"If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
When Jesus uses the word “cross” he is referring to suffering as an “instrument of salvation.” This makes sense in reference to his suffering and death but many Christians wonder, isn’t what Jesus did enough? Why do we have to carry our crosses?
Of course, what Jesus did was "enough." That is not the right question. Rather, it should be: "Exactly what was it enough for?"
It was enough to not only save us from hell - eternal death & suffering - but also to provide us with the ability (grace) to do what He did in the midst of the sufferings and hardships of this life; to love the way he did.
Jesus does not want our sorrows to be fruitless, but to become a cross - a means of elevating and sanctifying our souls and at the same time, an instrument of salvation for others. In reality, all suffering is transformed, changed into a cross as soon as we accept it from the hands of the Savior (Jesus, I trust in you), and cling to His will which transforms it for our spiritual advantage. This is key because suffering in itself does not work for the good or automatically make us holy. "If it did, all those in hell would be saved, for they endure great suffering and that pain is eternal. It is because Jesus suffered and we unite our pain to His that suffering changes and transforms us. It is because His Spirit dwells in our souls through Baptism that He suffers when we suffer" (Mother Angelica).
There are many spiritual advantages to this allowing Jesus to transform our suffering and difficulties into crosses – instruments of salvation. Here are five:
1. Our crosses purify our faith, hope and love and, at the same time, heal the temporal consequences of our sins.
1 Peter 1:6-9
"In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls."
Romans 5:2-4, 10:
“We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope…. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Each difficult situation that we experience has been sent or allowed by God to purify us (to free us to love) in a specific way. Just as when you go to the gym, you use different machines to lift weights so that all of your different muscles are strengthened; God is perfecting us in love through the combination of our trials. Holiness is not achieved through one difficult event or one difficult situation. Each struggle has something in it that we need – a hidden treasure. These hidden treasures will be revealed as we persevere. We will not be the same person at the end of the trial that we were at the beginning.
What are the temporal consequences of sin? Read more about that here or here).
Hebrews 12:7, 11
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?…No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
2. Our crosses benefit others when we offer our sufferings up as a prayer of intercession for them.
On July 13, 1917 Our Lady of Fatima recommended to the three shepherd children:
“Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially when you make some sacrifice:
O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
The Angel of Peace also told the three shepherd children:
“Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High God. Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it God as an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.”
Our Lady told them:
"Many souls go to hell because there is no one to pray or make a sacrifice for them" (August, 1917).
Read more about this here or here.
3. Our crosses increase the flow of grace in the world.
As Christians, our prayers, actions, sacrifices and sufferings offered up in union with Christ serve as conduits, in a sense, of God’s grace. And it is God’s grace that redeems fallen humanity, rolls back the forces of evil, enlightens sin-darkened hearts, restores hope to those in despair, fills us with joy, wisdom, and strength… God’s Kingdom flourishes, in individuals, families, parishes, and societies, when the flow of grace is abundant. To increase the value of our offering (our merits) through these means is to do our part to increase the flow of God’s grace in, through, and around us (read more here).
4. Our crosses can be offered as indulgences for the holy souls in purgatory. This greatly increases the value of the offering!
Indulgences are a great gift of God’s mercy. They help to satisfy for the temporal punishment due to sins and can be gained for ourselves or for the souls in Purgatory.
Indulgences offer us a wonderful incentive to make our entire day into a prayer – an offering of love. There are indulgences for specific prayers; for fulfilling our daily duties to the best of our ability and bearing difficulties of life in a Christian spirit. There are indulgences for acts of charity and for acts of penance. I try to offer every prayer, work, joy, sorrow and suffering; every difficultly―traffic, weather, rudeness from other people, difficult situations at work, headache, etc.―as an indulgence by bearing each one patiently, doing my best and offering each one with love to God.
But what makes an indulgence so valuable?
Indulgences are so important because they greatly increase the value of our acts of penance by drawing from the treasury of the Church. "Two elements specify the value of such acts:
“In addition to the remission of the temporal punishment received by the good act itself, with an indulgence, an equal remission is added through the intervention of the Church. It is like a matching gift program by a business: An employee gives $50 to a charity, and the company matches that with another $50 donation” (EWTN).
“This ‘distribution’ should not be understood as a sort of automatic transfer, as if we were speaking of ‘things’. It is instead the expression of the Church's full confidence of being heard by the Father when - in view of Christ's merits and, by his gift, those of Our Lady and the saints - she asks him to mitigate or cancel the painful aspect of punishment by fostering its medicinal aspect through other channels of grace.” Read more about indulgences here or here.
5. Finally, not only does handling our crosses this way bear fruit for others, this sacrifice and suffering that we bear in, with and through Christ, is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory - it is increasing our capacity to love and our growth in virtue – making us more like Christ. This increases the degree of His glory that we will participate in - in heaven. Every cross that we bear patiently and offer as an intercessory prayer for others, increases our glory from one degree to another:
“For the Spirit Himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him. The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us.”
2 Corinthians 4:17
“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
Diary of St. Faustina - #605
"O Holy Trinity, Eternal God, I thank You for allowing me to know the greatness and the various degrees of glory to which souls attain. Oh, what a great difference of depth in the knowledge of God there is between one degree and another! Oh, if people could only know this! O my God, if I were thereby able to attain one more degree, I would gladly suffer all the torments of the martyrs put together.”
This is precisely why Jesus said that carrying our crosses was necessary:
"And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
He knows all of the benefits that can come from this and he doesn't want us to miss out on them!