Exaltation Of Our Cross

"However much we try to avoid them, we shall never lack crosses in this life if we are in the ranks of the Crucified." So writes Saint Teresa of Avila to Father Ambrosio Mariano de San Benito, who, in working for the Carmelite Reform, was living in a house he did not feel welcome.

Sensible words coming from a wise woman. Teresa of Avila is a charming Spanish mystic and writer and a monastic reformer. She is my mother in Carmel, the first woman ever to be proclaimed Doctor of the Church. I love her!

Experience taught her many lessons. Losing her mother when she was young, passing through a severe sickness in her twenties, slandered and suffering many a setback in her efforts to beautify the Church… she knows what she is speaking about. Perhaps this is why she manages to find bright colors even where there is pitch darkness.

Examples abound. Saint John of the Cross was her dear friend and disciple. When he was imprisoned at Toledo for nine months for his efforts to do good, Teresa suffered immensely and yet "God's treatment of his friends is terrible, though they have really nothing to complain of, as He did the same to His own Son!" What a deep insight. Suffering makes us somewhat related to Him, the Beloved.

When the Carmel at Seville was being seriously maligned, Teresa exhorted the entire community to "try to be cheerful, and reflect that, when all is said, it is a very little that you are suffering for so good a God, who endured so much for us: you have not even shed any of your blood for Him yet"!! An interesting way to console oneself!

The cross then is to be expected. So "when it is God's will that we should suffer, it is of no use for us to run away." Running away just compounds the problem. Better to simply embrace it.

What makes the cross disagreeable is the fact that it is normally forced upon us! We do not choose it! Even its timing many times seems arbitrary! She confesses to the prioress of Valladolid, "As far as I am concerned it would be wonderful to be free from all the bother these reformed foundations involve me in; but displeasing to me though such trials are, it is not the Lord's will to deliver me from them!" As simple as that!

And let us say it all. It is not all black all the time. "It is really wonderful to see how the Lord mingles sorrows with joys: that is the straight road which His own feet trod!" The same insight she recaps when she writes to Father Gracian, "His Majesty will give you help proportionate to your trails. And so, as you are suffering great trials, you will enjoy great favors too. Blessed be His name for ever!" Bottom line - He does everything well. He does everything in our favor. Everything.

After all, let's face it, "if life which is so short is to be of any use at all, its use is for gaining life eternal". Quite obvious, no? But it is this obvious that we miss always. To a woman whose husband was recently imprisoned, Teresa has the audacity to write, "trials are blessings which His Majesty is granting to those He dearly loves, in order to stir up our wills and teach us to hold the things of this life as nothing, since they are so mutable and unstable, and make us strive to gain life eternal." You see? Crosses are good instruments of detachment from this world and good instruments of attachment to the next!

Once I found a quote of Saint Francis de Sales, that illustrated so well the love behind every suffering and pain. I gave this quote to a woman who was having a very hard time with her pregnancy. The baby was touching a nerve in her back and it created excruciating pain. She had to lay down in bed for six months, sleeping hardly three hours a day.

Next time I went to see her I saw that she actually framed it. "I look at it and read it slowly when the pain is real severe," she told me, smiling.

This is the saying: "The everlasting God has in His wisdom foreseen from eternity the cross that He now presents to you as a gift from His inmost heart. This cross He now sends you He has considered with His all-knowing eyes, understood with His divine mind, tested with His wise justice, warmed with His loving arms and weighed with His own hands to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you.

He has blessed it with His holy Name, anointed it with His consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all-merciful love of God."

"If there are trials in store for me, let them come. They are welcome…." Perhaps Saint Teresa is not as crazy as she sounds.

PS. Last Thursday, September 14 was the Feast of the Exaltation of THE Cross!

(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.