March 27, 2009

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Don’t grumble when carrying your daily cross

Sean GallagherI like to think that I strive to follow Jesus’ teaching, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).

It’s hard sometimes when I come across that daily cross at 6 a.m.

I’ve been in the habit for a while now of waking up early to have some time for prayer and a quiet breakfast before my boys get up. For myself, at least, I know I can be a better husband and father when I carve out some time for myself during the day, and the earlier the better.

But for a few weeks now, my youngest son, Victor, who will be 2 in April, has been waking up at 6 a.m. or earlier. And as he does his usual jabbering, his two older brothers wake up not too long afterward.

Goodbye, quiet time. Hello, cross.

It’s easy for me to grumble at such times. But when I do that, I’m really grumbling at God.

He has called me to be a father. It is an essential part of his will for my life. And so when my sons need attention from me (as they often do early in the morning when they’re hungry, need to use the bathroom or get dressed), God’s will is for me to be there for them.

When I grumble, I’m being presumptuous. In effect, I’m telling God that I know what is better for my life than he does.

This is not to say that arranging for personal time for ourselves for prayer, hobbies or friendships is bad. Far from it. But when there are legitimate interruptions to such personal time, we need to accept them as God’s will.

St. Vincent de Paul knew this well. He was a 17th-century French priest who became well-known for his service to the poor. St. Vincent had this to say about being interrupted during the kind of prayer time that I value early in the morning:

“If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer. Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave for such service.”

If stepping away from prayer or any kind of personal time to serve the true needs of others is a part of God’s will, how much more is that true when we want to watch our favorite TV show, spend time surfing the Internet or work on a hobby?

In the end, picking up our cross daily and following in the steps of Jesus is about deliberately taking our attention away from ourselves and placing it with love on God and those around us.

Our first human instinct when considering this is that it’s a zero sum gain: the more attention I give to others means the less I can give to myself and that I’ll be less happy as a result.

Yes, we take the risk of faith when we put our needs and wants aside to serve others. But, as we journey through these final weeks of Lent leading up to Palm Sunday and Good Friday when we solemnly recall Jesus’ suffering and death, we need to constantly remember that the cross is never the end of the story. The empty tomb is.

And so when, despite your gut instincts, you take the risk of faith, lay aside for a while your own needs and wants to serve those around you, put in the front of your heart and mind that you can carry that cross joyfully, knowing that the victory that surpasses anything we could ever imagine is waiting for us on the other side. †

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