From Fr. Philip LeMasters...
In some ways, people today are too familiar with the image of the cross. Some wear it as just another a piece of jewelry or otherwise use it to symbolize values or organizations that have nothing to do with the cross through which our Lord conquered death. Unfortunately, those who confess its true spiritual significance can easily rest content with beliefs about the cross without actually obeying the clear instructions of our Lord that we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him. Celebrating the Exaltation of the Cross with integrity requires that we confess truthfully with St. Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
The Lord’s Self-Offering on the Cross for the salvation of the world is unique and all encompassing. As we chant when we especially celebrate the cross, “Before Thy Cross, we bow down and worship…” We must not respond passively to the cross, however, as though all the work has already been done in a way that requires nothing of us. For the only way to share in the Savior’s life is to enter personally into the deep mystery of His sacrifice. He offered Himself fully and in free obedience to the point of death, burial, and descent into Hades in order to conquer the corruption to which we had enslaved ourselves. In order to embrace the liberation and healing of our Crucified and Risen Lord, we must die to all that holds us back from embodying the fullness of His great victory. That means offering ourselves without reservation for union with Christ in holiness as we become “partakers of the divine nature” by grace.
In the world as we know it, doing so requires a perpetual struggle of the soul. The fight is not against other people and certainly not against God. Instead, it is a battle with ourselves because we have all accepted the lie that true fulfillment comes from our own will being done. In one way or another, we have all come to identify with our self-centered desires such that we think we could not exist without gratifying them. Consequently, to put the demands of loving God and neighbor first in life requires us to deny ourselves and to abandon our well-settled habit of living in the service of our passions. We must all be “crucified with Christ” in the sense of dying to the corruptions that keep us from sharing in the Savior’s restoration and healing of the human person in the divine image and likeness.
The Lord’s command to take up our crosses, deny ourselves, and lose our lives has nothing to do with appeasing an angry Father by our suffering. It is not concerned with the pointless task of trying to earn forgiveness by paying a debt or meeting a legal obligation. Instead, it is about doing what is necessary to find healing. In order to regain physical health, we may have to do some painful and difficult things at times, like having surgery, going to physical therapy, or changing our diet. Those are not punishments, but simply what is necessary for us to regain our health in light of our particular physical condition. If we want to get better, we will put aside our preferences and accept the inconvenience.
The same thing is true for us spiritually. Offering ourselves to the Lord for the healing of our souls in whatever circumstances we face is how we take up our crosses.