“Big crosses are frightening, but they are rare. The little crosses accompany us everywhere. We cannot take a step without meeting them. A dry word, an indifferent look, a tiny pain, a setback, an importunate person, the rain, the wind, the lack of any object; there are so many tiny crosses and annoyances in the short space of a day!”
Newsroom (19/05/2023 09:00, Gaudium Press) One of the hardest things to find is a human being who is completely happy with the life they live. We complain out of habit, whether about the sun, the rain, the cold, the heat, scarcity, sickness, too much and too little. We complain because that seems to be our condition in life, and we are always complaining. And because we complain so much, we even complain about the small sufferings.
How many people find their lives boring, to the point of saying that they are abandoned by God, because they do not experience great tragedies and sufferings? People who believe they were born to suffer, and yet lament that suffering does not come? If someone tells them they have an illness, they have two; if someone faces a difficulty, their difficulty is greater. And their desire is for things to get a little worse, to be afflicted by great calamities and torments; only then will they believe they are worthy of God’s love. Be very careful, for this megalomania can strike any one of us!
Nothing guarantees that if God really sent them a great trial, they would not succumb, but precisely because they have not experienced great pain, they feel unjustified and incomplete, and they believe that there can only be love in pain; if they do not suffer a great deal, they think they are not important to God.
However, while longing for great martyrdoms – which perhaps would help them to appear pious and even expiatory victims in the eyes of others rather than to fulfil God’s will – they become true tyrants, who are unbearable to live with in the face of the small daily setbacks, which they would prefer not to have.
A setback, an annoying person
In my daily reading of Msgr. Ascanio Brandão’s ‘Breviary of Trust’ – an excellent gift from my son – I read attentively the words that speak exactly about this: “Big crosses frighten, but they are rare. The little ones accompany us everywhere. We do not take a step without meeting them. A dry word, an indifferent look, a little pain, a setback, an annoying person, the rain, the wind, the lack of something, there are so many little crosses and annoyances in the short space of a day! Why should we be impatient in this and aspire to sufferings, great persecutions, etc., which we may never have to experience?”
In the short space of a day, with our little crosses, we have the opportunity to exercise love for God, and resignation. We often need to cultivate patience, good will, humility and modesty. But we insist that all that is too little, and we contradict ourselves; not infrequently we become little domestic tyrants and unbearable people to live with.
Many live as if they did not live, who love to read the stories of the martyrs and become attached to people with apparently insoluble problems. Now, they think, that is the cross! Yes, that is martyrdom!
However, our greatest cross can be made up of little nuggets that God expects us to overcome. God knows what He is doing, and all those insignificant little crosses can be exactly what we need to grow spiritually, to train ourselves in humility and modesty and to give an example of faith to our brothers and sisters.
Monsignor Ascanio tells us that St. Thérèse loved the little crosses in a special way. “I made my penances consist in breaking my will, withholding a word in reply, rendering small services without making it known that I do so.”
In the little setbacks, we can say a Hail Mary, a little prayer, make a vow, or think of God. Consider how many of these opportunities arise in the course of a day! How rich our day would be if at each little dissatisfaction we gave glory to God! We would then be in His presence all day long, sharing His love, asking for small doses of strength to overcome the small challenges.
Our road to Heaven
A great trial, such as a serious illness, a significant loss, or a persecution, can be something for which we are not prepared, and instead of drawing us closer to God and to the Heaven we long for, it can end up causing us to rebel, making us lose our salvation; salvation which is won little by little, at the drop of a hat.
It may be that we imagine ourselves more pleasing to God by dragging a heavy cross on a beautiful day, while it is so hard for us to accept a rainy morning when we have a load of clothes to hang on the clothes line, a short walk where we end up getting our feet wet.
We might imagine that an illness that keeps us on a bed of pain does more for our soul than being kind and helpful to someone who cannot even say ‘thank you’. The amputation of a limb may seem more dignified to us than an ingrown toenail; yet, enduring that little torment can test our patience far more acutely than the greater suffering.
There are many little things, many little crosses, many insignificances that make up a great whole and pave our road to Heaven, provided we welcome them willingly, with joy. But if we cannot put up with a grocer who responds rudely, a driver who is late, a boss who ignores a job we do, or a child who disobeys us, how can we bear a cross which crushes us under its weight, a torment which annihilates us, or a desert where God seems absent?
What joy we give to God in the simplicity of ordinary life, in the insults we ignore, in the tears we swallow, in the small disappointments we overcome! Let us think of Mary who endured great torments, but who also overflowed with patience and hope in the many small sorrows of her life. She did not carry the cross, but She endured the absence of her Son’s friends; She did not fall under the weight of the tree, but She accepted to remain at a distance, suffering in witnessing her Son’s pain.
How many times She must have prepared Jesus’ supper without His coming to have the meal with Her! How many times must She have gone to her Son’s bed late at night only to find that He had not come home! And how many times must She have heard grumblings and imprecations about him from people close to Her, even family members, who did not understand His great mission?
It is impossible to imagine Mary annoyed, upset or complaining about anything.
Let us live in this way too, by accepting the small challenges, the small setbacks in order to “complete in my flesh” – as the Apostle St Paul says – “what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings”. We need to fulfil our mission, being where we really should be, without underestimating what we are and what we have received, because the size of the cross God gives us is according to our ability and strength.
By Afonso Pessoa
Compiled by Sandra Chisholm