Cross of Joy

I sat down with Andrew to work on homework last night and as he started to put his name on the top of the paper he said, “Mom can you just write the letter ‘d’ for me?  I’m terrible at making ‘d’s’.” I said, “No way.  The fact that you aren’t good at making them is the very reason you need to do it yourself.  Only practice will make you good at them.”  So he practiced it a few dozen times, with me showing him how to make it better, until he felt more confident in his ability.

Many times the Lord deals with us in this same way.  We ask for our crosses and burdens to be alleviated because we know God loves us and could easily take the burden from our shoulders.  We are told to pray unceasingly (1 Thes. 5:17), and in faith ask “Father, if you are willing take this cup from me.” Lk. 22:42.  Yet so often we are met with seeming silence.  Is it because God knows that our crosses are important for our growth and learning?    By our crosses we learn to rely on God more fully.  Ideally, when we walk with the Lord through a trial we gain confidence and trust and realize a new strength.  By our sufferings we are shaped and formed and refined on our way to perfection, like gold that’s tested in fire.

“Their sufferings were minor compared with the blessings they will receive. God has tested them, like gold in a furnace, and found them worthy to be with him.” Wis 3:5

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And yes perfection is the goal!  We are created for it so we can rest easy in the assurance that God has a very good reason when He allows His children to bear their burdens. They will ultimately be for our good.  We are being groomed and refined.  We are being made worthy to share in the inheritance.

Jesus himself had to endure the cross before He was resurrected.   As true Christ followers we cannot expect an easier road.  Nor should we want one!  True love of Christ requires our desire to share in His suffering.  It is this desire that allows us as lovers of Jesus to offer our own sufferings and crosses to Him.

Growing up, I often heard the phrase “Offer it up” when I uttered complaint.  Of course it meant nothing to me outside the bounds of my own relationship with Jesus and only as I grew closer to the Lord could I begin to understand the merit of that statement.

Loving Christ turns suffering from a Cross to a Joy.

Just as I would desire to suffer in place of my child if I could, so I desire to offer to Jesus my sufferings for the salvation of souls.  I endure them gladly rather than lament and bemoan them if they can be used for His purposes and to the end of accomplishing His holy and divine will. Furthermore Jesus calls us to Love not only our friends but our enemies in this way.  To Love perfectly is to lay down your life for another.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”  1 John 3:16

This is what Christ did for us.  From His perfect love he died for all, not just for those of us who love Him back.  He died for His enemies.  He suffered for people who hate Him.  WIth those who love Him, He established a covenant of Perfect Love, so that we could go forth and share that same Love, even with our enemies, because to love an enemy is to love Jesus.  It is never by the power of our own flesh that this is accomplished but by God’s Perfect Love given and received.

This is our call as true Christ followers.  Can we follow Him all the way to Calvary?  After all, only when we drink the cup Jesus drank will we be able to sit by His side in glory. (Mt. 10:37-38)

Suffering is a part of life that we simply must accept. What choice is there when suffering is everywhere?  But when we accept the perfect Love God has given us our Joy can come from bearing up under the weight of our sufferings.  We can and should take Joy in living this basic Christian witness.  Just as I wouldn’t have let Andrew struggle in frustration on his own, God would never ask us to endure something if He didn’t give us the equipment necessary to do it.  We are never alone or without His almighty hand of protection upon us. He helps us carry our burdens, making sure they are not too much for us to bear.  Ultimately we will be victorious and every struggle will be overcome.  What Joy we have in His promises!

What if Andrew hadn’t liked my response and chose a different reaction?  He could have had a little tantrum, thrown down his pencil, and said I just can’t write the letter ‘d’ and I don’t want to practice it.   He could have resisted and cried and turned it into a miserable homework experience.  Had he done that, his stubborn tantrum would have been the more difficult path to the same end – practicing until perfect.

An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in...

An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luckily for us God makes perfect.  Our efforts will always be humble and imperfect, but our effort is like the mustard seed. God can grow it into the tallest tree. Our willingness to suffer for the glory of God, whatever life throws at us, is precious in His sight.  He doesn’t expect us to do it perfectly, only to lean on Him and trust in His providence and remain Joyful as a christian.  He is patiently by our side encouraging as we enter the fire and He understands what we will some day understand for ourselves; that the only way out is through.  Jesus knew this in the garden as well and it was the cause of His agony.  He knew He must go through His passion and desperately didn’t want to but it was the only way to secure the joy and perfection of the Kingdom for all mankind.  He prayed the ultimate prayer, “Not my will but yours be done.”   That is the prayer we should pray unceasingly.

When God does not take our crosses from our life we can know with certainty and with Joy that “His will be done”.

There can be no greater honor.

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Year of Faith

On October 11, 2012 our Holy Father, Benedict XVI opened the Year of Faith for the Church.  In his homily he addressed the growing void of God in our society and proposed a year to renew faith and evangelize in new ways.  Here is an excerpt of his wisdom:

Jesus is the centre of the Christian faith. The Christian believes in God whose face was revealed by Jesus Christ. He is the fulfilment of the Scriptures and their definitive interpreter. Jesus Christ is not only the object of the faith but, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, he is “the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith” (12:2). 
Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ, consecrated by the Father in the Holy Spirit, is the true and perennial subject of evangelization. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). This mission of Christ, this movement of his continues in space and time, over centuries and continents. It is a movement which starts with the Father and, in the power of the Spirit, goes forth to bring the good news to the poor, in both a material and a spiritual sense. The Church is the first and necessary instrument of this work of Christ because it is united to him as a body to its head. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21), says the Risen One to his disciples, and breathing upon them, adds, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v.22). Through Christ, God is the principal subject of evangelization in the world; but Christ himself wished to pass on his own mission to the Church; he did so, and continues to do so, until the end of time pouring out his Spirit upon the disciples, the same Spirit who came upon him and remained in him during all his earthly life, giving him the strength “to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” and “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19).

He goes on to describe the ‘desertification’, that is, the void of God in all of society and how we are crying out to know Him in many ways.  “And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism. Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path.” (emphasis mine)

In a word, the faithful are being called to witness to Christ in our lives.  It is by this witness that we “preach the gospel to the poor”.  And each one of us as a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, makes up a critical part of the whole.  Our particular stories speak Christ in many diverse ways and your words may be the very ones that lead someone to the path of Christ!  We can never underestimate what God can do with even the tiniest ‘Yes’

I would like to use this blog and take the Holy Father’s call to action very literally.  I am always inspired by my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and would love to hear your stories and testimonies. Contact me HERE if you would like to share your witness of Christ in your life and have it published on this blog.  No matter where you are in your faith walk you have something valuable to offer.  By speaking up and speaking out, God can use you for the good of all His holy church.

It can be short, sweet, and to the point, detailing a single experience, or a more general faith testimony of your life (1500 words or less). If you aren’t sure how to do it ask the Holy Spirit to use you as His instrument and just speak from the heart.

I’ll publish testimonies as I get them for the entire year of faith so if you know someone with a faith story to tell send them here!

Can’t wait to hear from you and I’ll get working on mine too!

 

Mystical Body of Christ

I was at mass the other day and raising my voice in song.

I can’t sing worth a darn but for some reason when I am at mass I do it with abandon, much to the dismay of kids!  (Yes, I am that mom…)

This particular mass, I got lucky because there was a beautifully gifted voice in my vicinity.  And whenever I join in song with others who really sing beautifully, I sound SO MUCH better (in my own mind).

I figure God gave me my voice so he’s stuck listening to it!  It’s just not my gift and that’s ok.  Thankfully it is the gift of other’s and when we come together at mass as the body of Christ – worshipping together – we raise one voice.  We are many parts but one body.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts, and though all it’s parts are many they form one body. So it is with Christ” 1 Cor. 12:12 

We join with one another to Praise Him and give Him honor and to glorify His name and most importantly to physically receive him.  We are united, in Him and by Him, so that we might appear before the throne as the bride before the bridegroom.

My little individual (and painful to listen to) voice is just that – one little individual voice.  It’s a grain of sand on a beach.  But every week at mass I join together with every other grain of sand on every beach around the world and we are mystically united and formed into one great big beach, one voice, one mystical body of Christ.

And it is mystical because it is beyond our human capabilities of reason. It is a mystery and an element of our Faith that we take on Faith because there is power and unity as a result.

It is by this unity that we are given a glimpse into the Kingdom.  A mere glimpse, of the harmony and the perfection that awaits, when we are perfectly united as one in God’s will.

We were never created to stand-alone but rather to partake in the cross together in this life so that we might partake in the banquet together in the next life.

3rd quarter of 16th century

3rd quarter of 16th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Catholics, we do that in a very real way, every single day, through consecrations on altars all over the world.  Mystically, Jesus becomes physically present in the Eucharist and becomes food for the body and the parts of the body are united by the true food we all consume. The sacrifice of the Lamb happened once in time but it happens again and again by the power of the Holy Spirit, outside the bounds of time, for all men everywhere.  Jesus’s death opened the gates of Heaven for all people and He invites all people to partake.

God has created and gifted us all in ways necessary for the building of the Kingdom and the preparation for the banquet.  Our individual gifts will combine with all the other gifts of the body of Christ to form one perfect and unified Bride.  Through Christ we will be cleansed and without blemish for our perfect unity to Him for all Eternity.

“… Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)

 My voice is not my gift.  Lots of things are not my gift, but lots of things are!  I am gifted.  We all are gifted.  Each and every one of us is created and endowed with the necessary gifts to be part of the body of Christ.  Furthermore, each of us is endowed with the gifts and the grace to become saints. This is our calling and our purpose.

Today, more than ever perhaps, the Church needs saints.  The Church needs every single member of the body to do their part for the kingdom.  Just as all the cells in a physical body perform their minute functions for the maintenance and building up of the whole, so too must we, as tiny little voices, join the choir.  We must play our part, fulfill the role God gave us, and sometimes this means stepping outside of our comfort zone.  Sometimes this means having the courage and the strength to move with the Spirit, go where we are lead, without counting the cost and with the assurance that “We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us”.  Sometimes this means the drudgery of everyday chores that are part and parcel of living out our vocations but don’t feel very significant.  Even a microscopic sized cell performs an important function.  Sometimes this means risking ridicule and secular judgments and remembering the fact that “the world hated Christ first”.

In order to be an active component of the whole body, we must desire what God desires and work for the building up of the whole body.

Encourage one another, that as a part of the whole, as members of the mystical body of Christ, we are humble yet proud to be called Christian, for only in unity with one another and Christ, are we truly Christians.

And next time you are at mass and hear that slightly off-key voice, sing a little louder would you please?

God’s-eye view

My kindergartener recently had a conversation with grandma that went something like this.
Grandma: Pretty soon you will know how to read Andrew, and then you can just pick up a book and read it!
Andrew: You mean I will just go into school one day and I will be able to read?
Grandma: Well you will have to work and learn how to do it but then you will know how to do it forever.
At this point he shrugged indifferently and ran off to play…

If only he could see what he’s missing from an adult perspective!!  How do you make a 6-year-old understand  that the whole world will start to blossom  once they do the relatively short work of learning to read?  At age 6 he simply has no idea what he’s missing and how his window to the world will expand exponentially!

God our Father must feel this way about his children all the time!  He sees not only the great potential we have of our own power but the limitless potential we have when we live through Him.   He knows the world will blossom in ways we simply can not imagine when we trust in His ways.  But to do this requires work, it requires obedience and prayer and humility and a desire to serve the will of our father more than our own. It requires perseverance in the face of self-doubt and worldly failure. Sometimes it requires a single-minded focus that is near impossible to come by in a world full of distractions. It requires patience so at odds with the attitude of instant gratification prevalent in American culture.
God is always ready and willing to teach us.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer 29:11)

I wanted to shout after Andrew and call him back and explain all the wonders awaiting him.  I wanted, somehow, to make him understand.  Even as I write this I’m at a loss.  The impact of knowing how to read is so undefinable.

The same thing can be said of our Loving God.  We can’t begin to define Him or understand all that he has in store for us.  Only through the steady and faithful building of a relationship with Him will our eyes be opened, will our minds be enlightened, will our hearts be filled.  Are we eager and excited to know Him or do we shrug indifferently and run off to carry out our own plans?

Lord, help us tune out the world so we can focus our attention on you, who makes the world blossom in our minds, our hearts and our souls!  Amen