-- St. Matt., xvi 24.
He who enters upon the way of life in fear bears the cross patiently.
He who advances in hope bears the cross readily.
He who is perfected in charity embraces the cross ardently.
-- St. Bernard, Sermon I. on St. Andrew's Day.
I have received the cross. I have received it from Thy hand.
I will bear it, and bear it even unto death, as Thou hast laid it upon me.
-- The Imitation of Christ, iii. 36.
The agony of Christ will last till the end of the world;
we must not slumber during this agony.
It is possible to think of the cross of Christ simply as the symbol of the great suffering borne for us. There is an endless depth of meaning in such an apprehension of the cross. The man, whose mind is so enlarged that he can contemplate the mystery of the life given that he might live, is penetrating into the divine love. He may go from what is bright into regions of yet intenser brightness, until he stops blinded by his nearness to the very God Himself. It is possible also that at some point of its meditation the soul may catch the infection of the love of God, and come to burn with a reciprocal love for Him who so loved men. Then the vision of the cross and suffering of Christ begets a sympathetic desire to suffer with Him. This desire in itself is so natural that we may regard it as one of the instincts of our nature. It comes within the experience of every one who has ever felt a great love for parent, brother, wife, child, or friend. When the object of our love suffers, we desire and even try to suffer too. We feel ourselves outraged at the thought of claiming a passing pleasure while one who is very dear to us lies in intense bodily pain. It is not that we expect our refusal of enjoyment to in any way assuage his sufferings. It is simply that we cannot pursue our own pleasures at such a time.
Now the sufferings of Christ had become very vivid and real to the minds of the hermits. Just as we instinctively shrink from laughter when one who is very dear to us lies dying, so they, because they loved Him greatly, desired to deny themselves pleasure and even to accept the burden of pain. This is the meaning of the aged Palaemon's refusal to eat food dressed with the unaccustomed luxury of oil. This seems also to be the meaning of the repeated use the hermits made of the word "crucifixion." Their fastings and vigils, their endurance of heat and toil, were spoken of as "crucifixions," because they conceived that in these sufferings, voluntarily borne, they were taking their part in the sufferings of Christ upon the cross. They even spoke of the diseases and physical evils which came upon them, independently of their own wills, as "crucifixions," for they knew that pain which is unavoidable may be so borne as to render it in reality a taking up of the cross.
Of course, there was always present to their minds the commoner thought that self-crucifixion was of benefit to the soul. They felt, as we are hidden to feel, that "our way to eternal joy is to suffer here with Christ. They analysed the good that comes ot suffering and deliberately courted it as a means of drawing near to God. Yet always at the back of such reasomlings there lay the feeling that suffering was borne with Christ, as well as for the sake of attaining His eternal joy. This idea of sympathetic fellowship in suffering is what gives its peculiar bcauty to the hermits' interpretation of the words, "If any man will come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me." It is this thought which, while it adds a pathos to the stories of their lives, certainly helped them in winning that grace of perseverance which would not be satisfied until it reached "the goal of being crucified with Christ."
Of what it means to take up the cross with Christ.
Perhaps some man will say, "how can a man carry his cross? How can a man who is alive be crucified? Hear, briefly, how this thing may be. The fear of the Lord is our cross. As, then, one who is crucified no longer has the power of moving or turning his limbs in any direction as he pleases, so we ought to fix our wishes and desires, not in accordance with what is pleasant and delightful to us now, but in accordance with the law of the Lord in whatsoever direction it constrain us. Also, he who is fastened to a cross no longer considers things present, nor thinks about his likings, nor is perplexed with anxiety or care for the morrow, minor is inflamed by any pride, or strife, or rivalry, grieves not at present insults, nor remembers past ones. While he is still breathing in the body, he is dead to all earthly things, and sends his heart on to that place to which he doubts not he shall shortly come. So we, when we are crucified by the fear of the Lord, ought to be dead to all these things. We die not only to carnal vices, but to all earthly things, even to those indifferent. We fix our minds there whither we hope at every moment we are to go.
Of one who feared because God took the cross he bore from him.
There was a certain old man who was frequently sick and feeble. One whole year it happened that no sickness of any kind troubled him. He wept on that account, and was sorely afflicted, saying, "Thou hast left me, O Lord, and art unwilling to come to me this year."
Of the hermit Palaemon, how he desired to crucify his body because the Lord was crucified.
When the holy time of Easter camne Palaemon said to his disciple St. Pachomius, "Prepare some special food for us to-day, since this is a feast day for all Christians thoughout the whole world." Then St. Pachomnius, prompt ever in obedience, did as the old man bade hum. After their prayers were finished Palaemon went to the table to eat. When he saw there oil added to the usual food he burst into tears and smote his hands against his forehead, saying, "My Lord has been crucified, and I -- shall I eat oil?"
How the desire of being crucified with Christ will keep a man in the narrow way though he see others departing from it.
A certain elder was once asked, how a monk can avoid being offended and disheartened, when he sees others giving up the hermit life and returning to the world. He replied -- "Watch the dogs which hunt hares. One of them only, perhaps, sees the hare and chases it. The others see nothing but the dog in full chase, so they run with him for a while and then grow weary and give up. The one that sees the hare goes on chasing it until he catches it. He takes no heed of the steep hills, nor of the thickets, nor of the brambles in his way. Sometimes his feet are flayed and pricked with thorns, yet he does not rest until he catches it. So it is with the monk who seeks Christ and gazes steadfastly on the cross. He takes no notice of the things which vex and offend him. He cares for nothing but attaining the goal of being crucified with Christ."
Of the narrow way which leadeth unto life.
A certain elder was once asked, "What is this which we read -- 'Strait and narrow is the way?'" The old man replied, "The narrow way is that on which a man does violence to his own imaginations, and cuts himself off from the fulfilment of his own will. This is the meaning of that which was written of the apostles, 'Behold we have left all, and followed Thee.'"