Mount Calvary: Love for the Cross.

The cross towers over the monastery: it is a warning. Everything here flourishes in the shadow of the cross and in it you come to take shelter. It is good to draw your attention to it at once. The world does not put a better face on it than in St. Paul’s time: foolishness to some, scandal to others (1 Cor 1:23). Even those who preach on thee cross do not do so without much timidity.

Only in his light does the life of the Carthusian make sense. Christ warns you: «If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me» (Lk 9:23). You are weak and sensitive like every man, and that prospect is not altogether pleasant. The Cross would no longer be the Cross if it ceased to afflict. Only the spiritual part of your soul will be able to rejoice. Even for a generous soul, the only attraction of the cross is its relationship to Jesus.

The Son of God became incarnate in order to suffer. His first conscious act at the very moment of his conception was to offer himself as a victim to atone for our sins: «Sacrifices and offerings you did not want, but you formed me a body. Holocausts and atonements for sin did not please you; then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God'» (Heb 10:51). That will was that he should suffer and shed all his blood for us. He will say it later: «No one takes my life from me, I lay it down for myself… this is the command I received from my Father» (Jn 10,18).

Jesus enters fully into the paternal plan and, conforming his will perfectly to that of the Father, he chooses positively to suffer: «Instead of the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross» (Heb 12,2), that is, a whole life of toil and pain, of body, heart and soul: everything in him has been pierced with the bitterness of the Cross. Thanks to this tremendous sacrifice we are what we are supernaturally, «sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ» (Heb 10:10).

The monk does not need to be taught that «the disciple is not above the teacher, nor the servant above his master» (Mt 10:24). If he is in danger of forgetting this, let him listen to St. Peter: «If in doing good you must suffer and bear it patiently, this is pleasing to God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps, he who was blameless» (1 Peter 2:20-21). By its structure, the Christian is a crucified person, and the reason for this is given by St. Paul: «I have been crucified with Christ, for it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me» (Gal 2,19), and «Christ wants to continue his Passion in his members» (Col 1,24).

The cross is engraved in you by all the sacraments, from Baptism onwards, when you were told when you were signed: «Receive the sign of the Cross on your forehead and in your heart». Confirmation has added a precision: the Cross is your combat script: «I mark you with the sign of the Cross and confirm you with the chrism of health». The Eucharist and Penance revitalise this sign to remind you that everything, in the order of grace, has come to you through the Cross. It is your strength and your programme of life. You will be judged according to it.

The Charterhouse that shelters you from the world is the replica of Eden. Where a garden of delights, the steppe; where a leafy tree, the Cross; man was lost in the earthly Paradise, he is redeemed in the desert. The Cross is the true tree of life.

Climbing the slope of the hermitage you ascend to your Calvary. Don’t dramatise anything; there is no worse deception than the verbal or sentimental inflation that often covers up squalid realities. Many generosities are heroic only in imagination. They are more dream than life.

The cross of the carthusian monk is very simple and very modest, even if it is heavy. You will be hopelessly riddled with the thousand and one setbacks of religious life. It is the most trivial of crosses, heavy because it does not arouse anyone’s interest or compassion. Each one only feels the weight of teir own cross, the only one that hurts. To entrust one’s sorrows to another is no small relief. Don’t do it. In so many ways he knows how to put to the test the marvellous instrument of sensitivity! As the author of it, He polishes it with divine art. The Carthusian should not be bothered by this, for did he not come to the monastery to resemble Christ crucified? God always takes us seriously. Sometimes you will feel like rebelling. A single glance at the crucifix can quell that impulse, without eliminating your sufferings. You would lose a lot by rebelling, even by letting off steam.

Everything that is painful, physically, morally, spiritually, whatever the instrument, men, events, things, even if you are the cause, has the value of a cross for the spirit of faith. It is enough that you accept and offer the painful consequences of your faults or failures. The Church calls Adam’s calamitous slip of the tongue «happy guilt». The best penance is to bear out of love the annoying effects of your follies. Do so, you will always enjoy peace.

If you love intensely, you will long to be lying on the Cross. Do not grieve to see yourself far from it. It is good enough never to rebel, never to flee. Jesus Himself did not go up to Calvary in triumphal march; do not lose sight of Him. St. Paul tells you «Reflect on him who endured such contradiction on the part of sinners, so that you may not grow weary and discouraged» (Heb 12:3).

Holy Scripture is very realistic, it is aware of the poor human heart. The God who inspired it is also the one who moulded us, and our complaints do not displease him when they are addressed to him: «Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest» (Mt 11:28). Our groanings found an echo in the Heart from which so rich a word flowed. We are never to complain about God to men, but He is not displeased when we address gentle reproaches to Him. If Christ is truly your friend he is sufficient for you.

The Carthusian must pray much. Be wary of your weakness; you are no more courageous than the Apostles who protested when Jesus prophesied to them: «You will be scandalised because of me this very night» (Mt 26:31). And so it was. Your only security is that Jesus has prayed for you so that your faith will not fail (Lk 22:32).

Be humble. Carry as best you can the crosses of Providence, before asking for heavier ones. Distant danger does not frighten; how many are paralysed by its proximity! This, however, calls for the love of the Cross. Resignation is the lowest degree of adherence to the Will of God. It lacks warmth and drive; it leaves a trace of regret. Faith in the wisdom, power and goodness of God does not act with full force in the soul. It is one thing to accept what God disposes; it is another to accept it, to want it positively with him, in the clear vision of the good of the Cross.

You are not the one to give yourself this dynamic illumination: by meditating at length on the Passion you prepare yourself, assiduous prayer and generosity in the ordinary sacrifices incline the Lord to grant you this grace. However, you will undoubtedly carry with you for a long time the humiliation of an unconfessed aversion to the Cross.

Do not flee at the first warning, nor cry foul at a scratch. Compare your cross with the sum of suffering that the struggle for life inflicts on the people of the world. Your pusillanimity will make you blush. It is to Jesus and no one else that you must confess your worthlessness, unless you can do no more. He is the only one who can give you effective help. The non-essential confession of our grievances is often worm-eaten with self-love. A human derivative is sought, or an approval of our impatience is begged for, perhaps a little admiration for our tenacity.

The Charterhouse teaches to carry the cross alone, following Jesus and like him. The Cyrenian thought he was being helped by Jesus, when it was Jesus who was injecting his strength into him. On the Cross Jesus did not want the least help, the least relief. You do not possess, it is true, his divine strength, but he is there to sustain you. Your cross is a splinter of his, and he carries it more than you do.

The cross is the daily bread of the Carthusian monk. Without appearance or beauty,» wrote Guigo the Carthusian, «this is how truth must be worshipped. But he wears it so smilingly that he seems to have none. His tears are for the Lord, who makes them flow: «You have an account of my wandering life, put my tears in your bottle.» (Ps 55:9).


«The Hermitage: Spirituality of the Desert». By a monk. Original language: Spanish.


Christ on the Cross with St. Bruno, Hugo of Lincoln and Hugo of Grenoble. Circa 1600. Detail.

Rogier van der Weyden - The Crucifixion with a Carthusian Monk. Cleveland Museum of Art.