Saturday, November 11, 2006

I read time and again that the saints embraced the cross of Christ with both arms, fully in joy, and embraced suffering for love of Him with all their human hearts. But embracing first His crown of thorns, His humiliation and His scourging. We tend to group these Mysteries together, knowing that in reality His entire life was a life of sorrows. But they are indeed separate sorrows, and each with its own purpose. When I was younger I prayed to know Christ and to be a saint, to be counted among that holy number as the song goes. Later, I realized what I had prayed sincerely from the heart was in fact Philippians 3:10-11 :

10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

I was influenced by the story of Saint Catherine Labouré and the Miraculous Medal, by Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi and of course, The Little Flower and many others. The glories these souls experienced were my main focus, and being naive I was enthralled by their visions and ecstasies. And even though I read equally about the sadness and sorrow in their lives, the loss of friends and family, their persecutions and personal difficulties in overcoming the world, I counted them as small battles fought and easily won in light of the intimacy they experienced in knowing Jesus. Now that I am older, and fight my own battles daily, I am faced with the very humiliating knowledge that they are in no way small or easily won. They are in fact insurmountable on my own.

When I look at Phil 3:10-11 I see now what I prayed for was to basically die to the world to which I still stubbornly and petulantly cling to with an iron grip. So it has been for me a very, very slow and painful process of dying, where all at once I am at death’s door and yet temporarily animated again by empty promises and vain pursuits. My heart is restless, this heart which every night offers all things to the Sacred Heart and prays to love as He does, and in the morning is broken and searching again for (as one catholic blogger recently put it so perfectly) “that unconditional breast upon which to lay my head in peace.”

This prayer of mine was a child’s prayer, vain, naïve, immature and overzealous. I did not know what it was that I truly wanted except for the sincerity of knowing Christ. I wanted to know Him purely, with no other intent but to love Him and it was I think for that reason the Father obliged me. Suddenly my world, my relatively normal married-with-child world became a nightmare of loss, delusion and confusion. I have only managed to move forward and raise my head through it by walking with Christ. It is a very bitter walk, and every step I take feels like it is barefoot on broken glass. At times my sense of reality has failed me, people I have trusted and love dearly have failed me, and any path I choose without Christ as guide has led me to a wilderness where I am again a child, lost, unfed, dirty and thirsting.

When I meditate on the Passion, it occurs to me that before Christ picked up the cross and made His way to Golgotha to die, He delivered Himself into the very hands of ignorance. Before His ultimate Sacrifice, He poured Himself out in shame and derision, where He was beaten until He was in His entire body an open wound. He bowed His head to receive the crown that we, in our pride and cruelty, forced upon Him. It is in the 3rd sorrowful mystery that I understand what it is to live and breathe as a Christian, and it is the hardest to accept and embody in my own life. It came to me during one meditation that all of nature was made witness to His death on the cross so that all creation could testify to it, but God in His mercy allowed the angels in heaven to turn their faces away when He was mocked and crowned with thorns, and they did so, trembling, ashamed of their very wings.

It is when our hearts, unhidden and loving freely, are scorned, mocked, abased, abused, unappreciated and even unacknowledged, that we are asked to love more, give more, and offer them in unison with the Sacred Heart in oblation. They must be broken continuously for the sake of others and for Love Himself. We mistakenly think somehow that we will reach a point in this life where there is no longer sorrow or heartbreak, but we are only promised this in the next life. If we then hold our hearts selfishly to ourselves and not yield to Divine Providence and His Holy will, we then live out a lesser heaven here that in no way resembles the majesty of what Christ has laid up for us in His heaven. I am given knowledge of these things and feel unworthy and unable to carry them out. I am incapable of controlling my own passions and failures, let alone to have heaped upon me the weight of the world’s groanings and yet I find that is exactly what the Lord has made me aware of; that the spirit that inflames cruelty today is the same spirit that inflamed it two thousand years ago. That there truly is nothing new under the sun. That we, as created beings live in a universe that was willed into being and is sustained not by us or our will, but by a God who expects of us not only a passing nod of approval, but to love him with all of our heart, soul and mind. How can we love our children or our spouse, without understanding and giving thanks that we are able to love at all because He first loved us? How can we not know that any love we feel is drawn first from the very Heart of God? Because of this, I accept that bitter crown of thorns and sit with Him in silence while the tempest rages around me.

In all appearances, Christ was offered up needlessly to the hands of corrupt and selfish men whose agenda had nothing at all to do with furthering God’s purposes. If viewed from a purely human standpoint, say that of a Roman soldier, it was basically just another day at the office. We know now that God’s ways are not ours and His thoughts not our own and we must maintain constant faith that His Hand is indeed in all things, even in the midst of the hardest cruelties and sufferings. That faith begs obedience. It begs stamina and fortitude. That the same God Who delivered Himself into our hands to be falsely accused, beaten, spit upon, stoned, mocked, crowned with thorns, humiliated, crucified and put to death begs us in every moment for our piteous and unfaithful love makes me ashamed of my pride, my own imperfect wings.


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