After the words in Gethsemane come the words uttered on Golgotha, words which bear witness to the depth–unique in the history of the world–of the evil of the suffering experienced. When Christ says: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”, His words are not only an expression of that abandonment which many time found expression in the Old Testament…One can say that these words on abandonment are born at the level of that inseparable union with the Father, and are born because the Father “laid on him the iniquity of us all.” –St. JPII, Salvifici Doloris, IV 18
So far so gut-wrenching…
Brethren, there is consensus among the saints that one of the most spiritually wholesome practices is to meditate on the Passion of Christ. Many of us who look to Christ on the cross as the source of our salvation are quick indeed to remember the physical agony which he underwent; yet this was not His definitive suffering, the suffering which ultimately conquered the reign of sin and death and suffering in the world.
Don’t get me wrong, His physical pain was so beyond excruciating that none of us will ever comprehend it, because in His perfection, His senses were likely all the more sensitive to/aware of pain. Yet the most acute suffering, the suffering that encompassed the full brunt of evil and won for us salvation, was something much more incomprehensibly horrific.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that each of us, at one time or another, has experienced the feeling of being separated from God. Whether due to being in the midst of suffering when He withdraws consolation for a deeper union, or due to our deliberate turning away from Him in sin, we’ve all experienced it or will experience it. And it sucks. There is nothing worse, brethren, than looking in all the places where you know God is, and yet feeling as though He isn’t there, or doesn’t care.
This pain comes from once having had some level of union with God and then having lost it. The deeper our union with Him, the more painful the apparent or actual separation.
So what must it be like to be in complete union with God, to literally share the exact same nature, to be eternally bound in love to Him, and in the incomprehensible depth of that union, to experience through human nature utter separation from and rejection by Him?
Together with this horrible weight, encompassing the “entire” evil of the turning away from God which is contained in sin, Christ, through the divine depth of His filial union with the Father, perceives in a humanly inexpressible way this suffering which is the separation, the rejection by the Father, the estrangement from God. But precisely through this suffering He accomplishes the Redemption, and can say as He breathes His last: “It is finished.” –Ibid.
We cannot even begin to imagine, brethren, what intense suffering it was for Christ, through His humanity, to experience, by the depth of His intimate union with the Father, separation from Him.
There is a scene in The Passion by Mel Gibson, during the crucifixion, when Christ cries out in His agony, “They don’t know…they don’t know…”, as they nail His feet into the wooden block. And He’s almost looking out through the screen, like He’s looking at you, at me. I’m going to post a link to that scene below. (Viewer discretion, this is brutal; it holds nothing back regarding the horrific brutality that was the crucifixion.) It’s about 4 minutes in. All I ask is that you watch those brief moments, let Him look into your eyes as He moans, “They don’t know”. And humble yourself. Recognize that you don’t have the beginning of an inkling of how deep, how intense, how horrific was the pain that your sins brought to Christ on the cross, wounding not only His body but the very depths of His being.
Then let it hit you that it’s you He’s praying for, that it’s you He’s dying for, that it’s you He’s loving even as you drive a nail into His feet and a wedge between Him and the Father.
And rejoice, even as you are humbled, that you are loved, that you are freed.
Enter into the mystery that is the suffering love of Christ that won for us our salvation.
I’m not entirely sure where I’m going to go with this particular post, I know it’s been awhile since I wrote on here so I want to try and incorporate some of my recent adventures into the message I want to put out there. That message is, in a nutshell, this: NEVER take the little things for granted.
I have struggled for a long time with relating to other men . My age, older, younger, black, white, whatever–I just really don’t connect with guys normally. Or at least with how I perceive guys to be. Conversations with other men are a struggle for me; even being around them for an extended period of time freaks me out. So when I actually make a connection with a guy, or even just hold a normal conversation with them without panicking, it’s pretty euphoric for me. Actually, poor choice of words: it’s healing. Healing for all the countless times I’ve been looked down on, ignored, or outright teased by other men.
That’s literally all it takes.
So when a guy goes a step further, and professes himself my brother, both in words and actions, it’s somewhere between terrifying and utterly exhilarating.
I could cite plenty of examples from my big or any number of my household brothers or others I have been blessed to meet the past few years, but I’d like to focus right now on my Totus Tuus teammate from this summer.
Now I’ll admit, I was incredibly hesitant at first to open up in any way to this guy. I mean this guy is seriously legit. I’d try to conjure an image of him with my words, but I’ll leave that to better writers. Suffice it to say that this young man is a man’s man, and truly a man of God. Twice as intriguing, twice as intimidating.
So when he finally took time one week and went out of his way to get me to open up, to truly get to know me, I was flabbergasted. What could he want to do with me? And what the heck was I supposed to say? How was I, who took months to let down my walls even to the best of my friends, supposed to open up to him in a matter of weeks? And yet he pushed me in my willing hesitancy, not rudely but with care and compassion. He took little moments to spend with me, pushed me to become better at the work we were doing, moved me to reverence and prayer.
It all probably seems like a pretty small endeavor from his point of view, but to me, it meant so much.
It meant that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t such a horrendously terrible person to be around after all.
So I invite you, brothers and sisters, don’t overlook the little things. The tiniest of gestures of love, respect, kindness, generosity, patience–they can change the course of a person’s life. And let yourself revel in the little acts of virtue that are done towards you or those around you. These “little things” are the seeds of rejoicing, because they are planted by children of the One Who is the source of all joy, all healing, all peace.
God bless you all as this semester begins; may you find yourself ever rejoicing in the little acts of love from God and His servants.
Lord, I know we’ve been through this before. Still, I need to ask this again: why do You even care about me, as messed up as I am?
I’m terrified, Lord. I feel cornered into a life I never wanted, half of it self-created. I’m torn apart inside by the crosses You’ve given me and the sins I’ve committed. One of these times I’m afraid You’ll stop at prodigal; You’ll be too sick of me to call me a son.
So how is it You still look at me and smile? How is it you still call me your child, your beloved?
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. –Matthew 10:29-31
Many sparrows…I just imagine a huge flock of sparrows taking flight at once, filling the site with simple grace…Could I really be worth more than they?
Lord, grant me the grace to trust that even though I don’t see a way out of the corner I’m in, You love me so much that You already have a plan for me. Help me see that I’m worth enough in Your eyes to die for. Help me to see these crosses as gifts, that the life You want from me isn’t just a last-resort effort to save a soul broken beyond repair; that somehow, it’s a perfect plan stitched together with love since before I was born.
Let my prayers of joy rise like many sparrows to Your throne.
Sweet welcome to you, oh burdensome trial,
And may your sweet barbs yet tarry awhile.
An earth more fallow for growth you’ll not find,
For it’s fertilized full with the corpses of your kind.
Yes, welcome to your sanctuary and death;
Though root you take, vain is your poisonous breath.
Your pain is but passage to courage and grace
And the One ever smiling from His bloodied face.
So unsheathe your sword and sharpen your lance–
The longer I cry, the harder I dance.
You’ve homed with a Gael, and all the world knows
That the greater our sorrow, the more our joy grows.
So welcome to rebellious fires, my friend.
My strength is your solace; His freedom, your end.
I heard it said once that if you want to make God laugh, just tell Him your plans. And really, how pretentious are we, to think that we could know what’s best for us better than the God who holds Creation in His hands and knows us better than we know ourselves?
We are not our own. And that’s OK, because we really don’t do such a good job trying to do this thing called life on our own.
It’s amazing really, when you practice a virtue you really don’t want to, and you see no reward from it, and the one thing that makes you want to do it all again is seeing a man hanging on a cross and imagine Him smiling in the midst of His pain.
Ever stop to think about how precious we are in the sight of God, that He has a plan for each and every one of us that leads to us being as happy as we can possibly be, and how far He’s willing to go to get us there? And how cool is it to round a corner that you thought would lead to your dreams, watch them fall apart, and still have a reason to hope and be joyful?
Forgive a man head-over-heels in love; it’s been awhile since I wrote here, and Christ had done so much. And the remarkable thing is that most of the work has been through me losing things rather than gaining them, and instead of feeling jipped and poor, I feel so free that those things don’t matter anymore to me.
Truly, God provides, and where His Holt Spirit is, there is freedom. To be more fully Totus Tuus, Mary, is so painfully hard at first, but so freeing once the bond is broken with those things that really just don’t matter in light of the unfathomable love and mercy of God.
In one sense, it would be incredibly easy to write an “end-of-semester” post. There’s so much I learned, so many ways in which I grew.
But in another, it’s pretty much impossible. Too much goes on in my head in one day; there’s no way to get it all out there.
It’s questionable whether there’s even a point to writing a post like that for this blog. But let me at least say this: For the first time, leaving campus was hard for me. Incredibly hard, actually. And that makes me rather happy, because it means that there was something I had there that meant enough to me that to lose it, even for a seemingly short time, was painful.
For the first time in a long time, I knew I had friends so close that they were practically family.
God works unbelievably slow sometimes, it’s true. I waited years to find friends so close as these. But it happened. God brought these amazing people into my life, and finally convinced me to pry my heart open to them. It’s difficult and painful to not be with them, and even being with them is hard sometimes, but every moment is worth it.
They’ve taught me something, too: that I can do more than just survive the storms of life and the trials I go through, I can actually thrive in them. Even if all I can manage is a smile, I’ve conquered something. I’ve had a little victory I can share with the Lord and Mama Mary. (Seriously, try sharing one of those with them sometime, you will not believe how proud they are of you!!)
And the thing is, even if we’re in the middle of a waking nightmare, the beauty of life, the immensity of God’s love, and the intoxicating preciousness of each and every person walking the face of this earth is untouched. What more reason need we to rejoice?
The sound of tears is only outdone by the shattering of hearts all around. It seems wrong in a way that today should be so beautiful, with a bright, sun-filled sky and flowers beginning to bloom everywhere. Only the leafless trees seem to understand, and even they are putting forth buds.
But they’re right, in another way.
We ought to mourn today. We ought to cry, to grieve, or to sit in silent reflection. Our hearts ought to be broken when we look at the wounds of Christ and hear His prayer for our forgiveness, when we see Mary weep as she kisses the feet of her Son, when we hear the soldier cry out in faith as his heart turns violently in His chest.
And yet, there ought to be just a whisper of a promise echoing still in our hearts, and echo that nature itself seems to speak today.
This is not the end.
It’s a beginning.
You certainly didn’t hesitate to show me the shadows, Lord.
Which made carrying the candle that almost blew out all the more meaningful.
It was like my hope in You, Lord. And because it was in You, it couldn’t be put out, although the winds of this life have certainly tried. The only time it went out was when it was blown out as I walked into the Chapel. I didn’t need it any more then. The Chapel was filled with candles, and more importantly with Your presence in the Eucharist.
It’s like our lives. If Christ is our hope, nothing in this life can put it out, no matter how low the flame may seem to get, no matter how hard the winds blow. It only goes out when we leave this world, and then we don’t need it any more, because we have Christ Himself in Heaven. Christ never fails us.
But we have the choice to blow out the candle ourselves. To walk away.
It hurts like heck to have the flame purge away the darkness inside. But better that than to get lost forever in the dark.
Tenebrae. What a melodious word. Just speaking it is like silk in my mouth. And yet it’s the Latin word for ‘shadows’, those dark things that fall gloomily to the earth as the sun sets.
The Triduum is here at last. The solemnity is almost tangible here…the shadows have fallen, and only one candle remains in this darkness which now falls: a promise. A promise of hope, of resurrection. A promise of redemption and salvation that fought back the darkness for centuries. A promise which was fulfilled, bringing light into the world to stay until the last breath of the last mortal on earth. How I long for that light.
But first, I must pass through the shadows.
I must look at my life and see the places that have become darkened by sin and covered over with cobwebs of excuses. I have to face the fearful monsters under the bed of my consciousness. I have to enter into that moment in the world when everything hung on the edge of its seat, then screamed in agony as the light seemed to be snuffed for good.
Only then can I truly know what a great miracle it is that the light would return, more alive than before, to scatter the tenebrae.
I can only know what a great miracle it is that Christ won the victory when I know how very much of a defeat it seemed to be.
Somehow, there doesn’t seem to be much of a lesson today…
I just feel…numb. And tired. Not anticlimactic, really, just…sad in a way that doesn’t bring me to tears but just makes me want to sit and stare at a wall until I start to feel again.
I guess I’m just homesick.
Homesick for Heaven.
I’ve listened to this song so much the past few days, and it kind of puts things well for where I am. I’m clean from Confession, I’m in a good place overall, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Things aren’t empty, just insufficient. Heaven just sounds great right now.
And it’s crazy to think I wouldn’t be able to get there if You hadn’t died for me.
Just…Monday? Is that it? Something huge is gonna happen! What’s the big deal?
…really? A lesson in patience? That’s what you’re gonna try to pull on me right now?! PATIENCE?!
Wow. Ok. That’s just–great. I mean, c’mon, nothing? No special commemoration? No big anticipatory thing? Nothing?
Well fine then, it’s not like this wasn’t, like the biggest week of Your life or anything…
What was Your Monday was like?
There was time between coming to Jerusalem and the Passover…You already knew exactly what was gonna be coming. It was going to hit Your hard when You got to the Garden of Gethsemane. Was part of it because You had to go on living, go on teaching, go on serving for another few days?
You were literally born to die. For me. For all of us. What was it like to walk among the people You were about to die for, knowing exactly who was going to stay faithful and who was going to abandon You? To walk the streets You had just been paraded down on a donkey, knowing you’d be staggering down the same way with blood, sweat, and a cross on Your back?
What kind of perseverance did that take?
And how often have I let impatience over something infinitesimally less weighty lead me to sin?
Pay attention. Something huge is about to happen.
It’s already here…the time has crept up so stealthily, it seems. All my hope, all my trust, all my love–it’s all coming to its climax in a week. Easter. Lent makes so much more sense; it’s that bugle cry announcing the Son of David, the voice crying to prepare the way in your life for Christ to enter the Jerusalem of your heart.
Something huge is about to happen.
I didn’t think I’d cry. I’ve been going to Palm Sunday Mass all my life. It was always full of anticipation, but never like this.
It never really hit me that when I say, “Crucify him!’, I’m just doing the same thing I do every time I sin.
I drive the nails into His hands with my own.
I take the whip to his blameless back, as if it weren’t about to carry the weight of the world.
I thrust the cross in His face and mock Him for embracing it.
And all the while, He prays, “Father, forgive them…forgive him…”
And all I can see are the tears streaming down Mary’s face…and I cry because I’m begging her to forgive me for doing this to her Son…
I don’t have much to give you this Lent, Lord. Somehow these weeks seem to have flown by without my noticing; the little I’ve done to prepare feels so ridiculously inadequate now. All I have is this cloak and this palm branch.
So I lay them down now, and ask You to let me walk with You to Your cross.
Pay attention. Something huge is about to happen.
God often teaches us deep truths through some pretty odd yet magnificent, if occasionally (or frequently) painful, ways. I think He’s been doing a little bit of that the past few weeks. And months. And years…Funny how it’s only now that I’m seeing some of them unfold.
First, a true fix to any problem is never immediate; it’s slow, gradual, and intimate. This past week, I was inducted (FINALLY) into my household, called Fishers of Men, and I have grown so incredibly close to my brothers and love them dearly. I honestly cannot express how very dear they are to my heart and how blessed I am to call them my brothers. Yet the anxiety over whether I am truly accepted, the dark memories of past failed friendships–in short, all the things that originally held me back–though lessened, continue to haunt me. Even though the past is past, it has made an imprint on my heart that will never be fully erased, or at least not for quite some time; so the Lord seems to be indicating. The healing of my heart is something that will take years to complete, something that the Lord will do in stages through His grace and through those He has placed and will place in my life.
Second, God’s love doesn’t change because of how we feel. Somehow, that’s magnificently freeing: God’s love for me doesn’t depend on my emotions, my actions, my anything. It is wholly and incomprehensibly unconditional. I could go on, but no pen, no page, could ever encapsulate the boundless love of God.
Third, life just sucks sometimes, and you have to look to God for the strength and hope to continue to live and believe you are loved. The crosses I have to carry right now are such that I have to constantly turn to God in prayer just to make it through some days. His love always comes, sometimes as a beautiful encounter with Him, other times just as the next breath in my lungs. But He always comes.
And altogether, I see that God is teaching me that His plan is utterly mysterious, that it’s anything but what we expect, and that it often calls for changes so radical that they bring us to tears, pull us to our knees.
And that’s OK.
Because His will isn’t arbitrary. He isn’t just putting us through things to see us suffer, or with no particular purpose in mind for us. He’s got an end goal in mind for us: Heaven, where we won’t cry any more, we won’t be in pain anymore, we won’t know anything but joy and love and peace. Every trial, every cross, every tear–it’s all a chance to move one step closer to Heaven by trusting in God and letting Him be our strength, by not giving up but living on in hope and courage. He sends His Holy Spirit to us to comfort and strengthen us. He gives us Mary as our mother and intercessor. He gives us His very self in the Sacraments.
His love…it’s just…incomprehensible. And so intimate. I just can’t even say it enough times. Even when I’m shaking violently, or crying profusely, I can’t stop professing His love, because it’s His love that keeps me alive, that comforts me, that gives me hope, that lets me have moments of peace, joy, and happiness.
So if the pain is coming back again, bring it. If it’s the price I pay for loving God and others, it’s worth it.
I’m supposed to write an Honors paper on St. Bonaventure and the Medieval period in general in respect to the idea of intimacy with God, and I’ve spent several unsuccessful hours staring at a blank page, trying to make sense of all my disconnected ideas on the topic. So to feel like I’m actually doing something productive, and maybe to get the juices flowing, I’m just gonna start spilling my thoughts on just that last bit, intimacy with God, right here, and there’s nothing you can do about it! (Sorry, I get sassy when I feel blocked)
Just think about that phrase a moment: “intimacy with God”. Break it down a bit, look just at that first word: “intimacy”. It’s a deliciously loaded word, really; there are so many possible interpretations and connotations. But just look at it as it is, plain and simple. What’s meant by intimacy?
Intimacy is a kind of closeness of persons, a connection that implies a great amount of depth and personal contact. It’s a kind of state, for lack of a better word at the present moment, that is properly paired with well-ordered love, a kind of expression (there’s the word!) of a love which is true and good and deep and personal.
Ok good, definition of terms is out of the way, now let’s look at how things are. Think of a relationship you have that’s intimate. It probably involves the person knowing a great deal about you, but more importantly that person, to an extent, knows you as a person. There’s a connection between the two of you that’s expressed in affectionate ways, whatever that means for your particular relationship, and that closeness, that affection, that personal knowledge–that intimacy–speaks to a deep, loving encounter between persons.
So we’ve got intimacy nailed down and, I hope, separated it from being exclusively connected with sex (though there’s no denying it’s part of sex; I mean, c’mon, when you and your spouse have intercourse, it’s hard not to be close and affectionate). But here’s the crazy thing: that intimacy you have (or will have) with your spouse is nothing compared to the intimacy we are all made for with God.
WHOA. BACK THE TRUCK UP.
That intimacy you have (or will have) with your spouse is nothing compared to the intimacy we are all made for with God.
Think of your favorite love song. Now imagine God singing it to you, except with ten billion times more meaning behind it. Basically, we’ve been created and redeemed by the most hopeless romantic ever to exist. Except He’s not all blather; He continually shows His love, through the blessings we have every day, through our very existence, and through the gift of Himself in the Sacraments. Think about it: God, throughout the Old Testament, was basically dating humanity, until Christ came and took on our very flesh, and His love is so powerful that He died for us. GOD DIED FOR US, PEOPLE. If that’s not ridiculously intimate love, I don’t know what is!!!!!!!
And yet, how many of us act like it’s true? I’m willing to bet most people have read through this with a bit of a cringe, making up excuses like, “Well, he means well, he just doesn’t know what he’s really implying,” or “This sounds so nice, if only it were true,” or “Please, spare me the rainbows and butterflies!” First of all, please show me where I said anything like “rainbows and butterflies”. Second of all, explain to me why something that feels good to hear must automatically be shallow.
Here’s why it sounds so good: it’s what we were made for. St. Augustine realized that when he said, “You have made us for Yourself, Oh God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” God made our very selves, and knows us inside and out. He literally comes to dwell inside us through the Sacraments. He desires for us to be united with Him in the love of the Trinity eternally in Heaven. What part of that isn’t intimate? We ought to have a deep, personal, intimate relationship with the Lord, and He is constantly romancing our hearts through everything He does in our lives, even the things that don’t seem quite so positive.
But here’s why it sounds so off: intimacy is dangerous. To seek intimacy at all is to allow oneself to be vulnerable, and to seek intimacy with God Himself is to be completely and utterly vulnerable, opening up and giving up our very being to the one who made us, who holds us in existence, who has seen every tear we’ve cried, heard every laugh we’ve let out, watched every time we’ve fallen into sin or fallen in pain. It means opening your heart to God’s all-seeing eyes, and letting Him work in your heart, letting Him touch you deeper and closer than any person ever possibly could, and trusting that whatever He does is done out of perfect love.
But I ask you, isn’t it worth it? Isn’t it worth it to have a personal, close relationship with God?
If you have yet to have a personal encounter with the Lord, know that it can come in many ways, at any time God chooses, if you’re open. If there were only one possible way, it wouldn’t be a very personal encounter at all, would it? Just pray for an opening of your mind and heart to that idea of intimacy with God, and especially ask for the help of the Holy Spirit, who is the bringer of this grace. When you’re ready, don’t waste a second; ask God for a personal encounter with Him, for Him to touch you in a deep , intimate way, to begin a deeper, more personal relationship with Him. And know that He truly desires it, and is waiting, just waiting expectantly, and constantly calling out to you in daily life, for you to have that relationship with Him.
One or two last things: intimate doesn’t always mean emotionally gratifying. If God chooses not to stir you in a way that activates the affective part of you, don’t freak out; He’s doing something else in your heart, something just as beautiful, and even if you don’t see the fruits of it, trust that they’re there.
And last, just a little story: One time, before one of my classes started, I wrote these words on the whiteboard: I see your face in every sunrise,/ the colors of the morning are inside your eyes./ The world awakens to the light of the day./ I look up to the sky and say,/ You’re beautiful. Now I suppose I should have seen it coming, especially since it wasn’t too long before Valentine’s Day, but everyone who walked in kind of chuckled at what I had written and asked why someone had written a love poem on the board before Valentine’s Day had even come. Thing is, those words are the first verse to my favorite Praise and Worship song, “You’re Beautiful” by Phil Wickham. It’s how our relationship with God really ought to be, especially considering the entire song is grounded in both recognition of God in creation and salvation history. Yet even at my school, which is so passionately Catholic, it went unrecognized as an expression of the soul to God. I’m going to let the song speak for itself, and my fervent prayer tonight is that everyone come to look at God with incredible love and affection and feel His intimate, personal touch in their lives.
Speak no more, no more, I beg thee;
another weighty word,
another vessel of steel-cased emotion,
and the scales shall tip to fear,
Grant me a moment more
in this comforting caress
of unspoken words, dreams unimagined,
a stream of potentiality on a canvass of silence
painted in tears of love and loss.
Take me not from this sweet hollow
this forgotten corner of creation
that hums yet faintly
with the musical silence of Eden.
I see through the mist
in the panes to your stricken heart.
There is a longing,
a cry to balance the scales
as the words begin to spill from your lips
and down your cheeks.
the words cannot touch my fragile mind;
no, they sink
with heavy weight
to my heart,
and I find there an endless vestibule,
a deep chasm waiting for your words
as they pour but a drop
into the infinite awaiting.
It is no longer mine to listen,
nor was it ever mine to heal.
All falls into the mantle,
and carried to the heart of Christ.
O Mother of Sorrows,
Victorious Queen robed in Eden’s silence,
take me over.
My frail spirit is so little prepared
for all that I must take in.
Take these hands,
take this heart.
Let your Spouse
breathe in me His peace,
that this shuddering frame
may come as Simon to the crosses of others
in holy fear
and loving confidence.