July 30, 2013

To Satiate the Thirst of Jesus

When we begin to pray, we implicate ourselves in the plight of others, especially those who are suffering.  Prayer binds us to offer a cup of cold water to those who are thirsting because prayer allows us to suffer the thirst of God, His divine passion for the salvation of souls.  In this way, prayer disposes us to see Jesus in those who are suffering, especially those who most need a reason to hope.   If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the thirst of Christ, we realize how precious it is to offer our sufferings and to help others offer their own sufferings to satiate that thirst.

Mother Teresa believed that many of the sick and suffering would be sanctified much faster "if they suffered to satiate the thirst of Jesus."  She had a deep conviction that Jesus was thirsty for souls, that this is the reason when He suffered on the Cross, He uttered the words "I thirst."  She had these last words of Christ put behind the altar and near the crucifix of every chapel where the Missionaries of Charity lived and served.  When I am honored to pray in one of their chapels, these words are not only a reminder, but also a heart-piercing correction, love's rebuke in the face of my own sluggishness and indifference.  In many ways, these words signify the sacred purpose of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries.   Saint Teresa of Calcutta also implicated all those this Missionaries served in this great task, especially severely ill and dying.

What does it mean for the sick and suffering to be sanctified?  Somehow when we offer our suffering to satiate the thirst of the Lord, we make space for God to work in new ways in our own life and in the lives of others.   In fact, the sacrament for the anointing of the sick effects this mysterious reality in the lives of the suffering so that in their weakness and helplessness they are established in the very mystery of the Cross, a place of great intimacy with Christ.  It is a place of such great intimacy that the Lord allows the suffering soul to extend His saving mystery through their suffering in space and time to the degree that they bear their infirmities with faith and love for His glory.  It is faith and love that transforms suffering into something beautiful for God so that even suffering reveals the holiness of the Lord in the world.

Today, in hospitals and in hospices, sometimes in households and sometimes all alone, there are those who are overwhelmed by pain and helplessness.  Sometimes they are also enveloped in the most disturbing question, and this even to the point of suffering extreme temptations to despair despite their love for the Lord and desire to be holy.   There are not many souls in our culture who would dare to accompany the sick through this agony, an agony that thirsts for hope.  Yet entering deep into prayer, into intimacy with Christ crucified does not allow us to ignore this plight. It was specifically into this pain that Mother Teresa directed her words "if they suffered to satiate the thirst of Jesus."   If we understand the great mystery her words point to, they can become a cup of cold water, a little hope when hope is most needed so that something beautiful might be done for God.

July 9, 2013

The Wonder of God's Will and the Holiness of Marriage

The Will of God is a beautiful mystery that evokes wonder and adoration.  The sluggish and self-indulgent heart is unable to fall down in adoration because it is asleep to the glory of God echoing through the world.   It is only the vigilant heart, the heart that hungers and thirsts for justice, that is ready to welcome beatitude.  My heart goes to this mystery this summer as I consider the crucifixion of marriage taking place in our society.

Powerful cultural and political interests have imposed their values on the humble and the poor once again.   The President and various state governments have acted as good chief priests while the Supreme Court and many other judiciary bodies have all played the role of Pilate perfectly.  But they are not the only guilty parties.  Each of us, in various ways, great and small, by our own petty sins against the sanctity of marriage and family life, have also chanted crucify, crucify!

All this has happened this summer even while holy women and beloved disciples reverently take down the institutional corpse to carry it to its cultural tomb.  How could marriage not die laid bear to the hidden violence of fornication, artificial contraception, abortion, and divorce?  The faithfulness and integrity that traditional family life demands is not sustainable in the context of our oversexed and banal culture.  If petty bickering and mean-spiritedness have always threatened this most holy of friendships, government does not feel obliged to protect these sacred bonds, not even for the sake of children who have a right not only to life but also to the love of a mother and father.   So, as authentic marriage is buried in the tomb of artificial and politically correct social contracts, it is right to weep over the fact that something good, holy and true has died in our nation.

It is into this mystery that we must take up the task of prayer.  God is revealing something astonishing to us if we will only look for it and allow the sorrowful events that took place in our country this summer to pierce us to the heart.  It is a matter of compunction.  To begin to pray means to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the wonder of God's Will even in the face of the crucifixion and death of marriage -- because it is only by surrender to His holy and ineffable Will that we glimpse His mercy and allow Him to bring to birth in our hearts unvanquished hope.

Wilfrid Stinissen makes an powerful observation in Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God who Loves Us (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011).  God's will is disclosed and manifested by opposition to it.  This is exactly what happened to Christ Jesus.  When He was opposed unto death on the Cross, the mercy of God for the world was revealed.  God the Father permitted His only begotten Son to be crucified so that His saving will might be made known.  Father Stinissen explains: "God makes use of evil in such a superb way and with such skill that the result is better than if there had never been evil."

To see this in relation to marriage requires a certain purification of our faith, a purification that comes through prayer and repentance.  The disciples did not start out with a clear understanding of Christ's humiliating death.  They began with bewilderment and confusion.  We, like them, must not walk away from this experience or try to forget it or attempt to convince ourselves that it is not important.  Just as the evil of human acts temporarily blinded the first disciples from seeing the wonder of God's will, our own conversion starts when we allow the Lord to walk with us and question us about where we are going with our lives.   Just as Christ's crucifixion was not opposed to anything that God revealed but rather the fulfillment of it, so too the violence done to marriage and family life in our culture is become another way God will reveal the greatness of His mercy.  Authentic marriage and family life need God and His ways more than ever -- and the beauty of what God does in the bonds of these holy friendships only shines the brighter the more our culture turns to darkness.    

Prayer helps us see that in every abuse of power against marriage and family, the Risen Christ continues to be at work in the lives of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers who turn to Him and rely on Him for their strength.   Happy marriages and holy families are the result of God's presence in the heart that prays, and not the imposition of politically correct values through social engineering.  It was into their shock and lack of faith that the Risen Lord began to disclose Himself to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus.   His saving presence and his patient explanations made their hearts burn until they recognized Him "in the breaking of the bread."  Likewise, we will only begin to recognize how God is raising up marriage when we contemplate it and beg for it in relation to the Sacred Body and Blood that has been offered for our sake.