Where to find the cross
What does it mean: Let him take up his cross? Let him bear whatever trouble he encounters; thats how to follow me. For when a person begins to follow me in conformity to my life and precepts, he will encounter many to contradict him, many to hinder him, many to dissuade him, and this even from among people who are, as it were, Christ's companions. It was people who were walking with Christ who hindered the blind men from crying out to him. Whether it be threats or caresses, or any kind of hindrances, if you wish to follow Christ, turn them into your cross, bear it, carry it, do not give way beneath it. (Augustine, Sermon 96, 4; PL 38, 586)
This sermon was delivered shortly after one Easter. The point made above is made in several of Augustines Easter sermons when he warns the newly baptized about the sinners they will undoubtedly meet among their fellow Christians. For example:
Let me speak to those who were baptized today and were reborn in Christ Jesus.... Behold, you have become members of Christ. If you think about what you have become, all your bones will say, Lord, who is like you (Ps 24? Its impossible to think worthily of that mercy of God, and all our speech and thought fails, that this gratuitous grace has come to you without any previous merits of yours. Thats why its called grace, because its given gratis. What grace? That you are members of Christ, the Son of God; that you are brothers and sisters of an only Son. If he is an only Son, how can you be his brothers and sisters unless he is the only Son by nature and you have become his brothers and sisters by grace.Now that you have become members of Christ, I tell you I am afraid for you, not so much because of pagans or Jews or heretics as because of bad Catholics. Choose those in the people of God whom you will imitate. If you wish to follow the crowd, you will not be among the few who walk the narrow path. Abstain from fornication, theft, fraud, perjury, illicit things, disputes. Let drunkenness be driven from you, and fear adultery like death, not the death that looses the soul from the body, but the death where the soul burns along with the body.
Then, after a lengthy indictment of adultery, he concludes:
Let people of this sort correct themselves while they still live, lest afterwards they want to and cant. Death comes sudden ly, and instead of correcting oneself, one is cast into hell. When the last hour is going to come is not known, and people say: Ill correct myself. When are you going to correct yourself? When are you going to change? Tomorrow [cras], you say. You say cras, cras so many times youve become a crow! I tell you, while youre cawing like a crow, ruin is coming upon you. That crow whose caw youre imitating left the ark and did not return (Gen 8:7). You, brother, return to the Church which that ark symbolized.And you who have just been baptized, listen to me, you who have been reborn through the blood of Christ: I beg you by the name that has been invoked upon you, by the altar to which you now have access, by the mysteries that you have received, by the future judgment of the living and the deadI beg you, I bind you by the name of Christ, do not imitate the people you know to be like that. May the sacrament remain in you of him who did not will to come down from the cross but willed to rise from the grave. (Augustine, Sermon 224, 1, 4; PL 38m, 1093-1095)
About the Author
Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.