Endurance: A Hecker Reflection
This is the twenty-eighth in a series of previously unpublished reflections from the 1854 spiritual notebook of Paulist Founder, Servant of God Father Isaac T. Hecker. The reflection series is being made pubic in conjunction with Father Hecker's cause for canonization. Father Paul Robichaud, CSP, Paulist historian and postulator for Father Hecker’s cause for sainthood, offers a response to Father Hecker’s reflection.
Endurance: A Hecker Reflection
Jesus our Saviour fell oftentimes with the excessive weight of his cross, in order to show us that He has not called us to enjoy success but to support adversity; to show us that as long as our cross does not exceed our strength, self-centeredness will always find room to conceal itself and live. It is in the death of our self-centeredness that give rise to God’s love in our hearts. As Blessed John of Avila* writes, “for it is its life that has given death to the love of God.”
Jesus Christ not only enjoined upon us to sell all that we have and give it to the poor, if we would be his disciples, but he said also, “take up your cross and follow me.” Everyone is therefore supposed to have a cross. To get rid of it is not what the Saviour asks, but to take it up and follow him. Ah My Lord, it is not the work of a moment, not that of a child to take up your cross the weight of which surpasses our strength; to bear it and fall under it, and bear it again, and finally,, to me mercifully crucified on it. This is what God asks us to do, for this is what Jesus did and to follow Jesus is to accept God’s invitation to do the same. It requires much more courage to follow Jesus Christ to the conquest of heaven than to follow Caesar to the conquest of the entire universe.
A Response from Father Paul Robichaud, CSP
The cross is one of the oldest decorative symbols known to man. For Christians it has a special meaning as Jesus died upon a cross. The cross has always represented two intersecting lines; one is our wants and the other is God’s will. It is the place where God’s will and my will meet. According to Servant of God Father Isaac Hecker, each of us has been given a cross as part of our discipleship. God gives it to us not for us to rid ourselves of it but to take it up. For Jesus the Master bore his cross and all those who follow him must do the same.
Father Hecker uses St. John of Avila to speak about what Hecker calls Christian endurance; for it is through our individual crosses that we learn Christian endurance. As Hecker writes, “It is not the work of a moment or a child, it is to take up a cross greater than our strength; to bear it and fall under it, and bear it again.” We take on what is greater than our strength can bear, for two reasons. First to remind us that as Christians we have God to help us lift and carry in the difficult moments of our lives – we do not carry our crosses alone.
Second the cross serves as a remedy for our own egoism. Father Hecker quotes St. John of Avila who cautions us about self-centeredness; a love of self that kills God’s love within the soul. Through the practice of Christian endurance, picking up one’s cross greater than one’s strength, again and again – that this leads to the diminishment of self-love and the rise of God’s love in the soul.
The cross can be two intersecting lines meaning nothing or the cross can be a powerful symbol of God’s love and power for us as Christians Servant of God Isaac Hecker tells us in today’s reflection, these two lines meet in the person of the crucified Christ to teach us that He has come not to bring us worldly success but to support us, transform us and redeem us.
*St. John of Avila (1500-1569) author, preacher and mystic was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI on October 7, 2012 at the opening of the Synod on the New Evangelization. He was a Servant of God when Father Hecker made reference to him in 1854. Pope Benedict said that John of Avila was a “profound expert on the sacred Scriptures and was gifted with an ardent missionary spirit. He knew how to penetrate in a uniquely profound way the mysteries of the redemption worked by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action.” Father Hecker admired him because he wrote about spiritual formation of religious and laity alike.
About Father Isaac Hecker’s 1854 Spiritual Notebook
Servant of God, Father Isaac Hecker wrote these spiritual notes as a young Redemptorist priest about 1854 and they have never been published. Hecker was 34 years old at the time, and had been ordained a priest for five years. He loved his work as a Catholic evangelist. The Redemptorist mission band had expanded out of the New York state area to the south and west, and the band’s national reputation grew. Hecker had begun to focus his attention on Protestants who came out to hear them. To this purpose Hecker began to write in 1854 his invitation to Protestant America to consider the Catholic Church, “Questions of the Soul” which would make him a national figure in the American church.
Hecker collected and organized these notes that include writings and stories from St. Alphonsus Liguori, the Jesuit spiritual writer Louis Lallemant and his disciple Jean Surin, the German mystic John Tauler, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Jane de Chantal among others. These notes were a resource for retreat work and spiritual direction and show Hecker’s growing proficiency in traditional Catholic spirituality some ten years after his conversion to the Catholic faith. They are composed of short thematic reflections.