The 4th Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross

Christ willed himself to the cross, for the joy of winning over one more soul to the wedding feast.

Titian, “Christ Carrying the Cross”, ca. 1560
Titian, “Christ Carrying the Cross”, ca. 1560 (photo: Public Domain)

How do we be a people of joy when there's so much in this world we have to do, so much we don't do, and so much which should be done? How do we wrestle joy from the thousands of slivers of grief big and small we encounter in the everyday? How do we stop wrestling with the cross and embrace it like a lover? We ask for the grace and then the hard part. We cooperate with it. We yield.

Yesterday, my son came down from his room four times. Four times, he growled at me, “I hate cleaning up a room I share, without help.” I told him, “Resentment eliminates the capacity for love. It's toxic to family life.” Those words came out of my mouth, but they formed before I said them, and they were also said to me. They reminded me, chastened me: “You cannot love what you resent. You cannot teach love if you resent. You can’t resent.”

In his complaints I heard my own Saturday voice not from last week, but from years of Saturdays. I'd confessed it before on countless times, and even thought I understood what I confessed. This time somehow, the wisdom stuck deeper. It struck deeper. I needed to surrender resentment if I wanted to love more fully. My son needed to surrender if he wanted to love his younger brother. I didn't want it to, he didn’t want to, but the more I pondered it, the more I knew, here was the error. Here was the thorn I'd let stay forever and a day, which if I wanted something more, I'd have to let Christ pull out. Carrying the cross means you can’t spend all your time displaying your suffering or complaining about it. It means you love until you willingly climb onto the cross and stay there out of love for the other. Yes, he cleaned the room for his younger brother too — and yes, I went to confession.

I came home and still noticed the undone dishes, the paper wrappers left on the floor, the refrigerator that needed cleaning and the fifteen thousand socks which seem to have no mates and the bad grade which my daughter didn't show me until 7:20 in the morning the next day. Somehow, we got through them without discouragement or snarking or despair. I credit grace, granted it had only been 24 hours.

We'd grown used to doing things in a prickly way. We’d grown accustomed to the thorns and ceased looking for how we could live better. I'd become like those who shut their windows and homes and hearts and do not hear the Holy Family knocking at the door, or the great choir of angels singing in the sky, or notice the star lighting the world or the shepherds and kings hurrying to the stable. As long as I kept myself unyielding, my life (and those of my family) could not change, could not grow in love. I'd be dragging my cross like proof of my worth, rather than embracing it for its infinite value in my life.

A big hallmark of Catholic life is joy. The outward sign of the invisible reality of our faith is something inviting to others, something luminous and not determined by the perfection of how we live, but the way we love more perfectly. A person of hope, a person who exudes joy, does not deny or shy away from splinters and nails, from pain and annoyance and struggles and sufferings that always accompany life, but is not defined by the pain of those splinters and nails.

The most joyous act Christ ever did was to will Himself to the cross, to stay there, to offer everything and pour everything out to the last drop of sacred blood, for the joy of winning over one more soul to the wedding feast. My own answer to the questions I asked myself, is yes, sometimes, and no sometimes, and “begin again” and “please God forgive me for all the time I've wasted.” It's all of that rolled into one. Teaching my son “no resentment, none” is the beginning of becoming a person who carries and embraces the cross (however it manifests itself). It will be a process for all of us to learn and relearn.

Oh, and my son came and apologized and noticed, his younger brother did make his bed.