From: The Imitation of Christ
There will always be many who love Christ’s Heavenly kingdom, but few who will bear his cross. Jesus has many who desire consolation, but few who care for adversity. He finds many to share his table, but few who will join him in fasting. Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him. Many will follow him as far as the breaking of bread, but few will remain to drink from his passion. Many are awed by his miracles, few accept the shame of his cross.
Many love Christ as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless him as long as they receive some comfort from him. But if Jesus hides himself and leaves them for a while, they either start complaining or become dejected. Those, on the contrary, who love him for his own sake and not for any comfort of their own, praise him both in trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if Jesus should never comfort them, they would continue to praise and thank him. What power there is in a pure love for Jesus – love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!
Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who always contemplate their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can we find anyone who is willing to serve God for nothing? It is surely rare to find a person spiritual enough to strip himself of all Earthly things. And where can we find anyone so truly poor in spirit that he is free from being dependent on created things? Such a person is worth far more than the jewels brought from the most distant lands.
If one were to give all his wealth, it is nothing. If he were to try and make amends for all his sins, it is worth little. If he excelled in learning and knowledge, he is still far afield. If he had great virtue and much ardent devotion, he still would lack a great deal, and especially the one thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one thing? He must give up everything, especially himself, retaining no private store of selfish desires. Then, when he has done all that he knows ought to be done, let him consider it as nothing. He should not bask in any applause he may receive, but consider himself an ordinary servant. As it says in the Gospel, When you have done everything you were told to do, you should say, “I am an unworthy servant; I have only done my duty.”
Many find the command, Deny thyself, take up your cross and follow me, too hard. But it will be much harder to hear that final word: Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the everlasting fire. Those who hear the word of the cross and follow it willingly now, need not fear judgment. This sign of the cross will be in the heavens when the Lord comes to judge. Then everyone who serves the cross, who in this life made themselves one with the Crucified, will draw near with confidence to Christ, the judge.
Why, then, do you fear to take up the cross when through it you can win the kingdom? There is no salvation or hope of everlasting life but in the cross.
Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you will inherit everlasting life. Behold, in the cross is everything, and upon your dying on the cross everything depends. There is no other way to life and to true inward peace than the way and discipline of the cross. Go where you will, seek what you want, you will not find a higher way, nor a less exalted but safer way, than the way of the cross. Arrange and order everything to suit your desires and you will still have to bear some kind of suffering, willingly or unwillingly.
There is no escaping the cross. Either you will experience physical hardship or tribulation of spirit in your soul. At times you will be forsaken by God, at times troubled by those about you and, what is worse, you will often grow weary of yourself. You cannot escape, you cannot be relieved by any remedy or comfort but must bear with it as long as God wills. For he wishes you to learn to bear trial without consolation, to submit yourself wholly to him that you may become more humble through suffering. No one understands the passion of Christ so thoroughly or heartily as the one who has suffered similarly.
The cross, therefore, is unavoidable. It waits for you everywhere. No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go you take yourself along. Turn where you will – above, below, without, or within – you will find the cross.
If you willingly carry the cross, it will carry you. It will take you to where suffering comes to an end, a place other than here. If you carry it unwillingly, you create a burden for yourself and increase the load, though still you have to bear it. If you try to do away with one cross, you will find another and perhaps a heavier one. How do you expect to escape what no one else can avoid? Which saint was exempt? Not even Jesus Christ was spared. Why is it that you look for another way other than the royal way of the holy cross?
The whole life of Christ was a cross. And the more spiritual progress you strive for, the heavier will your crosses become, for as your love for God increases so will the pain of your exile.
When you willingly carry your cross, every pang of tribulation is changed into hope of solace from God. Besides, with every affliction the spirit is strengthened by grace. For it is the grace of Christ, and not our own virtue, that gives us the power to overcome the flesh and the world. You will not even fear your enemy, the devil, if you arm yourself with faith and are signed with the cross of Christ.
Decide then, like a good and faithful servant of Christ, to bear bravely the cross of your Lord. It was out of love that he was crucified for you. Drink freely from the Lord’s cup if you wish to be his friend. Leave your need for consolation to God. Let him do as he wills. On your part, be ready to bear sufferings and consider how in these sufferings lies your greatest consolation. The sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come.
When you get to the point where for Christ’s sake suffering becomes sweet, consider yourself fortunate, for you have found paradise on Earth. But as long as adversity irks you, as long as you try to avoid suffering, you will be discontent and ill at ease.
Realize that to know Christ you must lead a dying life. The more you die to yourself, the more you will live unto God. You will never enjoy Heavenly things unless you are ready to suffer hardship for Christ. Nothing is more acceptable to God, nothing more helpful for you on this Earth. When there is a choice to be made, take the narrow way. This alone will make you more like Christ.