The Cross of Christ Teaches Us. . . How to Trust and Give Thanks
Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. JAMES 1:17
How much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! MATTHEW 7:11
Jean’s widowed mother gathered her young children around her in their modest Polish home in the 1930s and told them they must pray to God for help. In spite of her hard work, there was no money and no food left in the cupboards. Her mother began the rosary, and the little children huddled close to her, praying that God would come to their aid.
Suddenly they heard a loud commotion outside. Rushing to the window, they saw that the bread man’s cart had lost a wheel, causing his cart to tip over. Freshly baked loaves of bread were scattered all over the street. The children rushed out, and the bread man told them to take as much as they could carry; he could do nothing with the bread now that it had been on the ground. That night before their meal of bread, Jean’s family prayed a special blessing in thanksgiving for the way God had provided for them.
Years later, Jean realized that there was something for which she was even more thankful: She had a mother whose faith in God was great enough to ask when the straits were dire.
Trusting God for Every Need
Jesus taught his followers to trust that the Father would give them “good things” if they asked. What are those good things? In the story of Jean’s widowed mother and her young family, it was a material good, the daily bread they needed to sustain them. For those who are more financially solvent, it may be a spiritual good, like patience or forgiveness. Either way, the cross teaches us what “good things” we need from God.
As we live out the gospel, when we are presented with a cross and we find that we have not the strength to lift it, Christ comes to us as Bread. Like the tipped bread cart, he makes it possible for us to receive the nourishment we need, to participate in his life. His death and resurrection give us Divine Medicine to help us to follow him fully.
What about those too sick to take the medicine? About a year ago I was giving a mission in a parish in the Midwest. On the final night of this mission, which focused on the Mass, the pastor said to me, “What about the Eucharist as Divine Medicine?” Specifically, Father Jerry wondered how those prevented from receiving Communion could receive the Divine Medicine that cures the sinful nature. Long after the mission was over, I continued to ponder his question. What is to be done about those who find themselves unable to participate fully in the Eucharist?
First, recognize that there is Divine Medicine in participating in the Mass. No one is ever banned from attending the liturgy. As we communally declare our sin before God, hear his Word proclaimed, and give thanks to God for all that he has done for us, we invite God to heal and restore our broken places. If this does not fill the emptiness, find out whether steps can be taken to remove the impediment that is keeping you from the Lord’s table. With humility, place yourself before God and ask him to work in your life as you participate as fully as possible in your parish. Go to confession. Guard against pride and anger. Remember, the table the Church gathers around is also an altar of sacrifice. Carry the cross you have been given, and trust that God will give you everything you need.
An Invitation to Ask
The cross cannot be avoided by any of us, and we shouldn’t seek to flee from it. Rather, we should learn from it. Wherever we encounter the cross, we discover the “good things” God wants us to request from him. Our Lord promises us that the Father will answer us and give us all that we truly need. It may require great faith to see the “good” in the things that come our way. The challenge of the cross is to perceive the good even when it causes us discomfort or humiliation. The cross of Jesus did not seem like a “good” thing to those who witnessed the crucifixion. For the followers of Christ, however, the cross is the sign of our salvation; we commemorate “Good Friday” every year because of the great love it represents.
In the Book of Genesis, Joseph endured every conceivable evil at the hands of his family. Later, by faith, he was still able to declare to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). Ask for good things from God and believe that God will give them to you. Believe God wants what is best for you, even when it appears that the opposite is happening. Believe even when men reject you and persecute you. Keep the cross of Christ before you, and you will be reminded that God’s ways are not ours, but “that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.