To be truly Christian, we have to see to it that we are becoming more and more “alter Christus,” another Christ. That may sound impossible, and, indeed, it is, if we are to rely only on our human powers. But Christ has given us all the means that would make that condition possible and effectively achievable.
We just have to do our part, always activating our faith, which means that we should try our best to know Christ more and more, meditating on his life, teachings and example, and availing of all the means that the Church are providing us these days.
We also just have to realize that to be “alter Christus” would ultimately involve having to go through, or at least to have a share in some form, in the very passion and death of Christ, so that we can also share in his resurrection, in his victory over sin and death.
The connection between becoming Christ-like and suffering and death is somehow illustrated in that gospel episode where Christ asked his disciples who did the people think he was. Later on, when the correct answer was given by St. Peter, he proceeded to tell them about his impending passion and death. (cfr. Mk 8,27-35)
We should get what Christ was trying to tell us in this gospel episode. If we want to follow him and to become like him, sharing his very spirit that is intended for us by God, our Creator, we have to learn and even to welcome and love suffering. It’s in suffering that the fullness of love which is the very spirit of Christ is attained.
We have to understand this very well. Unless we love the cross, we can never say that we are loving enough. Of course, we have to qualify that assertion. It’s when we love the cross the way God wills it—the way Christ loves it—that we can really say that we are loving as we should, or loving with the fullness of love.
We have to be wary of our tendency to limit our loving to ways and forms that give us some benefits alone, be it material, moral or spiritual. While they are also a form of love, they are not yet the fullness of love.
They somehow are forms of love that have traces of self-interest. They are not total self-giving, completely rid of self-interest, which is what true love is. And if they are not corrected, if they are not oriented towards the fullness of love, they can occasion a lot of danger and worse anomalies.
Loving the cross the way Christ loved it is the ultimate of love. It is the love that is completely deprived of selfishness. It is total self-giving, full of self-abnegation. St. Paul described this kind of love in Christ when he said:
“Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not count equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2,6-8)
The cross, which is the symbol of all our sinfulness and the death that is the consequence of our sin, has not led God to hate us and to condemn us forever. Rather, it has moved God to love us with a love greater than that of creating us to be his image and likeness.*