I feel hesitant and awkward about this quote from Saint John Vianney: “Why not love our crosses, and make use of them to carry us to heaven?” I don’t really want to love my cross. And I don’t want to live my life gunning for heaven.
But taken with last week’s reflection upon another quote from St. Vianney that my cousin sent to me — “When we pray properly, sorrows disappear like snow before the sun” — I see how I can embrace the difficult quote.
Snow doesn’t actually disappear beneath the rays of the sun but, rather, transforms into something other than snow that is not unrelated to snow: much-needed water to nourish and sustain all life here. In prayer, with our hearts and minds truly disposed to the light of God’s love, sorrows transform into a life-giving substance that nourishes and strengthens our souls. And, perhaps, carries us to heaven? …
If fruit and flower are dependent upon snowmelt, then our lives are dependent upon sorrow. Without either, there is no flowering and no fruit — no fullness of good and beautiful life. Is that true? Well… I think it is. (Gulp.) Does that mean I should embrace my sorrows? …
There is great sorrow and suffering in life. No denying that. I have never wanted to deny that — how can I? I am chronically ill with a progressive disease that has severely disabled me. I know that nobody can live here and now without experiencing some kind of physical pain or weakness, some kind of limitation or setback, some kind of loss. There are things that we simply cannot do.
If the sorrow is here anyway, then why not change the sorrow into something good? If God truly is love, then that’s what He should do.
That’s exactly what He did through Christ our Lord.
Because God loves us, He gave us a way to be saved from lives of misery that only end in death. God chose to take the sorrow, fear, pain, and suffering and to experience them Himself, as one of us. By entering into our human suffering, He divinely transformed the power of suffering. Much the way that snow is transformed into life-giving water by the warmth of the sun, Christ’s crucifixion transformed our human difficulties and sorrows into a way to the fullness of life, a pathway of divine goodness and love. Christ’s suffering on the Cross became the gateway to Paradise — the perfect, blissful union with God for which we are all made, now and forever.
Jesus tells us to take up our crosses and follow Him. (Gulp.) He also promises to give us endless sustenance, saying about all who believe in Him: “from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.”[i]
What does it mean to take up my cross with Christ? I am called to accept my disease and all of the discomfort, pain, fatigue, weakness, frustrations, sorrow, and fear that my disability causes. I will not choose to rage against my condition and lash out, but I will choose to take up and carry my hardships with me as I live my life in love and goodness. In prayer, believing in Christ and allowing His Spirit to work within me, I will allow God to transform my heartache into compassion for others, my physical weakness into spiritual strength, and my limitations into wisdom. And my fear? (I can so easily be consumed by fear…) I bring it to the Cross, mindful of Christ’s love for me and His own dreading agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. May the light and warmth of God’s self-giving presence transform my fear into brave trust of His loving goodness.
Living fully in this prayerful life of union with Christ, rivers of living water will flow from my inmost being, nourishing and sustaining me, cleansing and healing me… and also carrying me.
Rivers Carry — Another Analogy
Self-pity and the abuse of others, as well as ourselves, freeze us and keep us stuck in the dry land of sin, if you will, turned in upon ourselves. Like the North Pole is turned away from the sun at the autumnal equinox, we have turned our gazes away from the ever-present, self-giving love of God. That’s why we’re stuck, frozen, landlocked.
God gives of Himself like we see the sun giving of itself, it’s very essence the giving of light and heat, but unlike the sun, God is infinite — not just in one spot. Remember, wherever you physically turn, you are facing the Source of All Life; nothing can block God’s love from what God’s love creates. And yet, when we surrender our free wills to our self-serving thoughts, words and actions, it’s like we’re in a landlocked frozen world of our own sinful creation. Thus stuck, we have no way of getting to the blissful ocean of eternal union with God. Frozen as we are, it may seem impossible to get there. All that we have around us are sorrows and fears, setbacks and heartaches, but what can we possibly do with them, with storm after storm of blinding, numbing snow, with the ice that chills our hearts and freezes our minds?
We can do nothing.
But God can do everything.
A change of mind and heart is all that is required, a willingness to acknowledge God’s presence and reality — an acknowledgment of our absence, if nothing else — a desire for God’s love to pour down upon us. This is prayer.
Prayer doesn’t need to be recited or spontaneous words. Words are not required by God for the transformation to begin in us, only desire. In that turning, that opening, that desire to be freed from the landlocked tundra, we allow ourselves to receive God’s light, the ceaseless outpouring of God’s love, the heat of infinite and eternal mercy.
Then the tundra that the daily living of our lives has become will melt. We will drip with relief, and rivers will run with all of our sorrows and fears transformed into life-giving waters, waters that will carry us to the deep, deep ocean of endless love and paradise. All that we have suffered will become transformed into spiritual strength, compassion, trust, and courage, in sacramental union with Christ, and our crosses will become the very means of transportation to heavenly union with God — both now and forever.
Without Christ, suffering is just ice, a glacier of sorrow pressing down upon our souls. With Christ, sorrow becomes a flowing stream to paradise. Both now and forever.
So, as St. John Vianney says, “Why not love our crosses, and make use of them to carry us to heaven?”
Well… that’s something for me to think about. And to reflect upon more next week.
© 2022 Christina Chase
[i] John 7:38
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.