Lent, Suffering, and the Death that Brings Life

Lent is here, and quite frequently the weather suits the sombre tone of the season. Ashen gray skies and the bare reaching arms of trees create an atmosphere that is at once stark and solemn.

Yet this season is not entirely bleak or without hope. Warmer days replete with sunshine break up the gloom, and bird songs welcome the green buds shooting forth from once barren trees. Green grass breaks forth in clumps among the coarse and yellowed remnants of the year before. Spring is a time of death mingling with new life—the dormant world waking up with a lingering yawn.

It would be difficult to imagine a time more suited to the Lenten season, in which we remember the death of Christ, but also look forward to his glorious resurrection. It is a time when we remember the death that brings new Life. For the great paradox at the heart of Christianity is that a Death was the remedy for death. It was in losing his life that Christ brought new life to the world.

…. Catholic theology operates on the idea of participation. That is, Christ came to earth and died on the cross, not so that we could avoid death and suffering, but so that he could transform the inevitability of death and suffering from the inside out. By communion with him, by participation in his cross, we could receive eternal life.

After all, what is the fate of each and every human being? Death. It is the great equalizer. No matter how rich, famous, beautiful, or healthy we are, we will all die sooner or later. Death is the consequence of sin, for sin is a movement away from God who is Life itself. Sin is therefore by definition non-Life. It is death by its nature. And because our first parents chose sin, death is the fate of every human being.

Our enemy was gleeful at our demise. He meant for our death to be eternal, and for our physical death to be the gateway into eternal doom. But Christ came and changed all that. He embraced death and death could not hold him. He transformed it from the inside out, changing it from the gateway to eternal death to that of eternal life. In the words of the Byzantine liturgy, “He trampled down death by death.”

Put another way, Christ did not suffer and die so that we do not have to—he suffered and died so that our suffering and death could be transubstantiated into a means of life. He embraced the cross not to keep us from it, but so that our crosses could be changed from instruments of death into healing remedies that bring life.

As baptized Christians, we are members of the body of Christ. We are incorporated into him and we live in communion with him. This communion means that we share in his life—not by making some act of intellectual assent, but by living his life after him. And living his life after him requires carrying the cross after him and sharing in his death. The cross is the price of eternal life.

This is the meaning of Jesus when he said, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Could there be any clearer sign that he did not come to keep us from the cross? No, rather he came to transform our crosses into the means of life.

Having been instructed by Christ himself, St. Paul understood this well. “I die daily.” “I have been crucified with Christ.” “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “The cross is foolishness to them that are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.” The cross was always in his heart and on his lips, for it was to him, as it is for us all, the means of eternal life.

Suffering is inevitable. To varying degrees, we will all suffer. And with a similar certainty, we will all die. It could be said that a cross lies at the heart of human existence. But the cross need not be a fate to be feared. Our Lord trampled down death by death. In the greatest paradox of all, he changed death into a means of life. What was once our doom is now our salvation.

“You must accept your cross,” said the holy St. John Vianney, “If you bear it courageously it will carry you to heaven.” This Lent, let us not fear or flee the cross, but carry it with love and with hope, as the means not of death but of eternal life.


(c) Sam Guzman | Link | Note: The entire article is available in the given link.

THE LOUD SILENCE OF ST. JOSEPH

“We can have recourse to many saints as our intercessors, but go especially to Joseph…” 
– St. Teresa of Avila

By Fr. Steve Grunow

Tomorrow the Church celebrates the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the guardian of the Christ-child.

The Gospels are very clear that Joseph is not the father of the Lord Jesus.  The child born of the Virgin Mary is God and has no earthly father.  The body of Christ’s human nature is created by what the scriptures describe as “the power of the Holy Spirit.”  If this explanation confounds us, we are rightly confounded.  Christ is like us inasmuch as he shares with us a human nature and lives a real human life. And yet, Christ is unlike us inasmuch as he is the singular instance in which a divine nature and a human nature share communion in a divine person.

Simply expressed, Christ is God and man.  It is because of Christ’s willingness to accept a human nature with all its limitations that we are able to participate in his divine nature.  This participation, a gift given to us by Christ, is the most profound mystery of the Faith.

The mind can apprehend this mysterious revelation, even appreciate the “why” of it, but cannot fully understand the “how” of it all.

We can imagine that Joseph himself did not fully understand the circumstances surrounding Christ’s conception and birth, but he was able to love what he did not fully understand. It is in this love that both his faith and his sanctity are revealed.

The Scriptures for today’s solemnity are redolent of the Messianic expectations of Israel by which is meant the passionate belief professed by the descendents of Abraham that God would raise up from one of their own people a Savior who would manifest in word and deed the power of God.  The revelation of the Messiah would change Israel and the world forever.

The first scripture is a small section from the Second Book of Samuel that presents the prophet Nathan speaking to King David about his future heir.  David will have a son who will accomplish something that David will not.  What will the son of David do?  Build the Lord God a magnificent temple.

King David’s son, Solomon, would accomplish this feat and would do so with such glory that generations after its destruction, his temple is still remembered as one of the most glorious of all human artistic achievements.  However, the Church does not present this scripture from Second Samuel today so that we can remember Solomon, son of David, but Jesus, the Son of David!

Jesus, the Son of David, whose ancestry is traced back to Israel’s royal family through Joseph, is King David’s rightful heir.  Christ bears the legacy of Israel’s kingship and he builds a temple.  But the temple Christ builds is greater than Solomon’s.  How so?  Because the temple of the Lord Jesus is the Body he reveals in the Incarnation.  God reveals himself in the human nature of Christ in a way that is likened to how the divine presence fills the sanctuary of Solomon’s temple with glory.

The second scripture for today presents an excerpt from St. Paul’s magnificent letter to the Romans.  The Letter to the Romans is St. Paul’s “magnum opus”, his crowning literary achievement.  The letter reads as an extended argument that the Apostle to the Gentiles is making on behalf of his conviction that the extraordinary revelation of Christ has had an extraordinary effect on Israel.  Israel has been transformed as a result of Christ’s revelation, and the Letter to the Romans is describing what Israel once was, is now, and will be in the future because of the Lord Jesus.

This particular scripture from Romans references Abraham, whose great story is told in the Old Testament Book of Genesis.  Abraham is the founding patriarch of God’s chosen people, a people who will take their name from Abraham’s grandson, who was called Jacob or Israel.  St. Paul cites the promise God made to Abraham that he would have limitless descendents who would all manifest the faith Abraham to the world.

It is St. Paul’s conviction that it is Christ who delivers this promise, transforming Israel so that its numbers can truly be limitless and providing the means by which the God of Abraham would be known by the whole world.  How?  St. Paul sees all this happening in the Church, which is Israel transformed.  Christ has enabled the whole world to become, through the Church, descendents of Abraham and followers of the one, true God.

The Church gives the priest the option of choosing one of two Gospel passages for today.

One of these choices, from the Gospel of Luke, describes a curious event in which Joseph and the Virgin Mary lose the Christ child, only to find him in the temple of Jerusalem.

This particular Gospel hearkens to the theme of the reading for today from Second Samuel with its allusion to the temple.  Luke is comparing and contrasting the old and new temples- one built of stones and culture in the city of Jerusalem and the other built of flesh and divinity in the Body of Christ.  His message?  The true meaning and purpose of the old sanctuary can only be fully appreciated in relation to the new sanctuary. The God whom we seek can only be found in the temple of Christ’s Body.

The other Gospel for today is an excerpt from the Gospel of Matthew.  Thjs scripture makes it clear that the child born of the Virgin Mary is not the son of Joseph, or of any other man for that matter, but the Son of God.  In this respect, the Gospel of Matthew is not just hinting at Christ’s true identity, but he is, in the opening of his Gospel, revealing Christ’s identity explicitly.  Who is this Jesus?  He is God, and he has come for a particular purpose: “to save his people from their sins.”

The rest of the Gospel of Matthew will demonstrate how this salvation from sin actually happens, but what Matthew wants us to know from the beginning is that it is God who is acting to reveal himself in Christ.  The Gospel of Matthew, indeed all four Gospels, are telling us that God has revealed himself in Jesus of Nazareth, who appeared to be the son of Joseph, but who is in fact the God of Israel himself.

I have now told you a great deal about the Lord Jesus and very little about Saint Joseph, which might strike you as odd given that tomorrow is his great solemnity.

However, my inability to say all that much about Saint Joseph follows a lead from the Scriptures, which are mostly silent in regards to details about him.  After the story of Christ’s birth, Saint Joseph seems to disappear from the narrative of Christ’s life as it is recorded in the Gospels. Generations subsequent to the writers of the Gospels treasured many pious legends about Saint Joseph, and the Church assures us that he remains an actor in the life of the Church to this very day, but in terms of personal details, anecdotes, true life stories, there is silence.

Perhaps the silence of Saint Joseph is his most profound witness.

Saints are not celebrities, who leverage every detail about their lives as a means to be known and recognized.  A saint is someone who in their desire to be like Christ is able and willing to disappear into the mission God gives to them.  For some saints, this mission brings with it a great deal of attention.  But for most saints, the life of grace involves a much lower profile and a death to self which requires an immersion into the most ordinary of circumstances. These circumstances are accepted by the saint because they know that it is precisely in the experience of what is apparently ordinary that God is accomplishing extraordinary things.

Therefore, it is all of us, who right now find ourselves immersed in the mission to be the unnoticed saints of ordinary circumstances, who know that the silence of Saint Joseph speaks louder than any words.

http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/the-loud-silence-of-st-joseph/4692/

God’s Messenger to the Weary

DR. MARK GISZCZAK

Life can be a grind. Getting up early, staying up late, working hard—all of it can take its toll and cause us to lose sight of what our life is supposed to be about. The grind can actually wear us out, make us weary. In those moments, we need a certain spiritual encouragement, some help to get up and keep going. Our own inner self-encouragements aren’t enough to get us back on track. That’s when we need a messenger from God.

God’s Messengers

In the Bible, God sends lots of messengers: The “angel of the Lord” appears to many people. God sends the angel Gabriel to Mary. He sends Moses to the Hebrews. He sends Samuel to Saul. He sends the prophets to Israel and Judah. He even sends a donkey to Balaam. But here in Isaiah, God promises to send a different kind of messenger—one who will not only bear his word, but who will also suffer on behalf of the people. This messenger is often referred to as the Suffering Servant. Our first reading constitutes the third of the four Servant Songs in Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13–53:12). Often we feel left alone, apart from God, lost in the vastness of the universe, but in fact he repeatedly reveals himself to us through a multitude of messengers like the Suffering Servant who comes with “the tongue of those who are taught” (Isa 50:4 RSV). We don’t think about tongues much, but the ancient Hebrews viewed the tongue as the organ of speech. The Servant’s tongue has received special training so that he can bring God’s message to his people.

Confronting Weariness

In particular, his message is for the “weary” (Isa 50:4). He comes to lift up, help, sustain the weary. By his very speech, he will encourage them, awaken them. His project of waking up others parallels his own experience of the word of the Lord coming to him “morning by morning.” The Servant gives what he has received from the Lord and its effect is similar. It wakes him up and he uses it to rouse others from their weariness. The rare Hebrew word for “weary,” yaseph, is only used once elsewhere by Isaiah: “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Isa 40:29 RSV). The ancient Jews were weary from the oppression of foreign empires, Assyria and Babylon, and from their experience of exile from their homeland. These ancient conflicts prefigure the great conflict of sin. Our oppressor, sin, finds ways to enslave us, to drag us down, to trap us into addictive patterns, but the Servant preaches a word to us that can free us from the “weariness” of sin.

Suffering for Sin

The Servant does not stop with mere words, but puts his money where his mouth is. He takes the awful weight of sin—not his own sin, but the people’s sin—upon himself. He insists upon his fidelity to the Lord. He does not “turn back” nor is he “rebellious.” But in the face of grave opposition:

I gave my back to the smiters,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I hid not my face from shame and spitting. (Isa 50:6 RSV)

The Servant is willing to undergo physical harm and public shame for the sake of his message. The angry crowds who oppose him will not hold back his mission of proclaiming the Lord’s word to the weary. The punishments Isaiah lists match up remarkably well with Jesus’ experience on Good Friday when his back is whipped (Mark 15:15) and the soldiers spit on him and hit him (Matt 26:67). The Suffering Servant bears the sins of the people and takes their deserved suffering upon himself, though he is innocent and undeserving.

The Unshameable Servant

All of the punishments that he suffers are designed to shame him, to humiliate him, to dishonor him. Notably, ancient peoples were far more concerned about honor and shame than we are, yet we can still feel the sting of embarrassment that comes from losing your cool, having your name attached to something smarmy, or having a piece of broccoli stuck in your teeth during your end-of-the-year sales presentation. In the case of the Servant, those seeking to shame him into capitulation or inner crisis will fail. They won’t be able to destroy his confidence. Why? Because his hope, his honor, does not reside in mere public opinion. His hope is in the Lord. He looks forward to the day when the Lord will “vindicate” him:

For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded;
therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
(Isa 50:7 RSV)

With his confidence totally in the Lord, public shaming cannot stick. It falls away as he trusts in the Lord’s vindication. What seems like failure today will prove to be victory tomorrow. What looks like a disaster for his message on Good Friday will be shown to be a triumph on the third day. The Servant, with his rock-solid reliance on the Lord, will prove unshameable.

While many forces constantly advertise to us, teach us, inform us, or “notify” us, the messengers of God are the ones we really want to be listening to. In fact, in the end, God sent just one ultimate messenger, his very own son. He comes with a message of repentance, healing and encouragement, which in fact fulfills another Isaian passage: “a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench” (Isa 42:3 RSV). The Servant hears from the Lord, speaks to the people, and offers a rousing word to the weary. He persists in proclaiming, despite persecution, and, in the end, he is vindicated. When we feel weary from the burdens of this life, we can listen again to his inviting words and find the strength to endure: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28 RSV).

 

Link: http://catholicexchange.com/gods-messenger-to-the-weary