We just celebrated the exaltation of the cross. It is good to remember that much of our lives on this earth is about the cross. Christ told us to be willing to take up our crosses daily and follow him.
In this post, I’d like to hold up a cross that perhaps we don’t often think about, the cross of absences. There are many types of absences. There is absence due to death or distance of a loved one. There is the absence at times it seems of God from our lives. There is also the absence at times of love from those around us such as our spouse, our brothers and sisters, or our coworkers. We can feel alone and isolated. Finally, there’s the absence we feel when the things that age or the calamities of life have taken from us.
Absence of those we love
Almost everyone I know has experienced the loss of a loved one. This is a cross that manifests itself in things that are not there anymore. That person is no longer part of our daily routine. We miss them and feel more alone.
I lost my grandparents a couple of years ago, and, even though they were never a huge part of my life, I feel the cross of their absence. I miss them on my birthday when I remember how they used to call me. I miss them when I visit my aunt and remember visiting them. These feelings are far more intense for those who have lost a son or daughter.
Recently, family friends lost their 29 year old daughter to cancer after a short, one year battle. I can only imagine the many times they think of her with the pain from her absence.
Absence of God
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matt 27:46). At the end, Christ feels abandoned by God. He feels the absence of God that we, too, feel in our lives when things don’t go well. Sometimes, we wonder whether God is there.
In prayer, I feel this absence when I experience dryness or lack of enthusiasm. I wonder is God really listening. I feel the absence of God even though he is present.
While God is never absent from us, one of our crosses on this Earth is to feel his distance through the sin, suffering, and the isolation he allows us to experience for our purification.
Absence of love
By absence of love I’m talking about the absence of human love. Sometimes, someone in our lives, who provides us with affirmation, is emotionally absent or worse competitive with us. This is a failure to love.
Growing up I sometimes felt distant from my older siblings whose lives had become busy. Nowadays, I may feel this absence of love at my workplace. This kind of absence we all feel from time to time. At times we might not get the emotional response we want from people, or we might not get any kind of acknowledgment from others.
Christ’s gratefulness to the woman who washes his feet with tears underscores the lack of love he often received from others. He rebukes his host, Simon, the Pharisee, saying, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.” (Luke 7:44-45). Perhaps, when we feel disappointed by a lack of love for others, we can remember how often we fail to show love for Christ.
Absence Due to Injury or Our Body
Christ warned Peter that he would lose his freedom. Indeed, in John 21:18, Jesus tells Peter, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus himself knew this loss of freedom and autonomy through his own crucifixion.
As we get older, injury, illness, and simple old age tend to take away things that we used to have. This is another cross of absences. A striking figure in this regard is Pope John Paul II who lost so much due to debility at the end of his life but through it all became an even more powerful witness to the Gospel.
There are crosses that seem to involve new suffering. These crosses include illnesses, a difficult person at work, or an unexpected injury. Any new cross is accompanied by many absences. An injury may cause us no longer to be able to do the things we used to do or to see the people we used to see. The cross of an injury is a cross because we have new pain and discomfort, but it is just as much a cross because old things that we loved have now gone away at least temporarily. Thus, our cross always involves some sort of loss—some sort of absence—and some sort of surrender to God.