Healed

But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed. — Isaiah 53:5

Almost two weeks ago I shared an image of Jesus I see in my mind, most often in Adoration, in which the scars from His scourging are revealed to me. And as you may have seen, last Thursday I left to make a silent retreat. The weekend was peaceful, profound, and, I believe, fruitful; I will be sharing bits and pieces of it over the next many days, I’m sure.

One particularly impactful reflection began as we prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and came to a beautiful conclusion early this morning. As we prayed, I meditated on scourging and crucifixion, and as usual, wondered what must happen to people to harden them enough to inflict such suffering on another human being. I can almost imagine it in the abstract—that people could be cruel enough to flay someone ragged and nail him to a cross to die. But when the scene becomes specific—how could this person put his hand to the whip or the hammer and make that person weep and bleed—I struggle to comprehend the inhumanity.

Could I do it? Never…

And then I thought about those around me, whom I profess to love and then lash with my tongue and pierce with my glance. The suffering I inflict out of comfort and convenience by looking away, tuning out, remaining ignorant and silent and comfortable. Continue reading

Scars

Blogger’s Note: I shared a shorter version of this as a comment on a post from another blog, then realized I had never shared it on my own. Here goes…

Often in Adoration, just after I genuflect, kneel, close my eyes, and greet the Lord, an image comes to mind. The image is of the risen Jesus, dressed in white robes as He is often portrayed, standing before me in welcome. Like Thomas and the other apostles, I can still see the holes in His glorified hands and feet, though I am drawn more to His smiling face. In my mind’s eye, I rise and we embrace like brothers or old friends—and through the texture of his robe,  I can feel the riot of raised and jagged scars criss-crossing his shoulders and back from the scourging he endured for our sake.

For my sake. Continue reading

Able-Bodied

good-friday-2264164_1920Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:27

Over the past three years I’ve been blessed to serve as faith formation director for our parish and to write a monthly column in our church bulletin. I’ve tried in that time to urge us all to discipleship: to cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus every day, listening and responding to what He asks of us, seeking the lost and leading them to heaven.

It’s a big job, to be sure, but we are not alone. We are one body, with Christ as our head. Through the Apostles, the bishops, our priests, and our baptism, His mission of saving souls has been given to each of us. Individually we are ill-suited to the task of redeeming the world, but together?

Together we are unstoppable. Continue reading

Poured Out In Love

 

Each year during Lent, the Church focuses more intentionally on the Passion and Death of Jesus. How strange it seems that, during the very season we are trying to examine our lives and conform ourselves to Christ, we are also focused on Jesus at His lowest: beaten, humiliated, tortured. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that, to be His disciples, we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him—but surely we can stop short of whips and spears, thorns and nails, can’t we?

We are each a unique image of God, and each called to follow Christ in a unique way: to pour ourselves out in love for those around us. Most of us won’t be called to martyrdom in the bold and bloody sense—though some of us may. Most of us won’t be called to leave behind family and friends for foreign missions or cloistered religion life— but, God willing, some of us will.
 
Instead, most of us will be called to holiness in the context of ordinary, everyday lives: working, raising a family, pitching in where we can. This may seem easier than facing blades or beasts in the Coliseum, but I’m convinced it’s not. St. Josemaria Escriva warns us, “Many who would willingly let themselves be nailed to a Cross before the astonished gaze of a thousand onlookers cannot bear with a Christian spirit the pinpricks of each day! Think, then, which is the more heroic.”
 
To make a once-for-all choice for Christ, in the heat of the moment, facing certain death and eternal glory, seems downright doable compared to 70, 80, 90 years of making a million moment-by-moment choices to love the person in front of us, in every circumstance. Daily discipleship is difficult—and it’s made more difficult when we attempt to carry crosses we were never meant to bear.
 

Think about it: Each of us is called to be a disciple, and each disciple is called to pick up his or her cross and follow Christ. But since many people choose not to be disciples, we have a lot of crosses lying around, waiting for someone to drag them away. All these crosses can make it difficult to discern which is ours. They can cause us to stumble and fall. They can cause us to neglect our own cross in a misguided effort to clear the path.  But if we take the time to identify our own cross—the one God made precisely for our particular strengths and weaknesses—and if we shoulder it and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who walks the path ahead of us, He will show us the way.

This, at last, is discipleship: Not to drive ourselves into the ground trying to do everything for everyone, but to ask God what He wants from us, to listen for the answer, and to resolve to do exactly that—to embrace the cross the Carpenter has crafted with each of us in mind, and leave the others.


Imagine a parish of such disciples, all doing exactly what God has asked of them—no more, no less—and all moving the same direction, pouring themselves out in love on a world that desperately needs it.
 
Such a parish would change the world, because unlike time and energy, love never runs out.

Book Break: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

The genius of C.S. Lewis continues to astound me. I read the Narnia series as a child and liked-but-not-loved them (although The Lord of the Rings has taken on new dimensions now that I am a practicing Christian, so perhaps I should revisit the world in the wardrobe, as well). But as an adult, Lewis’s nonfiction — Mere Christianity, The Abolition of Man, and The Weight of Glory — has consistently delivered new spiritual insights and deepened my conversion, and his fictional meditation on the afterlife, The Great Divorce, is one of my favorite books of all time.

Which brings me to The Screwtape Letters. This little book has been on my shelf for quite some time, and my oldest son, Brendan, read it a year or more ago and loved it. The book, ostensibly, is a collection of found letters from the demon Screwtape, an experienced administrator in the bureaucracy of Hell, to his nephew Wormwood, a young tempter striving to lure a budding Christian away from salvation. The letters show the subtlety and patience of the diabolical, the insidious ways in which we are knocked off the straight and narrow path, and the relentlessness with which we are pursued by the “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

I saw myself in nearly every letter, as Screwtape outlines the fledgling Christian’s typical stages of conversion and the best ways in which to turn his progress into regress. The book is darkly funny, which makes the medicine easier to swallow. For example, Screwtape admonishes Wormwood for being naively enthusiastic about the outbreak of war in Europe, saying that while human death and destruction are always to be praised and enjoyed, it is not, in itself, necessarily helpful in the damnation of souls, because A) it affords opportunities for men to exercise saving virtue as well as condemning vice, and B) it can end lives in an instant — snatching souls for the Devil just as easily as from God, and undoing years of patient temptation. He also advises his nephew that tempting humans to great and glorious wickedness can backfire into stunning conversions, and that small temptations that lead them slowly, slowly away from God — all unaware of the danger — is just as good for their Father Below, and besides that, more enjoyable for the skill required.

We never hear directly from Wormwood, but we can hear Screwtape’s displeasure with his dear nephew’s failures and mistakes and begin to sense his affection for the young tempter is only marginally different from his ravenous hunger for condemned souls. My volume (pictured above) included an extra essay, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” in which the demon lifts his glass to toast the Tempters Training College and uses the opportunity to explain to the new graduates how Hell is leveraging the public education system on Earth to promote the one thing democracy and virtue cannot survive: forced equality. It is biting and brilliant — and contains one of my favorite passages, about why small, subtle temptations and sins can be better for Hell that bold, passionate wickedness (remember, in this passage from the demon’s perspective, everything is inverted, hence “the Enemy” is God):

I have said that to secure the damnation of these little souls, these creatures that have almost ceased to be individual, is a laborious and tricky work. But if proper pains and skill are expended, you can be fairly confident of the result. The great sinners seem easier to catch. But then they are incalculable. After you have played them for seventy years, the Enemy may snatch them from your claws in the seventy-first. They are capable, you see, of real repentance. They are conscious of real guilt. They are, if things take the wrong turn, as ready to defy the social pressures around them for the Enemy’s sake as they were to defy them for ours. It is in some ways more troublesome to track and swat an evasive wasp than to shoot, at close range, a wild elephant. But the elephant is more troublesome if you miss. — C.S. Lewis, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”

This is definitely spiritual reading, which you can apply to yourself if you try. A brief example might suffice to illustrate this point: in one letter, Screwtape advises Wormwood on what a huge difference a seemingly small tweak in the language of his “patient” can have on the fate of his soul. He urges his nephew to encourage the man to think of his duty to practice charity as unselfishness. Unselfishness has the advantage, Screwtape says, of turning a positive attribute (charity) into a negative (UN-selfishness), and an external, active habit into something more akin to navel-gazing: inwardly focused, inactive, and a potential source of pride.

He then goes into great detail as to how this commitment to unselfishness can be used to increase resentment and secret pride in marriages and families, as men and women forego the pleasures of this life not out of genuine love and desire of the good for another, but out of a selfish desire to appear unselfish:

“Let’s do what you want to do.”

“No, no, I insist, let’s do what you prefer.”

“Well, I don’t want to anymore.”

“Fine, we’ll do neither.”

She doesn’t even appreciate how unselfish I am!

I don’t need his pity — two can play at this game! 

Like The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters led me to think more deeply about the little things that draw me daily away from God, and underscored for me that getting to Heaven is something akin to long-range marksmanship: a tiny deviation at this end can, over the distance of years, result in missing the mark entirely. Yet it never ceases to be hopeful: the demons admit they are at a disadvantage and cannot challenge God directly — and they have no understanding at all of charity, and dismiss it as a lie God has told in service of a secondary goal they have yet to discover. They cannot fathom why He loves us so.