It is said quite truly that the path of least resistance leads to Hell. This truism is particularly relevant to our present hedonistic culture because hedonism is the path of least resistance. It is the belief that we should do whatever makes us feel good in the present moment. Such a belief is inimical to the Christian insistence on the necessity of self-sacrifice. Hedonism hates the cross. It hates all talk of sin, which it has banished from its vocabulary. It spurns all talk of virtue, believing that prudence, temperance, and duty are all trumped by “freedom”, which is defined as the “right” to do what we like with our own lives.
The problem is that we cannot do what we like with our own lives without harming others. A woman’s right to choose to fornicate leads to the demand for her right to kill her own unborn children. This “right” to kill becomes more important than the children’s right to live. Hedonism demands human sacrifice, the offering of babies on the altar erected to the individual’s ego.
The fundamental error at the heart of hedonism is the very belief that our lives are our own. We do not own our lives. Our lives are given as a gift and will be taken from us whether we like it or not. The gift is not free. It comes at a price; a price that we have no choice but to pay.
The price of life is the cross. Everyone has their own cross to carry. The cross is the life that we’ve been given. Life and the cross are the same thing because life and suffering are inseparable. The only choice is not whether we have a cross but whether we choose to love it or hate it, whether we choose to accept it or whether we spend our whole life trying to reject it.
Although acceptance of suffering is a choice, suffering itself is not. We are all doomed to suffer, whether we like it or not or whether we choose it or not. Suffering is not a choice, it is a gift. It is given to each of us. Most of us, to be sure, would rather not have it. Most of us do our best to avoid it. Since, however, it is unavoidable, the wise learn to accept it. It is, however, only the holy who openly embrace it and seek it out. It is the holy who understand the true secret of love as well as the true secret of life, which is not merely the acceptance of suffering but the joyful embrace of all suffering, not simply our own but that of our neighbor, and of Our God. This is the ultimate secret that is revealed by the Suffering Christ and by those of his disciples who take up their crosses to follow Him. Suffering, properly understood in its Christ-like simplicity and complexity, is to be not only endured but enjoyed, not in any sordid masochistic sense but in the liberating sense of the lessons it teaches and the riches it bestows.
Scripture is awash with examples of souls being ennobled and enriched by the experience, acceptance, and embrace of suffering. One of the most powerful is the example of the two thieves crucified either side of Christ on Golgotha. These two thieves can be said to represent the whole of humanity. Both are sinners who have harmed their neighbors through acts of selfishness. Both are guilty of the crimes for which they are being punished and deserve the death that is meted out to them in justice. Neither can escape from their suffering. They are like the rest of us. They are, however, very different in the way that they view their own suffering and that of the innocent Man who is suffering with them. The bad thief does not care about justice. He does not feel guilty for the suffering he has caused to others. He wishes only to escape his own suffering. He scorns the innocent Man who is his God as he had scorned his fellow men who were his neighbors. Indeed God is his neighbor, nailed to the cross beside him for the sins the bad thief has committed. Insofar as the bad thief had caused suffering to his neighbor, he had caused suffering to his God. The good thief knows that he is as much a sinner as the bad thief and that he deserves equal punishment in justice for the suffering he has inflicted on his neighbor. The difference is that he accepts his suffering and begs his God, and by extension his neighbor, to forgive him. In accepting the suffering he is accepting the forgiveness. In the acceptance of both he is accepted by God into His Kingdom. Thus the acceptance of suffering is the precursor of the joy that is its consequence.
As the price of life is the cross of life, so the price of love is the cross of love. Love and the cross are the same thing. They are inseparable. Love, like the cross, is defined by the act of laying down our lives self-sacrificially for the other. Where there is no cross, there is no love.
And here is the ironic paradox at the darkened heart of hedonism. If we will not sacrifice ourselves for others, we will sacrifice others for ourselves. And yet every time we nail others to the cross, we nail ourselves to it also. The more selfishly we live, the more miserable we are. Happiness is not found in the indulgence of our lower appetites but in embracing the self-sacrificial cross of life and love.
Those who embrace their crosses selflessly are liberated from their slavery to themselves. This is the only freedom worth living for or dying for. Those who hate their crosses are nailing themselves more painfully to them, enslaving themselves to their own selfishness.
The number of suicides is increasing. Despair is increasing. Nihilism is rampant. Addiction is an epidemic. These are all signs of a society that is crucifying itself through its hatred of the Cross.
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