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“Ask a Priest: Do We Have Only One Cross in Our Lives?”
Q: I know that God gives each of us a tailor-made cross suited to each individual. I am wondering, do we have only one cross, or do we get many crosses through the course of our lives? And can our mistakes and wrong choices be used by God as our cross? – O.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: When we speak of our “cross,” we shouldn’t think of it as just one, discrete difficulty.
The cross can comprise a range of things, just as it did for Christ. His suffering, for instance, wasn’t limited to the physical cross.
Jesus’ passion and death included the agony in the garden, the betrayal by Judas, the abandonment by the apostles, the mocking by the guards, the humiliating treatment by Herod, the scourging, and more.
We might have a particular cross that stands out — a disability or a troublesome child, for instance — but this is probably accompanied by others.
Now, with the eyes of faith we can see a cross as an instrument for growth in holiness. Why? Because suffering can bring the best out of us. It can teach us humility, patience, sympathy for others, and reliance on God’s providence.
In this sense, yes, God could use one of our mistakes to help us grow in holiness. The mistake can lead to a cross which in turn becomes a means toward holiness.
An example might be a woman who has had an abortion. She later repents, but the sad memory of what she has done hangs over her. That sense of remorse, that “cross,” might motivate her to dedicate herself tirelessly to pro-life work, to helping other women avoid the same mistake she made.
With God’s grace that woman can become a saint. Thus, her terrible mistake led to a cross which in turn propelled her to a life of selfless works — and a path toward holiness.
Or, to restate this another way: Saying that God “gives each of us a tailor-made cross” has some value, but it should be qualified. We shouldn’t infer that the Almighty spends his time thinking of ways to make our lives difficult.
Rather, sin brought suffering into the world, and God in his providence knows how to bring something good out of it.
Each of us is unique. Our life situations are unique. Hence, our crosses are unique. And God can use all of this in a unique way to bring each of us closer to himself.
For extra insight you might turn to our Retreat Guide, The Colors of the Cross.
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