especially who we are in the eyes of God.
I have heard many young people who told me that the clearest sign of their depression is that they are no longer able to take selfies and “be my happy and positive self” on social media. They get depressed because they do not have enough likes or follows, or because they cannot be natural in the self-absorbed and self-centered world of selfies, social popularities, being recognized and accepted by “friends” or “followers” online. Our young people have allowed themselves to be identified by how much they have to show or present themselves in certain ways to be liked, stand out, or accepted by the anonymous numeral expression of likes, followers, or views. Once those usual things are taken away from them, they become depressed, suicidal, and lose hope because they figure out that they do not really know or love themselves in a theocentric and humble way — just the typical, fragile, and egocentric manifestations of someone likable. The only escape or way out of this hopeless world is to return to the life of faith, self-knowledge, and humble acceptance of who we truly are in Christ Jesus who loves us beyond than how we dislike ourselves at times. It is truly a wonderful liberation to know who we are and to live as His disciples instead of what the world tells us that we have to be! Yet, it is hard and takes a lot of humility, and we can only do it one step at a time.
The Cross of Jesus Christ is the way of love. Therefore, to embrace the Cross is to deny our fragile ego’s desire to be at the center of attention and control at all times. It is hard and trying at times, and that is why it is a faith-filled, theocentric, self-giving, sacrificial, and personal decision to let go and let Jesus be the center of our lives. The greatest freedom found in the life of faith is one that is paradoxical: only in letting go of ourselves can we have enough room for God to take over and transform us! The more we try to be in control and try to become someone whom we are not because we are scared of who we truly are, the more emptiness, enslavement to different things, depression, and sadness we will have because we become pitiful, resentful, and angry at ourselves and others because we are never satisfied. Hence, to let go of our ego and deny its fragile control is to truly be free to live in Him who loves us more than we love ourselves at times! Only in the love He has for us can we shed the lies of this world, return and reclaim what we have lost and meant to be from the beginning.
Our personal cross becomes heavy when we drag it. It becomes harder when we try to avoid it. However, its burden becomes light and yoke sweetened when we unite it with the Lord. He has never given us anything more than what we cannot handled! Even though the cross might be hard at times, we do not have to carry or drag it alone, for the Lord will help us if we offer and unite it with Him. Each and every one of us is given a particular cross to carry, some are visible while others are invisible, but we all have to carry it. Even though it is easy to think that we do not deserve it, we are each given what is meaningful and dear to our Lord because it was the instrument of His love for humanity, and the gift given to His disciples. When we reject it, our lives are easily filled with bitterness and resentment; but when we accept it, our lives are opened to new opportunities of grace. I am not here to say that the cross is easy, but it is worthwhile because we are never alone. The Lord is always with us, giving us enough grace to carry it with humility and gratitude if we are willing to accept it out of love for Him.
If we decrease so that Christ increases and captivates our hearts, we will be able to radiate and point all to Him. When He is the center of our lives, we are able to share and help people lift their hearts to something higher than the mundaneness of this world. When we ground and anchor ourselves in His love, we will be able to live and be ourselves without worrying about what others think of us. When Jesus is the center of our lives, we no longer have to pretend, worry, or act like someone that we are not. Hence, the truest freedom is to be whom God wants us to be and to be free from all the meaningless, ever-changing, empty, or short-lived ideas, progresses, or revolutions that lead to nowhere. If we know who we are and where we are going, there is no real fear for we know who possesses our heart and where our true love is found! Simply put, what can we truly profit and gain if we get the whole world but lose our soul? (cf. Matthew 16:26)