Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Take up Your Cross  

One of my guilty pleasures is devouring historical romance novels, being transported to a different time and place and being swept up in the affairs of powerful and elegant people.  I recently finished The Virgin’s Lover, by Phillipa Gregory, which imagines a clandestine and doomed affair between Queen Elizabeth I and Lord Robert Dudley, a married man.  The most tragic and sympathetic character in this Amy Robsart, Dudley’s wife, who struggles to maintain her Catholic faith and marriage, even though she is certain Dudley is in love with Elizabeth. 
 
In reflecting upon this week’s gospel, I thought often of Amy.  When she seeks council from her confessor, his advice echoes the words of Jesus in this week’s gospel: “Take up your cross.”  In this context, his advice to her is to be the “good wife” expected of the times – obedient to her spouse, not questioning his faithfulness, and accepting a loveless marriage as the life God saw fit to give her.
 
Historically, this is just one example of the ways in which Jesus’ radical call to discipleship has instead been used to oppress women – even with the best of intentions.  Thankfully over time, the tide has begun to turn.  When I worked in a domestic violence shelter, I often worked with women of deep religious faith who were conflicted about their decision to leave abusive spouses and partners.  They often worried that they were failing at what Jesus had asked of them, that they had abandoned the cross he had asked them to carry by leaving potentially deadly situations.  As much as I tried to comfort them, it was often in speaking to their priest or pastor that their guilt began to fade.  One woman’s priest assured her that suffering interpersonal abuse was not what Jesus asked of here – but perhaps her cross would be the difficult road of extricating herself and her children from an abusive relationship and building a life that would include more financial hardship, but healthier relationships.  Another spoke of a pastor who ensured that her husband began attending services at a different time so that this woman could attend services without fear.
 
“Take up your cross” can become a brush off if we aren’t careful – dismissing the injustices of the world as somehow God’s will.  But doing so denies what follows immediately in Mark’s gospel, “Follow me.  … Whoever loses his life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will save it.”  This line echoes the reading from the epistle of James, “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”  Jesus’ message throughout his ministry was one of liberation.  His message to take up the cross and lose one’s life for the sake of the gospel is an exhortation to demonstrate our faith in him through the way we live our lives – not permission to ignore the injustices we see or experience.  What, then, gives more glory to God: to ignore suffering as one’s divinely ordained lot in life, or to step out in faith and confront the social norms and expectations that keep us bound?
 
Johanna Hatch is a feminist activist, writer, and amateur hagiographer. She currently resides in Wisconsin with her spouse Evan and their mostly blind dachshund. They eagerly await the arrival their newest family member in mid-November. Johanna will presenting a prayer session, “Women Mystics for Today” at the national Call to Action conference.
 

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