The Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, which we celebrate today, holds a special place in my heart.
I never knew much about this feast until my husband and I went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje twenty years ago. At that time, my husband was not Catholic and had absolutely no interest in becoming one. He only went because I wanted to go and he didn’t want me going into a communist country without him. And so, we went.
In our group, there were about 15 or so people of varying ages, abilities, and personalities. There was one woman named Betty, an older woman who walked with a limp. We walked all over the village from one side to the next and, in spite of her gait and age, she kept right up.
One day our little band of pilgrims decided to climb Mt. Krizevac (Cross Mountain). In 1933, the people of this small village built a cross on the top of a Mount Sipovac in commemoration of 1900 years since the death of Jesus. The huge cross was made by hand, hauling supplies by donkey up this rocky, dry terrain on the mountain now called Krizevac.
Crowds gathered at the base of the mountain to begin their ascent. We saw some other pilgrims taking off their shoes to climb the mountain barefoot, offering it as a penance. Seeing the others, my husband and I thought, “Why not?” I had no idea the life lesson I would learn that day.
It wasn’t too difficult in the beginning to walk unshod. The path was well worn and the dry clay soil fairly soft. As time went on, though, the slope increased and we started to encounter rocks – big ones and little ones, smooth ones and sharp ones – and then later thorns. A huge boulder rested in the middle of the path blockinc our way. We strategized the best way to get over it, and somehow we were able.
The big rocks were easy. It was the sharp ones and the thorns, the ones that were harder to see, and the soft rounded ones that would stick into the soft of my foot that would make me want to give up. It was the little things that made it difficult.
As time went on, the only thing I paid attention to was my next step. I didn’t care about when I would get to the top or how far we had to go. I only cared about where I would placed my foot. I carefully searched for soft soil or firm, thornless ground. I was totally in the present. Nothing else mattered.
The neat thing about this climb is that there were Stations of the Cross along the way. As we climbed, we would stop and pray, meditating on the passion of Christ as we climbed. We did it as a group, waiting for the last one to arrive before beginning our prayer.
I’ll never forget the 13th station, “Jesus is taken down from the cross and placed in his mother’s arms”. Betty prayed this station. I can still see it. Betty had lost her son sometime earlier. When she prayed it, she had a unity with the suffering of Jesus and Mary that probably no one else in our group did. I just remember thinking how remarkable she was – I never knew her suffering. She was always cheerful and kind. She just picked up her cross and followed Jesus.
I learned a lot on that warm day in September: That the only step that really matters is the next step; that it’s important to pray along the road of suffering; that we do better if we invite others to walk the road with us; and that the view on the top of the mountain is sweeter for it.
We adore You, O Christ, and we bless you, because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world. Anne