He Carried His Heavy Cross, by Heidi Indahl

On the celebration of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, celebrated on September 14th, it is good to pause and reflect for a moment on what this celebration means through the lens of families of children with special needs. The Catholic theology of the cross is intricate, deep, and beautiful. In fact, a few months back my cousin emailed me out of the blue to ask why we (Catholics) have crucifixes in our churches instead of an empty cross such as what they have in their church. “Jesus is risen,” he asked, “why would you want to put him back on the cross?”

To be honest, I didn’t quite know how to answer. Should I give him a theological answer? Should I give a personal answer about what the crucifix means to me? Here is a selection of what I responded;

For me, when our daughter Kenna died…, I began to see the crucifixion in a very different way. In all of the things that we have suffered (and will suffer), Christ has already completely suffered them for us on the cross. Redeemed them yes, of course, but in my grief it was in clinging to the knowledge and awareness of his suffering that offered me a different form of comfort and purpose. That allowed me to more fully appreciate the gifts of the resurrection.

A few years ago, I was struggling spiritually to accept some things.. A priest was getting a little frustrated with me and said, “Here’s the thing Heidi. Jesus looked at the cross and he looked at you and he chose you. And if you were the only one, he would have made the same choice. It is that simple.”

For me, it is humbling in a beautiful way. The crucifix gives me hope and encouragement in moments of suffering and reminds me that our own trials of this world are nothing compared to both what Jesus has already suffered (because his suffering contained all of ours) and what his resurrection offers us.

In my life as a mother, especially in my role as special need’s mama, there has been no shortage of trials and suffering, or opportunities to look to the cross as a source of strength in weakness and comfort in times of seemingly impossible hardship. My daughter once noted, while looking through her picture Bible, “Sometimes I feel sad for Jesus, he had to carry that heavy cross.” Indeed, he did. He did, and so can we. I think one of the secrets of the crucifix is to boldly proclaim with St. Joan of Arc, “Lift high the cross, that I may see it through the flames.”

Thinking back over one day of special needs parenting, there are dozens of moments to embrace and proclaim the cross- behavior challenges, medication administration, personal cares, insurance woes, communicating with providers, physical exhaustion, separation from the sacraments. The list could probably go on for pages! It may be difficult (or impossible) for you to celebrate this feast with the church publicly today, but rest assured your private embracing of these individual moments is a worthy spiritual practice. Your Heavenly Father sees you. How will you lift high the cross today?

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