I've heard it said before, that where ingratitude is concerned, of the three things... not noticing someone has done something for you, not thanking them, or not doing something in return (I believe was the third thing), the worst ingratitude is not to notice when something good has been done.
Every day we're faced with crosses, some big and some small. Be it the heavy traffic on the way home from work, the baby that is having a really bad day and making yours worse, an illness or something that is really, really a big deal to you, the temptation is to, at best, grin and bear it. Ok, this is happening... I really hate it... but I'll offer it up. Do we notice, though, why and with what those crosses are given?
Our Lord said that His yoke was sweet and His burden light, but as most of us have carried it, we'd rarely agree. Why is that?
Well, it's the problem of "me" to some extent. That is, we have a certain tendency to view life's crosses as something "against" us. Sure, we know intellectually that they're for our salvation. But we're irked by them all the same. We loose something we really want or loved. Something we think we need very much... a job, that big bonus, etc... doesn't turn out the way we thought it should. Sometimes, we stand back in shock, and just can't grasp how this or that turned out the way it did, when, to all appearances, there was nothing in it against God, or maybe it looks like it was even necessary for our earthly survival. And we suffer it as if we had all of those good things coming. As if we deserved them. As if we were entitled to them. Or as if we really, actually knew what was best for us.
But there's another saying: Where there is love, there is no labor.
This seems to be the key, I find, in unlocking (so to speak) the truth of Our Lord's words about the burden of the cross.
It's human nature not to like pain, illness, loss, poverty and the like. Nobody enjoys these things (on a natural level). But when we begin to discipline our minds and hearts to really and truly appreciate the bigger picture, crosses that before would have crushed us to powder, become ... just as Our Lord said they would in so many words... sweet and light.
A day or two ago something happened to remind me of this. Crosses are not only a test of our faith... that is, whether we just love God when things are going the way we want... but also a test of our LOVE... and... even of our gratitude.
We are blessed to be the creatures of an all-knowing, all-loving God of infinite power. He knew each and every one of us, our whole lives, and even the number of hairs on our heads, from all eternity. He loved us and intended to create us from all eternity. He created for us a whole universe, and when the moment was right, He put us in it. And we'd better believe that He knew then about that 5 o'clock rush hour, that job layoff, and that one child that just makes you want to pull your hair out.
We're tempted to ask, why, then, does He allow it to be so? Of course we don't ask, because we know the answer: God is interested in our souls first. But we know that answer too often, the way some little children know the catechism: kind of like a parrot. We know the script. We just never really think about the words. About what that actually MEANS.
What it does mean, though, is that this all-powerful, all-loving God, like the good Father He is, has everything under control. Two important things we all need to remind ourselves of: 1) God sees the bigger picture, and He is always right. 2) God can... really... do all things.
Crosses, it turns out, are really one of Our Lord's greatest mercies to us. One of the greatest manifestations of His love in our everyday lives. He doesn't want us to go to hell, or even purgatory. He does want to teach us, by the little lessons of life, how to become a saint, like what He asked us to be, and ever wants us to become. If we're not interested... that is, if we really don't want to think about all that, and we are totally focused on our immediate pleasure or welfare or happiness... those crosses will crush us. (Or very nearly.) But if we teach our minds and hearts to respond to the reality of the cross... that is, the cross as an act of love, as the lessons they frequently are, and as divine providence... not once in a while, but EVERY time... soon our hearts will learn automatically to remember those truths, and turn with trust, with love... and dare I say, even GRATITUDE... toward God, Who still (no matter what it looks like) loves us, knows everything, and has everything under control, and Who can "fix it" any time. Only we have to remember that He isn't going to "fix it" if "fixing it" (the way we're thinking) is going to be bad for us. Which is another act of love and mercy for which we should be grateful.
In short, if we want the burden to be light and sweet, we have to bear it with love and gratitude. We have to remember that God is trying to help us pay debts more pressing than the electric bill. He is trying to help us learn lessons more important than any earthly happiness because they are to attain eternal happiness, and we must be actually willing to look, listen and finally learn them (which will require humility). He is guiding our life according to the big picture... loosing your house may seem like a tragedy, except that God knows you need to be in the next place you live. And we have to remember that He can do all things... and sometimes I think He wants to know whether or not we really, REALLY believe that.
God has loved us from all eternity. Every moment of our lives has been governed by His love and mercy. Every cross is a manifestation of that love. Have we ever thanked Him for them? Or do the words catch in our throats, because we are still looking at them the way naughty children resent a good spanking?
Our Lady, while she was on earth, says "The Mystical City of God," thought herself lowly, and called herself names like "wormlet." This is possible, because no purely human being has known better than she the greatness of God, and the infinite unworthiness and insignificance of all creatures in comparison. But if the mother of God calls herself "wormlet" and knows (and her judgment was NOT in exaggeration, as perfectly as she was created!) her littleness compared to God... do we really "deserve" any good thing? Do we really deserve not to suffer? She was sinless... just think of everything we're guilty of! ... and look how SHE suffered! Or Christ Himself, Who IS God!
Contemplations like that should pretty much eliminate all objections and complaints to the cross... however big, however painful, however much it looks, humanly speaking, like a disaster for us. And since the cross is often an instrument of providence in our earthly lives, how can we hate, shrink from it or resent it?
Let's kiss the cross rather than be crushed by it. Let's thank God for our crosses, because we know they are a manifestation of His love and mercy.
Oh, and... let's pray for many holy priests while we're at it! They can do a lot better of a job saying all of this than I can, and if we had such men among us, all of this would be a matter of course to Catholics by now, and I wouldn't be repeating it so that I myself can remember it better!