Lent

How to suffer well

God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.

St Augustine

We will all suffer in this life. That is the truth of our fallen world. The question is how to suffer well? If we suffer well, we may do great good, and also suffer less in purgatory, but if we suffer poorly, we will multiply our suffering and only bring further punishment on ourselves.

To suffer well, we must accept suffering from the hands of Our Father, in obedience, in humility, and in love.

We must suffer all that comes our way in obedience to God’s will, recognising the truth that all things are directed according to His providence and will, to the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Our suffering comes to us from God, and we must not refuse it, simply because it is His will for us.

You might find the thought that God has willed your suffering upsetting, but actually this should comfort us. Suffering is not the ultimate evil that it’s often portrayed as. It is not meaningless or pure evil. It is a gift, albeit a mysterious gift, of our loving Father. We can accept suffering because He is trustworthy.

It was by Jesus’s obedience to the Father upon the cross that Adam’s fatal disobedience has been undone (Romans 5:19), and so by suffering in obedience we are united to Jesus’s obedience and cooperate in the redemption of the world.

We must suffer in humility before God, acknowledging that we are sinners, worthy of all suffering, deserving of the fires of hell for our crimes against God who is all good and deserving of all our love. When we suffer, we should see it as a just penance for our sins, and that by this suffering we are paying a small part of our incredible debt to God.

Again, you might find this thought disturbing, and might even think it an unhealthy way of seeing yourself. And it can be, if it’s separated from from a proper awareness of God’s merciful love. But joined to that awareness, it is a liberating truth: through our suffering, the Father is disciplining us for our good, that we may share in His holiness (see Hebrews 12:5-11). Of ourselves, we are utterly unworthy of all His good gifts, but we are loved and thereby made worthy.

When we suffer with humility, we are giving God our all and asking nothing in return. It is a more perfect gift, because it is not tainted with pride. We get to offer ourselves without even claiming any credit for our offering. As Jesus tells us, we should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” (Luke 17:10) This humility is Jesus’s entire way of being, His whole life of emptying Himself and claiming nothing for His own (Philippians 2:6-7).

We must suffer in love for God, taking suffering as an opportunity to give ourselves to Him, along with the things that are most dear to us. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only beloved son (Genesis 22:2), and if we wish to be perfect we too must look to be ready to offer God our everything, trusting Him.

By offering ourselves and all we love to the Father, in love for Him, we are united to Jesus’s sacrifice upon the cross and upon the altar. We pass over from earth to heaven, from death to resurrection, from Adam to Christ. When we suffer like this, united to Jesus, our suffering and His become one, and our suffering gains immense value.

So, how do we suffer in obedience, humility, and love? Basically, by willing to. Each time you suffer something, by a quick mental act accept it and give it to God, saying something like, “All for you, Jesus“. It won’t cease to be suffering and it won’t become easy, but I have found that it brings a certain peace and a certain strength, because it has a meaning and because you’re no longer suffering it alone. I also recommend praying the morning offering first thing each morning, to formally offer up all the day’s prayers, works, and sufferings.

May you have a blessed lent! God bless!

Asceticism and holiness

In my last post, I claimed that holiness is nothing more and nothing less than abandoning your life to God. It’s not just giving yourself to Him, it’s giving yourself so completely that you are no longer your own. Your cares and worries are no longer yours to deal with. Your time, your talents, your possessions, are not yours anymore. Your will belongs to Him (though it is actually more perfectly yours in this free gift).

So what’s the point of lent then? Why bother with fasting, prayer and almsgiving? Aren’t these an attempt at making ourselves holy? Or even at saving ourselves?

They can be, if we do them incorrectly. But done right, they are precisely the training we need in self-abandonment.

We fast in order to remove the ways we rely on ourselves. We make food and other material things – things we can control – into our happiness, our comfort, and our source of strength. When we remove this, we are forced to look elsewhere.

When we pray, we are then filling that void in the way it was designed to be fulfilled. We place ourselves in God’s hands, where we belong, for Him to be our joy, our security and our strength. If we fast but don’t pray, we will certainly find another false god to fill the void. We will make ourselves a golden calf, because we can control idols.

Finally, we give alms, because we are no longer concerned for ourselves, and are now concerned with giving ourselves to God, who loves and lives in our brothers and sisters. His love is being made the source of our lives, and so we must give ourselves up to this love ever more fully. If we refuse, we refuse to be His. If we fast and pray, but don’t give alms, we are deluding ourselves. If we fast and pray but don’t give alms, the God we pray to is imaginary. He is just an idol in our heads.

Lent is a time of dying to self, and learning to belong to God. Our lenten practices earn us nothing. They accomplish nothing. But they are that death to self that gains God Himself.

God bless you!

Self-destruction on the other hand…

‘Self-improvement is masturbation. Self-destruction on the other hand…’

I’ve written before about my love for this Fight Club quote. Now, it’s coming to my mind again as we begin lent.

There’s a common tendency to view lent as another chance at New Year’s resolutions, and with it self-improvement. An opportunity to diet and/or save. To become a better version of yourself.

But originally and traditionally and essentially, it is about self-destruction over improvement. That is, it is about uniting ourselves to Jesus upon the cross. It is about putting yourself to death.

Why do we do this? Why have many saints down the ages gone to extreme lengths for lent? Because our selves are prisons to break out of, into the freedom of divine love. Because true life is not a matter of preservation, but of giving ourselves away, even to death. Because God Himself lives in this way, dying and giving Himself away.

If we are nourished and taught and loved by such a God, we will come to imitate Him. God expresses Himself to us in love, and therefore His image is impressed into us. We love, because He first loved us.

So I just want to encourage you to destroy yourself this lent, because God loves you.

It is true that we can only destroy ourselves and take up this freedom because we have received His love. It is not possible in ourselves, but only in Jesus Christ, by the power of His death. And yet also, the more we willingly submit to the consuming fire of the divine love, the more freely His love will enter us and transform us into Itself.

God bless you!

Looking sin in the eye

‘1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbour caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”

‘1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.” Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,” knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.” In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.’
–Catechism of the Catholic Church 1849-50

I wanted to write about sin, so I looked it up, and I was not disappointed. The Catechism is a bit lofty and distant, but in that very way it has such beauty. I don’t say much about sin on this blog. It makes me uncomfortable. But I believe it is good to take a better look at sin, since it’s lent. Here, then, are my reflections:

Sin is separation from God; that is, sin is separation from the deepest Source of all things, and so is separation from all things. There is no harmless sin. Sin cuts us off from everything in existence, including ourselves. Sin is death.

Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it.’ Sin blinds us to God’s love, which is in fact the truth of all things. The whole world and everyone within it look ever more dead and cold, and as such more like objects to be used for ourselves.

Sin is when our will is set against God’s will, which is Himself. God’s will is not a matter of choosing one thing over another like our wills so often are. God’s will is life and love itself. Disobeying God isn’t just proud, it’s absurd. We choose what won’t last, and wouldn’t satisfy even if it did, over life itself! We try to be “gods”, but in doing so, we make the lives we are “gods” over, as pointless and futile as our small-minded desires.

Sin is both the action of separating ourselves from God, by an act of the will, and the resulting state of being separated from Him, in our wills and our living experience. When Jesus was upon the cross, he “became sin”, by truly experiencing the separation from God that is the wages of sin. But he was also perfectly without sin, completely obedient to God, even in this separation from God. He brought righteousness to sin, and brought God to Godlessness.

 

‘1851 It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate’s cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas’ betrayal – so bitter to Jesus, Peter’s denial and the disciples’ flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world, the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.’
–Catechism of the Catholic Church 1851

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This lent, let us turn ever more fully from sin in all its forms, to the Lord Jesus Christ our redeemer. Amen

God bless you!

A season of Penance

What’s the point of lent? Lent is our penitential season. We look at where we’ve been going wrong, and we begin, with the help of God’s mercy, to make it right. We take a long, hard look at ourselves, see our wretchedness, and turn to God.

Leo Tolstoy said,

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Lent is the time when we must commit to changing ourselves, and allowing God to change us.

Lent is the season for making a comeback. It is preparation for us to unite ourselves to the resurrection, the greatest comeback of all time. So if we sin, make a comeback- it’s lent. If we fail at our fasts, prayers or good deeds, make a comeback- it’s lent. If you haven’t been up to scratch in any way, now is the time to make your big comeback.

The best way, of course, is by confession. Walking straight up to God, and submitting ourselves to His mercy, to His plan, to His salvation.

lent

So why do we fast? I think the benefits of prayer and good deeds are obvious, but the point of fasting and self-denial is a bit tougher. We don’t give up anything because pleasure is bad, or discomfort is good. We do it to learn to depend upon God.

‘He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.’
Deuteronomy 8:3

By fasting, we turn our backs on our old ways. We confess that the world gives neither security nor satisfaction, and as long as we look for them in the world, we don’t look for them in God.

When revolutionaries were making headway across the world, they would outlaw whatever they considered too “bourgeois” for their new life. Suits and ties, golf, various artworks, and more, had to be cut off. To make a new world, and with it a new man, the world would have to be aggressively purged of its old ways.

Make no mistake: Christianity is a greater revolution than Marxism. Marxism was a revolt against capitalism, on the basis of economics; Christianity is a revolt against death in all its forms, on the basis of Divine love.

In lent we are called especially, to take up our crosses and follow Jesus, in the firm faith that at the end there will be Easter, resurrection and glory! We join ourselves to his love, sufferings and death, knowing that in these we find the true, absolute, eternal life.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. I’ve got some repenting to do!

God bless you!

Lent and baptism

‘In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.’
Mark 1:9-10 (emphasis mine)

Recently, these words, ‘torn apart’ rang a bell for me, and I realised this moment is linked to the moment when Jesus died,

‘And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.’
Mark 15:38

In these two moments, God’s presence is released into the world in a new and irrevocable way. The Kingdom of Heaven is bursting out.

We should also link Jesus’ baptism to when the Israelites were submerged in the Reed Sea, and passed through to freedom from Egypt. Then they came to their 40 years Lent in the desert. Then they were baptised again, passing through the river Jordan to enter the Promised Land. They were entering the Kingdom of God.

Baptism liberates from sin, and is a being buried with and raised in Christ. So the Israelites must be washed, surrendering to the Lord, and receiving from Him their life and salvation. Then they go through the wilderness living off of the bread from heaven, to be humbled, and learn their dependence on God: ‘that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’ In this time, they go on dying to themselves, learning to live off of God. Then they must once more be baptised in the Jordan to enter their promised rest. I believe this second baptism is death: Jesus’ death on the cross and our deaths in him.

Lent is living out our baptism. For Noah and his family, their baptism and lent were simultaneous. We die to self to live in Christ each day, taking up our crosses and following him to death and resurrection. Then at the end of lent, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and enter, purified by this time of death, into the new life he has opened up for us. On Easter day, Catechumens are baptised, to show that we are baptised into the resurrected life, opened up to us by the saviour.

By baptism into Christ we are liberated. Our death is offered to God, and we are given divine life. By lent, we enter more deeply into our own death, weakness, and sin, in order to more consciously and thoroughly offer it to God, and receive in these His grace. We are made ready to enter anew into the Kingdom of God, and particularly for our final entry at the hour of our death.

Lent is exactly what the Church needs, because it’s exactly what the world needs the Church to be: God’s people dying to self, dying to the world and its futile ways, and living the life of the resurrection in Christ. We desperately need to be submerged in the spirit of Lent, so that we may be saturated with the mystery of Easter Sunday.

God bless you!