WHILE polarization and divisions continue to widen in the world, and controversy and confusion billow through the Church (like the “smoke of satan”)… I hear two words from Jesus right now for my readers: “Be faithful.” Yes, try to live these words each moment today in the face of temptation, demands, opportunities for selflessness, obedience, persecution, etc. and one will quickly discover that just being faithful with what one has is enough of a daily challenge.
Indeed, it is the daily cross.
Sometimes when we are energized by a homily, a word from Scripture, or a powerful time of prayer, there sometimes comes along with it a temptation: “I must now do something great for God!” We begin to scheme how we can launch a new ministry, sell all our possessions, fast more, suffer more, pray more, give more… but soon, we find ourselves discouraged and downhearted because we have failed to live up to our resolutions. Moreover, our present obligations suddenly seem even more boring, meaningless, and mundane. Oh, what a deception! For in the ordinary lies the extraordinary!
What could have been a more energizing and incredible spiritual experience than the visitation of the Archangel Gabriel and his Annunciation that Mary would carry God within her womb? But what did Mary do? There is no record of her bursting into the streets announcing that the long-awaited Messiah was coming, no stories of apostolic miracles, profound sermons, intense mortifications or a new career in ministry. Rather, it seems that she returned to the duty of the moment… to helping her parents, doing the laundry, fixing meals, and helping those around her, including her cousin Elizabeth. Here, we have the perfect picture of what it means to be an Apostle of Jesus: doing little things with great love.
You see, there is a temptation to want to be someone that we aren’t, to grasp what is not yet to be grasped, to seek beyond what is already in front of our noses: the will of God in the present moment. Jesus said,
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
Doesn’t the word “daily” already reveal Our Lord’s intention? That is to say, that everyday, without having to generate crosses, there will come opportunity after opportunity to “die to self”, beginning with just getting out of bed. And then making the bed. And then seeking first the Kingdom of God in prayer, instead of seeking our own kingdom on social media, email, etc. Then there are those around us who may be grumpy, demanding, or intolerable, and here the cross of patience presents itself. Then there are the duties of the moment: standing in the cold while waiting for the school bus, getting to work on time, putting on the next load of laundry, changing another poopy diaper, preparing the next meal, sweeping the floor, homework, vacuuming the car… and above all, as St. Paul says, we must:
Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he is deluding himself. (Gal 6:2-3)
LOVE IS THE MEASURE
Nothing I’ve described above sounds very glamorous. But it is the will of God for your life, and thus, the path to sanctity, the road to transformation, the highway to union with the Trinity. The danger is that we begin to daydream that our crosses are not big enough, that we should be doing something else, even be someone else. But as St. Paul says, we are then deluding ourselves and embarking on a path that is not God’s will—even if it seems “holy.” As St. Francis de Sales wrote in his typical practical wisdom:
When God created the world He commanded each tree to bear fruit after its kind; and even so He bids Christians—the living trees of His Church—to bring forth fruits of devotion, each one according to his kind and vocation. A different exercise of devotion is required of each—the noble, the artisan, the servant, the prince, the maiden and the wife; and furthermore such practice must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each individual. —Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Ch. 3, p.10
Thus, it would be ill-advised and ridiculous for a housewife and mother to spend her days praying in the church, or for a monk to spend countless hours engaged in all manner of worldly endeavours; or for a father to spend every free hour evangelizing on the streets, while a bishop remains in solitude. What is holy for one person is not necessarily holy for you. In humility, each of us must look at the vocation to which we are called, and there, see the “daily cross” which God himself has provided, first, through His permissive will revealed in the circumstances of our lives, and second, through His commandments.
All they need to do is fulfill faithfully the simple duties of Christianity and those called for by their state of life, accept cheerfully all the troubles they meet and submit to God’s will in all that they have to do or suffer—without, in any way, seeking out trouble for themselves… What God arranges for us to experience at each moment is the best and holiest thing that could happen to us. —Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, (DoubleDay), pp. 26-27
“But I feel I am not suffering enough for God!”, one might protest. But, brothers and sisters, it is not the intensity of your cross that matters as much as the intensity of love with which you embrace it. The difference between the “good” thief and the “bad” thief on Calvary was not the kind of their suffering, but the love and humility with which they accepted their cross. So you see, cooking supper for your family, without complaint and with generosity, is far more powerful in the order of grace than fasting while lying on your face in a chapel—as your family goes hungry.
THE LITTLE TEMPTATIONS
The same principle applies to the “little” temptations.
No doubt wolves and bears are more dangerous than biting flies. But they don’t as frequently cause us annoyance and irritation. So they don’t try our patience in the way that flies do.
It’s easy to abstain from murder. But it’s difficult to avoid the angry outbursts that so are often aroused within us. It’s easy to avoid adultery. But it’s not so easy to be wholly and constantly pure in words, looks, thoughts, and deeds. It’s easy not to steal what belongs to someone else, difficult not to covet it; easy not to bear false witness in court, difficult to be perfectly truthful in everyday conversation; easy to refrain from getting drunk, difficult to be self-controlled in what we eat and drink; easy not to desire someone’s death, difficult never to desire anything contrary to his interests; easy to avoid open defamation of someone’s character, difficult to avoid all inward contempt of others.
In short, these lesser temptations to anger, suspicion, jealousy, envy, frivolity, vanity, foolishness, deception, artificiality, impure thoughts, are a perpetual trial even to those who are most devout and resolute. So we must carefully and diligently prepare for this warfare. But be assured that every victory won over these little foes is like a precious stone in the crown of glory that God prepares for us in heaven. —St. Francis de Sales, Manual of Spiritual Warfare, Paul Thigpen, Tan Books; p. 175-176
JESUS, THE WAY
For 18 years, Jesus—knowing that He was the Saviour of the world—daily picked up his saw, his planer, and his hammer, while in the streets beyond His carpenter shop, He listened to the cries of the poor, the oppression of the Romans, the suffering of the diseased, the emptiness of the prostitutes, and the cruelty of the tax collectors. And yet, He did not race ahead of the Father, ahead of His mission… ahead of the Divine Will.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… (Phil 2:7)
This, no doubt, was a painful cross for Jesus… the waiting, waiting, and waiting to fulfill His purpose—the liberation of mankind.
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?… I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer… (Luke 2:49; 22:15)
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered. (Heb 5:8)
Still, Jesus was completely at peace because He always sought the Father’s will in the present moment, which for Him, was His “food.” cf. Luke 4:34 Christ’s “daily bread” was, simply, the duty of the moment. In fact, it would be a mistake for us to think that only Jesus’s three years of public ministry, culminating at Calvary, were the “work of Redemption.” No, the Cross began for Him in the poverty of the manger, continued in the exile to Egypt, carried on in Nazareth, became heavier when he had to leave the temple as a youth, and remained throughout His years as a simple carpenter. But, in truth, Jesus would have had it no other way.
I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. (John 6:38-39)
Jesus did not want to lose anything from the Father’s hand—not a single seemingly mundane moment of walking in human flesh. Instead, He transformed these moments into a means of continuing union with the Father (in much the way that he took ordinary bread and wine and transformed them into His Body and Blood). Yes, Jesus sanctified work, sanctified sleeping, sanctified eating, sanctified relaxation, sanctified prayer, and sanctified fellowship with all whom He encountered. Jesus’s “ordinary” life reveals “the Way”: the path toward Heaven is a constant embrace of the Father’s will, in the littlest things, with great love and care.
For we who are sinners, this is called conversion.
…offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.(Rom 12:1-2)
THE SIMPLE PATH
I often say to young men and women who are confused about what God’s will is for their lives, “Start with the dishes.” I then share with them Psalm 119:105:
Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
God’s will only shines a few steps ahead—rarely a “mile” into the future. But if we are faithful every day with those little steps, how can we miss the “intersection” when it comes? We won’t! But we have to be faithful with the “one talent” that God has given us—the duty of the moment. cf. Matt 25:14-30 We have to remain on the path of the Divine Will, otherwise, our egos and the inclinations of the flesh can lead us into a wilderness of trouble.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones… (Luke 16:10)
So you see, we don’t need to go looking for crosses that aren’t ours to carry. There are enough in the course of each day already arranged by Divine Providence. If God asks for more, it’s because we have already been faithful with less.
Little things done exceedingly well over and over again for the love of God: this is going to make you saints. It is absolutely positive. Don’t seek immense mortifications of flagellations or what have you. Seek the daily mortification of doing a thing exceedingly well. —Servant of God Catherine De Hueck Doherty, The People of the Towel and Water, from Moments of Grace calendar, January 13th
Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:8)
Finally, living this daily cross well, and uniting it to the sufferings of Christ’s Cross, we are participating in the salvation of souls, most especially our own. Moreover, this daily cross will be your anchor in these stormy times. When souls around you begin to cry out, “What do we do? What do we do?!”, you will be the ones to point them to the present moment, to the daily cross. For it is the only Way we have that leads through Calvary, the Tomb, and the Resurrection.
We should be content with making the best of the few talents he has placed in our hands, and not distress ourselves about having more or greater ones. If we are faithful in that which is little, He will place us over that which is great. That, however, must come from Him and not be the result of our efforts…. Such abandonment will please God greatly, and we shall be at peace. The spirit of the world is restless, and wishes to do everything. Let us leave it to itself. Let us have no desire to choose our own paths, but walk in those which God may be pleased to prescribe to us…. Let us courageously extend the confines of our heart and will in His presence, and let us not decide upon doing this thing or that until God has spoken. Let us implore Him to grant us the grace to labor meanwhile, to practice those virtues which our Lord practiced during His hidden life. —St. Vincent de Paul, from Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac: Rules, Conferences, and Writings (Paulist Press); cited in Magnificat, Sept. 2017, pp. 373-374
The paradox is that by embracing our daily crosses, they lead to supernatural joy. As St. Paul noted of Jesus, “For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross…” Heb 12:2 And Jesus is ready to help us when the daily crosses of life becomes too heavy.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, God created us for joy and for happiness, and not for lurking in melancholy thoughts. And where our forces appear to be weak and the battle against anguish seems particularly challenging, we can always run to Jesus, invoking Him: ‘Lord Jesus, Son of God, have pity on me, a sinner!’ —POPE FRANCIS, General Audience, Sept. 27th, 2017
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