Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Martyrdom of John the Baptist

Not long ago, on a gray afternoon in January perhaps it was, I was kneeling after Mass in a pew near a statue of St. Joseph, praying. St. Anne’s, where I attend weekday Mass, is a large church, and across the expanse of nearly empty pews, in the distance was a woman on her knees before the tabernacle weeping and wailing and crying out to Jesus, with her arms outstretched in profound grief and sorrow, beating the air.

Her child had just died. His death was announced during the Mass.

As I absorbed her sobs, as her fists pounded the chambers of my own heart, and I filled with her grief, I was given to understand something about why Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus. His tears were an expression of sorrow for the pain suffered by those who grieved. His heart was filled by the suffering of those who suffered and He was brought to tears.

He was not weeping for Himself.

This is why He did not weep upon hearing of the death of John the Baptist, a death that foreshadowed His own impending death. The death of the one who’d leapt for joy in the womb upon encountering Him, so deeply attuned was John to the life of the Holy One in his midst, so fully available to receive Him in his heart’s embrace, the one whom Our Lord proclaimed to be the greatest among men who’d ever lived. Surely, that loss would be worth weeping over, and yet He did not weep for it because when He wept, He was not weeping for Himself.

And we must also recall that during His ascent to Calvary, along the way of the cross, Jesus met with a cluster of holy women who were weeping for Him. What did He say to them? He said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me but weep for yourselves and your children.” (Luke 23:28)… which was another way of saying, do as I have done.

In that case, it is not wrong to weep for oneself, for Christ has wept for our pain. But something else I have learned is that in following Him, in doing as He has done, through time one comes to cease weeping for oneself and one weeps only for others and their pain. In doing as He has done, one is like John, that greatest of all men, weeping not for himself over the martyrdom and cross that is his own, but trusting in the One who has wept for us.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Heights of Grace

From the writings of Saint Rose of Lima, "who gave up everything to devote herself to a life of penance," we are privy to the following words imparted to her by God.

Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: "Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven."  

Just a reminder.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Saying 'Yes!' to Joy

"Someone could ask whether it is right to be so happy when the world is so full of suffering, when there exists so much darkness and evil. Is it right to be so high spirited and joyful? The answer can only be 'yes!' Because saying 'no' to joy we do nothing of use to anyone. We only make the world darker." (Pope Benedict XVI, press release, August 7, 2012)
To be sure, Benedict is speaking of joy and happiness in the midst of suffering external to the one who is joyful and happy. Yet, being all members of the one Body of Christ, when one suffers, we all suffer, and when one is joyful, one is joyful in the midst of suffering. In this world, suffering is the standard, and joy is the exception. Suffering is without effort, present in the space of joy, while it requires some doing to be joyful in the space of suffering.
Yet our Lord encompasses these two entities that are generally seen as opposed, within His divine and human person. Therein lays the answer to the riddle. It is the grace of His divinity from which joy is radiated in His embrace of the cross that will bring His flesh immense suffering. And when someone who is suffering radiates joy, is that not the ultimate triumph of good over evil? It is a clear manifestation of the divine present in the human being which emerges as joy in the midst of suffering. It is a clear manifestation of the presence of God in the human when joy is possible in the midst of suffering.
And so, when we say ‘yes’ to joy in a holy way, that is, permitting Him to occupy us while we suffer on this earth, to suffer in us and with us, we exert the effort of deliberately making a place for Him within ourselves, choosing life over death, happiness over despair, good over evil.