What kind of victory

It is rather easy, I think, in this day and age, to discount the resurrection of Jesus.

We know too much. We understand too much. Or at least we think we do.

Over the last week in NE Ohio, we have had some glorious thunderstorms. Thunder crashes, lightning flashes and the earth is deluged with the outpourings of the heavens.

I can imagine our early ancestors, faced with floods and hail and tornadoes, huddling in the back of their caves, only to emerge to offer sacrifice to the gods for whatever offenses brought forth their wrath.

Or possibly, once the storms stopped, offering sacrifices of thanksgiving for the generous rains that would refill their springs and yield abundant nourishment for them and their prey.

But we modern men and women – we understand how weather works. We know what causes thunder and lightning. We can predict our El Ninos and La Ninas. We don’t need a god to save us.

Or, at least, it is easy for us to think that we don’t.

As we accumulate more and more knowledge, we begin to think that all of those “miracles” of old can all be explained by science and psychology. Even if we don’t understand it completely yet, eventually we will.

Healings, it can be argued, are largely psychosomatic. We know about hysterical blindness and paralysis (now referred to as conversion disorders). There probably was nothing organically wrong in the first place. We know about placebo effects and that simply believing we are going to feel better often makes us feel better.

And we know that someone who has been dead for three days doesn’t suddenly become alive again. It simply does not happen – if they were really dead. And, if someone thought to be dead turns out to be alive after all, they most certainly cannot walk through walls or vanish into thin air.

Yet we modern folk know that often people see what they want to see and believe what they want to believe.

It is not so unusual for the bereaved to hallucinate visions of the deceased or feel their “presence”. It is all part of the grieving process and eventually passes.

In much the same way, the disciples probably thought they saw Jesus or felt His presence – but after a while, they didn’t anymore. Naturally, at first, they didn’t want to let go. But eventually they had to – He was gone.

No doubt they meant well in spreading the story of His resurrection. But it is just a story. A story about a good and loving man who had much wisdom to share – but it is naive (and rather silly) to believe that it is anything more.

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Yet there are a puzzling number of modern-day believers who, every year, celebrate this resurrection story and proclaim it as Christ’s “victory”.

What kind of victory do they claim this to be?

In one of their hymns, they sing that Christ “trampled down death by death” (from the Paschal troparion). In one of their Scriptures, they allege that, through Christ, they are given “victory over sin and death” (from 1 Corinthians 15: 57).

But what sense does any of this make? People continue to die every day. And they continue to sin every day.

Death and sin surround us in abundance. They seem, sadly, rather unaffected by the “victory” claimed by those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

Believers may try to cover this embarrassing reality by stating that it is spiritual death that has been overcome, not death of the body. But one doesn’t have to look far to see that many in our world show no signs of life spiritually. Spiritual death does not seem to have disappeared either.

And then there is the claim that it will all be straightened out in the end. Jesus will come again and sort out the good from the bad, assigning both groups of people to what they have merited by their lives.

While an interesting claim, there is no proof whatsoever that this is going to occur. If Jesus was truly victorious, why didn’t He sort it all out during His first coming? Why wait?

So then they tell us we must have faith. But why must we?

Why believe in a victory that appears to be no victory at all?

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It is surprising how alluring these arguments of the modern mind may feel, even to those of us who believe. They fit so comfortably with what we “know” to be true about the world, like a textbook we have read so many times that its facts seem obvious.

If you found yourself feeling uneasy as you read them, you are not alone. I actually made myself nervous.

I had to take a break to pray. I must always remember that I cannot do this alone. It is not just that I cannot write without God’s help; I cannot believe without God’s help.

I am weak. We are all weak.

At the same time, while certainly we should not look for trouble, neither should we be afraid to look the enemy in the face.

For the face we see may be that of a brother or sister who is in the grip of the evil one and does not know it. If we do not know what holds the other captive, how can we hope to set him free?

So, indeed, what kind of victory? What is it that we believe about the resurrection of Christ and why?

First, I think it important to concede that what we believe is, in a sense, “irrational”.

If God and all His Truth could be explained by human reason, He wouldn’t be much of a God at all. It is part of our ancestral sin of pride, the making ourselves out to be gods, that leads us to think that if we cannot explain it, it cannot be true.

While we may well understand it all at some point in the future, it will not be so as a result of our own efforts. His gift, to share in His life, will inevitably bring us to an entirely different level that we cannot yet comprehend. “At present I know partially; then I shall know fully…” (1 Corinthians, 13: 12).

Yet, to concede the “irrationality” of our beliefs is not at all the same as suggesting that we do not use our minds in our faith or that we are content to believe utter nonsense simply because it is appealing.

There is, in fact, very good reason to believe in the historicity of Christ’s resurrection.

The difficulty lies not in a lack of basis for belief but rather in the irrationality itself, i.e. that such an occurrence as “rising from the dead” falls completely outside of our personal human experience and ability to explain.

It would be so much easier to believe if I had seen it with my own eyes.

Short of that, we have the next best thing: ordinary people, no different from ourselves, who did indeed see it with their own eyes – and recorded what they saw.

Not only do these ordinary people tell us in the Scriptures that they were eyewitnesses, but many of them were killed because of their persistence in sharing with others the truth of what they had witnessed.

And in the sharing, they were so utterly convincing in their testimony that those they told were also willing to forfeit their lives rather than renounce what they had learned.

This is not the stuff of mere grief or hallucination.

This is something worth paying attention to…

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But can we really believe that Jesus died the same human death that all people die and then rose from the dead?

It is in our Creed. And we claim to believe it.

But just what is it we are saying we believe? What does it mean to “rise from the dead”?

This is, I believe, one of those things that our human minds cannot fully comprehend – and thus, it is a mystery. We should not expect to fully understand it.

Yet we have been told some very important details, details that point to the meaning and reality of Jesus’ resurrection, even if meaning and reality on a higher plane than our intellects can wholly grasp.

Scripture accounts inform us that the rising of Jesus was not merely a spiritual event, but also a physical reality. In other words, He had a Body that people could see and touch. In His risen state, we know that He even asked for food. Was He hungry? We cannot know. But it is very likely that He asked in order to establish to His stunned followers that He was not a ghost or apparition.

It is also revealed to us in Scripture that Jesus’ risen Body was not identical to the human Body in which He had lived 33 years and which had been crucified. It was a new Body, one that was no longer limited by time, space and the laws of nature.

And yet Scripture simultaneously informs us that it was Jesus’ Body. The report that His Body bore the wounds from His crucifixion makes clear that it was His Body and no other.

How can this be? How can the Body of the risen Lord simultaneously be the same Body and a different Body?

This makes no sense in the realm of human logic. Up until this point in human history, the only known type of human body was an earthly body. While its workings were not (and still are not) fully understood, it was known to have certain stable properties.

Spirits or ghosts were (and still are) commonly cited phenomena. However, they have been depicted as spiritual beings not bound by the stable properties of earthly bodies. And it is precisely the absence of these bodies that has defined them as a different sort of being.

Hence, if true, the resurrection of Jesus introduces us to something altogether different from the earthly body: a spiritual or “glorified” body.

In so doing, it reveals to us to a New Life. The old life, the only one known until this time, could not accommodate the notion of the spiritual body that was encountered in the risen Christ.

And this is how St. Luke describes how the apostles were doing shortly after the coming of the Spirit – instructing people about the New Life (or simply “the Life”, in some translations).

They were not teaching the people about a new religion or a new church – but about a completely different Life, sometimes called “the Way”.

The apostles themselves did not have glorified bodies. But their lives in the Spirit were different; clearly they had been transformed. When following Jesus, we are told that they sometimes healed the sick and cast out demons.

But now they did so boldly, publicly and without hesitation – invoking the name of the risen Savior.

Even when repeatedly arrested for doing so, it seems as though these disciples could not stop. And they were not afraid to lose their earthly bodies to death in the process.

They knew there was more.

They knew that the hold death previously had on humanity had been trampled down.

The resurrection of Jesus was absolutely real to them.

Not only did it make them aware that there was a new Life, it revealed to them that this Life was now available to them and to all who would come to accept the Truth through them.

The teaching of this Truth thus became the single most important reality of their lives and they willingly, even gladly, suffered and died to carry out this mission.

And in their sufferings and deaths, they recognized bodily death as a mere transition – the Way to full union with the risen Christ who loved them and drew them into His Love.

Rather than fearing death, as man always has since the Fall, they longed for it. They longed to be with Christ.

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It is now 2000+ years later and Christianity appears to have become another “religion”. Its adherents gather in churches and carry out specified rites and rituals. They celebrate their greatest festivals, Christmas and Easter, much like nonbelievers do.

They have split into numerous factions because they cannot agree with one another. Miracles are claimed occasionally but a certain number of them turn out to be hoaxes. And one does not have search far to find sin and hypocrisy among their membership.

What has happened to the New Life? Did it ever really exist? Or has it simply grown old and died?

If one attempts to answer these questions by watching or reading the news, it might be easy to conclude that there is no “New Life” or that it was a fad that fizzled out. We see people who call themselves Christians involved in all kinds of things that seem too much like the old life. We see a lot of sin.

Yet, we must bear in mind that it has never been claimed that the resurrection of Christ removed the enemy from our world.

Therefore, it should not surprise us to see that sin has infiltrated the ranks of the followers of the Way. The enemy did not discontinue his efforts because of the resurrection. Most likely, he intensified them.

But why did God permit the evil one to remain among us, challenging us – and sometimes overcoming us? And why Jesus didn’t sort out everything immediately after His resurrection?

Thus the question remains: if Christ was and is victorious, how is it that we on earth are still at war?

What kind of victory?

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The answer to these questions lies, I believe, in revising all of our notions about victory.

The victory won by Christ was of a very different sort than what we are used to – completely different from when one team bests another in a contest, or when one country defeats another in battle.

The Lord Jesus triumphed by giving up Himself. He voluntarily allowed Himself to be demeaned and rejected, afflicted with torture and then executed.

Unlike the high priests under Mosaic law, Jesus did not offer an animal as sacrifice for Himself and the people. He had no need to offer sacrifice – for He never sinned, never cut Himself off from the Father, the source of all life.

Instead, He became the sacrifice, a sacrifice that was completely for other, seeking nothing for Himself.

His gift was one of perfect humility, perfect love.

The victories of this world requires that the other be defeated. To be a winner makes the other a loser.

The victory of Christ, in which the victor forfeits life so that the other may receive it, makes no sense to the world. It is not logical. Hence, it seems no victory at all.

But it is, in reality, the greatest victory imaginable.

The first sin, we are told, was one of pride – a pride so immense that these tiny created beings thought that they could make themselves gods. And that they could do so by being disobedient to the One Who created them.

The freedom given to the human creature became an opportunity for the evil one to twist and distort, to lure the human creature from the Way of love to a way of wilfulness and self-glorification.

This story would sound absurd to us – except that we surely recognize it at the core of our own sinfulness, as individuals and as a race.

The sacrifice of Christ completely turns this around. The most humble act, the most loving act conceivable was carried out, not just for one or a few others, but for all others.

So let us consider this: if we were to imagine that Christ’s resurrection had destroyed the devil and forcibly removed all evil from our world, how would this have changed His victory? Or similarly, if upon rising from the dead, Christ had immediately passed final judgment on all?

Well, it would have made it seem a lot more like a worldly victory, wouldn’t it? In other words, it would have made Jesus the winner and the devil, his followers and all enslaved to him the losers.

And this could not be – for the sacrifice of the Christ could not be for His own glorification or for the destruction of another and still be the same act: the most perfect, humble, loving act ever carried out by a human being.

But, having completely given Himself, with no expectation of personal gain, He could be glorified by the Father. He could receive the glorification given to Him – and He did.

Hence, in resurrection, Jesus is seen glorified – in His glorified Body, in the New Life.

He appeared – indeed, He revealed Himself – to those who believed, those whose hearts were ready to receive the truth about the New Life.

He did this not to prove His innocence or even to simply introduce them to the concept of a new life. Rather, He invited them (and us) to share in this Way – the Way of giving up oneself in complete humility and love for the other.

Thus, the Way not only enables believers to break free of the old way of sin and death, but it sends them on a mission to offer love and hope for all who remain under the grip of the evil one.

He does not want to lose a single one of us.

Yet He will never force us into the Way of Love – for it cannot be Love if it is not chosen.

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Understanding better now “what kind of victory” is at the heart of the resurrection, we are still left searching for evidence of the New Life in our world.

We see so much sin and evil around us – and it seems to only grow worse. And, disturbingly, people calling themselves Christians are too often in the middle of it.

Again I ask, has the New Life grown old? Has it died?

Most certainly it has not.

However, to see it, my heart must be humble and my eyes open. Not because the New Life is so hard to find, but because otherwise I will not recognize it for what it is.

Just as the modern mind with its secular perspective concedes that Jesus was a wise and loving person, so it can dismiss those now in the world who, through the Spirit, follow the Way, carrying Christ in their hearts.

If my heart is not humble and my eyes are not open, I may fall into a similar way of thinking.

Someone like Mother Teresa might be viewed as a sort of hero of the times, an extraordinary person. But from this vantage point, the truth gets lost – the truth that she was not the extraordinary one but rather the risen Christ dwelling within her and through her.

To those who love Mother Teresa, this might seem like heresy, but she herself knew this to be true. And so she emptied herself, to allow His humility and love to dwell within her.

And there are many more like her. Some are well-known to us – St. Therese of Lisieux and St. (Padre) Pio in the western Church, and St. Paisios and St. Porphyrios in the eastern Church. Some may never be recognized beyond the handful of people who experienced the love of Christ through them.

But they are here. They exist in every walk of life and in every country of the world.

If I allow my heart to be humbled and my eyes to be opened, I will see them for who they are – not just “good” people, but embodiments of the risen Christ.

I will see them walking among the poor – but also among the rich. I will see them loving quietly and selflessly, not drawing attention to themselves.

I will see them embracing everyone, regardless of what they believe or whether they believe – even those whose lives appear to be entrenched in evil.

And my life will be enriched – no, saved – through my contact with them and the love that emanates from them.

In fact, it has already happened to me. Many, many times over.

Every time it happens, it humbles and empties me more, preparing in my heart a deep and holy dwelling place for the risen Christ.

I become nothing and His love becomes all.

With His Spirit guiding and sustaining me, I follow the Way.

Stumbling, falling, humbled, emptied, I am almost lost – again.

And He sends yet another to pull me up that I might begin again.

I follow the Way.

May it be so – for all of us.

Amen.

 

22 thoughts on “What kind of victory

  1. Paula

    Mary,
    A wonderful piece. My attention was captured all the way through.
    It is also quite fitting you post this right after St. Thomas Sunday.
    You allude to doubts that may be encountered as we come up against the unbelief in the world. I can relate. I’ve had questions such as, why did God determine “sacrifice” as the means of redemption; what is the significance of shedding blood, why that?; as for the Second Coming, it almost seems too good to be true that we are going to see Him face to face. Many times I have prayed “Lord I believe, help my unbelief”. Yet I have never lost faith. Like you said, we need God even to have faith, to believe. Like Thomas, He understands our limited minds and allowed him to touch His hands and His side. In a sense, He allows us to touch His hands and side when we come to Him with our doubts. One of my favorite lines of scripture is the short but powerful response..”My Lord and My God”. He answers our questions in a way that we can comprehend, as they say, in the measure of the grace given to us.
    One thing came to mind reading your article. Your point is well taken regarding our modern, “advanced”, progressive culture. I think about my grandparents, from the old country. They came to America at the turn of last century, on a ship, via Ellis Island, had nothing pertaining to material possessions, they were “uneducated”, always spoke very broken English, but still very able to build a new life here in this country. One thing that my grandparents always had was an unquestionable faith, belief in God. All those questions that you list in the beginning of your article AND the questions of doubt I had, I would venture to say, never ever ever entered into the mind of my grandparents! Never! What I’m saying here is that all these great advances of knowledge, science, technology has done nothing whatsoever to foster the union and communion between us and God. There is a reason that what we call “third world countries” are more spiritual than the “first world” ones. Some may say it is due to ignorance. But here’s what St. Paul said: “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.” No kidding, huh?!
    Lastly, your assessment of why Christ didn’t “clean things up” right after His Resurrection, where the victory seems so unapparent, was stated so very well. It surely would have been just another worldly victory. You finish by pointing to the Way, through humility and self sacrifice…the love of Christ. Amen. Master Bless!

  2. mary Post author

    Thanks, Paula, for your reflection.

    Somewhere I read someone’s idea that doubt is a sin and I do not accept that – at least not “doubt” in the common use of the word. While certainly some of our worldly “advances” add to the doubts people have, some of us are just deep thinkers. I am not suggesting that it is better to be a deep thinker, as I admire the simple but profound faith of people like your grandparents. However, for those of us who are drawn to deep thinking, doubt is often part of the process of refining and deepening faith.

    I admit to little patience, however, for the study of theology, though it certainly may be a legitimate vocation for others. My own searching tends to be more from the heart and through prayer, though I don’t shy away from basic resources.

    A perfect example of this involves the question you raised regarding sacrifice as a means of redemption. My “heart answer” is that the means of redemption is love, not the sacrifice itself (see Hosea 6:6). But what does love consist of? We know that the words of love are easy to say but can often be superficial or even false. But, as written by Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing…”

    Indeed, the clearest sign of love comes when some degree of sacrifice or self-giving is involved. The love of parents, for example, is evident when they stay up in the night with a sick child – for they are sacrificing their own needs/desires for the other (the child). Similarly, the animal sacrifices outlined in Mosaic Law never suggested that a wild animal be killed and specifically banned sacrificing animals that were sick or deformed. Taking from one’s own herd (or purchasing an animal) involved sacrifice – taking from oneself to give to God.

    Certainly, we moderns may wonder why Mosaic Law prescribed animal sacrifice at all. Though I am far from an expert on such subjects, a bit of reading tells us that animal sacrifice was virtually a universal feature among ancient religions and it is possible that the Law was an attempt to draw the Children of Israel to a higher level – so that they were not sacrificing their children, for example (only “redeeming” their firstborn).

    The Law may also have been to lead the people to a basic understanding of “sacrifice” as part of a love-relationship with God. Hebrews 10:1 tells us that the Law is “only a shadow of the good things to come” and that the sacrifices under the old Covenant could never take away sin. (Also see verses 5-6.) God may have been preparing His people. But I am just speculating – I’m sure many know more or have written more. I just don’t have the patience to read it!

    I also heard or read somewhere that Jesus did not save us by how much He suffered but by how much He loved. And Jesus Himself told us, “No one has greater love than, this to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Hence, Love = sacrifice = giving up of one’s life for other. Yes, it is the love that saves us…

  3. mary Post author

    Hi Learning…

    It is good to take time to digest. I too often hurry through my “meal” and do not savor.

    I am honored that you choose to consume my ramblings and welcome your reflections if you wish to share them.

  4. albert

    You summarized a modern “sign of contradiction,” Mary, when you wrote, “They have split into numerous factions because they cannot agree with one another. Miracles are claimed occasionally but a certain number of them turn out to be hoaxes. And one does not have search far to find sin and hypocrisy among their membership.”

    This is a hard one for me. Harder than anything in Creed. My pride at work, no doubt. Yes, and my doubts. I liked what Paula said about St. Thomas, how there’s a reason he gets recognized (in Eastern liturgies) on the first Sunday after Easter.

  5. mary Post author

    Yes, Al, this is a hard part for many Christians – and leads some to to leave the Faith.

    I have heard a good many people relate that they left the Church because of all of the hypocrisy and un-Christian behavior seen among Christians. Of course, many come to the Church because of the opposite – having seen the tremendous goodness, joy and love of believers. It is chilling to be made aware of what power we have to aid or thwart the salvation of others – without ever saying a word.

    Hence, I believe two of our greatest weapons in spiritual warfare are humility and love – for they are what effected our salvation. Naturally, the enemy wants to stir up in us doubt or feelings of disgust with the behavior of others – it serves to erode our faith and further fragment the Church. This is why it is so vital that we follow the Way – keeping our eyes on Christ instead of our neighbor lest we judge, employing humility and love with all, especially those who appear to us to have strayed from the Path. (We don’t have to judge others to love them. If others are lost, we need to love them all the more. And humility comes most readily when we realize that we too are or have been lost…)

    Thanks too for highlighting the wisdom in Paula’s words about St. Thomas. He is one of our finest examples of how the Lord comes to us doubters and gives us what we need in order to believe. (He didn’t even “knock on the door” – He just came on in. How unlike Him!) He did this too when the disciples didn’t believe the women’s reports. He knows the hearts that welcome Him, even when we are weak and afraid. (Then He gives us the Spirit so that we become stronger and less afraid.)

    How all-consuming is His love! May it forever reign in our hearts…

  6. albert

    “He didn’t even ‘knock on the door’ – He just came on in.” Great reminder, Mary! (Everything else you said also. Thank you,)

  7. Paula

    Hi Mary,
    After reading several times your reply regarding sacrifice I finally realized my focus was on the suffering of sacrifice rather than it being born out of love. It is the pain involved in the giving of one’s self, the sacrifice of love, this very sacrifice that Christ calls us to do, this ‘love in action’ that I want to very much embrace, but my goodness, it is hard. My flesh does not want to feel this pain. So THAT is why I began asking, why sacrifice, Lord? Why this shedding of blood?! Couldn’t it have been another way? OK then, I can accept Christ’s sacrificial life, I am willing to serve Him as our Lord and our God, but then He asks us to do the “irrational”! Love our enemies, die to self, take up our cross. This is why I run to Christ…I can’t do this on my own. This is why I embrace the sacraments…I trust in the mystery of their efficacy. I trust in all the Church’s teachings as the means of salvation. Otherwise I’m as good as dead.
    Albert, I so understand how hard it is to face the hypocrisy and divisions in the Church. That is second on my list, first being my own sins. Mary hits the nail on the head and identifies it as spiritual warfare, and our first line of defense being humility and love. I am greatly challenged not to judge the misbehavior of others. The devil over-magnifies these misbehavior’s which very effectively takes the focus off of my own “mote”, or rather, “log”. I struggle with this daily. I also struggle with reacting to my sins with despair…another form of pride. Again, as Mary reminds us, look to Christ. Take my eyes off myself, off others and look to Him. Seek His love. He freely gives. I have come to the conclusion that this struggle is our sacrifice, and it’s not going to go away until “all things are made new”. It waxes and wanes, it’s painful, but brings joy.
    You say it well Mary, indeed His love is all consuming! May we always press toward the mark of the high calling in Christ Jesus! (Another one of my favorite lines..always brings tears!)

  8. mary Post author

    Great discussion going here. Thank you all.

    Paula – yes, we must “run to Christ”! Certainly we cannot do any of this on our own. Allow me to add a little more on love and sacrifice.

    From some of Mother Teresa’s personal writings, published after her death.

    “My dear children – without our suffering, our work would just be social work, very good and helpful, but it would not be the work of Jesus Christ, not part of the redemption. — Jesus wanted to help us by sharing our life, our loneliness, our agony and death. All that He has taken upon Himself, and has carried it in the darkest night. Only by being one with us He has redeemed us. We are allowed to do the same: All the desolation of the poor people, not only their material poverty, but their spiritual destitution must be redeemed, and we must have our share in it.”

    Mother Teresa also welcomed people to become the “suffering members” of the Missionaries of Charity. These were people who suffered from great illness or disability and yet wanted to share in the work. With their suffering and prayers, they became a vital part of the mission to help the poor out of their destitution. “Suffering in itself is nothing; but suffering shared with Christ’s Passion is a wonderful gift.”

    After these writings of Mother Teresa’s were published, some wrongly interpreted her extended spiritual darkness as a loss of faith. Not so – for she always longed for God. She was eventually led to understand that she was being allowed to share in the spiritual destitution of the people she served – to experience the despair of a soul that didn’t know God.

    (Quotes from “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light”.)

    I can write about this but I am the most infantile of beginners when it comes to living it. There are many other great saints, both east and west, who understood and lived in union with Christ in suffering.

    St. Therese of Lisieux, who died of tuberculosis at age 24, wrote, “Do not grieve about me. I have reached a point where I can no longer suffer, because all suffering is become so sweet.” Every bit of emotional or physical discomfort had become for her one more gift she could offer Christ – out of love for Him and for the salvation of others.

    We struggle to comprehend, living as we do in a world that focuses on eliminating suffering and increasing pleasure and comfort. To willingly enter suffering seems ludicrous to the world. To those of us who believe, it can seem very frightening. But as we learn to embrace even the smallest of discomforts with prayer and love, Christ living within us will teach us and draw us further into His life – the New Life promised to us.

  9. Paula

    Mary, thank you for giving us an opportunity to share our thoughts. Also, It really is helpful to get your perspective, as I tend to narrow my thinking about complex subjects.
    Suffering. By the words of the Saints like Mother Teresa and St.Therese, if we allow Christ to do His work in us, it is through suffering that we can enter a different level of communion with Him. It is hard for me to be clear on this, but I will try. We do not have to look for suffering. It seems to find us easily enough. We see it in others and in ourselves. In our humanness we tend to avoid it. We pray for relief, and rightfully so. Our society appears to reach out to the suffering, but much is done without human contact, a voice, a touch, an embrace. Instead we send money, donations, build group homes, have special needs classes, where the suffering are clearly separate from the “normal”. (pardon the generalizations) Then there’s the Mother Teresa’s who break those barriers. They bring to life in this day what the Saints of old understood in partaking of Christ’s sufferings. This is a bit more clear to me as the year pass by. As you said, embracing even the smallest discomforts with prayer and love, Christ will teach…and draw us further into His life. I am thankful for even that baby step. I have a lot to learn and will most likely never understand the “joy of suffering” fully in this life. Don’t mean to be pessimistic but realistic!
    One more thought. The Saints that promote suffering by wearing coarse hair shirts, heavy chains under their clothes, sleep on a stone slab, eat one bean and grass twice a week (I read this. I mean, why one bean? why bother?) Extraordinary feats! I marvel at their strength. This is not your ordinary Christian, though. And these are the Saints that God grants miracle working power! To me it is a testimony to the importance of ascetic endeavor. Any thoughts on this Mary?
    And again, thank you.

  10. mary Post author

    Hi Paula,

    You wrote: “Our society appears to reach out to the suffering, but much is done without human contact, a voice, a touch, an embrace. Instead we send money, donations, build group homes, have special needs classes, where the suffering are clearly separate from the “normal”. ”

    So funny – I just was discussing this exact same thing with someone earlier today! (Perhaps it’s the Holy Spirit’s theme today…) I am reading “Ascetic of Love” about Mother Gavrilia currently and she had some wonderful words about giving to the homeless. Here is a link that I found online (hope it works): https://www.facebook.com/notes/576894145698207/

    I’ll try to comment on your other question later – it’s a good one!

  11. mary Post author

    Now on to your other question, Paula. Of course, I must note that my thoughts are just my thoughts and I don’t claim to know any more than anyone else. However, I have encountered some good reading on asceticism that has pushed my thinking.

    Sometimes the more extreme feats of asceticism strike me as being, frankly, “weird” – especially when it appears to be done only for the sake of increasing one’s suffering. I certainly understand the value of lovingly bearing the suffering which naturally comes to us in life. It seems to me that handling that is (more than) enough for most people.

    It is not difficult for me to understand the taking on of suffering when doing so is clearly integrated with acts of service to others, e.g. living under harsh conditions while serving the poor.

    What I have come to understand only more recently is that for some, most often monastics though not exclusively, the primary act of service to others is prayer and penance. While it might appear that they are taking these measures merely to attain greater holiness for themselves, those who are properly motivated are doing it out of love. Many of them are praying and sacrificing for the whole world.

    I do not understand the latter vocation very well – but I think that is because it is not my vocation. So I consider – “Who am I to judge what vocation God may have given to someone else?” Yet the question does arise as to how we are to differentiate between the actions of the truly holy versus those whose extreme actions may be the fruit of delusion.

    I am not sure that this is always as easy (or as cut and dry) as it might appear. As you mentioned, when someone has miracle working power from God, it would seem that they are among the holy. Yet we need to exercise some caution – as the enemy has some power and can do some pretty fancy tricks while masquerading as an angel of light.

    What is most important, I believe, is that all actions are motivated by love and undergirded by humility. Again, these “weapons” are at the heart of our salvation and we should always anticipate seeing them in use by His greatest warriors. It is far better make small sacrifices with deep love and humility than to make great ones while falling into spiritual gluttony and pride.

    Then there are those of us who struggle to make small sacrifices and still fall into spiritual gluttony and pride. 🙂 Thankfully, God is very patient with His children.

  12. Paula

    Thanks Mary. Appreciate your thoughts.
    Especially not beating around the bush about the more extreme feats. Weird…yes, because it takes ascetics to another level. It seems to cross the line of a proper approach to denying the flesh. Then we’re faced with defining what is proper, what is normal. This is where it becomes hazy. What’s good for me is not necessarily good for another…true (alluding to your 5th paragraph about judging). But the extremes throw me for a loop.
    There is a lot written about ‘delusion’, prelest, they call it. My inquisitiveness draws me to read about these things, about the incidences of high strangeness, until I come to a point and say, ‘Paula…enough…your getting sidetracked…this is not good for you’. This goes back to the days Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone, and even better, Night Gallery. I rarely missed an episode. (Mercy!) Another example, the mystics that experienced ‘stigmata’. I’m like…what???…how?….
    It reminds me of what the folks in NY call “rubbernecking”. It’s result is a two hour traffic jam, not because of an accident blocking the lanes, but because the drivers are slowing down to gawk at the accident! The term is used daily in the traffic news reports. We’re drawn to these type of events. The media thrives on this. The more terrible the better. What is this? It seems to always to back to our fallen nature.
    Your point is well taken that Satan presents himself as an angel of light. Thankfully I am learning, slowly but surely, to listen to that ‘still small voice’ and just leave some things alone. And it’s usually after suffering a consequence that I say…’oh yeah, that voice. Now, stop’.
    The Holy Spirit is so gentle.
    You state it well, that suffering clearly integrated with acts of service to others is much more easily understood, even applauded. Look at how often Mother Theresa is quoted as an example of selfless devotion! And the monastics, yes, very much in the background, yet praying for the whole world.
    Mary, about that article by Mother Gavrilia, I loved it! Put in in my ‘favorites’ folder. The book you mentioned, I’d like to read it, but it’s one of those that must be out of print. The price ranges from $50 to $300 ! Where did you get yours?
    Thanks Mary. God Bless.

  13. mary Post author

    Hi Paula,

    There is much that we do not understand in the spiritual world. St.Padre Pio was one of the best known to have received the stigmata in recent times. He suffered greatly because of this spiritual gift. Not only was it physically painful but the Church initially made life very difficult for him.

    Many of the spiritual gifts are incredible (both amazing and hard for the average person to believe). To speak or understand a language that is unknown to you. To be seen in one place while physically in another. To know something before it happens in time. To know the names and stories of people without having been given any information whatsoever. And so on.

    It is understandable that people are both curious and skeptical about such things. They are outside of the experience of the vast majority of people. But, as I noted in this post, so is rising from the dead. I believe that the spiritual gifts are meant to be signs pointing to Christ and His resurrection – rather than having an inherent value in and of themselves.

    Indeed, too much curiosity can cause us trouble. We become distracted from the most important truth – the resurrection of Christ and our salvation. In addition, some who are unbalanced may be induced to fake these gifts in an unhealthy bid for attention or notoriety.

    RE: the book, “The Ascetic of Love”, I first obtained a copy through inter-library loan and had to do a statewide search. In my state, there were two small colleges that had copies. I found the book so helpful that I sought to buy a copy. I finally located one through AbeBooks.com that was less expensive than some but still very expensive. I’m justifying the expense because I plan to share some of the wonderful stories in it with others… and I have spent money on things of far less value.

  14. Paula

    Hi Mary,
    A very interesting, curious, and intriguing subject indeed. No doubt there is much we do not understand. It is interesting that I have no trouble with believing the resurrection of the dead, and many other supernatural events that have been recorded. But some others…I don’t know…and past a certain point, it’s better for me to just leave it alone. Safer, that is.
    Thank you Mary, for the info on “Ascetic of Love”. If I remember correctly Abebooks was in the lower price range.

  15. learningtobestill2016

    Quite a credo, Mary. We appear to be following very similar paths. Let’s hope they lead to Emmaus!

    For me, The Problem with being a Christian is The Resurrection. As I say that, I suddenly remember spending a week-end with Jesus constantly at my side. The left side, in fact. This was at the Abbey of Gethsemani, where such things happen. It has happened away from Gethsemani as well, but not very often.

    So I guess I should say that The Problem is The Bodily Resurrection. I have never seen the body of Christ and I cannot imagine what the experience would be like,

    Then again, I once saw Thomas Merton (briefly), so what is my problem?

    Fear of letting go, I think. I would love to dive backwards off the board and I know it would be safe and I know that I would love it. But I am afraid.

    Not at all what I meant to write. Hope it has been the Spirit, and not my ego, that decided to share,

  16. albert

    You are not alone in this, Learning. Thanks for the reminder.

    Good thoughts, all! I’m following and thinking how hard it is to pray. Reading seems so much more uplifting. My problem.

    But still, I am grateful to be here, for presence with others is a kind of prayer. “Wherever two or three are gathered . . .”

  17. mary Post author

    Yes, Learning… and Al,

    We are afraid. I often am too – I’m sure I write with more courage than I live.

    One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how, despite the many extraordinary things God has done for me and the many times I have been awed by what He has done in others, I seem to forget. Or not really forget…it’s more like the sense of how real and true all of this is…sort of fades.

    Once it “fades”, I find my mind readily questioning certain central beliefs of the Faith – even something as basic as whether God exists. My mind, in collaboration with my ego, doesn’t like being superseded by Mystery. And I am back to expecting that I should be able to see and understand things if they are real and true.

    Over time, I have been increasingly able to note, with some conviction, that our adversary is messing with me when this happens. And so I say the Jesus Prayer – and often that puts an end to it immediately. As St. Paisios of Mt. Athos once said, saying the Jesus Prayer is like shooting bullets at the devil.

    I try to remain “armed” at all times. (Prayer rope in my pocket!)

  18. learningtobestill2016

    “Throughout the centuries, Christian courage comes from the certainty in faith that God raised Jesus, that indeed God likewise vindicates all those who are just. It comes from encountering the risen Jesus through a myriad of ways: in Scripture and in the Eucharist, in other people and in Creation, in the many practices of prayer and contemplation. The Easter season reminds us to devotedly follow Christ – or to seek him anew – so that we too may be rooted in the conviction that God raised Jesus.”

    Florence Morgan Gillman in this month’s issue of “Give Us This Day – Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholic”

    What else is there to say, eh?

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