Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
We all have crosses. And indeed, as Franciscan penitents, we are exhorted to take the words of Christ to heart and live them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24) Knowing that this is our call and living it, however, are two different matters. How often, when a cross is given to us, do we turn our faces, pray for deliverance, tell the Lord, “Not this cross, Lord. It is much too heavy for me! I will carry a cross, just not this one.” How fickle and frail we are! I was struggling last week with a cross of my own when I felt led to pick up the writings of Luisa Piccarreta. Here is what I read:
Isaiah 12:3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
Global tensions are on a seemingly exponential uptick. Yet the utter importance of joy has been coming to me again and again. The above Scripture passage can be read in two ways, a passive way and an active way. The passive way implies that joy is what we are filled with after we are saved. Very true. But the active reading of this passage tells us that joy can also be the “bucket” we can use to draw water from the wells of salvation. Joy therefore becomes an instrument of salvation in the hand of the Christian.
If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)
Some 20 years ago when my son was a teen, one of the things we used to do together was watch the TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation. One episode in particular keeps coming to me these days. In that episode, the Starship Enterprise had gone through a temporal rift that shifted them into an “alternate reality”, a much darker one. Some who were dead in the previous reality now were not dead. Friends were now enemies and enemies were now friends. No seemed aware of the shift, except for the intuitive bartender, Guinan, who somehow knew and kept repeating, “It’s not supposed to be this way.”
Colossians 1: 12-20 Brothers and sisters: Give thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
I have found throughout my life that the Holy Spirit teaches in themes. I love that He does that. We come across something that speaks to us, and then some unrelated source confirms it and the lesson continues through a series of seemingly unrelated experiences. When that happens, I have learned that it is time to pay attention.
“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.” (Baruch 5:1)
These days there seems to be a superabundance of sorrow and affliction. Conflict seems never to be far away. Weariness pervades. Psalm 13 says it all:
How long, LORD? Will you utterly forget me?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
The Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. (Ephesians 3:6)
A few years back, a website came to my attention whose mission it is to match people with a patron saint for the year. The website is http://yourpatronsaint.blogspot.com/. The claim on the website is that your patron saint actually chooses you. The concept is based on this excerpt from the Diary of St. Faustina:
“There is a custom among us of drawing by lot, on New Year’s Day, special Patrons for ourselves for the whole year. In the morning, during meditation, there arose within me a secret desire that the Eucharistic Jesus be my special Patron for this year also, as in the past. But, hiding this desire from my Beloved, I spoke to Him about everything else but that. When we came to refectory for breakfast, we blessed ourselves and began drawing our patrons. When I approached the holy cards on which the names of the patrons were written, without hesitation I took one, but I didn’t read the name immediately as I wanted to mortify myself for a few minutes. Suddenly, I heard a voice in my soul: ‘I am your patron. Read.’ I looked at once at the inscription and read, ‘Patron for the Year 1935 – the Most Blessed Eucharist.’ My heart leapt with joy, and I slipped quietly away from the sisters and went for a short visit before the Blessed Sacrament, where I poured out my heart. But Jesus sweetly admonished me that I should be at that moment together with the sisters. I went immediately in obedience to the rule.”
(This article was originally written a few years ago in Advent. However, the message certainly has new relevance today.)
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)
Advent is given to us as a season of joyful hope. The Christian world anticipates the birth of the Incarnate Word along with Mary, Joseph, and the entire heavenly court. As Christians, we are called to clothe ourselves in the attitude of joyful hope. It is expected. However, the reality may be somewhat different.
Certainly, the daily news gives us little reason to hope, and if our life circumstances have taken a turn for the worse recently, the joyful anticipation of Christmas may seem a distinct impossibility. How can we celebrate when our hearts are broken, our homes are torn to pieces, or our lives are shattered? If we feel bogged in the miry clay in the lowest crevice of the valley of tears, just putting one foot in front of the other requires a miracle. Joy? It can seem as faint and fleeting as the morning mist.