Excursus during a Cold: Shared Suffering

I don’t get it. At least not as I would like to. (a) How can suffering be accepted as good? And (b) How can my suffering be connected with that of You, Jesus, and offered up for the salvation of the world? Does not compute! Please show me.

  • You said For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [Mt 7:8][1] Well, I’m asking, seeking, knocking.
  • You said: Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you. [Mt 13:11] This is certainly one of those mysteries…why You had to suffer and die to redeem us.
  • You said: If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Well, suffering is certainly taking up my cross.
  • Paul writes: The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. [Rom 8:16-18] “Only if we suffer with You so that we may be glorified with You.” You seem to make suffering a sine qua non!
  • Peter writes: But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. [1Pet 4:13] While You have him qualify the type of suffering: whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name. [1Pet 4:16], I’m suppose to rejoice exultantly at something that is repulsive to the flesh.

Perhaps that’s at least part of the answer: it may be repulsive to the flesh, but it is to be embraced by the spirit in obedience to You, Father, who have placed it in my life at this time, to give witness to my belief and adherence to You, Jesus, the answer, the reason for living, the Truth, the ultimate sine qua non!

This “obedience” thing seems to be the major reason. Such obedience seems, at least on the surface, like the Charge of the Light Brigade, “Some one had blunder’d: Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do & die, into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.” [2] But You don’t blunder. All You do is ultimately for my greatest happiness….Is the obedience of suffering a bloodless, though suffering, martyrdom, in the original sense of the word: “witnessing,” actively, passively, witnessing to You, to Your wisdom, to Your love shown in ways I don’t understand but accept? You certainly placed this here, now, for me to endure. Help me understand.

Certainly You didn’t exempt Yourself or Your loved ones from this ordeal. I’m rather sure Mary would have opted out of unwed motherhood by an unbelievable father. And Joseph would have preferred to have his espoused presented without child. They both would have preferred that the teenage Jesus not have gone off on his own and left them frantically searching for three days. You, Jesus, would probably have preferred not to have been cast out into the desert by the Spirit, the same casting out of exorcism and the money changers from the temple. I’m sure it would have been much easier for You to have a place to lay Your head. I’m sure not only that You could have had that cup pass from You, but also that You would not have had to have had such sure and detailed knowledge of exactly the torture You were to undergo so long in advance…what a recipe for sleepless nights! I’m sure Stephen would have preferred not to have been stoned, Paul beheaded or Peter crucified. But in all these instances, the answer is the same: not my will but Yours be done. [Lk 22:42; Mk 14:36] A deep trust, a deep faith, an adamantine belief that Your way, God, was the best way, the only good way, the true way, the way that lead to their greatest happiness and the happiness of the world.

Perhaps another part of the answer is Your training me, helping me, forcing me to let go of my need, my craving, my addiction to controlling everything that happens in my life….and, by my personal ludicrous and vaguely malicious interpretation of the 2nd great commandment, everybody else around me. It’s a type of self-idolizing, actually disobeying the 1st great commandment: “I’m perfect, I know everything, I am god, at least for this corner of the world, and therefore what I say goes.” However, when the rug is pulled out from under me by illness, injury, disaster, etc., You force me to refocus, reevaluate, reestablish communication with You, the source of all help, all healing, all love. Maybe that’s why so many of us become ill just before we die; You want to get our attention, to reconnect, to help us reprioritize before it is too late, to remind us that we are going to be meeting with You soon for our end-of-lifetime evaluation and, if we need to make any adjustments, forgive others and be reconciled with You and they, this is the only time to do it.

I may wander away again, reconstruct my fallen idol of self-sufficiency, let you fade into the background, but for the moment, You are center stage, my Hope, my Savior. I just need Your help to realize, to accept and to retain You there always. Sniffle, sneeze, cough, drip, wheeze, expectorate, sigh. Amen. Alleluia!!!

 

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1854, http://www.nationalcenter.org/ ChargeoftheLightBrigade. html#sthash.1NIf3a5r.dpuf

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Eucharist, Part II: The Reality of the Sacrifice

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. [1] [1Cor 11:26]

One aspect of the reality of the Eucharist is the reality of the sacrifice, the offering, the oblation, new and eternal covenant in Jesus whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, [Rom 3:25] blood which He gave in obedience to His Father in reparation for my sins. I couldn’t do it; I am a sinner. God couldn’t do it; He is the sinned against. The God-Man, Jesus, needed to do it, taking upon himself our sins and becoming our divine/human oblation expressing our sorrow for sin, and God’s acceptance of our sacrifice, our “making holy” of ourselves.

It is very clear that, instead of holocausts and sin offerings, Jesus offers the Father what He wants, what He wanted from the beginning, from Eden: Behold, I come to do your will. His perfect obedience, even to drinking the cup of death, is the one sacrifice for sins; it not only counterbalances but completely obliterates sin which, at its root, each and every one of which stems from disobedience to God. [Heb 10:8-9,12]

In order to take part in His sacrifice, His “making holy,” I need to join Him in some way; it is my sin, it therefore must be a sacrifice on my part. But even if I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over to be martyred, I gain nothing [1Cor 13:3] if I am not connected, not part of Christ, not part of Love incarnate, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.[1Jn 4:8-9] That word life rings a bell… Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. [Jn 6:53, 57]

But that’s not the end of the story: In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.[1Jn 4:10] Through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh [Heb 19-20]. I must become part of His sacrifice, partake in His real flesh and blood, which He offered to the Father once for all on the Cross and which is perpetuated forever in the sharing of Himself at the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

Without His real presence, His body and blood which we partake, all this remembering becomes just a mime, a play, a pious but literally unsubstantial, i.e. without the substance of Jesus present, reenactment of a script instead of what truly happened, what truly happens and truly will happen until the end of time, Jesus eternal sacrifice to the Father in which He invites us to join, He blesses, breaks and gives to me to eat, gives to me to drink.

Neither the author of Hebrews, Paul, or the Church would put such emphasis into our attitude, our reverence, our self-cleansing for an unsubstantial reenactment: Let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. [Heb 10:22] Nor would there be such emphasis on participation: We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near. [Heb 10:25]

Nor would participating in a memory unworthily be cause for condemnation. But if I receive the true body, the true blood and then sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, my joining with Christ no longer remains a sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries. As Hebrews points out by comparison: Anyone who rejects the law of Moses is put to death without pity on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Do you not think that a much worse punishment is due the one who has contempt for the Son of God, considers unclean the covenant-blood by which he was consecrated, and insults the spirit of grace?[Heb 10:26-29] Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.[1Cor 11:27,29]…Without discerning the body, without believing that Jesus is really present, that this bread is His Body, this wine His blood…You have to believe or answer for your unbelief. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup.[1Cor 11:28] It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. [Heb 10:31]

I do not pretend to understand the total picture. I do know that in order for this sacrifice to be real, here, today, He has enabled us, through the priesthood handed down from the Apostles, to do this in His memory, to call again on the Spirit, to enact His Sacrifice and to invite me to join Him in offering to the Father myself, to transubstantiate again bread and wine into His body and blood and offer them again on our altar in West Pawlet, in Moscow, in Johannesburg, in Beijing, yesterday, today, tomorrow until the end of time.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.