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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lynette Offering your suffering Prayer

Memories on the Other Side of Our Humanity

memories, humanity

Of all the memories I have, I ran from one memory in particular for decades, its wreckage surfacing periodically in the waters of my soul – ugly pieces covered in sharp barnacles, full of wormholes, severely waterlogged. Over the years, I tried to remove the pieces on my own, struggling under their weight, injured in the process by their rough surface. One day, almost drowning in the wreckage around me, I gathered the pieces in desperation and flung them far into other waters – the waters of God’s limitless ocean of Mercy, the very ocean that flowed as blood and water from Jesus’s pierced side as He hung on the cross. It was only then He revealed to me the divine hidden amid the wreckage.

There is another I cling to, its embers stirring periodically in the fire of my soul – tiny pieces glowing with hot intensity, waiting to be rekindled, flame ablaze. Like a pouting, spoiled brat who doesn’t want to hand over the cookie jar, I hold fast.  Tucked safely in the depths of my heart, it mustn’t consume, yet it must be remembered. I fight to keep it balanced there, fearing the treasured details will fade, never to be felt again. Jesus, knowing my stubbornness, waits patiently, but His questioning is persistent. “What will you choose?” “Not yet,” I beg, knowing full well that until I do, He cannot reveal the divine hidden amid the beauty.

In all of God’s extraordinary creation, only humanity has the ability to reminiscence or recollect. “To be human is to have a collection of memories that tells you who you are and how you got there.” (Rosecrans Baldwin) In our weakened humanity, we are sometimes unwillingly bound to memories that are forced upon us. As an event unfolds and rushes into our minds like an avalanche, we feel helpless against the onslaught of each vivid detail. Those are the memories we run from, pushing them deep into the dark recesses of our minds the moment they try to surface. “Memories have huge staying power, but like dreams, they thrive in the dark, surviving for decades in the deep waters of our minds like shipwrecks on the sea bed.” (J. G. Ballard) Diving deep into the waters of that sea creates memories of its own, ones with perhaps too great a price tag. So, we flounder about on the surface, avoiding the wreckage that floats around us. “For people like me, who have blocked out a chunk of their past, you wonder – if you open that door, if you walk into that room of your memories, what will happen? Will it destroy you or will it make you stronger?” (Tim Daly)

The other side of our humanity cherishes the memories that make life meaningful.  We strive to capture moments in photographs, even though the images will never match our experience. Entries are written in diaries and journals, the writer hoping to memorialize the event despite the limitations of written language. Mementos are placed with love in carefully chosen boxes or containers, their existence a tangible reminder of what we fear we will forget. And those definable moments that are incapable of being captured are etched into the very fibers of our hearts and minds. Frozen in time, we visit the memory again and again, hoping to relive the experience in its completeness.

All memories, from the most horrifying to the most beautiful, have one defining characteristic. Trapped within the boundaries of time, those moments can neither be erased nor can they be duplicated. It is then we realize there is a letting go, a sacrifice, hidden deep within those memories. It is a letting go of our ability to change or remove that which we wish could be forgotten for all eternity. It is a letting go of our ability to transcend time and space to embrace and relive that which we hold dear. Limited by our humanness, we must accept the sacrifice of letting go, lest it crush us under its weight or eat us alive with desire.

There is One, however, whose memories will never be limited by the confines of time. Sharing in our humanity, His mortal life was subject to time, but His divine life is as present to us as when He walked this earth. The events of His life – from the horror of His crucifixion to the beauty in His miracles – are living, tangible events, not mere memories passed on through the ages. Through the grace of His divinity, we can enter into those events and experience them today just as if we were present 2000 years ago. “…and all that Christ is – all that He did and suffered for all men – participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being present in them all.” (Catechism, 1085) Seem impossible? “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) Knowing our need for His presence and as living proof, He left us with tangible signs where we can encounter Him not only through our intellect, but also touch Him through our senses: the washing waters of Baptism, the sanctifying oil of Confirmation, the transforming bread and wine of the Eucharist. He gave us signs tested by science: the Shroud of Turin and the numerous miracles of the Eucharist. What lengths He has gone to prove His presence to us, even commanding us to do likewise. “Do this in memory of Me.” (Luke 22:19)

Just as we can enter each moment of His life, He is present in each moment of our lives, whether we believe it or not.  Every moment and every memory of every moment is a chance to meet Him. That memory that hides in the darkness, afraid of being discovered, afraid of being struggled with, afraid of being brought into the light, can be brought into His Passion and Crucifixion. He has already agonized over it in the Garden. He has already conquered it on the Cross. That memory that hides in the heart, afraid it will never be felt again, afraid it will consume, afraid it will fade, can be brought into His Glorious Resurrection. He has already seen its beauty and promise. He has already felt its strength and power.

Whether we are frantically running away from our memories or desperately clinging to them, it is only when we are ready to make the sacrifice of letting go, of choosing to live in the present moment fully, that we can see the marvelous new beginning He is calling us to, birthed from the memories of our lives.

As we journey through Lent, what memories are you running from?

Can you kneel with Our Lord in the Garden and let go?

Can you place them at His feet and surrender while He looks at you with love from the Cross?

As we anticipate and celebrate Easter, what memories do you cling to?

Can you relinquish them to the power of His resurrection and believe He can raise them up to reveal their beauty?

Can you trust His promise to make all things new?

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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Offering your suffering Prayer Sarah

Offer It Up! The Sanctification of Suffering

Offer It Up

As the cold winter has given way into spring, the Liturgical Calendar tells us that it is Lent. This once was a time when kids around the globe firmly resolved to give up chocolate for the next forty days, moms put down the snacks, and dads might even leave the beer in the fridge, untouched. We sacrifice in Lent, because Christ sacrificed for us.

But have you noticed the changing trend these days? We are a people who loathe suffering. We will do anything for comfort. We’ve seemingly abandoned the idea of “giving up” and embraced the “do-gooder” attitude. Instead of giving up chocolate, we resolve to use kind words. Instead of skipping the sugar in our morning cuppa, we affirm our neighbor. Forget all this suffering nonsense! I’ll just do something “nice.”

Why are we so afraid of suffering? We are afraid to face our humanity, afraid to admit just how small we are, afraid to admit that God’s plan is so much bigger than our own?

Kindness and affirmations are lovely – they truly are – but they miss the point of Lent.

When I was growing up, my mom loved to remind us to “Offer it up!” When we offer up our pain, we sanctify it. Pain and suffering came into the world through the Fall of Adam and Eve. It wasn’t God’s original design, but the logical result of the Fall. We now need to use this pain to draw closer to Him and join in the salvation He is offering us.

When we unite our suffering to Christ, even the small inconveniences become sanctifying. Lent is when we focus on small suffering and offer it to Christ. Our small acts of joyful suffering fortify our souls. They strengthen us, so that when the suffering is big, we are strong enough to turn from sin and embrace virtue. Suffering in the small things makes us strong for the large things. Suffering, offered to and united with Christ, gives grace to our souls and sanctifies us.

We are living in a spiritual battlefield and we need to strengthen our spiritual muscles and put on our spiritual armor. Prayer and real sacrifice are our means of spiritual strength. Each small sacrifice is like a trip to the gym for our souls! We are willing to sweat it out in the gym to make our bodies look and feel great. Why not do the same for our soul?

Christ came to earth to redeem us. He came to undo the effects of Adam and Eve’s Fall. One of the main effects of the Fall is suffering. While Christ could have chosen any means by which to redeem humanity, He chose to suffer! He chose to die a bloody, painful death on the Cross.

Lent has been our time to join Him on the road to Calvary. He didn’t walk that road, handing out joyful affirmations and kind words. He didn’t stop to tell the weeping woman of Jerusalem, “Cheer up! You’re beautiful!” He suffered real pain, offered it for our souls, and died on the Cross so that we could be redeemed.

This Lent, it’s not too late to choose to offer some small, painful sacrifice to Christ. Unite it to His Passion and sanctify your little suffering, particularly as we head into Holy Week. Certainly, be kind, too, but remember that Lent is a time to reflect on Christ’s redemptive suffering and in some small way, to join Him on the road to Calvary.

 

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Allison Anima Christi Bible Offering your suffering

Line-by-Line Prayer Reflection: Anima Christi, Part 5

This is the fifth in a series of posts reflecting line-by-line on the Anima Christi.

passion of christIt’s all about the cross ~ A crucifix, that is. Cross plus corpus, for in Christ’s passion is the reminder and promise of love and salvation that strengthens the suffering.

passion1“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” Jesus freely accepted the physical, spiritual, and mental suffering that we call His passion. Had he not the choice, the free will, He would not have been fully human. He walked with people, wept with people, talked with people, listened to people, and touched all manner of people. He does this still today. He understands: “Because He himself was tested through suffering, He is able to help those who are being so tested (Hebrews 2:18).” We suffer with Him; we are redeemed with Him. Look at Jesus on the cross. He loves us.

“Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him (Hebrews 5:8-9).” Christ is also fully divine. When we go to Mass to offer our sacrifice for sin, we present Jesus, the most perfect Lamb, because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His sacrifice then is efficacious right now. “Through His suffering He will justify many…He will take away the sins of many and win pardon for their offenses (Isaiah 53:11b,12b).” We cannot ignore so great a salvation. Look at Jesus on the cross. He is God.

Crucifix in my church.
Crucifix in my church.

Time spent looking at a crucifix, contemplating His passion, is a reminder of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, His love, pain, and salvation. It can strengthen we who are sad and suffering. John Henry Newman translated the line Passio Christi conforta me as Passion of Christ my comfort be and I can attest to this. When I am stricken with anger and grief over cystic fibrosis or kidnapped schoolgirls or lying politicians or fatal accidents, staring at Jesus on a cross is a deep comfort. To think of His hurt, His love, and His gift gentles my heavy heart. The book of Hebrews tells of many saints who “died in faith, not having received what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar, acknowledging themselves strangers on earth (11:13-14).” This is how I feel when I sit with a crucifix (or if I’m lucky, sit before the huge one at my church): I greet from afar the promise of health and heaven and come to grips with living on the earth. Further on in Hebrews (12:2), we read, “Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” So I stare at Jesus’ passion on that cross and let His love and salvation flood my sad self until I think I can handle cystic fibrosis and the news without bitterness. I am strengthened and comforted. “I can do all these things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).” He is God; He loves us; He suffered for us; He won salvation for us and is preparing a place for us with Him.

“Our light and momentary afflictions are producing an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to what is seen but what is unseen, for what is seen is transitory but what is unseen is eternal (II Corinthians 4:17-18).”

Passion of Christ strengthen me.
Passion of Christ my comfort be.

 

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Alessandra Catechism Communion Confirmation Faith Formation Mass Offering your suffering Prayer Purgatory Sacred Scripture Spiritual Growth

Redemptive Suffering: The Ultimate Act of Love

As we walked back into my homeroom classroom and my seventh graders marched in the door to their seats, they knew my mood had changed.  Erasing everything from the board I wrote in capital letters:

S-A-C-R-I-F-I-C-E

Then I turned around and waited as everyone took their seats quickly and quietly.  With a perfectly-serious-teacher-face I asked, “Can someone read this word, please?”  Marisol raised her hand first, as usual, and when called on she said, “sacrifice.”  “Perfect!” I said, “now could someone please give me the definition of this word, please?”  A bunch of hands shot up in the air, I called on three or four and the definitions were spot on.    Some said, “the state or experience where one suffers,”  others gave some version of “suffering pain.”  “So most if not all of you know the definition of this word, very good.”  (I cracked a half smile.)  “So when you think of this word, who is the first person that comes to mind?”  Thankfully, most hands shot into the air and I gave a nod which they knew meant “go ahead give me the answer” and in unison, all the children ages thirteen and fourteen who, by the way, were preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation that same year, shouted “Jesus Christ!”  “That is right,” I confirmed, but proceeded with, “so why is it so hard for young ladies and gentlemen to kneel for a holy hour in honor of our Lord and Savior at Adoration?  Why is it that you can’t make it through without complaining, or whining, or slouching?  What is it that He has to do more for you, besides giving up His life and giving you Salvation, so that you can offer Him some sort of sacrifice?”

::silence::  

Some students looked down to the floor in shame.  They realized that the question that their eight-month-then-pregnant homeroom teacher was asking was a valid one.  I let the room go silent for some time.  Then I asked the children to take out their journals and write this word at the top.  They were to write as many words that came to mind when they thought of this word.  The bell rang before we could discuss this any further which was fine, I prayed the Holy Ghost would plant a seed in their young hearts.

The next day was Mass, a Friday, when the Consecration came all of the children in my homeroom class knelt almost on cue, it really looked rehearsed.  They remained on their knees until Communion time, some went up, others didn’t which wasn’t common.  “Good, I thought, they are examining their conscience from the event the day prior.”  When they returned to their pews, they all knelt again and remained there until the Blessed Sacrament was back in the Tabernacle and Father sat down.  All remained focused in prayer, with eyes closed and hands folded, even the ones that didn’t receive.  When we got back to class, they all sat waiting for our mini lesson to resume.  I wrote on the board in big letters:

“REDEMPTIVE  SUFFERING”
and in smaller print
“thank you”

This happened seven years ago.  It was the only time I ever spoke to my beloved students about this – after all, I was their Language Arts teacher, not their religion teacher – but it was a Catholic School, so I took the liberty to talk with them about something that maybe hadn’t been shared or spoken about in religion class or at home.  This past week, my home was in the path of the “frankenstorm” Sandy and we suffered a power outage from Monday around 8:30pm.  Being a native of Florida, we were prepared for this Category One storm as if it was a Category Five.  Candles went on immediately and each child received a small flash light in hand.  Initially, my thoughts went to “Dear Lord, bring our power back as soon as possible” but as the night went on and the storm passed our home making the trees, windows, and roof creak in all sorts of ways I’d never thought possible, I was given time to think about this further.  As I laid in the dark, children all around me in sleeping bags in our bedroom.  Our five kids feel asleep right away, they were sound asleep, had no worries, my husband and I had made them feel very safe despite the situation.  This didn’t mean we weren’t worried ourselves, as we had to come up with creative and resourceful ways of how would we flush toilets, take showers, eat food, you know the basics needed with children age fourteen, seven, six, four, and two.

We were able to endure three nights without power; sporadically I gave updates on my cell phone on Facebook or through instant message with family and close friends.  “I’m praying you get power soon,” they said.  We spent two nights without heat; it was about 40 outside, maybe a little colder, I wasn’t sure.  The first night of the cold was the moment when this classroom scene came to mind and I realized what a wonderful opportunity these next couple of nights would bring for our souls.  I had two choices, complain, and cry or endure it with a smile and some prayers.  Okay, I didn’t really smile, but I did offer my coldness for those poor souls in Purgatory, for my friends whom are enduring real suffering, and for those families in New York and New Jersey who were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs and lost loved ones.  So with flashlight in hand, I grabbed my Bible and flipped it open, a smile did come to my face when I read Job 2:10, “… if we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive evil?”

Suffering and sacrifice seem like such foreign words to us these days.  Everything is instant and easy.  Suffering or sacrificing to many religions is seen as a sign of fortitude or strength.  In Christianity, like the children in my homeroom shouted back in 2006, Christ was the ultimate example of Redemptive Suffering.  We are ALL called to be saints, we are all to share in the holy priesthood of Christ, our spotless victim, and together we make up the mystical body of Christ.  We are called to be non-ministerial priests which in essence means to offer ourselves up for something or someone constantly, after all, that is why God created us.  Our works, joys, pains, sufferings, praise, gratitude, and work should be offered over to God in all we do and say, especially in those hardest of times.  When we do this, we take part in the Divine Nature of Christ, we share the fruits of Calvary.

“In all things we suffer tribulation: but are not distressed. We are straitened: but are not destitute. We suffer persecution: but are not forsaken. We are cast down: but we perish not. Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake: that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us: but life in you.”
~ II Corinthians 4:8-12 

If Christ suffered in His human nature, why should we be spared?  The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson offers us a vivid image of Christ’s suffering even to the point of sweating blood in the Garden.  Our imitating Him strengthens the body of Christ, the Holy Church.  Paul tells us this in I Corinthians 12:26, “And if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it: or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it.”  By these actions of redemptive suffering, we are coordinating with God in very profound and spiritual ways and it will benefit others.  Think about it, when a friend suffers just a little for you, it builds you up.  Parents who suffer for their children, children who suffer the loss of a parent, or those of die a happy death.  When I think of this I also think of the victim souls like those saints who shared in the suffering of Christ through the Stigmata.  When they faced this “cross” they embraced and then used it to “offer it up” for others.

My favorite saint taught me so much about redemptive suffering in her book, Story of a Soul.  Saint Therese said, on page 27:

“I understood that to become a saint one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self. I understood, too, that there are many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of the Our Lord, to do little or much for Him, in a word, to choose among the sacrifices He was asking. Then, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: ‘My God I choose all!’ I do not want to be a saint by halves. I’m not afraid to suffer for You. I fear only one thing: to keep my own will; so take it, for I choose all that You will!”

I invite you to embrace your crosses and offer them for others.  It brings so much healing for yourself, brings you closer to God, and it is so pleasing to the heart and soul when you hear a friend whom you have suffered for also is healed in some way.  Saint Catherine of Siena summed this up best when she said, “The only cause of my death is my zeal for the Church of God, which devours and consumes me. Accept, O Lord, the sacrifice of my life for the Mystical Body of Thy holy Church.”

Be joyful in your redemptive suffering, my brothers and sisters in Christ because the rewards are priceless!
For further reading on Sacrifice and Martyrdom:

Redemptive Suffering, John Paul II and the Meaning of Suffering by Father John Hardon, S.J.

The Eucharist, Mary, and Redemptive Suffering by Shane Kapler on Catholic Exchange.

To Love and To Suffer, the Science of Saints on Religious Vocations.com