LENT: The Cross And Its Demands, by Evelyn Underhill

From Light of Christ

“It is not the act of a good disciple,” says Saint John of the Cross, “to flee from the cross in order to enjoy the sweetness of an easy piety.”  So here above all, by the crucifix and what it means to us, we test the quality of our discipleship.  What we think about the cross means ultimately what we think about life, for “seek where you will,” says à Kempis, “everywhere you will find the cross.”  And when you have found it, what are you going to do about it?  That is the question: look at it with horror or with adoration?

It has been said that the whole life of Christ was a cross.  I think that saying does grave injustice to its richness of response, to the real expansion and joy and beauty of His contacts with nature, children, friends; the true happiness we find again in the saints nearest to Him; the hours snatched for the deep joy of prayer and communion; the outburst of rejoicing when He discerns the Father’s will.  But it was the deep happiness of the entirely self-abandoned, not the easy shallow satisfaction of those who live to express themselves and enjoy themselves; that perfect joy which Saint Francis rediscovered in abjection; and which was ratified on Le Verna when he was caught into the supernatural order and sealed with the wounds of Christ.

There is a marked contrast between the first phase of the ministry with its confident movement within the natural world; mending what is wrong with it, using what is right in it and sharing the social life of men, and that after the Transfiguration, the second phase, with its sense of a deepening conflict with that easy, happy world; the conviction that what is deeply wrong with it can only be mended by sacrifice; that the suffering servant is the one who serves His brethren best.  “Take up the cross if you wish to follow me!”  The spiritually natural life is charming, but it stops short of all that god asks for the really surrendered soul.

It was in the Passion, says Saint John of the Cross, that Christ “finished that supreme work which His whole life, its miracles and works of power, had not accomplished: the union and reconciliation of human nature with the life of God.”  Here we learn all that it means to acknowledge Him as our Way, our Truth, and our Life.  I suppose no soul of any sensitiveness can live through Holy Week without an awed and grateful sense of being incorporated in a mystery of self-giving love which yet remains far beyond our span.

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