In the Shadow of the Cross

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

“God, why does it have to be so difficult?” Have you ever asked that question … out loud? Some people may not be comfortable with this level of familiarity with God. I’ve been told many times I should not question God, that doubt can never be a good thing. I actually believed that once myself. And it’s taken me some time to believe I could tell God what I really think. I believe that telling a person exactly what you think is effective only if you have a loving and trusting relationship with them. True friends are able to disagree and stay friends for as long as they remain confident in the love and respect they have for each other. It is so much easier to welcome constructive criticism from somebody you respect. If that someone is also a true friend, you know your friendship will survive the occasional brutal honesty and raw anguish now and again.

I have my issues with God. And God and I have been through a lot over the years. So, I am not afraid to speak about them. And I’m sure I’m not the first one to bring any of this up: war and peace, judgment, forgiveness, compassion, poverty and hunger, alienation, isolation, excommunication, hostility and aggression, freedom of thought and speech, freedom of choice, conscience, legitimate authority, my role as pastor. There are things that raise my heart rate. And I cry out, “God, why does it have to be so difficult? I’m a good person. Why do I have to put up with all this … stuff? You know I have options.” Obviously, that’s my attempt to tell God to be more reasonable. And you know, as well as I do, how well that works.

Sometime back when I was a fairly young priest, I entered a dark period when I seriously believed I had made a big mistake and considered giving it all up. Whatever used to be important, I could care less. I was teaching at a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and I felt this great sadness I did not understand. My work was overwhelming, draining my spirit dry. And when I went looking for support, I received suspicion, mistreatment, and disdain from the people I was convinced were my friends, having known and loved them for many years. I was near despair. I seriously thought of getting on a bus, going west, and disappearing. I would tell no one, not even my family. I was convinced it would be easier to run away and begin again somewhere else. When I look back on it now, I am completely shocked I even considered this a realistic option. I must have sunk so low, my regard for self, for my priesthood, for God’s role in my life, had all literally lost meaning and value.

It was then that I surrendered. “My God, darkness is all around me. The cross weighs heavy. I know that I have only and always done what you asked of me. And I bear no resentment against anyone. I am lost and heartbroken. Why does it have to be so difficult, God? Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to stop fighting you. You tell me what to do from here on.” I had only been a priest 3 years then. And I still don’t know how I survived. All my life, I thought I just had to say yes to whatever God asked, and everything would work out just fine. A lot of things are still a mystery, but I have learned to trust. Still the shadow of the cross falls on more of my life each day.

I have come to believe the cross is something one just has to carry. It’s just part of life, inconveniences like not having enough time, money, or energy. Cars break down, vacuum cleaners quit, dogs get sick, milk goes bad. Just pull yourself together, clean up the mess, and keep plugging along. I imagine communities that have to rebuild after a hurricane or wildfire or mass shooting have every right to complain. The cross is for us to bear. It isn’t something to negotiate. It’s not much of a choice either. But a positive attitude helps to regain perspective quicker. Illness and death are often regarded as crosses. People we know and love suffer strokes and heart attacks, and battle cancer and Alzheimer’s. We have many questions but answers are harder to come by.

Some crosses result from my own poor choices. If I eat too much junk food and don’t exercise, there is no one else to blame. Some crosses are imposed on us by other people’s poor choices, terrorism, gun violence, driving drunk. Will there be any comfort for Ukrainian and Russian families who have suffered loss of life and property and a promising future in a war that is nowhere near over? What happens to people suffering from hunger and ignorance and poverty? And how about victims of robbery, assault, abuse, and rape? What of their suffering, and of those who love them dearly? There will never be words to comfort those who must bear these crosses. But if we believe in One whose love is greater than any loss or suffering, we can bring them reassurance.

“Before you set out on a project look at your needs and resources and see if you can realistically complete the work.” Even dealing with the cross requires planning. We might gripe and complain. I’m sure God will not be offended. But unless we are willing to find solutions to help bring about God’s design, then we are only getting in the way. Then we can become a cross for someone else. It’s bad enough the cross won’t go away. Even worse is when we become a cross others must bear because we harden our hearts and close our minds; we are stubborn, uncooperative, immature, and unforgiving.

For many years I’ve worn a ring on my right hand. I couldn’t find it during the move, but I’m wearing it again. When people ask, I point to their own rings. I ask them to recall what they said when they exchanged rings. In our wedding liturgy the spouses say, “Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity.” That ring you wear is a sign of your husband’s/wife’s love and fidelity, just as the ring they wear is a sign of your love and fidelity. This ring is for me a sign of God’s love and fidelity. It is a gentle reminder when times are difficult and when the cross looms large. Despite the cross, I know I can put my trust in God whose love for me is beyond all imagining, and who remains faithful beyond my understanding.

Rolo B Castillo © 2022

6 responses to “In the Shadow of the Cross”

  1. Father Rolo,

    Your beautiful, heartfelt homily touched me deeply. Thank you for sharing such an honest account that is so relatable. And thank you for ending with hope.

    My life has become a surrender at least 1,364 times daily and trusting our magnificent God will take care of everything.

    I’m finally at 60 ok with unanswered questions about some of the toughest tragedies and losses of life. I tell myself right here right now I’m ok. Then I sit and listen to the birds or take a walk with my dog or simply smile really big at a stranger and most likely look like a lunatic. No matter. All will be well. All manner of being somehow will be will in God’s time.

    We sure do miss your presence at Saint John’s but feel you will always be with us in spirit as we will be with you.

    Rebecca Gorra



    • I say you can’t go wrong with honesty as long as you don’t talk about someone else. And yes, there are more questions than answers. But we need to hang on to signs of God’s love and fidelity. We only miss them if we’re not paying attention. I miss you all very much too.


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