Self-Pity and the Cross



Those afflicted with self-pity have often debased the concept of “carrying the Cross.” They have made it a sniveling idea. Their sighs and tears and pietistic postures make it appear that they are being terribly put upon, and are bearing dreadful and unfair burdens with fantastic heroism. This sort of thing does indeed invite derision from scoffers like the communists, with their taunts about “pie in the sky” and about religion being the opium of the people.

This is a penalty which true religion has had to pay for its kindness and patience with the weakest and most self-centered of its adherents. And men – that is, men as distinguished from women – must accept a large part of the guilt for this distortion of the noble and manly idea of taking up one’s cross and carrying it courageously and cheerfully.

Far too many men have left religion to women and children; and what result could have been expected but that religion would come to appear feminine and sometimes almost childish? Women and children would not be women and children if they behaved like men. The fault is not theirs; the fault is men’s for not having been religiously manly.

The carrying of the cross, rightly understood, is the manliest idea in the world. In the final analysis, it is the only manly idea. No man is a real man who shirks crosses. But this does not mean that a man – or a woman or a child – should go around with up cast eyes like a plaster saint, making a great show of self-conscious patience under intolerable tribulations. The plain truth is that most of our tribulations are rather easily tolerable if only we will not magnify them out of all proportion with our own theatricals.

The trouble with far too many of us is that we go through life as if we were writing, producing, directing, starring in, and ourselves being the audience for a melodrama about ourselves.

Some people can make a Broadway production out of a headache and a Shakespearean tragedy out of a smashed fender on their automobile. They are victims of self-dramatization and of a frantic sentimentalism.

There are folks who will mourn the loss of a dog as if they had lost their immortal souls. These are the people who, as Chesterton remarked, spell the word dog backward. They make a dog their god; and if the dog dies, they behave as if the light had gone out of the sky and the future had turned to unrelieved despair.

To point this out is not being anti-dog or anti-anything. It is merely one of a thousand handy examples of the exaggeration of an ordinary sorrow into a thing too terrible to be borne.

There are women who will become unfit to live with for weeks if a vase is broken. There are men who are inconsolable if their alma mater loses a football game. There are people who smash what ought to be a happy marriage because the wife wants to sleep instead of getting up for breakfast, or because the husband prefers reading books to dancing.

We could multiply examples endlessly, but what we are talking about is those unfortunate human beings who have never outgrown being spoiled children, who have never learned to come to terms, realistically and good-naturedly, with life as life actually is.

The Christian concept of carrying the Cross is simply a nutshell description of an honest, mature and religious outlook on life. It is a simple fact that even the longest life is short. Even the most atrocious suffering must end. Even the most poignant sorrow is comparatively brief.

The truth is that life and everything in life are merely means to an end, to a purpose, to an achievement. And the achievement is nothing short of an eternity of such happiness as cannot possibly be described because it is far beyond the power of the human mind to realize or to imagine.

When facts like those are firmly grasped and profoundly understood by the soul, then you have a man who is a man, or a woman who is a woman. You have a person who can put everything in a right perspective. You have somebody who is prepared to carry any cross because he knows that he is walking toward a fulfillment that will make everything, in retrospect, seem small.

And this kind of person will not snivel over his crosses. He will not enlarge his crosses in his own mind until they tower like skyscrapers and increase in weight until they crush him.

The manliness, the magnificent manliness, of Christ is little appreciated. Christ knew from the instant of His conception what the climax of His life would be. He knew that his task was to live the most burdened life in all human history, and to die the most sorrowful death.

But never did Christ have one instant of self-pity or self-glorification. He went at the work of living and of redeeming in the way that a real football star goes about the labor of driving toward the goal posts for a touchdown.

The player can see his objective, and it is his objective that is ever uppermost in his mind. He is hardly aware of the bumps and bruises and weariness he endures on his way to the last stripe on the field. And that was the kind of manliness that Christ had.

Christ took up His cross because He had a job to do. He embraced it because it was the way to the eternal glory for which He had been born. And that is the attitude that each of us should have toward the crosses that come our way as the years pass.

Does one of your children die? Well, death is something for which each of us is born; it is a thing that is ever present in every life. What is really important is not the time of death, but the kind of death. Any good death at any time, any death in the love of God, is an everlasting triumph.

Of course you sorrow if a child dies; but you do not, if you are a grownup Christian man or woman, elevate your sorrow into a religion forevermore. You do not make your sorrow a kind of idol to be worshiped each day that you live.

You take up the cross, you carry it manfully, and by your courage and cheerfulness you make it smaller and smaller until it is very light. After all, each passing day, if you have the true view of life, brings you closer to the endless reunion with your child in unthinkable happiness.

It is properly the task of men to make religion a thoroughly manly thing. Oh, religion is womanly, too, and it is childlike. True religion is universal; it embraces every one.

But religion is not what it ought to be unless it is manful also; unless it is firmly embraced and profoundly encompassed by real men who see life honestly and see it whole, and refuse to shrink from it or run away.

Carrying the cross, truly, is nothing else than living bravely with the right motives and the right kind of love of God and fellowmen.

What happened to Veronica’s veil was simply an outward expression of what happened in Veronica’s soul. Are we “Veronica’s” in our everyday life? Do we seek to serve, to encourage, to listen….?

A good Catholic woman learns quickly that to love is to hurt….They go hand in hand. Her life is spent spreading love and gathering crosses. And when God allows her sufferings she understands it is not to do her harm but to gather her into His arms.

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Great reading suggestions on My Book List….




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