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The Cross of Carlo Acutis


Mt. 10:37-42

Jesus said to his apostles: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. "Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple— amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward."


Carlo Acutis and the Cross

Carlo Acutis was born in London on 3 May 1991 to a wealthy Italian family living in London. He became very interested in the faith and would go to Mass frequently and to confession every week. At 14, he finished cataloging every Eucharistic miracle on a website he designed himself. When he was diagnosed with leukemia, he offered his suffering for Pope Benedict XVI and the Church. He passed away in 2006 at 15 years of age. He was beatified in 2020. His short life shows us what it means to take up our cross to follow Jesus.


If we are going to follow Jesus, we must learn to take up our cross.


One message of the Gospel that is often neglected is our need for mortification.


We're All Looking for Happiness

We are all looking for happiness. Already, the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about this in his Nicomachean Ethics. He also mentioned that to pursue pleasure directly was the surest way of losing it. So, if we cannot pursue happiness directly, what are we to do?


Too often, we give our attention to those who are seeking pleasure, whether it be through fame, riches, or power. We imagine that someone who has these things must be truly happy. But is that really the case? Are we not allowing ourselves to be deluded by false hopes of happiness?


St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that “all men seek what they seek for one reason: they think it will satisfy them; they believe that the accomplishment of their desires will make them happy.” (Piedra, 2017) And yet, so often when we do reach the goal for which we were reaching, we are left with a sense of lack of satisfaction. The peace we were hoping for eludes us.


Saint John Paul II said once that “from childhood, everyone is called to mortification and fasting in order to grow in character and self-discipline, overcoming the desire to possess everything for oneself alone.” (John Paul II, Message for Lent 1994)


Two Ways to Take Up Your Cross

There are primarily two ways of “taking up our cross.” We can patiently suffer the hardships that come our way. This might be something as simple as having to wait at a red light or dealing with traffic patiently. It could be bearing with an outburst of a loved one or waiting in line for the Sacrament of Penance. To suffer patiently is something worthwhile and something that makes us more similar to Jesus.


The other way of “taking up our cross” is to actively look for sacrifice. The Church requires us to fast two days of the year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Additionally, we are required to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent and to make some sacrifice every Friday during the year.


Many people find spiritual benefit in fasting more frequently, although I would recommend always consulting with a spiritual director or confessor to avoid hurting oneself or falling into spiritual pride.


Mortification can also be intricately linked with discipline. So much of our modern world takes laziness and a lack of discipline for granted. Something as simple as getting up on time, making our bed and ordering our personal space is a way of creating some discipline in our lives.


Spiritual Motivation

St. Paul describes the spiritual motivation for mortification in the letter to the Romans. “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” (Rom. 6:8) He is speaking about the break with sin that is necessary for our salvation, present especially in the sacrament of Baptism. But when we fall from grace, we need the Sacrament of Reconciliation to put us once again in a state of communion with God. “Christian justification implies an irretrievable rejection of sin and the beginning of a new and holy life.” (Theissen, 1953)


Through Baptism, we are promised to God. By our baptismal nature, we should avoid sin completely. But this is often not our experience. Even though we have been wiped clean of original sin, we still feel the effects of concupiscence. This needs to be worked out through conscious effort and the grace of God. This is where mortification comes in, to help us get rid of bad habits and tendencies to sin, as well as build up virtue and strength to avoid future temptation.


Some people live short lives like Carlo Acutis. Others live a long time. The important thing is to spend each day in a way that we can dedicate to God. The funny thing about happiness is that it often eludes us when we seek it directly. But when we seek first God’s glory and the happiness of others, joy appears in our own hearts as a mysterious byproduct of our generous self-giving. Look at your life and see where you are being selfish. I am sure it is causing you pain. Choose life and choose to give of yourself. This is how you can take up your cross and follow Jesus.


References

John Paul II. (1994). Message for Lent. https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/messages/lent/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_03091993_lent-1994.html


Piedra, A.M. (2017). The Search for Happiness. The Institute for World Politics. https://www.iwp.edu/articles/2017/10/11/the-search-for-happiness/


Theissen, A. (1953). The Epistle to the Romans. A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture.


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