Chapter 12 – The Royal Way of the Cross
The Royal Way of the Cross
We have come now to the twelfth chapter of The Following of Christ—the last of the Second Book. It is a long, beautiful, very instructive, soul-inspiring chapter. IF you have the book, or can get it, then read this chapter first, before you proceed with what I bring here for your special consideration. Read it slowly and carefully, every word and every passage of it—read it and meditate on it.
Now let us go on. We are told that to get to heaven there are two roads, on one of which we must walk: the road of innocence, or the road of penance. This is true. Either we must preserve our innocence as we receive it in baptism, that is, we must keep ourselves free from sin until death calls us away—and this is the way of innocence; or, if we have lost our baptismal innocence by sin committed, we must do penance, thereby to obtain forgiveness from God and atone for our sin—and this is what is called the road of penance.
But, considering it aright, we can reduce these two roads to one, namely, the royal way of the Cross, as Thomas a Kempis calls it. And how so? If you have sinned, if only venially, you must do penance, that is certain. What is that but going the way of the Cross? If you wish to preserve your innocence, to keep yourself free from sin, must you not fight with the enemies that pursue you, and struggle against and overcome their temptations? Must you not suffer persecutions from the world? For “all you will live piously in Jesus Christ, shall suffer persecution,” says St. Paul. And what is this, again, but going the way of the Cross? Consequently, you see, the two rods merge into one—the royal way of the Cross; and for us, the children of men, there is no other road to heaven but this.
If, besides the way of the Cross, there were another road to heaven, most certainly our saviour would have told us so. But Jesus teaches us by word and example that this way of the cross is the only road to heaven. Be sure, therefore, if Jesus says of Himself: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory?” be sure, I repeat, that neither you, nor I, nor anybody else will drive into heaven comfortable by means of a coach-and-four.
Very truthfully, indeed, does Thomas a Kempis say: “They who now love to hear and to follow the word of the Cross shall not then (on Judgment Day) fear the sentence of eternal condemnation.”
Have you sinned? And do you intend, earnestly, to be a follower of Jesus? Well, then, prepare yourself for suffering. Jesus Himself will send you trials; they will come, sooner or later. IF he does not send you any, or rather, if up to the present He has not sent you any, in spite of all your sins, then you ought to pray, and pray, and not give up until he sends you some. Why?
St. Ambrose, I think, it is, the great bishop of Milan, of whom the following is related: One day, on his journey, he came to an inn; and, as night was drawing near, he entered with his companions to lodge there till the next morning. He was there not very long when he began a conversation with the inn-keeper. He soon found out that the man was a wicked fellow, dishonest and an unbeliever. And he was rich; he had everything he could wish for, and everything arranged in the best manner.
The Saint asked him: “How are you getting along in your business?”
“Very well; I never lose, but am always gaining,” answered the landlord.
“And you are always healthy, and there is no sickness in your family?”
“We never have to suffer from sickness,” was the answer.
“You seem to have no trouble whatever of any other kind?”
“None whatever. Everything goes and comes as I wish it.”
“Come, my brethren,” said the holy bishop to his followers, “let us depart hence immediately. The curse of God is resting on this house; we must go away from it, lest the ruin that awaits it and its master fall on us also.”
Only a short time after their departure from the inn they saw the walls of it tumble, and the roof fall in, and the godless inn-keeper, together with his family, was thus suddenly buried under its ruins.
Do you understand now? Let us, therefore, pray with St. Teresa: “Lord Jesus, let me suffer or die!” and with St. Magdalene of Pazzi: “Lord, not die, but suffer always!”
If you have not sinned—this is only supposed,–for who is there that has the use of reason and has not sinned venially?—and want to preserve your innocence to the end, you must know and be convinced of it that you cannot do so (that is, with the assistance of God’s grace) without undergoing a great deal of suffering and trouble. Therefore, one way or the other, you have no other road before you to heaven than the royal way of the cross.
Now, here are some points for you to take in and treasure in your heart for all your lifetime: First, in the Cross is your salvation; therefore, whenever and as often as Jesus lays it on your shoulder, take it and bear it patiently for His sake. Secondly, you cannot escape the Cross if you wish to be a true to be a true follower of Jesus. It is your way to heaven. Thirdly, if you will not bear the Cross willingly, bear it you must; if you bear it unwillingly you can receive no reward for it. Fourthly, in bearing the Cross patiently for Jesus’ sake, you will experience the only true joy that can be had on this earth; for Jesus assures us that “His yoke is sweet and His burden light;” and once the Cross will be your everlasting joy in heaven. Fifthly, whenever the Cross addresses on you heavily, then think of your Jesus carrying His Cross and dying on it, for you. That will give you new strength and courage to bear it up.
For the conclusion, a word of admonition from The Following of Christ: “Take up, therefore, thy Cross and follow Jesus, and thou shalt go into life everlasting.”