When we freely choose to follow Jesus and be His disciple, there will be struggles. Christ promised it. “Take up your cross and follow me”. When a young woman chooses to intimately follow Christ by being a religious sister, she knows there are sacrifices involved. She is giving up the possibility of a husband with whom she can feel a hug and a word of encouragement. There are no children with whom to cuddle and palpably love each day. When a man chooses to give some money or a sandwich to another begging on the side of the road, he is choosing to make a sacrifice. He is delaying the satisfaction of food in his belly for an extra hour. These sacrifices are chosen and have their “cross.”
Think of the sacrifices we choose during Lent. They are freely chosen. Veronica chooses to run out on the street and encounter a fallen Jesus to wipe some blood from his face and offer him a moment of solace amid his painful passion. His face is left imprinted upon that act of charity.
Not Always Our Choice
What is the response of the soul when sacrifices are not chosen? Those moments when, in His Providence, God chooses us for a sacrifice without our consent. Total self-control and self-realization have been removed. “It was I who chose you, to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” Parents who receive a phone call that their child has taken his own life. The unexpected illness that has overtaken a body, despite all that one is doing to remain healthy. Where is God in all this? Isn’t God all love? There are those sacrifices and crosses that choose us. Simon, the man from Cyrene, was pressed into service. A simple man coming home from a long day’s work and finds himself carrying the cross of a criminal. Wrong place at the wrong time.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Hers is a Cinderella story turned upside down. Born to a wealthy family in Hungary, she was promised in marriage to a German prince and sent off to be raised in the same castle as her future husband. They grew to truly love each other and eventually married. St. Elizabeth was always a fervent and prayerful young woman, putting Jesus first in her life. Even as a married queen she would give away her clothes to the poor. She offered lepers her own bed, with the approval of her husband. Despite her castle life, she continually served the poor, giving of herself and her belongings.
The Pope called for the Crusades to take back the Holy Land and her husband responded and headed off for battle. He dies of an illness during the campaign. In response to this circumstance two of St. Elizabeth’s ambitious brothers-in-law take advantage of the moment to assume power and kick St. Elizabeth, along with her young children, out onto the streets. From one day to the next she finds herself a beggar, going door to door. She is not allowed to return to the castle to collect her belongings. A decree is sent out warning people against giving her shelter. Friends encourage her to secretly give up her young children, so they don’t have to experience the same plight. She does what is best for her children. She loses everything. Is there sadness in her soul? Does she experience fear? Undoubtedly. She never loses her faith and trust in her almighty God.
Her reaction? Faith rises to the top. St. Elizabeth knows that every circumstance is a way to honor God. Her security is in Jesus. Instead of wallowing in misery, she opens a clinic for the sick and in a special way attends to lepers. In her poverty she remains steadfast in her love for God and for others. In her life of forced destitution, she continued freely living her life’s purpose, until her dying day at age 24, of truly loving and imitating Jesus above all else.