Friday 25 March 2016

My Heart on the Cross

I see a bloody, broken figure hanging limply from two slats of wood. He has been mocked, whipped, cursed, and forced to carry the weight of that which would be his means of execution. Not once has he complained. ‘And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried’. Through my tears I see him smile. His eyes reveal no hint of condemnation or regret, but only mercy and love. In my own brokenness and desperation I suddenly understand. Mine are the nails through his hands, mine the lashes on his back. He deserves none of it, yet has taken it all. He smiles and willingly accepts. He has never blamed me for His pain like I’ve been tempted to blame Him for mine.

‘For the joy set before him, he endured the cross.’ Jesus breathed His last breath and His accusers thought it was over, but Christ’s walk to Calvary never held the cross as the end goal. He knew where He was truly going: to be with His Father. In the light of that hope all earthly suffering became as nothing. 

In Him we have the hope of the same Resurrection! We have the promise of eternal life in his glorious Kingdom, where all pain will cease and every tear be wiped away!

But we too must walk the way of the cross, because the cross and the Resurrection cannot be separated. Even in His glorified state, Jesus still bore the wounds inflicted on Him. Heaven wasn’t a replacement for His life on earth, it was the fulfilment of it! It’s in embracing our cross for the sake of heaven that we find our way there. The journey may not seem direct or easy, but do we trust Jesus to guide us there? Do we hand over ourselves completely in faith, knowing that He will not abandon us or mislead us? Will we join with Him in our pain to join with Him in His glory? Will we await with joyful expectation the day when the wounds of our crosses will also be glorified?

Jesus held nothing back. Never for a moment has He withheld Himself from me. Do I, in my weakness, hold back from Him? Am I willing to suffer the torments of the cross with joy because each wound of mine is offered as a consolation for His? I doubt my own strength, but I trust in His.

All I can do is place my heart on that cross, a humble offering but all I have, and say ‘Jesus, for you.’

Each time a sister’s cruel words pierce my heart like the lance that pierced my Lord’s.
Jesus, for you.

In the fleeting moments of inexplicable sadness when the wounds are re-opened time and again.
Jesus, for you.

When I’m crippled by fear or anxiety and long for relief from the torments of this crown of thorns.
Jesus, for you.

When my muscles aches beyond repair or my body is overcome with sickness. These hands, consecrated to the Lord, can offer no more. These feet, blistered and bruised from Calvary’s ascent, yearn to walk on holy ground.
Jesus, for you.

When life’s scourging becomes unbearable, and I lie bleeding in the dusty wasteland of my own heart.
Jesus, for you.

Because, Jesus, this life is all for you. You have my heart. You have my mind. You have my hands and my feet. For the hope of the glorious Resurrection I gladly share in the torments of your crucifixion in my own way. May my heart be united with yours in joy and in sorrow.

May I one day be with you where you are.

Sunday 6 March 2016

The Immaculate Conception and our call to holiness

    The Immaculate Conception is very often a source of confusion for Catholics and contention for non-Catholics. Though commonly misunderstood as referring to Christ’s conception in Mary, it actually refers to Mary’s own conception in her mother’s womb. From the moment of her conception, Mary was ‘by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God… preserved free from all stain of original sin’ (Ineffabilis Deus, DS 2803), and by the grace of God ‘remained free of every personal sin for her whole life long’ (CCC 493). This is what we mean when we say that Mary was without sin.


   Though this dogma is not explicitly revealed in Scripture, the angel Gabriel seemingly couldn’t be much clearer in his greeting to her as he announces that she is to become the mother of Christ our redeemer: ‘Hail, full of grace’ (Luke 1:28). If Mary is full of grace, there is no room for sin! It’s because of this lack of sin that she is truly free to be able to respond to God’s invitation with the willing ‘fiat’ that we read of in the subsequent lines of Scripture, because there was no sin to cloud her judgement (CCC 491). Just like us, whose human nature has been deprived of God’s supernatural grace because of original sin, Mary was in need of redemption through her son Jesus, but in a unique way was redeemed in advance, as it were, by being preserved from sin from the beginning, and enriched by a ‘gift of sublime grace’ for her role as Mother of God (Lumen Gentium, 53). In other words, she was saved from sin before sin could occur. 

    St Paul’s teaching that ‘the wages of sin are death’ literally means that sin separates us from God, in whom is the fullness of life. A woman living in this state of separation from God could not possibly conceive God Himself in her womb, and therefore we must conclude that the Mother of God had to be free from sin. Mary’s Immaculate Conception is necessary for our salvation because it is by the grace that preserved her from sin that she was able to conceive and bear Jesus, our Saviour, and so to share in His salvific mission on earth.

‘In the soul of this "daughter of Sion" there is manifested, in a sense, all the "glory of grace," that grace which "the Father...has given us in his beloved Son."’ (Redemptoris Mater, 8).

    Though full of grace and blessed by God to a ‘special and exceptional degree’ (RM, 8), we mustn’t forget that Mary remained human like us! Mary holds out to us a perfect model of what we are all ultimately called to in Christ: a life without sin, and full of grace! She reveals to us the fullness of the grace that is available to us in Christ Jesus. She shows us what Jesus meant went He urged us to ‘be holy, because I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:16). In this way she inspires and challenges us to reach the heights of holiness which we were created for, knowing that we will inevitably fall – alas, we are not ‘full of grace’ – but should never tire of pressing on ‘toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 3:14).

Tuesday 3 November 2015

I Am Not Eve

‘She is the crescendo, the final, astonishing work of God. Woman. In one last flourish creation comes to a finish not with Adam, but with Eve. She is the Master's finishing touch… Eve is… breathtaking.’  
(‘Captivating’, Stasi Eldredge)

“But I am not Eve”, I tell myself.

“I’m plain. I’m nothing special. I’m ugly. I’m impure. I have too many flaws to be a finishing touch. I could never be described as breaktaking. I’m a mistake.”

    How many of us have heard these words in our minds or even on our lips? We know the creation of Woman. We may even love it. And yet we separate ourselves from it. We place Eve of a pedestal and marvel at the creativity of her Creator and stand in awe and wonder at the glory and goodness of God. We proclaim “Yes! This is the crown of creation!", yet we reject that truth about ourselves.
    But here is the truth we so often neglect: Eve is not a goddess. Eve is a woman. She’s a woman just like you and me.

    Eve’s innate beauty is the way she reflects the beauty of the God whose image and likeness she was made in, and for that reason her beauty is the very thing that will inevitably come under the most attack from the enemy – who doesn’t want her to know her true identity. He doesn’t want her to know the power of who she truly is.  

    You, too, bear the image and likeness of your Creator. You, too, have power in your identity. You, too, are breaktaking. 

    … And so you, too, are a threat to the enemy. And he SHOULD be afraid of you! But, sister, you have no reason to fear yourself! We daren’t recognise our own beauty because Satan has planted his own fear in us. So we criticise and fantasise and agonise. 

    Catherine of Siena said “Be who you were created to be and you will set the world on fire!” Well, let me ask you this: What would happen if each of us were to truly know, embrace who we are as daughters of God. Can you envision the day that Satan realises He no longer has any hold on us because we have no doubt in our God-given identity and inheritance? He conquered by a woman, and now a woman conquers him. She that was once his weapon is now his destroyer, brave and invincible.’ (John Crysostom). 

 ‘You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord.’ (Isaiah 62:3)

You, dear sister. YOU shall be a crown of beauty.

You ARE a crown of beauty. You are the crown of all creation, and your Father looks at His creation in you and declares “Behold, it is very good!”

… And no, I am not Eve. But I am something greater. I am a unique creation. That uniqueness means that womankind – the crown of creation – is not complete without every single one of us. You are necessary for Woman to be complete.