Sunday, February 03, 2008

Darkness, suffering, Quinquagesima Sunday

Today’s reading from Divine Intimacy is very good. If you are one whose eyes glaze over when long quotations are posted, skip the quote and read what follows, and then come back to it if you can.

DIVINE INTIMACY by Fr Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.



Lent is approaching and our thoughts turn spontaneously to the sorrows of Jesus. Today’s Gospel (Lk 18:31-43) brings us an announcement of the Passion.

To those who dream only of prosperity and earthly glory, the language of the Cross is incomprehensible. Those who have a purely material ideal of life find it very difficult to understand any spiritual significance, and especially that of suffering. St. Paul said that Christ Crucified was “unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness” (1 Cor 1:23). Rebuking St. Peter, who at the first mention of the Passion exclaimed, “Lord, be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto thee,” Jesus had said, “Go behind me, Satan, …because thou savorest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men.” (Mt 16:22-23). To human wisdom, suffering is incomprehensible; it is disconcerting; it can lead one to murmur against divine Providence and even to loose all trust in God. However, according to the wisdom of God, suffering is a means of salvation and redemption. And as it was necessary “for Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory” (cf Lk 24:26), it is also necessary for the Christian to be refined in the crucible of sorrow in order to attain to sanctity, to eternal life.

It was not until after the descent of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles fully understood the meaning of the Passion; then, instead of being scandalized, they considered it the greatest honor to follow and preach Christ Crucified.

The human eye has not sufficient light to comprehend the value of the Cross; it needs a new light, the light of the Holy Spirit. It is not by chance that in today’s Gospel, immediately after the prediction of the passion, we find the healing of the blind man of Jericho [Remember Jericho; Up to Jerusalem, Down to Jericho… Jericho symbolizes the City of man opposed to the City of God]. We are always somewhat blind when faced with the mystery of suffering; when it strikes us in what we hold most dear, it is easy to get lost and to grope our way like blind men through uncertainty and darkness. The Church invites us to repeat today the blind man’s prayer of faith: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The world is often astonished at the sufferings of the good, and instead of encouraging them in their reliance on God, seeks to turn them from Him by urging them to defiance and false fear. [Trust in God<>false fear; Reliance<>defiance – that’s a pairing I’d not really given much thought to before, it has a place alongside Assent<>dissent] Our passions themselves, our innate tendencies towards pleasure, often cry out to us and try, by a thousand pretexts, to prevent us from following Jesus Crucified. Let us remain steadfast in our faith, like the poor blind man. He was not disturbed by the crowd that tried to keep him from approaching Jesus, and he did not give up when the disciples remonstrated with him and wanted him to be quiet; he only shouted his prayer “even more loudly.”

Let us cry to the Lord from the bottom of our heats: “De profundis clamo at te, Domine; Domine audi vocem meam!” (Ps 129). Let us ask, not to be exempt from suffering, but to be enlightened as to its value. “Lord, that I may see!” as soon as the blind man recovered his sight, he immediately followed Jesus, “glorifying God!” The supernatural light which we seek from the Lord will give us the strength to follow Him and to carry our cross as He did.

Oh my Jesus, the Cross is Your standard; I should be ashamed to ask to be delivered from it. From one evil only I ardently beg You to preserve me: from any deliberate sin, however slight. O Lord, I beg You by the merits of Your sacred Passion to keep all sin far from me. But as for other evils – bodily or spiritual sufferings, physical pain or mental anguish – I beg Your light and strength: light to understand the hidden meaning which they have in the plans of Your divine Providence, light to believe firmly that every sorrow or trial, every pain or disappointment, is planned by You for my greater good; strength not to let myself be influenced by the false maxims of the world or led astray by the vain mirage of earthly happiness, strength to accept suffering of any kind with courage and love.

Today’s Divine Office antiphon 3: Listen to me, all you who revere God, let me tell you what great things he has done for me, alleluia.

From Ps 66

Come and hear, all who fear God.

I will tell what he did for my soul:

To him I cried aloud,

With high praise ready on my tongue.

As I read this, after reading the Divine Intimacy reading for Quinquagesima Sunday, I turned and I saw.

You see, the reading on suffering brought to me the last days as my dear wife Gwen prepared to shed her mortal coil; a terminal illness provides a unique opportunity to “learn the hard way” the lesson which dear Fr. Gabriel has written so eloquently in order to teach us. Gwen had read Divine Intimacy, so she had a cursory exposure to these lessons, but as it is for all of us, we struggle to change so the contents of faith become “performative” instead of “informative,” as Benedict XVI says so succinctly in Spe Salvi.

What I was thinking of as I read today’s D.I. reading, was how a terminal illness strips all false hope away, and can peal one’s soul like an onion, stripping false hopes layer by layer, until all that is left is that stark confrontation with eternity; terror for one with out faith, the ultimate joy to one whose faith is sure, hope is purified, and in whom the love of God is buoyed by that fear of God which is chaste and endures forever.

Consider that faith is the evidence of things unseen (Heb 1:11), therefore, the supernatural virtue of faith, given in baptism, differs from knowledge of the things of the world, in that rather than directly experienced knowledge, it is accepted on His word, and if we turn our will to Him fully, He grants a certainty, the evidence of things unseen, that exceeds that of that knowledge which we have obtained directly ourselves. We must trust the word of God, but to do so, we must trust the men who gave it to us, and the Church, which says it is so. Always, the intermediary of another is between us and the Lord, this is as he set it out to be; the stumbling block to Jews, foolishness to Greeks; that God would take and use flesh. Our separated Protestant brethren reject His Church for this very reason, just as their spiritual forefathers, the Pharisees, rejected Jesus.

What I didn’t know until this morning, was that as my dear wife lived through the days of my conversion, hers was of a different nature. You see, like the psalmist, in my home,

Come and hear, all who fear God.

I will tell what he did for my soul:

To him I cried aloud,

With high praise ready on my tongue.

The many things the Lord did for me, the things He showed me, these were the things of which I spoke, and while at first an exile in my own home, today’s response is quite true:

God’s word is alive; it strikes to the heart.

-It pierces more surely than a two-edges sword.

When it pierces, it divides. One either accepts testimony, or rejects it. I understand why Sr. Lucia, after seeing the vision at Fatima, spent her life in convent; “performative.” – an encounter of such nature changes one; thus I stand changed, although my vocation demanded a change in a different manner.

It is said that St. Thomas Moore went to the executioner in support of the doctrine of the primacy of the successor of Peter over the Universal Church, a doctrine not yet enunciated, and hence he went alone, in the pure darkness of faith, trusting only in God that this was correct, but with no certainty that it was.

In heaven, faith will be replaced by knowledge, then we shall know as we are known, sight shall replace faith. This sight, the vision of God, may be had in some degree of obscurity, even in this life; this is the goal of contemplative prayer, and the reason for books like Divine Intimacy.

What I realized today is that because of the tiny glimpses of light which the Lord has given me, He has constructed an edifice of faith that is an immovable rock. The Lord gave me many gifts, because of my weakness; those gifts were the testimony Gwen needed to turn her heart and will to God, but she did so in a darkness of faith, more like St. Thomas Moore. You see, I always knew she was stronger than I, but I’d not realize that her faith was actually greater than mine, for it was made in that darkness that turns over the will to God, holding nothing back, being docile to Him, allowing Him to be her guide.

And among other things, I miss her, not just because Tuesday would have been her birthday, but because as an editor, she could take my ramblings and make sense of them. Without her assistance, God bless you for suffering with me, and may He strengthen me to suffer with you, that our sufferings may be added to that treasury which our Lord and our Lady dispense per His will.

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