One of the traditional hallmarks of the spirituality of our Norbertine Order is our perpetual spirit of penance. There are aspects of our religious observance that manifest our spirit of penance throughout the year – for instance, the rigorous schedule we keep, the silence we observe, our frequent fasting and abstinence. Now that Lent is underway, we Norbertine Canons, and all of you who are joining us in our virtual program, have penance especially on our minds. That is because Our Lord invites us to keep the Cross, that supreme sign of His perfect penance, especially before our eyes in these holy days.
Our Lord tells us: If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me. (Mark 8: 34)
The cross: where do we find it? How do we receive it? We live in a time and culture that places an extremely high value on comfort and pleasure…my comfort and pleasure. This egocentric quest for the maximum benefits that this world has to offer has become, for all intents and purposes, the most wide-spread religion of our day. All other duties and affiliations take second place, and so we live in a world of dead-beat dads, broken homes, criminal CEO’s, empty parish rectories and religious houses, and any number of terrible testaments to the almighty cult of the individual. Suffering all around, and yet never any mention or intimation of the cross.
The cross: it represents a heavenly wisdom that is directly contrary to the comfort and pleasure that this world seeks. The cross: we friends of Christ have this sign of His victory all around us – it adorns our churches and homes, we wear it as jewelry, we sign it upon our bodies every time we pray, every time we enter or leave a church. The cross is the way that Our Lord wants us to identify ourselves with Him – it is the character, the stamp, if you will, that sets us apart as belonging to Him.
Here in these first days of Lent, we might ask ourselves where we find the cross? That might sound like an impertinent question, and you might be thinking, “Father, just come and live my life for a week and I’ll show you the cross!” I hope that what you’re not thinking right now is “Father, come and meet my spouse and I’ll show you the cross,” or “Father, come and try to live where I live or work where I work, and I'll show you the cross.” But even if that is what you’re thinking, there is certainly some truth in that as well – our life here below in this fallen world amidst all these imperfect and weak and sinful people surely entails many crosses. More to the point, however, is the question that Our Lord puts to each of us individually about the spirit of penance that He wants us to embrace. He asks us, “Where do you find your cross?” He also reminds us, If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me. That is, your cross, and your and my cross – the very one that He has custom made for each of us to be our own personal royal road to heaven.
May we keep our eyes open for that personal cross, ask for the spirit of penance to embrace it, and join Our Blessed Lord on the royal road to Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
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