My life is hard, I'll be honest. I have six children, one with significant special needs and five others with their own chronic health issues. I have had my own serious health issues and other trials over the years that have made living my vocation challenging. I have a heavy cross to bear, so shouldn't I be whining about taking on another penance during Lent? Don't I already suffer enough?
"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Lk 9:23)
This passage reminds me of an email I received a couple of years ago that spoke about a man who wished to trade in his cross because it was too big. He went into a large hall to examine other crosses and chose one that was small and easy to carry. He journeyed through out his life contented with the small cross until it was time to pass over into heaven, he found that he needed to bridge a large chasm between this world and the next. His new, self-appointed cross was too small to help him get to heaven. Of course it was, that was not his cross to bear -- he had rejected the cross that was meant for him by God.
The Lord Jesus also tells us that we should take on the yoke of obedience, His yoke, and he will provide rest for our weary and burdened souls. (Cf. Mt 11:28-30) So, to find rest in Christ Jesus, we need to follow Him, offer ourselves in service and do penance to make up for offenses that we have committed against the Body of Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers this: "Taking up one's cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance." (CCC 1435) Penance is a burden of love. It is a chance to offer back just that little bit more; to show Christ that, not only will I carry the cross He has given me, but I will add a little weight to it by choice. It doesn't have to be anything substantial, just a small act of love that deprives the senses of some pleasure. In this way we atone for those sins that harm the honor of God and add to Christ's Passion.
I want to come after Jesus. I want to be obedient and take up my cross. The weight of my cross is perfect for me because it was chosen for me by God. I don't despair over the cross that I have, because I do not carry it alone. I have the aid of my guardian angel who is there to protect and guide me; the holy saints in the Church triumphant, whose Queen is the Blessed Virgin, who bolster me on this journey with their prayers; the Lord Himself, Who in His mercy desires that I should be with Him for eternity.
So, no whining or lamenting -- I will take up my cross this Lent, adding just a little extra burden of love. I will do it because it is my hope to be with Jesus in heaven. I will do it with joy knowing that each little effort lessens the pain of Christ Crucified, who takes our sins upon Himself so that we may be saved.