Surprised by the Cross

It is so easy to delight img101children. That seems to be one of their most endearing qualities. We plan a little event or a small item to present and we can be bowled over by the force of their enthusiastic response. What joy!

Tim had that sweet childish quality all through his life, which made it fun to concoct a surprise. He usually wasn’t looking for one either, unless it was a birthday or feast day, so we could easily sneak one past him without notice.

I don’t remember the occasion in this photo, but it still brings me joy to see the expression on Tim’s face.

He learned to think up his surprises for us, too, sometimes jumping out from behind a corner to scare us or re-arranging some ordinary items into an unusual combination.This picture is one of the greatest examples we have of Tim’s imaginative mind.

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What about the “surprises” God places in our paths? Of course, there are the happy surprises, a beautiful sunset as you make a turn in the road, the friend you meet accidentally where you never would have expected to encounter them, the time your truck sliding out of control misses all the obstacles in its path and comes to a stop of its own accord. These are easy to take delight in and to offer praise to God.

But what about the other kind? The financial setback, the medical diagnosis, the death of a loved one? How do we cope with joy?

We had the great opportunity after our son Tom’s priestly ordination in Rome a year ago to travel with him to the Holy Land. We were with a group of four other newly ordained young priests and their families. One day in Jerusalem we walked the “Via Crucis”, the Way of the Cross that Christ had followed in his long climb up to the hill of Calvary. Of course it was a sobering walk. We all took turns carrying the cross, family by family, at each station. Our family was given the Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross. That in itself was food enough for meditation. As the young priests took turns reading the meditations for us I suddenly recognized the familiar words of a favorite¬† Lenten book by St. Josemaria Escriva.

At times the Cross appears without us looking for it: it is Christ who is seeking us out. And if by chance, before this unexpected Cross which, perhaps, is therefore more difficult to understand, your heart were to show repugnance…don’t give it consolations. And, filled with a noble compassion, when it asks for them, say to it slowly, as one speaking with confidence: ‘Heart: heart on the Cross! Heart on the Cross!’

The surprise of Tim’s death, or more properly the shock, was the pinnacle of the unexpected for me. After I got over the immediate sense of shock and dismay, I immediately turned to God to try and understand. The understanding is really the work of a lifetime, though. With trust in a Good God who never permits evil without drawing out a greater good, I hung my confidence on a high peak and tried to ride out the storm of emotion.

Confidence! Even when we don’t feel it, confidence is what gets us through the unexpected surprise, the surprise of the Cross. So in the times of plenty when there are only good surprises or small little crosses to encounter, build up your confidence so when the true Cross is presented you will be ready.

Jesus will never let the Cross crush you; on the contrary. it will lift you toward Heaven. It is no longer you who will carry it; it is the Cross which will carry you. Jesus took upon Himself the bitterest Cross, and He will add a balm to it before giving it to you–that is certain. The sweetness of the crosses accepted with the joy of free will is a great mystery, yet very real. that is why you must embrace it with open arms. If you hesitate, and drag it along, it will become insupportably heavy. Jesus will withdraw the sweetness from it, because you will have turned away from Him in turning away from it.

I Believe in Love by Father Jean C. J. d’Elbee

Happy Lent!

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