We read today’s gospel in continuity with last week’s gospel. Last week we heard that Jesus will build his Church on the rock foundation of Peter’s confession; Peter said to Jesus, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” And this Church founded by Christ will be a militant Church, invading the sinful world with the power of God’s grace; the gates of Hell will not prevail. And today Jesus lays out the cost of doing this; He must go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, but then be raised on the third day. He will go to Jerusalem as a bearer of Divine Love; He goes to the capital with a hard and true message.
But as we heard Peter won’t have any of this; he treats Jesus like a little kid in need of instruction. You know you’re in a bad place spiritually when you begin to tell Jesus what to do. In a world injured by Original Sin, Divine Love is met with resistance. The world will try to block it. But our Lord is always willing to lay down his life in the divine struggle and if we are to be a bearer of that same love then we too will suffer. Christian life cannot be lived without the Cross; Christian life cannot be lived without suffering love.
St. Jane de Chantal founder of the Visitation Order of Sisters lived in 17th century France. Before founding her order, however, she was a wife and mother. And in her life like all the saints she lived with suffering love. Jane married a man named Baron Christopher de Chantal. He was a soldier and courtier in the service King Henry IV. And even though Jane and Christopher came to love each other dearly, the marriage began with a few problems. From the outside looking in everything looked fine. They were rich, they had lots of land and a castle but Christopher had some rough edges and he was a spender with large debts and he was a bit of a ladies man. Soon after they were married, Christopher conceived a child with his mistress.
Now Jane loved her husband and her response to this affair can tell us a lot about suffering love. She could have given Christopher the cold shoulder, she could have taken a lover of her own, she had no lack of suitors, she was very beautiful. She could have given voice to a great anger, venting to everyone she knew. But she chose a different path, she chose the way of the cross and strengthened by her prayer life and daily Mass, she chose to forgive. She leaned into that Cross and forgave her husband, even going one step further and taking the illegitimate daughter into their home raising the little girl with her own children. Instead of making life miserable for her husband, Jane won his heart. Her forgiveness and kindness, in fact, laid the foundation for a home so happy that Christopher took an early retirement from active service. He wanted to be with Jane. He’s recorded as saying worldly splendors paled beside the virtues of his beloved wife.
Soon after retiring Christopher went hunting with a neighbor. And this neighbor accidently shot Christopher. It was nine agonizing days before he died. Now Christopher quickly forgave the neighbor and asked that Jane do the same. But Jane had a hard time in forgiving this neighbor, she had finally gotten her husband back, their marriage was back on track. And she just couldn’t do it. It took her four years before she was able to forgive. Her spiritual director told her not to seek out this neighbor but if you happen to see him by chance, “I want your heart to be gentle, gracious, and compassionate, even though I know without any doubt that your heart will be distressed, and that your blood will boil.” After four years Jane was able to forgive the neighbor. Jane leaned into the Cross and forgave with gentleness, graciousness, and compassion even going so far to be the Godmother of this neighbor’s newborn baby.
Christian life cannot be lived without the Cross; Christian life cannot be lived without suffering love. Everyone reading this is meant to be a bearer of Divine Love into the world. That is our mission, to be bearers of Divine Love. And this always involves suffering because it involves self-denial and self-denial hurts. It would have been so much easier for Jane to give into anger, revenge, and self-pity. But instead she leaned into her Crosses and learned charity, forgiveness, magnanimity, gentleness, graciousness, compassion, and much more. When the cross comes our way we can ask our Lord, “What are you teaching me Lord? What virtue must I grow in? Where do I need healing? What am I to learn from this cross?” “Is it patience, forgiveness, mercy, fortitude, faith, trust, or is it love?” Sometimes a cross is such a terrible burden, we ask ourselves, “How can God allow this?” In those moments pray for help and then reach out for help reach out to a Simon or a Veronica. Our Lord had help on the Way of the Cross. Simon of Cyrene carried his cross for a time and Veronica wiped his brow offering some comfort. Those around us may not even be aware of how much we are hurting and in need of help. Ask for help, we don’t have to do this alone. And we too need to be aware of those around us. Is there someone close by who needs me to be a Simon or a Veronica?
The Cross does not last forever; the Cross is our bridge to Heaven. At the end of our days when we have laid down our cross our Heavenly Father will meet us and call out to us in the words of the Song of Songs:
“Come then, my love,
My lovely one, come.
For see, winter is past,
The rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
The season of glad songs has come…
Come then, my love,
My lovely one, come.
Show me your face,
Let me hear your voice;
For your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful (Song of Songs 2:10-4)
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley