As Benedict XVI says, to look at the cross like this is to see that God is stronger. Isn't this an opportunity?
Put yourself in Peter’s place. He has just rebuked Jesus for predicting the Passion (this Sunday’s Gospel). The Lord in turn reprimands Peter: Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do. And then, immediately, Jesus says this: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
At cross purposes
We may be inclined to regard “the cross” as hardships, difficulties, afflictions, tribulations, adversity, annoyance, occasions for self-denial. But when considered within its context, we see that “the cross” implies much more. For with this scolding, Peter finds himself at the lowest point of his life. He has probably never felt worse, since he has just been called “Satan”! But it is THAT misery, that desolation and anguish that Jesus wants Peter to take up in self-denial as his cross. Jesus is commanding Peter: Take up your cross RIGHT NOW!
The cross is an opportunity
Look at the amazing thing Pope Benedict XVI said: “Although the ‘cross’ may be heavy, it is not synonymous with misfortune, with disgrace, to be avoided on all accounts; rather it is an opportunity to follow Jesus and thereby to acquire strength in the fight against sin and evil” (emphasis added). To be united with Jesus in taking up the cross consists in facing the wretchedness and the actual evil we breed whenever we think and live outside of Jesus. To take up our cross is to refuse to succumb to our feelings of shame, of guilt, of self-loathing.
We carry our cross following Jesus when we recognize, in brutal honesty, what we are when left to ourselves … and, in that excruciating knowledge, we love Jesus. To deny ourselves entails saying No to all the delusional thoughts we may entertain about our own “goodness” apart from God. We follow Jesus when we love him in the knowledge of what we are without him … in the actual experience of our despondency. “The cross is the disarming of self by which we give ourselves to God” (Fr. Bernard Bro).
The cross is a purification that removes from us everything that is not in Jesus. The faithful carrying of the cross serves to conform us more and more to Jesus Christ. St. Theodorus the Studite (+826) says that “with the cross we are freed from the restraint of the enemy and we clutch on to the strength of salvation.”
Becoming a cross-bearer
Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that “to follow Christ means to accept the inner essence of the cross, namely,the radical love expressed therein:”
The cross as a sign forces us to look at the dangerousness of man and all his heinous deeds; at the same time it makes us look upon God, who is stronger — stronger in his weakness — and upon the fact that we are loved by God. It is in this sense a sign of forgiveness.
Probably everything in the mortified Peter wanted to flee as fast and far away from Jesus as possible, so engulfed was he in shock and shame at their exchange. The grace — the miracle — is that Peter stayed (look at the moving depiction of this in the film Jesus of Nazareth. Peter followed.
St. Catherine of Siena encourages us:
With tremendously blazing love you will take up the cross, where the death of deadly sin was spent and destroyed, where we won life. And here is what it will do for you: when you take up the cross, all your past sins against God will be taken away. And then God will say to you, “Come, my beloved child. You have worked hard for me. Now I will relieve you; I will lead you to the wedding feast of everlasting life.”
For “it is only as a cross-bearer that one belongs to Christ” (A. Sertillanges)
Poet and Jesuit priest Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins used to pray:
O God, lift me above myself to a higher state of grace in which I may have more union with you, in which I may be more zealous to do your will, and be freer from sin. For to be raised to a higher degree of grace means being lifted on a higher cross.
And follow his series of brief reflections on prayer here.