As I sat there closing one eye, then opening it while closing the other, going back and forth looking through each one, I thought that maybe the reason why there seemed to be a dark blotch covering half the view of my left eye was because I was tired. I went on with my day thinking it would go away after a good night’s sleep. I was wrong and found out that I was experiencing retinal detachment.
I had a great doctor, self-described “eye butcher”, who took care of me. At first I was told by others that I might need to stay on my back or stomach for 2-3 weeks. However, after one 24-hour period of staying on my back for 45 minutes of every hour (I was not allowed to even lie down at all the night before), I was able to go back to semi-normality.
This meant no restrictions in my positioning, but I was not able to pick up more than 5 lbs, including my two daughters and infant son, and was told to take it easy. I took two weeks off work and was unable to perform the tasks I was used to as a husband and father. Because of this I took kind of a tough hit. Maybe I felt like I lost my identity, maybe the seclusion and bed confinement were giving me cabin fever. I definitely felt a dark cloud descend, but I got through it and the cloud has since lifted.
Many people have it much worse than this and go through some extremely harsh trials. This causes them to question God’s goodness, power, and love. It seems like a fair question. Why would an all loving all-powerful, all-loving God allow us to hurt?
The answer to the question comes to us in the story told by the Gospels. Who knows suffering more than the Son of God, Who out of great love, came down to earth to be rejected, scorned, tortured, and killed by the very ones He came to save? And even in the midst of our greatest suffering, remembering this fact reminds us that we are immensely loved.
Furthermore, Jesus’ suffering on the cross takes away our sins. We choose sin out of free will, which is given to us by God. It is in this freedom to choose that we are able to reject God. However, without free will, we are merely robots programmed to obey, but with it, we are sons and daughters choosing to lovingly obey our Father.
Everything God created is good. It is human free will that has brought sin and the consequential suffering into the world. He allows this suffering to help us remember not to sin again and for a greater reason.
Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross to take away all sin, however, when we choose to sin, it still hurts us. It hurts our relationship with God, either venially or mortally, and every time we sin, we make it easier to choose to sin. This is done through our choice of pleasure over God.
Therefore, to undo the habit of choosing pleasure over God, we need to continually choose God over pleasure. This can come to us by choice (penance, fasting, and almsgiving), or those pains out of our control (sickness, vision loss, death of loved ones). Either way, any acceptance of suffering can make up for our sins and the we can offer it up for others.
Furthermore, it is during these times of suffering that we can unite our pain to that of Jesus’ on the cross. This is how Jesus transforms and gives value to our suffering. He takes our suffering, unites it to His own, and uses it to save us and others. In this way our suffering merits grace.
This means that a headache could help someone get to heaven. Or my eye surgery and subsequent healing process made up for many of my sins.
How good is that?! God took a consequence of Original Sin and made it into a treasure. We have a treasure in suffering in that we can help others with our pain. And really anything that causes discomfort can be offered up. This includes rejection, stubbed toes, not getting our way, burning dinner, not eating ice cream after dinner, a stomach flu, a minor cold, and much more.
Jesus came to set to the world on fire with His suffering. We can do the same with offering up our own. Our world currently commands us to avoid suffering at all costs, but imagine what it would be like if everyone embraced it like Christ embraced His cross.
In St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, he exhorts his readers to be imitators of God. I venture to say that St. Paul exhorts us to imitate Christ, who is God. After all, Paul had the encounter with the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus, which changed his life forever. How do we begin to imitate Christ? What does that look like? We can derive elements of imitation from the accounts of the evangelists to see how Christ lived His life. I’d like to propose five ways for us to imitate Christ in our daily lives.
If you want to imitate Christ, you must become a person of prayer. No less than twelve times in the Gospels, Jesus went up a mountain or withdrew to a deserted place to pray. It was in these moments that he prayed to His Father in heaven, to His Abba. In the Gospel of St. John, we find Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, in which He prays that all might be one. Jesus recognized the value of prayer, both personal and intercessory. Prayer is an essential component of being an imitator of Christ.
Jesus fed other people. Most concretely we see this in the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, when Jesus feeds the crowd of over 5,000 people. In John 6, Jesus tells the crowd that He is the Bread of Life, that they must eat His Body and drink His Blood, and if they do, they will have life forever. In the Eucharist we celebrate, Jesus feeds us with Body and Blood. After Mass we go out into our world and have the opportunity to feed other people by our works of mercy. This is how Jesus says we will be judged in Matthew 25. Jesus fed others, and if we want to imitate Him, so must we.
Jesus constantly invited people in His ministry. He invited the Twelve to follow Him, to leave their ordinary lives as fishermen or as a tax collector. Jesus invited people to come to Him, those who were sick or burdened, and He promised them rest. In our own lives we have the opportunity to invite others to know Jesus. Invite people you dine with to join you in a prayer before meals. Invite someone to go to Sunday Mass or join you for a parish program or event. Be a person who invites others to know the Lord, and when you do, you will be imitating Christ.
DIE FOR OTHERS
Don’t take this imitation literally. But Jesus did die for us, and so we should die for other people. This type of dying means giving of yourself to others. Die to your inner wants and desires, in order to allow Christ to live more fully in you. Jesus died for us, so He wants us to die to ourselves, in order to serve others, that they might have life!
The people who followed Jesus hungered for His teaching. Jesus taught throughout His ministry in varied ways, especially though parables. He taught people about the Father and about who He (Jesus) truly was. He explained to them the significance of the Israelite people eating manna in the desert. In our lives, the most concrete way we can teach other people is by signing up to be a catechist. But that takes a special calling. If that’s not how God wants you to teach, then teach by your words and actions to all you meet each day.
These five ways of imitating Christ are not exhaustive. There are so many others contained within the Gospels. I simply propose these five as a starting point. After reading all of them, you might want to do all of them. I caution you not to! In the spiritual life we often become overburdened by the tasks we want to take on. When we strive to do four or five lofty ideas, and begin to fail at one, and then a second, it is easy to become discouraged. Consider working on one aspect of imitating Christ, then when it is incorporated into your life, add another.
What would happen if our whole world sought to imitate Christ in word and action? It would be a different place! There would no longer be hate or violence, but God’s peace would reign in the world. This work begins with you and me; it begins right now, as we strive to imitate Christ in all that we do!
This topic is one that has been the subject of much reflection for me over the past several months after having read Chiara Lubich’s “Mary, the Transparency of God.” Unfortunately I do not have her text in front of me as I write this reflection because at present I am in the midst of a ten week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This idea that Mary is a harbinger and echoer of the divine returned to me in her role of always pointing to Jesus as I reflected on the life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph here in the land where they walked and lived.
Many times in the gospels Mary acts as either a harbinger or echoer of the divine voice. In her Magnificat, Mary recounts God’s goodness toward Israel and echoes the hymn of Hannah while also foretelling that all generations would call her blessed. In the Gospel of John and the Acts of the Apostles, we discover the emergence of the Church’s early devotion to (and presence of) the Mother of God.
At the Wedding Feast of Cana, Mary told the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. It would be later on Mount Tabor when the voice of God would proclaim that this is my beloved son, listen to him. Mary acts as a harbinger of the divine voice by instructing us to listen to Jesus by doing whatever he tells us.
In Mary’s acceptance of God’s will for her life by her fiat, may it be done unto me according to your word, she foreshadows how The Lord taught us to pray: “Thy will be done.” Mary’s own prayer is in concert with the future teaching of her son–and so she acts as a harbinger.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend Mass in the Chapel of St. Helen at St. Catherine Church (the Franciscan Church next to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem). In the Chapel of St. Helen, ancient murals adorn the walls. As I looked at one, it brought me back to this point of previous reflection of Mary as harbinger and echoer.
The mural depicted Jesus, who was at the center, and flanking the regal and teaching Christ were Mary and John the Baptist. Both Mary and John the Baptist have their hand outstretched, as if they are pointing to or presenting Christ to the world. I found this to be a great point for further reflection.
Parents are filled with joy and wish to share with others the joy that consumes them about their children. Whenever a child is born, the parents present them to those who wish to see the child. While one may not use this language, individuals participate in the action of beholding. Parents say to others, “Behold my son/daughter” or “Look at my child.” Mary presented the child Jesus to so many in the first few weeks following his birth. The magi and shepherds came to behold the child. In the temple, Mary presents the child to Simeon, who again beholds Christ and realizes that he may now be dismissed. Mary constantly revealed people to her Son, encouraging them to behold He who is both son of God and son of Mary.
Then consider John the Baptist, who flanks Christ in the mural. It was he who proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Like Mary, he now presents Jesus to the world for his public ministry and prepares the way. He directs attention to Christ and in response others begin to follow Christ after being invited to follow Him.
Finally, at the foot of Cross, there Mary stood with the beloved disciple. Jesus from the cross proclaims, “Behold your mother, behold your son.” In this handing over of Mary to John and John to Mary, Jesus presents his mother anew. She has been given new children, not only John, but the entire Church. This exhortation of beholding turned full circle. First, Mary can say to others, “Behold what they have done to my son.” And when Jesus was taken down from the cross, Mary beholds her dead son, the savior of the world. Just as she held the newborn king thirty three years earlier, now she holds a deceased king who will live forever. Secondly, Jesus returns the action of beholding back to His mother by asking us to take Mary into our homes. He wishes for us to behold His mother, and with her help, we will behold Him in our meditation and in His presence in the Eucharist, Confession, and the Church.
“There are things which rightfully we ought to fear, if we are to enjoy and dignity as men. When, in an age of smugness and softness, fear has been pushed temporarily into the dark corners of personality and society, then soon the gods of the copybook headings with fire and slaughter return. To fear to commit evil, and to hate what is abominable, is the mark of manliness. “They will never love where they ought to love,” Burke says, “who do not hate where they ought to hate.” It may be added that they will never dare when they ought to dare, who do not fear when they ought to fear….
“Forgetting that there exists such a state as salutary dread, modern man has become spiritually foolhardy. His bravado, I suspect, will stand the test no better than ancient Pistol’s. He who admits no fear of God is really a post-Christian man; for at the heart of Judaism and Christianity lies a holy dread. And a good many people, outwardly and perhaps inwardly religious . . . today deny the reality of reverential fear, and thus are post-Christian without confessing it.” (Russell Kirk, The Rarity of the God-Fearing Man).
I no longer consider it particularly shocking when I hear of the defection of a prominent Republican leader  to the cause of so-called “gay marriage” . Similarly, I am not generally surprised to hear that yet another of my Christians friends—Catholic or Protestant—has come out in favor of “gay marriage.” And, of course, there is the recent spate of public defections following the article written by Joseph Bottum for Commonweal, which is, I suppose, the closest thing to a “Catholic case for gay marriage” that can exist . Others have looked in-depth at Mr Bottum’s defection (or betrayal) and what it means for both sides, and it’s probably old enough news by now that addingcolumnexpressingfrustration or outrage–or for that matter gratitude, encouragement, hope, or even just sadness and disappointment—would feel like beating a dead horse.
There is, however, another issue which underlies some of these defections . Many people, including many Christians in general (who should probably know better) and many Catholics in particular (who should definitely know better) consider our efforts against legal recognition of “gay marriage” to be a waste. This is certain, and it’s been stated. Less certain–but really not in much doubt in my mind–is that many consider the effort a waste because they want to see “gay marriage” become a reality, and not merely because they think the fight is using up political and moral capital which could be better spent elsewhere.
“Elsewhere” tends to be vague: it may be on the very important issues of fighting abortion, or the culture of death in general, or of poverty, or what-have-you. Anywhere else.
Like Mr Bottum, I have had a number of friends–and I do still consider them to be friends for now despite this–who have come out in favor of “gay marriage.” Literally, they want to see gay people getting married in the eyes of the state–and of everyone else. These are predominantly Catholic friends (that I know of), though only, I think, because I have more Catholic friends than anything else. And most of these friends have decided that they will go against Church teachings, despite being professing Catholics.
We read in the Gospel this past Sunday that “Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27).
Many today mistake love as an emotion; others equate it with the willingness to do anything for the other person, to do whatever it takes to make that person content and satisfied, to make him “feel loved.” This second definition is nearer to the mark, in that it might require some sacrifice from the lover for the sake of the beloved, but notice that it still reduces love to an emotion only, albeit an emotional state on the part of the beloved and not the lover. Love is more than this, for to love a person is to desire the good of (or for) that person, and then to strive to help him to achieve it. Hence we say that the vocation of spouses is to help each other to become saints, for this is ultimately the good of a person, to become a saint, to live in heaven with God. The Baltimore Catechism puts it simply by stating that “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven” (BC Q6).
So what does this love, which desires the greatest good and strives for real happiness, have to do with the “hatred” preached by Jesus in last Sunday’s gospel–or for that matter with the necessity of hate noted by Burke and quoted by Kirk? How, in other words, do we get to the necessity of hating the sin as a condition of loving the sinner?
Hatred, it should be noted, is not the opposite of love, but rather is in it proper context a condition of love. When we love somebody, we begin to hate what is harmful to that person. We begin to hate what is hateful in their sight. But what is it that harms a person? As Christians, we ought to know the answer to this: all three synoptic Gospels record the same saying of Christ’s that it does not profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul. And a soul is lost through sin, and through sin alone, for sin is the rejection of God, and thus also of God’s grace. Sin is the thing which destroys a soul, which ruins it and which, when unrepented, leads to separation from God, and thus from final happiness.
Therefore, if we love the sinner, and hence desire that which is good for him, we must hate his sins, which act only to deprive him of the good. If we love ourselves in accordance with the second great commandment (Matthew 22:39), we must hate our own sins for the same reason. Thus, when the LORD tells us that we must hate mother, father, sister, brother, spouse, and even our own lives to follow Him, we see that this should be read to mean that we must hate the sins of each of these people, as well as the temptation to excuse those sins (especially our own) as “harmless”, or as being somehow “normal” and thus in the final measure “acceptable.” They aren’t, and it is not an act of love to pretend that they are at the risk of endangering the sinner’s soul.
This brings me full-circle to the question of “gay marriage” and of leaving the Church, or (perhaps more commonly) at least of ignoring and even outright rejecting the Church’s teaching, namely that “gay is not o.k.” Now, again, here we look at the difference between the sins committed (e.g. attempting to simulate a sacrament, to say nothing of the lesser sins involved in a “romantic” homosexual relationship) and the actual sinner. As regards the sexual orientation, the Church states only that it is “disordered,” adding that those who struggle with same-sex attractions are deserving our our compassion: it is one more form of concupiscence, ever unique and ever common .
Yet compassion means first and foremost helping the other to rise above his sins, urging him to holiness and thus to real and lasting happiness. “Bear each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” St Paul tells us (Galatians 6:2). The day may yet come when we lose the culture war, or at least the front of the culture war pertaining to “gay marriage.” That will be a sad day indeed (especially since a part of that loss will eventually involve the imposition of “gay marriages” on the churches), but saddest (in the end) for those who will then attempt to get “gay-married.” It is saddest for them, because they are the ones who will then enter into a legal institution whose purpose is to promote and celebrate a particular set of sins against which they must struggle. They are the ones who are ultimately told to forget about their sins, and to cease the struggle in favor of embracing those sins as “who they are.”
Loving the sinner is absolutely necessary. But we cannot really love a person if we do not at the same time hate their sins. Nor, it seems to me, do we love God first when we celebrate sins, or tolerate them any more than is necessary for the sake of that kindness which is required by charity. This certainly becomes the more difficult for us when our friends identify with their particular sins, for pride is the deadliest of sins, the one thing necessary for making a sin unforgivable . When our friends so identify with their sins, loving God (and even loving them) will appear hateful to them, so that it will really seem as if we hate family, friends, and even ourselves for His sake. We may therefore be tempted to turn aside from following Christ fully out of a sense of sympathy for our loved ones who identify themselves so strongly with their sins. This misguided sympathy is not, however, a good reason to waver in our faith or our fight, lest we become “unworthy” of Christ.
 The Democrats are less surprising still. They first filibustered and then voted en masse against a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman—and this in the year 2004, when similar amendments passed in 13 out of 13 states in which they were introduced that year, and in all previous state elections.
 “Gay marriage” is probably the most common term used, but I’ve also heard it called (by supporters): “homosexual marriage,” “queer marriage,” “marriage equality,” and of course “same-sex marriage” (SSM). I will refer to it as “gay marriage.”
 Not just the defections, though. There are some people who have had a “change of heart” as it were on this issue. Others still have long since been privately in favor of “gay marriage” but publicly against it while looking for a reason to come out and switch public sides. Ironically, some of these will eventually use the “personally against, but politically in favor of” line which is (or was) popular in a different debate.
 Of course, the phrase itself perhaps originates with Saint Augustine.
 Henri Cardinal de Lubac states in his Paradoxes of the Faith that “All suffering is unique–and all suffering is common. I have to be reminded of the latter truth when i am suffering myself–and of the former truth when I see others suffering.” I think that much the same might be said of temptations to sin.
 Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the one unforgivable sin, but it comes in 6 varieties. It seems to me that each of these varieties can be paired with another of the capital sins, but all six also point back to pride. For what it is worth, my pairing is: envy with envy of another’s spiritual well-being, avarice with impugning a known truth, sloth with presumption, wrath with obstinacy in sin, gluttony with despair, and lust with final impenitence. The last of these is the only real stretch, and it’s less of a stretch when one realizes that the daughters of lust include blindness of mind, hatred of God, love of the world, and abhorrence/despair of a future world.
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