Sunday, June 22, 2014
Carrying the Cross
After I received Communion at Mass today, I looked up at Jesus on the cross, as I usually do, and made the sign of the cross. But today, I really noticed Jesus on the cross in a new way. I am currently experiencing the heaviest cross I have ever been given to bear in my life. When I looked up at Jesus, it was as if he saw me. And I have no doubt that he did. He showed me that in his pain and agony, there was great strength. Power. All the power in heaven and on earth. I felt him saying, See me up here, on this cross, and know that I am in you. Know that there is nothing that I will give you to bear that I will not also give you the strength to withstand.
I had been thinking during this current crisis that God must believe I am very strong to have given me such a great trial and responsibility. He must have much confidence in me. But maybe the more accurate reality is that he is strong, and that it is his strength that he is giving me. When I looked up at Jesus on the cross, I had just received him in the Eucharist, his Real Presence--body, blood, soul and divinity. The Gospel reading was from John 6, which makes so clear that Jesus commands us to eat of his body and drink of his blood, literally. I heard these verses again on the way home in the car on the radio, said by a priest with a lovely accent during a Latin Mass. I am supposed to pay attention to these verses, to hold them close to my heart, to understand that it is here, in the Blessed Sacrament, in the consecrated bread and wine, that I will receive my strength and be nourished in every way.
Today also happened to be the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. We had a guest priest who taught us the origin of this feast. The story was about a priest who once doubted the Real Presence in the Eucharist. While he was saying Mass, blood dropped from the host onto a cloth on the altar. This relic is paraded through the streets of Italy on this feast day. After the homily, the guest priest shared a really long mission speech asking for donations. I was anxious to just have Communion and get home to make sure everything was okay, and I couldn't believe how long the man talked!
But now it occurs to me. I have learned in Catholicism that there is a purpose to my suffering. I can offer it up to bless those in greater need. The children in poverty in third world countries that I heard about today have a greater need than mine. For food, shelter, education, and the basic necessities of life. To keep the boys out of a life of terrorism and the girls from a life of forced prostitution. I gave a donation in the envelope and wrote my prayer request. I can offer up my suffering for these children, and it will bless them, and what I am going through will mean something good and real. It will help someone else. And the person who opens the envelope will make my intentions known and make sure that my family is prayed for. Knowing these things, perhaps I will avoid despair.
The gift of the Catholic Church is endless. It is eternal, this one, true, holy, universal and apostalic Church. This is the Church Jesus built on the Rock named Peter, the apostle who denied him three times. This flawed, fearful, unfaithful man was the first Pope. The one given the keys to the kingdom by our Lord. Jesus is now trusting me, just as I am, with a great task. That's the other thing he seemed to be saying from the cross, that I can do this difficult thing just as I am. He is with me and in me. I don't have to be perfect, because he is perfecting me in his way, in his time. He has guided and will continue to guide me in my decisions, even if others don't understand them or think I am making the wrong choices.
In hindsight, we might see what we could have done differently, and we can learn from our mistakes and grow to be the persons God has created us to be. When we find ourselves in a crisis or difficult situation, we can pray and then do the best with what we have, with what we know, with what our instincts and the Holy Spirit lead us to do. Decisions are not made with 20/20 hindsight, but rather in the present moment. I made a phone call today that resulted in someone else being upset, yet the person who responded to the call delivered, in perfect kindness and compassion, a much needed message and important information. I believe, therefore, that it was a good decision, and that the message given was of divine intervention. We often have to feel our way as things unfold, to navigate a new challenge in very stormy seas, but we don't have to do it alone.
We are, each and every one of us, specially designed by our Father with a unique personality, with particular strengths and talents. Everyone has his or her own genius and purpose in life. I am not supposed to be different from who I am, from the person I was created to be, and neither are you. We also all have human weaknesses, which are not necessarily defects of personality or character, but rather raw material that God uses, along with our stronger qualities, to draw us closer to him. Every imperfection has its brilliance on the other side of the coin. For example, patience is the virtuous side of stubbornness. Both reflect a strong will and the ability to wait. We are all sinners, and every single sinner is called to become a saint.
There is an old hymn that has the lyrics, Just As I Am. As the 12 Step adage goes, what other people think of me is none of my business. We can only be forgiven in the exact measure that we forgive others. Living with endless remorse, regret, guilt, shame, blame, resentment, fear, doubt, and worry can only keep us from the mission given us by Christ. The Sacrament of Confession gives us the opportunity to bring our sins to Jesus and know that we are absolved of them. I am reminding myself right now, and you, to go to Confession often! We then do our penance, make the amends to others that we can, and move on. We must learn to see Christ in ourselves and all others, and accept ourselves and one another just as we are.
And here's a neat thing I have experienced my whole life. People have often remarked on the qualities of patience, compassion, empathy, and understanding that they saw and admired in me. What if the good things people say about us really are true? What if we believed our advocates, even a little, and allowed the condemning voices to pass through, and let them go? We might be able to move mountains.
A retired priest that I am very fond of who still occasionally says the Mass loves to recite the poetry of Mary Oliver. I will leave you with my personal favorite, "Wild Geese":
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.