FOR several years, I have asked Jesus why it is that I am so weak, so impatient in trial, so seemingly devoid of virtue. “Lord,” I have said a hundred times, “I pray every day, I go to Confession every week, I say the Rosary, I pray the Office, I’ve gone to daily Mass for years… why, then, am I so unholy? Why do I buckle under the smallest trials? Why am I so quick-tempered?” I could very well repeat the words of St. Gregory the Great as I try to respond to the Holy Father’s call to be a “watchman” for our times.
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Note that a man whom the Lords sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight.
How hard it is for me to say this, for by these very words I denounce myself. I cannot preach with any competence, and yet insofar as I do succeed, still I myself do not live my life according to my own preaching.
I do not deny my responsibility; I recognize that I am slothful and negligent, but perhaps the acknowledgment of my fault will win me pardon from my just judge. —St. Gregory the Great, homily, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. IV, p. 1365-66
As I prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, begging the Lord to help me understand why I am so sinful after so many efforts, I looked up at the Crucifix and heard the Lord finally answer this painful and pervasive question…
THE ROCKY SOIL
The answer came in the Parable of the Sower:
A sower went out to sow… Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots… Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, but they have no root; they believe only for a time and fall away in time of trial. (Mt 13:3-6; Lk 8:13)
As I gazed at the scourged and torn body of Jesus hanging above the Tabernacle, I heard the most gentle explanation in my soul:
You have a rocky heart. It is a heart lacking in charity. You seek Me, to love Me, but you have forgotten the second part of My great commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself.
My body is like a field. All My wounds have torn deep into My flesh: the nails, the thorns, the scourge, the scrapes in my knees and hole torn in my shoulder from the cross. My flesh has been cultivated by charity—by a complete self-giving that digs and tills and tears at the flesh. This is the kind of love of neighbour I am speaking of, where through seeking to serve your wife and children, you deny yourself—you dig into your flesh.
Then, unlike rocky soil, your heart will become tilled so deep that My Word can take root within you and bear rich fruit… instead of being scorched by the heat of trials because the heart is superficial and shallow.
Yes, after I died—after I gave everything—that is when my Heart was pierced through, a Heart not of stone, but of flesh. From this Heart of love and sacrifice gushed forth water and blood to flow over the nations and heal them. So too, when you seek to serve and give all of yourself to your neighbour, then my Word, given to you through all the means by which you seek Me—prayer, Confession, the Holy Eucharist—will find a place in your heart of flesh to sprout. And from you, My child, from your heart will flow the supernatural life and that holiness that will touch and convert those around you.
Finally, I understood! How often I have been praying or “doing my ministry” or busy speaking with others about “God” when my wife or children needed me. “I am busy serving the Lord,” I would convince myself. But the words of St. Paul take on a new meaning:
If I speak in human and angelic tongue but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-3)
Jesus sums it up:
Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command? (Lk 6:46)
THE REAL MIND OF CHRIST
I have been hearing over and over again this past year the words of the Lord,
Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. (rev 2:4-5)
He is speaking to the Church, He is speaking to me. Have we become so consumed in apologetics, Scripture studies, theological courses, parish programs, spiritual reading, signs of the times, prayer and contemplation… that we have forgotten our vocation—to love—to show others the face of Christ through selfless acts of humble service? Because this is what will convince the world, the way the Centurion was convinced—not by Christ’s preaching—but ultimately by what he witnessed take place before him on the Cross at Golgotha. We should be convinced by now that the world will not be converted by our eloquent sermons, slick websites, or clever programs.
If the word has not converted, it will be blood that converts. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, from poem “Stanislaw“
I receive letters every day detailing the flood of blasphemies that continue to pour out of the Western media. But is this the real blasphemy?
My name is constantly blasphemed by unbelievers, says the Lord. Woe to the man who causes my name to be blasphemed. Why is the Lord’s name blasphemed? Because we say one thing and do another. When they hear the words of God on our lips, unbelievers are amazed at their beauty and power, but when they see that those words have no effect in our lives, their admiration turns to scorn, and they dismiss such words as myths and fairy tales. —From a homily written in the second century, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. IV, p. 521
It is the daily tilling of our flesh, the cultivation of our stony hearts so that Love Himself may spring up in them—that is what the world is longing to taste and see: Jesus living in me. Then my preaching, my webcasts, my books, my programs, my songs, my teachings, my writings, my letters, my words take on a new power—the power of the Holy Spirit. And more than that—and here really is the message—if my aim is to lay down my life for others each moment, serving and giving and cultivating self-denial, then when trials and tribulations come, I will not fall away because I have “put on the mind of Christ,” I have already taken upon my shoulder the cross of suffering. My heart has become a heart of flesh, of good soil. The little seeds of patience and perseverance that He has given through prayer, study, etc. will then take root in this soil of love, and thus, the blaring sun of temptation will not scorch them nor will they be carried away by the wind of trials.
Love bears all things… (1 Cor 13:7)
This is the task that lay before me, before all of us:
Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same attitude (for whoever suffers in the flesh has broken with sin), so as not to spend what remains of one’s life in the flesh on human desires, but on the will of God. (1 Pet 4:1-2)
This attitude of loving self-denial, it is this that breaks our rancid covenant with sin! It is this “mind of Christ” that conquers trials and temptations rather than the other way around. Yes, charity is faith in action.
The victory that conquers the world is our faith. (1 Jn 5:4)
CONTEMPLATION AND ACTION
It cannot be prayer alone, contemplation without action. The two must be married: to love the Lord your God and your neighbour. When prayer and action are married, they give birth to God. And this is a real birth of sorts: for Jesus is planted in the soul, nurtured through prayer and the Sacraments, and then through an attentive giving and sacrifice of my very self, He takes on flesh. My flesh.
…always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. (2 Cor 4:10)
Who is a better model of this than Mary, as seen in the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary? She conceived Christ through her “fiat”. She contemplated Him there in her womb. But that was not all. Despite her own needs, she crossed the hill country of Judah to assist her cousin Elizabeth. Charity. In these first two Joyful Mysteries we see the marriage of contemplation and action. And this union produced the Third Joyful Mystery: the birth of Jesus.
Jesus is calling His Church to prepare for martyrdom. It is above all, and for most, a white martyrdom. It is time… O God, it is time to live it.
On November 11th, 2010, the day we remember those who gave their lives for our freedoms, I received this word in prayer:
The soul that has been emptied, like My Son emptied Himself, is a soul in whom the seed of the Word of God may find a resting place. There, the mustard seed has room to grow, to spread its branches, and so fill the air with the fragrance of the fruit of the Spirit. I desire that you be such a soul, My child, one who constantly pours forth the aroma of My Son. Indeed, it is in cultivating the flesh, in digging out the stones and weeds, that there is room for the Seed to find a resting place. Leave no stone unturned, not a single weed standing. Make the soil rich by the blood of My Son, co-mingled with your blood, shed through self-denial. Do not fear this process, for it will bear the most beautiful and delicious fruit. Leave no stone unturned and no weed standing. Empty—a kenosis—and I will fill you with My very Self.
Remember, without Me you can do nothing. Prayer is the means by which you receive the grace to live a supernatural life. When I died, My flesh in so far as I became man was unable to restore itself to life, but as God, I was able to conquer death and be raised to new life. So too, in your flesh, all you can do is die—die to self. But the power of the Spirit in you, given to you through the Sacraments and prayer, will raise you to new life. But there must be something dead to raise, My child! Thus, charity is the rule of life, the complete giving of self away so that the New Self may be restored.
I was about to leave the church when, the Lord in His mercy (so I would not despair), reminded me of those wonderful words of hope:
Love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
Let us not look over the plow at the soil our self-love has left unturned and rocky. But setting are eyes on the present moment, begin again. It is never too late to be a saint for Jesus so long as you have breath in your lungs and a word upon your tongue: fiat.
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit… May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith that you may be rooted and grounded in love… (cf. Eph 3:17)