June 16, 2017
Reading 1 2 Cor 4:7-15
“Brothers and sisters:
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the Body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
For we who live are constantly being given up to death
for the sake of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith,
according to what is written, "I believed, therefore I spoke,"
we too believe and therefore speak,
knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus
will raise us also with Jesus
and place us with you in his presence.
Everything indeed is for you,
so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people
may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.”
Dear fellow pilgrims,
If the letters of St. Paul had a highlight reel, the first reading would no doubt be in it. It reads like something you'd hear a leader say to their warriors to psych them up before going into battle, or during a battle, to not lose heart in the fight. St. Paul is talking about the “paradox of the ministry” here, and it is one we often hear much about in Christianity: to truly live, you must die to yourself. It is said many different ways, and, if you’re like me, you hear it and think, “Wow, that’s so poetic and beautiful.” And it is… but it is also signifying the very heart of truest hardships of life, which, if you are in the thick of them, are not poetic and beautiful.
There’s a wide gulf between talking about the value of going through hardships and actually BEING in the walking-through-the-sludge, taking-it-day-by-day, just-trying-to-keep-it-together stage of hardships. It’s the difference between knowing someone who has dealt with a near-fatal brush with illness (as an example of a hardship) and only being able to say, “I’m so sorry for what happened to you,” and BEING another person who has gone through a similar hell and saying “I’m so sorry for what happened to you.” There’s a look, a gulp, a sinking feeling in your stomach when you can truly empathize with a person and not just do your best to sympathize.
That difference between sympathy and empathy is why our God became Man, was tempted in every way, and yet, was without sin. That salvific empathy is why He took our sins upon Himself even though He had not sinned.
St. Paul is saying, here, that hardships are an integral part of the Christian life, being “afflicted,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” “struck down,” “dying.” The easy, calculated, independently crafted Christian life is not a Christian life at all. What is not a part of the Christian life? What does God not want for us? Being “constrained,” “despairing,” feeling “abandoned,” “destroyed.” Unlike those who do not believe in a god, it is not just up to you to BE the difference between these things. No, Christians know that God has given us a “treasure…that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.”
Spoken a different way… we will suffer, but as Christians who believe in both a Crucified and Resurrected God, we do not need take these sufferings dictate how we respond to them.
We will be confused and full of unknowns, but we need not lose hope.
We may be treated poorly and unfairly by others, but we will not be alone in this.
We may be harmed, but our faith need not pass away.
If we never have faith enough to risk being confused, being treated poorly, being harmed, suffering… we will never have faith to truly see Christ. He endured all hardships (including ones we could not have endured!) so that He would truly know us in the hardest parts of being known.
In the same way, the Catholic Church exists to translate how to live the life of Christ in the current day. And this involves sacrifice, a dying to one’s self. Do we truly believe this? How often do we see Church teaching as something that just makes our lives more complicated, confusing, instead of the beautiful law that will conform us to Jesus? Don’t get me wrong, there is goodness in following Church teaching without the perfect disposition, but being OK with that and not striving for more is growing closer to the mediocrity and lukewarmness that Christ says He will reject, or “spit out.” (find verse here) This is where the strength of our faith is tested!!
Lately, Aidan and I have been practicing natural family planning in a very unpredictable postpartum time, and frankly, we’ve not been too jazzed about it. To be real, we have been faithful to Catholic teaching, but this faith has not penetrated the depth of our hearts like it should. We have been following Church teaching, but begrudgingly. In every NFP meeting with our nurse, she asks us how “open” we are to unplanned pregnancy. Every time, we say that we are open, in that we will not abort our child should we get pregnant again before our ideal timeline, but we laugh a little because we both know that that is NOT what we want right now.
But today, after our NFP meeting, as I was holding Leo sleeping on my chest before putting him to bed, I realized that I was content with feeling the same fear that leads other couples to abort their children, only because I knew I wasn't going to act on it. I was content in doing what the Church asked of my outward actions, but doing so with a miserly heart… not giving what God is really aiming to change, not allowing myself to go past the fear and into the faith that God will provide through whatever hardship we may encounter. I was resisting the paradox of the Christian faith, that in my giving up, my letting go, my dying to my plans, that I would not be led to a more beautiful place of encounter with Christ and the truly more beautiful picture He wants for my life than what I could craft for myself. And that doesn’t mean Aidan and I should throw out NFP altogether, it just means I needed to acknowledge in my heart Who is the chief creator, even though I am a co-creator, of MY life, and any possible life within me.
I hope you see the parallels of my personal example to the first reading… And I invite you to think about an area of your own life that fits into this category:
What “Christian thing” or “Catholic thing,” a teaching or expectation of you, are you living out in action but not allowing the Lord to change your heart through suffering and greater trust? What is at the root of this? Is it that you are resentful that other people’s lives are “easier” than yours? “More fun” than yours? That God will not provide?
Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. “Why, oh Lord, do I resist trusting you more deeply? Reveal me to myself. I want to be closer to you. I do not want to resist suffering for and with You.”
May we always learn deeper and deeper the truth of forsaking all for the sake of Christ! And may we all seek to build each other up in faith and love!