“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.’” (Matthew 23:1-4)
Do you notice how much more you have to pay for torn blue jeans these days? What used to be seen as a sign of abject poverty is now elevated to a status symbol, a fashion statement. I think this can be seen as a metaphor for the spiritual poverty of our age, a sign of the times. It seems many are no longer ashamed of their spiritual poverty, but wear their spiritual dysfunction as a status symbol, a fashion statement. Their spirit may be in tatters, but they’re too cool to care.
If we have to pay more for torn blue jeans, how much more, then, do we have to pay for a soul in tatters? Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for piling heavy burdens on others while refusing to lift a finger to help. Let’s apply that to our own attitudes.
How easy it is to cluck our tongues at those who walk around with tattered spirits, who celebrate their sinfulness, who never darken the door of a church except perhaps to spit. As penitents, we are called to offer penance for these poor souls, that they might be clothed in eternity with the heavenly garment of purity and grace! It is the deep desire of God’s heart that no one be lost.
There was recently yet another interesting discussion on the BSP Lifestyle Forum* titled, “Admonished by a Peasant”. It began with a reference to the time St. Francis was severely rebuked by a peasant, after which the Saint bent down and kissed the peasant’s feet in gratitude. We cannot remotely imagine what this act of abject humility obtained in the spiritual realm. Indeed, its effects reverberate even centuries later as we read about it.
Do you feel increasing burdens lately? More complications? Misunderstandings? Mistakes? Confusion? Rebukes? Illnesses? I have noticed this personally, and I have heard of many people enduring much more than I am. I often feel as if I am swimming through mud! It seems that God is not leaving this call to increased penance to chance or to the caprices of our own self-absorbed wills. But God is calling us all—and especially penitents—to accept with love and gratitude these treasures of grace, these imposed penances, and use them as leverage to lift the burdens of those who do not even know their own poverty.
Let us always keep in mind that these tattered souls are not the enemy. They are as beloved of God as we are—if not more so! Indeed, they are God’s favorites; he longs for these prodigals with everlasting sighs. One of the other commenters in the above-referenced Forum discussion responded with an anonymous quote: “You cannot comprehend the deepest love God has for you until you realize that he has the same love for the person or people you most despise.” Touché! As Bruce** commented in the same discussion: “God uses everyone to help everyone.”
In his letter to Proba, St. Augustine wrote:
In the kind of affliction, then, which can bring either good or ill, we do not know what it is right to pray for; yet, because it is difficult, troublesome and against the grain for us, weak as we are, we do what every human would do, we pray that it may be taken away from us. We owe, however, at least this much in our duty to God: if he does not take it away, we must not imagine that we are being forgotten by him but because of our loving endurance of evil, must await greater blessings in its place. In this way, power shines forth more perfectly in weakness.
The following prayer came to me as I strove to find new ways to offer my sufferings in the Divine Will.
“O my Jesus, in the Divine Will I offer you every shard of suffering ever endured from the time of the fall of Adam and Eve to the last man, especially my own. I offer them as a spiritual bouquet through the Flame of Love of our Immaculate Mother in reparation to the Holy Trinity for all sins ever committed, for the conversion of all those whose hearts are far from you, for the fire of pure love to be ignited in the lukewarm, and for all the intentions of those here and in my spiritual territory. Jesus and Mary, I trust in you. Take care of everything, and everyone. May your Kingdom come and come quickly! Amen.”
Then at Mass before the elevation of the cup, I pray: “Eternal Father in the Divine Will, I place every shard of suffering ever endured, from the time of the fall of Adam and Eve to the last man, into the chalice with Our Lord’s Precious Blood, which alone can offer you perfect reparation for the great and many sins of humanity.” In this way, in the Divine Will, every shard of suffering in history becomes linked to the perfect offering of Jesus at the Last Supper, so that God may be consoled in every age by every person, for his glory.
We are in extraordinary times. And where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, praise God! May God keep us humble, grateful, and always willing to persist in His work of helping the innumerable tattered souls for whom he pines.
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, we love you! Save souls!
(*Members’ forum for the Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis-BSP.)
(**Bruce is the Administrator of the BSP.)