HIDDEN it seems from the ears of the world is the collective cry I hear from the Body of Christ, a cry that is reaching the Heavens: “Father, if it is possible take this cup away from me!” Letters I receive speak of tremendous family and financial strain, lost security, and growing concern over The Perfect Storm that has emerged on the horizon. But as my spiritual director often says, we are in “boot camp,” training for this present and coming “final confrontation” that the Church is facing, as John Paul II put it. What appears to be contradictions, endless difficulties, and even a sense of abandonment is the Spirit of Jesus working through the firm hand of the Mother of God, forming her troops and preparing them for the battle of the ages. As it says in that precious book of Sirach:
My son, when you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity. Cling to him, forsake him not; thus will your future be great. Accept whatever befalls you, in crushing misfortune be patient; for in fire gold is tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation. (Sirach 2:1-5)
I WANT PEACE
I found myself crying out recently for peace. It seems lately that there is hardly a breath between the next temptation, between the next minor or major crisis, the next opportunity to “suffer.” Then I heard my confessor say, “Peace is in the presence of Christ…” At that moment, it was no longer the priest speaking, but Jesus in him. I heard in my heart the words,
Peace is not the absence of conflict, but in the Presence of God.
When Jesus was being crucified, it was the Prince of Peace there on the Cross—Peace incarnate nailed to the wood. And so came the temptation shouted from the bystanders, “If you are truly the Son of God, then come down from your cross!” Yes, there are so many other things you could do without this suffering…. so much more could be done if you didn’t have the cross… without all this violence, think of the possibilities! And then comes the Accuser: “If you are truly a Christian and a holy person, you wouldn’t be suffering like this: your suffering is the result of your sin, it is God’s punishment.” And before you know it, your focus is no longer on the presence of God, but on the nails, the thorns, the lance and the bitter hyssop of injustice raised to your lips.
That is the temptation right there: to focus on the suffering, and not on the presence of God who has promised that He will never leave you nor test you beyond your capacities. Why do we equate suffering with abandonment? “God has abandoned me,” we say. Indeed, Mother Teresa cried out,
The place of God in my soul is blank. There is no God in me. When the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God… and then it is that I feel He does not want me—He is not there—God does not want me. —Mother Teresa, Come By My Light, Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C.; pg. 2
Even Jesus cried out:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34)
But our Lord went on to say, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” How could He say this if the Father would not receive His Spirit into His loving hands? Jesus focused that moment upon the presence of His Father, even though the darkness of the world’s sin was upon Him. Jesus passed to the Resurrection precisely by rejecting the temptation to run from His suffering, and abandoning Himself in that moment to the will of God, surrendering Himself into the Father’s hands. So too, we did not see Mother Teresa drop her habit and embrace atheism. Rather, she surrendered everything to God, to doing His will—a mustard seed of faith that moved incredible mountains. The Resurrection poured from her soul when, from her perspective, she lay lifeless in the tomb of her senses.
STAYING ON THE CROSS
Many are the bystanders who have arisen today to shout in your ear, “Take matters into your own hands!” “Don’t wait on God—be proactive!” “Come down from your cross!” Many are the false prophets who would replace the central truth of the Gospel with comfort, technology, cosmetics, surgeries, potions, microchips… whatever they have conjured up to eliminate suffering and extend your life. It is a good thing, a necessary thing to work toward ending the suffering of injustice wherever it’s terrible claws have taken hold. But until fire folds back the New Heavens and the New Earth, suffering remains as a crucible to crush the rebellion in our hearts and refine us into the image of Christ. Jesus didn’t choose suffering as the way to Heaven. God already made His choice when He created the Garden of Eden. No, suffering was a human choice, the consequence of original sin. And so the Lord, working within the delicate confines of human freedom and free will turned our “choice” into a path. That path is the Way of the Cross.
…the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force. (Matt 11:12)
That is to say that we will not enter into union with God without casting off the old self and its practices, without doing battle against the flesh, its passions, and the temptations flying at us from the world and fallen angels… without drinking from the same chalice that was held to Christ’s lips in the Garden of Gethsemane.
It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)
It is a narrow path, not wide and easy. And so we must resist this temptation to come down from the cross—whatever it is. And I say this because it is all relative. Do not weigh your sufferings against others. If a hangnail tempts you to lose all patience, charity, and the ability to carry out the will of God, that is a serious cross! Likewise, with financial situations, tested relationships, and whatever else causes anxiety, they are permitted by God’s will, even “designed” one could say, to bring about purification in our souls and enable us to join our sufferings to Christ for the sake of others.
PEACE… THE HIDDEN JEWEL
And so, peace is not the absence of crosses; true peace is found in God’s presence, God’s will, which are conjoined. When you find God’s will, you will find His presence, because He is everywhere His plan unfolds (how does one put this into words?) Even when our suffering is the result of our own sin, we can turn to God and say, “Lord, I have made my own cross today.” And He will say, “Yes, my child. But I forgive you. And now, I unite your cross to Mine, and the suffering you now endure is made holy and will be raised up to work toward the good (Rom 8:28).”
So in the midst of your sufferings today when you cry out, “Lord, take this cup away from me…,” turn your eyes toward His Presence—which will never leave you—and say, “…but not my will but yours be done.” In that moment comes the grace and strength you will need, that peace which surpasses all understanding. Scripture says,
God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it. (1 Cor 10:13)
St. Paul does not say that God will take away the trial, but give us the grace to bear it. Do you believe this? This is where the rubber meets the road, where your faith is either fantasy or real. The grace He will send will come, at its root, as peace. It may not remove the nails from your hands nor the thorns from your mind; it may not restrain the whip or shield you from the spittle… no, these remain to bring you to a new resurrection, a new rising of Christ within you. Rather, it is a peace which springs that moment from love. For when you surrender to the will of God, so difficult, so hard, so confusing, so utterly and seemingly unfair… that is an act of love that shakes the heavens and causes the angels to bow their heads. From that act of love springs forth that peace— which is the wings of love—that enables you to “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
Peace did not come down from the Cross, but instead, spread His arms like wings over the world, and in His fiat, brought down the Kingdom of God upon the hearts of men. Go and do the same. Spread your arms today on your cross so that the Spirit of Jesus may flow through you, bringing the Kingdom of God to the hearts of those men and women in your midst so desperate for a sign of love and fidelity and truth.
Trust God and he will help you; make straight your ways and hope in him. You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy, turn not away lest you fall. You who fear the LORD, trust him, and your reward will not be lost. You who fear the LORD, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy. (Sirach 2:6-9)