Thursday, November 27, 2014

You Are Either Hanging On The Cross or Banging In The Nails

The ultimate submission to God
Surrender to God, and he will do everything for you.
Antiphon, Liturgy of the Hours

In the last couple of posts here I have been giving my thoughts on how to keep our spiritual equilibrium in what appears to be a very chaotic time in the Catholic Church.  Catholics are flinging accusations of heresy at one another, bishops are attacking other bishops, many people are even questioning the actions and words of the Holy Father.  As Cardinal Raymond Burke said, many feel the Church is a ship without a rudder.

It is a normal thing to want to be in control of events and circumstances.  We all have an innate need to be in the driver's seat.  We want to plan our own course and be in charge of our destiny.  There is one problem with that.  In order to follow Christ, we have to completely surrender to Him and give up all control in our lives.  "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it."  (Luke 9:23-24).  A follower of Christ must learn to stop trusting in himself (Proverbs 3:5-6):
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Far too often we confuse our own will with the Will of God. If something looks right to us, then surely this is the Will of God. In our arrogance, we think we know how God thinks. But any human being who tells you he understands the Mind of God is either a fool or a liar. " 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD." (Isaiah 55:8). We can never know the Mind of God, and therefore to follow Him, we must allow Him to take complete control of our lives and, as Revelation 14:4 says, "follow the Lamb wherever he goes." That often means going places and doing things that make no sense to our human, limited minds.

We see this all throughout the Bible. The actions of God are never what a "rational" human being would do. The father of the faithful, Abraham, was 75 years old, he was called by God and told to leave everything that was familiar to him. "The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you." (Gen. 12:1). Abraham could have argued with the Lord, but instead he willingly obeyed with no hesitation. Joseph, son of Jacob, was sold by his own brothers as a slave to the Egyptians and then imprisoned for several years after being falsely accused of rape. It was through these bizarre circumstances that led Joseph to be in a position to save the known civilized world, including his own family, from death by famine. Moses was an 80-year old shepherd in the desert when The Lord approached and told him that he was going to lead the Israelites out of slavery to the Promised Land. David was a young shepherd boy when he was anointed King of Israel. At the time he was anointed, King Saul was still on the throne and, as a result, David became the target of Saul's murderous rage. Esther was a young Hebrew slave in Persia, and yet she was chosen to save her people from genocide. Daniel was a young Hebrew slave in Babylon, and was chosen by God to become one of our greatest prophets.

In all of these examples, those chosen by God were put in circumstances that make no sense to our human minds. They had no control over their lives, and yet because of their willingness to completely submit and put their total trust in the Lord, they were used to accomplish great things. As our Lord told us, "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." All of these biblical examples are of men and woman who were willing to give up their lives, and by doing so, they gained true, eternal life.

One of our greatest role models is Mary, our Blessed Mother. When asked to be the Mother of God, her reply was, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy Word." She imposed no conditions. She gave no recommendations about how this should be down. Never once do we see Mary pushing her own will upon her Son. When they were both at the wedding feast where the wine ran out, the only words Our Blessed Mother said to the Lord were, "they have no wine." She gave no instructions to Him about what she thought needed to be done to correct the situation. She reported the situation to Him and then got out of the way. As she told the servants, "Do whatever He tells you." This is her message to each one of us, her children. Bring your requests to her, which she will relay to her Son, and then "do whatever He tells you." Does pouring water into jars make sense? It doesn't matter. Just do it.

The ultimate example of submission is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. As St. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-8:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And of course, there is that most famous statement which Christ uttered when He was face to face with the horrendous crucifixion He was about to undergo (Matthew 26:39):
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.
As Christ said, (John 6:38):
For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
From a human perspective, there is no more helpless image than that of Jesus Christ hanging on the cross. He was completely immobilized, unable to move any part of his body, unable to defend himself in any way. He couldn't even swat the flies away that were buzzing around His wounds or wipe away the blood that was pouring into His eyes. And yet, this is the picture of Our Savior taking away the sin of the world, freeing each one of us from eternal damnation. No human being was ever more powerful than the Lamb of God as He hung physically helpless on the Cross. 

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he begged the Lord to remove a "thorn in the flesh." He said he begged the Lord three times to take away this thorn. The Lord told him,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
There is a beautiful reading from Saint John Chrysostum in the Office of Readings which addresses the issue of how to fight the "wolves" among us.  As this great saint tells us, our Lord could do things quite differently and not send us out among the wolves.  Our Lord could tell us not to be meek, defenseless sheep but instead to be fiercer than lions.  But that is not the path Christ has chosen.  He has told us to be "harmless as doves, but as wise as serpents."    

Second reading
From a homily on Matthew by Saint John Chrysostum, bishop
If we are sheep, we overcome, if wolves, we are overcome
As long as we are sheep, we overcome and, though surrounded by countless wolves, we emerge victorious; but if we turn into wolves, we are overcome, for we lose the shepherd’s help. He, after all, feeds the sheep not wolves, and will abandon you if you do not let him show his power in you.

What he says is this: “Do not be upset that, as I send you out among the wolves, I bid you be as sheep and doves. I could have managed things quite differently and sent you, not to suffer evil nor to yield like sheep to the wolves, but to be fiercer than lions. but the way I have chosen is right. It will bring you greater praise and at the same time manifest my power.” That is what he told Paul: My grace is enough for you, for in weakness my power is made perfect. “I intend,” he says, “to deal the same way with you.” For, when he says, I am sending you out like sheep, he implies: “But do not therefore lose heart, for I know and am certain that no one will be able to overcome you.”

The Lord, however, does want them to contribute something, lest everything seem to be the work of grace, and they seem to win their reward without deserving it. Therefore he adds: You must be clever as snakes and innocent as doves. But, they may object, what good is our cleverness amid so many dangers? How can we be clever when tossed about by so many waves? However great the cleverness of the sheep as he stands among the wolves – so may wolves! – what can it accomplish? However great the innocence of the dove, what good does it do him, with so many hawks swooping upon him? To all this I say: Cleverness and innocence admittedly do these irrational creatures no good, but they can help you greatly.

What cleverness is the Lord requiring here? The cleverness of a snake. A snake will surrender everything and will put up no great resistance even if its body is being cut in pieces, provided it can save its head. So you, the Lord is saying, must surrender everything but your faith: money, body, even life itself. For faith is the head and the root; keep that, and though you lose all else, you will get it back in abundance. The Lord therefore counselled the disciples to be not simply clever or innocent; rather he joined the two qualities so that they become a genuine virtue. He insisted on the cleverness of the snake so that deadly wounds might be avoided, and he insisted on the innocence of the dove so that revenge might not be taken on those who injure or lay traps for you. Cleverness is useless without innocence.

Do not believe that this precept is beyond your power. More than anyone else, the Lord knows the true natures of created things; he knows that moderation, not a fierce defense, beats back a fierce attack.
"Cleverness is useless without innocence." "Moderation, not a fierce defense, beats back a fierce attack." For most people, these statements go against common sense. How does an innocent, defenseless sheep survive the attacks of fierce wolves? Yet, this is what has been commanded by our Savior. Nowhere does Jesus tell us, blessed are the great warriors, or blessed are those who destroy their enemies. He never praises the "mighty and strong." Instead, He tells us this in Matthew 5:3-10:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Our Lord told us that when someone slaps you on the face, not only should you not fight back, you should turn so that he can strike the other side of your face.  If someone sues you and takes away your coat, give him your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to walk one mile, go two miles.  In other words, do not allow concern about self or self defense to play any role in your life.  As Christians, we are to make ourselves as defenseless as Christ was on the Cross.  We are never to fight our own battles, but to allow Christ to fight for us.  The one thing we stand up for is the faith.  But even then, we are to be "as harmless as doves and as wise as serpents."  Even then, we must allow the Lord to lead us and not take matters into our own hands.

Not that long ago, I was deep into the Catholic traditionalist movement.  Like most traditionalists, I believed I had it all figured out.  The salvation of the Church was to be found in the Traditional Latin Mass and in a return to the traditional practices of the Church.  I looked at anyone who did not agree with this as an enemy of the church, whether inside or outside of the Church.  I saw most priests and bishops, and even most Catholics in the pews, as my enemy.  I was very sure that I knew the Mind of God, and there could be no doubt that God is a "traditionalist."

However, when Pope Benedict XVI gave us Summorum Pontificum, he wrote the following:
The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. The Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honoured for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.
I did not really believe that last statement and I can tell you that most Trads do not believe that last sentence. They look at the Ordinary Form of the Mass as barely above a Protestant prayer service. They will only go to a "Novus Ordo" Mass if they have no other choice. Many Trads believe that in 50 years time, there will only be the Latin Mass. As Anthony S. Layne wrote on in a post entitled, "Tradition vs. Traditionalism" [HERE]:
The great danger in traditionalism, however, is the tendency to conflate liturgical and devotional traditions with the apostolic tradition. Doctor Taylor Marshall speaks of “the [radical traditionalist] belief that Latin Mass Catholics are ‘A Team’ and Novus Ordo Catholics are ‘B Team’”, but that’s actually a bit mild: the further you move to the right, the more you run across the sentiment that Novus OrdoCatholics, or “neo-Catholics”, aren’t really Catholic at all — we’re crypto-Protestants with an idiosyncratic fondness for the pope.
I now realize that, as a traditionalist, I was actually boxing God in.  I was telling Him what to do and how to do it.  I was opposing those He had put in authority over me.  I had become Peter telling the Lord that I will not allow Him to be crucified.

I have come to realize that the problem with the majority of traditionalists is that they want to be in the driver's seat.  They are not content to be the harmless dove.  They are not content to let the Lord fight their battles.  They have their own game plan, and no one - not a priest, bishop or even the Holy Father - can tell them any different.

I don't understand everything that is happening in the Church, but the beauty is that I don't have to! Our Lord tells me that I just have to concentrate on submitting my will to His, and He will do the rest, and He will accomplish His Purpose in ways I could never imagine. I have 2000 years of Church history to testify to that fact. I would never think of telling a great artist like Michelangelo how to paint or sculpture, and I most certainly would never think to tell Our Lord how to run His Church.

A few years back Mel Gibson did a typical Mel Gibson movie with lots of violence entitled, "Edge of Darkness", but there was one line in this move that I have made a kind of motto in my life. "You are either hanging on the cross or banging in the nails." The reason Mary, our Blessed Mother, is held in such high esteem is because she suffered a spiritual martyrdom in accepting her Son's crucifixion. Spiritually, she hung on the Cross with him, and she did that because she was completely submissive to the Will of God.

"You are either hanging on the Cross or banging in the nails."  That is the only choice we have.

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