Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4)
St. John of the Cross teaches that if we prefer consolations from the Lord to desolations, we remain an ‘enemy of the cross of Christ.’ I remember the first time I read those words and found myself weeping and embarrassed at the poor spiritual state my soul. Had I ever considered myself an Enemy of the Cross of Christ? Up until that point, I hadn’t. But the truth was, my interior life was not disposed to the bitter and difficult parts of the cross, but only the benefits/fruits of it.
This brings to mind a singular question: how do we learn to be lovers of the Cross of Christ? How do we carry our cross daily, and with joy? To be technical for a moment - it has to do with the object (or objective) of our will. Is the object of our will hoping that we will find paradise in this life, or is the object of our will to address the desert-wasteland we find ourselves in, with love?
For instance, when I wake up in the morning, do I wonder in part “If everything is going to go well today”? This question, depending on our concept of the good life could possibly mean, “I hope I don’t have to carry my cross today” or “I hope I don’t have a cross to carry.” If this is our approach, I do not believe we have mourned the Garden of Eden. That is, we haven’t mourned that this life doesn’t involve the stability, pleasure, and peace of the garden. We need to come to terms with that.
To surrender to a way of life where every day is a spiritual battle against powers and principalities, the world of flesh and the dominion of Satan, is a jarring and sometimes brutal type of sobriety. None of this is to dispense us from seeking out consolations in this life. However, consolations take on a different meaning; they sustain us and help us as we face evil in battle. Consolations take on the same meaning that Jesus Himself proclaims when He states, “The Son of Man has nowhere to rest His Head.” (Luke 9:58). Since Christ’s human life applies to the Church’s mission and identity, we must too adopt this statement - an acceptance of a type of restlessness until Heaven.
The reason this is challenging is due to the fact that we weren’t created for restlessness. Our nature is somewhat opposed to restlessness - God created us for a Garden - for rest, not for a Cross. Yet because of sin, the circumstances both in the world and interiorly have changed. As a result we cannot live in a Garden, and to act as such is to consign ourselves to a falsehood, an illusion. We have to come to a place where we can accept this, and it might involve tears, and grieving. Perhaps this will particularly manifest in the vocation you have been called to. Perhaps you feel “duped” as did the prophet. God often begins our journey with sweetness, but gently leads us into another type of grace that is dark, difficult, and painful. Do we still follow Him into this place?
When we mourn the loss of the garden and acknowledge its loss as “our fault,” we can move onto a more sober and joyful vision that embraces the Cross. The Cross is how Jesus confronts the world of sin and death. To take up our cross daily and follow Christ is to begin the process interiorly (and evangelically) of recreating the Garden/Kingdom of God by confronting sin and death. It will take a lot of interior work - fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. It will take sacrifice, it will involve suffering. However, in joining our sufferings to the Cross of Christ, it will produce the fruit of the Kingdom. And there is joy to be found in this. Even as I write these words my eyes tear up with anticipation for the hearts (including my own) that will be transformed by this.
Let’s carry our daily crosses together, and not put them down. But first, let us mourn the loss of paradise, and accept the fact that we are people of the desert. The sooner we do this, we will journey with purpose toward the promise land of God’s Kingdom.