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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Storms

*In light of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, I pray that all who are living through that tumultuous storm will take comfort in the strength and peace of God*

I went to a funeral yesterday.  The weather was surprisingly warm and sunny as I got in my car and left the neighborhood.  The funeral mass was at a church across town and as I got a few minutes away from home I noticed the sky up ahead was looking pretty dark.   I continued to drive along and the sky grew increasingly overcast as it seemed I was heading right into the storm. The sky got darker and darker until I was directly in the thick of it and was actually surrounded by near-blackness.  It felt appropriate considering my destination.  Very quickly a deluge of rain pelted my car and the wipers were swinging furiously.  Even though I was surrounded by utter darkness and deafening rain I could see the edge of the storm cloud up ahead and bright sun filtering through white fluffy clouds beyond.  I knew that it was only a matter of moments before I would be out of the storm and it would once again be a pleasantly warm fall day.  It was a bit daunting driving through it with very little visibility (though I live in the snow belt in Central New York so not the worst of what I’m used to!)  Sure enough a minute later I was out from under the oppressive clouds and the sky was so clear I thought it would be smooth sailing all the way to the church.  My route took me a round-about way and as I got closer to church wouldn’t you know that I was almost under that storm cloud again?  Luckily we parked and got inside the church before the rain started in earnest.

Christus in the storm on the lake; Rembrandt (...

Christus in the storm on the lake; Rembrandt (1633)(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Storms in our lives are inevitable just as death is inevitable.  Both are difficult and painful but are simply a part of this life.  The only guarantee we have, the only promise in terms of suffering, is the hope of Eternal rest and peace and Joy in our next life.  Not this life.

As Christians, that is, as Christ followers, we are called to follow Jesus the way Mary did. She set the example for us as the very first Christian, not merely following her son and savior to Calvary, but investing herself in His burden every step of the way.  Loving Him as only a mother could, blow-by-blow. She didn’t bow out when she was afraid or when the pain of what she was forced to silently witness must have been almost unbearable.  She steadfastly followed Jesus and took the blows in her mother’s heart as the whip sliced open the flesh she once carried and the nails crushed through the hands she once held.  With trust she stood at the foot of the cross until the bitter end.  With a suffering and sorrowful heart she watched her beloved son leave this life.

We are called to no less.  We are called to carry our crosses in the many different forms they take in our lives.  We are called to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and Mary.  No promises and no guarantees for smooth sailing!

After our son died there was a temptation to feel entitled and deserving of a break from pain and suffering.  Surely after what we went through we wouldn’t have to endure more?  I caught myself in those early days living in fear of something horrible happening to another member of my family.  How could I survive it?  But I caught myself.  I knew then that no matter how much I didn’t want to face another storm that it could very well happen.  I also knew that I would weather it, the same way I weathered the loss of Michael, with faith and trust in God.  That relationship was the only way to carry on and move forward in Joy and not as a slave to fear.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

We must flee to the refuge of God’s sovereignty even when it feels as though He didn’t handle our cross for us.  We do that by Surrendering and trusting that He had a good reason for allowing us to carry it.  That doesn’t mean we roll over as victims to pain and suffering, but it does mean we don’t let it win the rule of our lives.  We suffer our cross, yes, and it is often painful and difficult to bear, but we do it with the promise of Joy ahead and trust that we are learning and growing as God wishes.  We look just a little way toward the horizon and see the edge of the black storm cloud and the sun shining through fluffy white clouds beyond and let God carry us until we get there.  And when the clouds threaten again, we trust that again God will carry us through.  This much He did promise us.

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deut. 31:8)

This was a lesson the apostles learned in the storm at sea.  They were terrified when the storm came up and the waves were washing into the boat. Jesus was sleeping and when they woke Him in a panic He rebuked them saying, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Mt. 8:26)  And yet they were afraid.  They feared even though Jesus was right in their boat!  Jesus is in our boat too.  No matter the storm we face, we are commanded to trust in God and seek His refuge.  Even if the waves are pouring in we must understand we will never sink.  We will never perish.  Even were we to perish from this Life, if we cling to the true life-giver we will LIVE.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Just as the church served as our refuge from the storm, God is always our spiritual refuge in times of trouble.  His arms are open wide, His word is living and true, and His love for us knows no bounds.

Related reading: Seasons and Mary

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?