Soon our paths crossed and I overheard her conversation with another mom. She had been on a silent retreat earlier in Lent. “The priest basically said,” she began, “‘If you want to rise with Christ—live with him—you need to nail yourself to the Cross.” She threw her head back and laughed. “Isn’t that terrible? But it’s true! He talked about how we all try to avoid suffering.” She smiled and her eyes glittered.
The sidewalk glinted in the spring sun, a delicate breeze blew past my nose, and I knew that message by the way it landed in my heart and how it seemed so very true to me, was God’s nota bene to me. As long as I tried to duck and flinch from trial and pain and suffering, I’d always be less than happy, bound up inside, misshapen, as St. Josemaria said.[i] If I didn’t nail myself to the Cross with the sweet nails of Love, the world would do it for me, and I’d have very sad eyes, to the detriment to my family and community, and not the glittery ones of my friend.
What, then, do we do with the nails of a baby waking up in the middle of the night, disobedience in our children, disorder in the house, our jealousy and envy of other moms who seem to have it more together than we do, fear for our children in today’s world, lack of appreciation and understanding from our husbands, isolation from being at home, alienation from the neighborhood because of our faith, threats from the government to our beliefs? Do we lash out at our family, glare, yell, complain to our husbands, or retreat, turn cold, turn to Facebook or t.v. or blogs or food or drink or drugs? Do we dwell on thoughts of us versus them, me versus her, me not her, as if God’s love becomes diluted with each person needing His care? What do we do when we feel the inevitable and sometimes constant pains inherent in our days, the nails that come from living in a fallen world?
Caryll Houselander gives us insight into how Christ loved in the midst of this imperfection:
We know now in what way Christ would live in our humanity. Not as One who, having proved his love, has gone back to his Father leaving us a sealed tomb, but as One who, having tasted to the full the joys and sorrows of human nature, having embraced the grief of mankind, having drained death to the last bitter dregs, sets his wounded feet in the dust again, takes bread into his wounded hands again, and seizing a doubting friend’s hand, thrusts it into his wounded heart; as though saying by his every act to all who would ever tremble and doubt: “I did not wipe the tears from the face of sorrow to lay sorrow by. I did not touch pain with a fierce redeeming beauty to have done with it; I cannot give myself into the arms of death to cast death aside! I made all these things my own that the glory I gave to them should be yours, that while they remain with you, I shall remain with them.” He has taken all those things to himself, and has changed them…having taken the weakness of our nature, he has made it our strength. Now, if we set out to bear one another’s burdens, we know that however heavy they are, however hard to us, Christ has already borne them, and bears them now in us.
We have in the example of Jesus’s life a template for what it means to love in this world, and it is to pray and hope and love and suffer with one another as if their pain was our own. Instead of succumbing to the nails of temptation and drawing lines in the sand, wishing the Lord’s justice fall upon them or at best remaining indifferent to our neighbor of different political leanings or that fellow parishioner who is hostile to the Church’s teaching or to the defiant relative, we must instead nail our pride to the Cross and pray for them, wanting his salvation and holiness as much as our own, indeed pull with him and his station in life, seeing in him a cherished member of Christ’s body, a member of our own body. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12-26:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many…God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
If there is to be peace and unity in our world, Church, country, and neighborhood, within ourselves, we must be willing to nail ourselves to the Cross for it, and that will be our Easter joy, to join Jesus in His redemptive love.
[i] “God himself is the stonecutter who works on us, chipping off the rough edges, shaping us as he desires, with blows of the hammer and chisel. Don't let us try to draw aside, don't let us want to escape his will, for in any case we won't be able to avoid the blows. We will suffer all the more, and uselessly— and instead of polished stone, ready for the work of building, we will be a shapeless heap of gravel that people will trample contemptuously under foot.” St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, 756.