Every difficult thing in life is not a cross. A lot of things are difficult in life but that does not make them crosses. A cross is that which we do not choose and do not want. It is outside the normal order of life. It is what confounds our plans or disturbs our dreams. It is anything that wrenches life away from our plans or hopes in a truncated or destructive or pitiable way. It is where we would not go but cannot avoid.
Jesus’ cross was not some kind of petty inconvenience. It was a distortion of a great life and even greater plans and in great proportions. It was the cutting off of life in the very thick of it. It was the cost to be paid for confronting the authorities of both synagogue and state.
Nor are the real crosses of our lives minor irritations or teasing tests of our faith in God. The cross is not an exercise in temporary discomfort. It is life-changing.
The cross brings with it a sense of finality, the judgment of forever. There is no going back from here. Jesus is nailed to a cross from which there is no return. The glory days are over. The followers are scattered. The entire enterprise seems lost. It is the bleak and final moments of the dream. There is no way whatsoever to plumb the depths of such depression in the human soul.
The call of this moment, the eleventh Station of the Cross, is the call to faith, to believe that a loving God is also present in darkness so deep that nothing can possibly assuage it. It is the call to faith in the God of Timelessness in a time of total defeat. It is trust that the God who created us and loves us will hold us up through this moment so that the darkness does not break our hearts.
The question with which the eleventh station confronts us is whether or not we are spending our lives, our hopes, our emotions, on something great enough to make the pain of losing them worthwhile. The great task of the spiritual life is to choose to spend it on something big enough to risk the pain of its loss.
There is a great freedom that comes when the cross we refuse to accept becomes the cross we embrace. When we give up the struggle against life, life begins to lighten in us. We become indestructible. Nothing more can hurt us now. We learn to live in ways we never imagined possible and find ourselves made new. Being handicapped is not a death knell anymore. Being alone is not a burden now; it is an opportunity to start over again. Being blocked by one impasse in life, we discover whole new ways of being alive. We find new life in the small deaths of the day. We sink into the ultimate liberation. Now there is nothing in life but the freedom of choosing again.
Joan Chittester, OSB