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What Kind of Cross Do You Carry?

By Susan Ciancio

Blessed Chiara Luce Badano was a young Italian girl who was diagnosed with a painful bone cancer at the age of 17. She died just a few years later, but during those years when she endured immense pain, she taught us so much about suffering and about uniting that suffering with Christ’s on the cross.

When Chiara received her diagnosis, she reportedly spent 25 minutes in prayer. During that time, she told God that she accepted His will.

As her death drew closer, she refused some of her pain meds and told her family: “There’s only one thing I can do now: to offer my suffering to Jesus because I want to share as much as possible in His suffering on the cross.”

I’ve been thinking about this brave young woman a lot lately. Someone very close to me received a potentially devastating diagnosis. A family member is suffering from dementia. A friend is battling chronic pain. The list goes on and on. Some days these people find it hard to even get out of bed, and the emotional toll is often even worse than the physical toll.

In times like these, we must turn to God and to the saints for their help, guidance, and prayers. And that’s why we need the stories of saints, for they inspire us, buoy us, and help us learn to unite our suffering to Christ’s or to offer it up for others.

We all have crosses to bear in life. While some are light, some are heavy, and some are in between, we should never compare the weight of our crosses with someone else’s, for we all carry them differently. What might be light to you may be extremely heavy to another person, and vice versa.

Oftentimes, in an effort to console someone, a person will say something like “You should feel lucky. At least your situation isn’t as bad as [insert something that’s perceived as worse].” This comparison trivializes the suffering the person is feeling and is often extremely disheartening.  

Having some perspective about life’s suffering is important, but dismissing the fact that someone is indeed suffering is demeaning. Instead of telling someone that her suffering should feel lighter than it does, we could act as Simon of Cyrene did when he helped carry Christ’s cross. We can help carry the cross.

Helping someone through the difficult times in life leads to an increase in compassion. In addition, helping someone learn to offer up that suffering helps bring him closer to Christ.

That is also the perspective we should have with our own crosses.

The Church teaches the redemptive value of suffering. Most of us were taught from an early age that we can offer up our sufferings for a poor soul in purgatory or for someone suffering here on earth. We believe that our suffering will help someone get a little closer to heaven or may even help alleviate someone’s pain. And when we offer up our pain, we can’t help but feel an immense joy because we know we are doing good for someone else.

When we unite our suffering with Christ’s on the cross, just as Chiara did, we can feel a tiny fraction of what He felt when He gave His life for us. Sharing in Christ’s love and sacrifice is an immense blessing. That is the joy that Chiara felt during her suffering.

So let us look at our own lives and how we handle our crosses or help others carry theirs. Do we carry them with determination to grow in faith and teach others to do the same? Or do we carry them with defeat, feeling unloved and unwanted by Christ?

If we feel the latter, let us pray for guidance and perseverance as we ask God to help carry it. Our crosses may be heavy, but God has not abandoned us. We matter to Him. We are precious and loved. And someday, we will find that the crosses we carried have paved the way to eternity with our Lord.

The Culture of Life Studies Program has created a beautiful lesson for teens about Blessed Chiara. You can find it here.