Of the many challenges Jesus posed for his followers one of the greatest was expressed in just seven words. “Take up your cross and follow me.”  The cross represents the supreme sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.  It represents extreme suffering.  Jesus invites us to share in his suffering and his sacrifice.  His words could hardly be clearer. “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow in my footsteps   is not worthy of me.  Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Mt. 10: 38-39)
Spiritual writers take those words very seriously and extol the value of suffering.  They say things like this: One hour of suffering, taken as the will of God, does more for the soul than any amount of sensible devotion.

Cardinal Newman expressed the same idea, saying: “As we gain happiness through suffering, so do we arrive at holiness through infirmity, because man’s very condition is a fallen one, and in passing out of the country of sin he necessarily passes through it.”
What does that challenge mean for us?  St Augustine offered a helpful insight in this regard.  In one of his sermons he said: “Even today there is no lack of daily persecutions whether it be in the form of devilish temptations, your aching body or simply the misery of a vexatious life.”  We should find it normal that there are sacrifices to be made. We must be capable of recognizing and accepting them.

Jesus did not promise his followers happiness as this world understands it.  That kind  of happiness is usually dependent upon acquiring things such as material security, sensual pleasure, physical health – or the absence of sorrow or suffering.  That kind of happiness can suddenly turn into tragedy.  It is not that Jesus begrudged his followers temporal happiness.  He did warn them, however, of the danger of making it the object or goal of their lives.

Jesus did not die so that we should not die.  He did not suffer so that we should not suffer.  He suffered and died so that our suffering and death should be like his.  Or better, we need to be united with Jesus in his suffering and death so as to rise with    him to new life.
Only through faith that we can accept that truth.  Only through a deep faith are we able to see that hope is more real than despair, that faith is more real than distrust, that love is more real than fear, that God’s love is stronger than death.