The Intimacy of SUFFERING WITH

          In our Love Crucified Community, Jesus tells us,  “Suffer all with Me, no longer two, but one, in My sacrifice of Love.”  In an earlier post, “The Kiss of Jesus,” I commented,  “The Cross is the bridal chamber where union takes place in the intimacy of suffering.” I continue to come back to that reflection, that it is in suffering WITH Christ that we enter intimacy.

It is not enough that we “offer it up”—this offering I learned as a child from my mother.  No, to suffer with is intimate.  To offer up is to stand outside, independent, separate.  Love Crucified teaches us:

“…unless we touch His wounds, love remains an idea in our minds with no power to heal our hearts. By touching His wounds, we touch His love, the love by which He laid down His life for us. We touch Christ’s wounds by uniting our sufferings with His.

                        “This condition exists because only through our own sufferings are we able to come personally to touch the sufferings of Christ.…Because when we touch Jesus’ sufferings, we touch Love itself.

            “For example, if we never suffer the pain of rejection, we can never come to know and experience the rejection that Jesus suffered.

            “This is the necessary process to union with God. St. Paul tells us there is a condition for us to be “children of God” and “fellow heirs with Christ”: “provided we suffer with Him”  (Rom 8:12-17) (The Simple Path, p. 86-87).

            How long has it taken me to learn this:  only through my own sufferings can I experience the sufferings of Christ. If I dodge, distract myself, or complain, I dodge, distract myself from Christ who is Love Crucified. Or another way of putting it:  Through my wounds I enter the wounds of Christ.

This week I watched THE SEVENTH CHAMBER, the life of Edith Stein, canonized by Pope John Paul in 1998.  She has been on my heart all week.  The brilliant child of a Jewish family in Germany, she became a professor of philosophy, a skeptic of religion.  But when she read St. Teresa of Avila’s INTERIOR MANSIONS, her conclusion was, “This is the truth.”  St. Teresa led her to conversion, to the Catholic Church.  After persecutions began under the Nazis, she entered Carmel to become Sister Teresa Benedetta of the Cross—not to dodge persecution, but because she wanted an intimate relationship with Christ.

Her sufferings were great, as she endured  betrayal of professional friends and the agonized refusal of her family, especially her mother, to accept her conversion to Catholicism or her vocation to the Carmelites.  Even the order itself wondered if she had chosen Carmel as a refuge from persecution.  But Edith had realized finally that religion was not a set of moral directives but a Person.  Her joy in her suffering was in this extraordinary relationship as she learned intimacy through what she suffered.

Counseled to leave the country, she finally went to Carmel in Holland, where the Nazis intruded to extricate her and her sister, Rosa, to Auschwitz.  As her superior wept, Sister Teresa Benedetta  comforted her with these words—not to be concerned because,  “I have finally accepted my destiny.”

            One of the greatest sufferings endured by St. Teresa Benedetta was the crushing oppression of her people by Hitler whom she viewed as a satan.  What she meant by “I have finally accepted my destiny” is that she would embrace all suffering, one with her people, one with her Christ.

This word destiny recalled to me a reflection which I wrote on Romano Guardini’s article “Acceptance”:

“Destiny is not an accident.  It possesses a logical consistency which is determined externally by the connection of events but also internally by the nature and character of the person involved [29].”  Finally, acceptance of self means that I consent simply to be.  Here is the rub:  “I did not confront the possibility of my own existence and decide that I wished to be, but I was cast into being.  I came forth from the lives of my parents, of my ancestors, out of the condition of the age.

This “age” I remarked, “ is filled with the effects of unredeemed original sin…complicated by repeated, serious, unrepented personal sin.”

            How is destiny fair?  It is not, nor can it be; not for us, not for Edith Stein. But Romano Guardini reminds us:

“Through the Incarnation, He stepped into the space which forms a single chain of destiny for him who lives in it.  God stepped into history.  When the eternal Son became man, He did so in reality, without protection or exception, vulnerable by word and act; woven, like us, into the stifling web of effects that proceed from the confused hearts of men….He does this prepared for all that would happen to Him, without reservation, without evasion, without resorting to resistance or craft.  Men, who have really no power over Him to whom is given ‘all power in Heaven and on earth,’ inflict a bitter destiny upon Him.  But this is the form of His Father’s will for Him.  This will is His own will; to accomplish it is the ‘food’ of His life.”

Sister Teresa Benedetta of the Cross told her superior,  “I have finally accepted my destiny.”  THIS is the destiny which she accepted, cast as she was into her unique place in history, among her people, in her family—the sweet destiny of suffering with Christ.  For her, the Cross is the bridal chamber where union takes place in the intimacy of suffering.

Before she is sent to Auschwitz, she is explaining the seven chambers of St. Teresa of Avila’s INTERIOR MANSIONS to another sister.  After revealing the meaning of the first six chambers, the sister asks her, “and what of the seventh?”  The saint replies, “I have not yet entered the seventh chamber.”

Full union with Love Crucified would come with the saint’s embrace of all the sufferings that went with the gas chamber of Auschwitz, for her—the seventh chamber of Union. This suffering consisted not only of her personal physical distress and that of her sister Rosa, but also included her sufferings for the people around her, the Jewish men, women, and children who were also ravaged by Nazi oppression.

As I reflected on this precious saint, I realized once again that my unique sufferings are the key to the unique intimacy, Union, holiness, which God has chosen for me personally. To enter holiness is not to enter a state of being so much as to accept my destiny, God’s Will, the Cross.  Holiness is to embrace a Person, Christ, Love Crucified, through the intimacy of suffering.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Examen of Consciousness– Father Michael Gaitley

For a couple of years now, I’ve been looking for a better examination of conscience than many of the traditional ones that I’ve used.  I came upon this material, taken and adapted from the book Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, M.I.C.; and I was elated.  As we approach the Holy Days, we may find it useful.

The examination of conscience …is basically a mental review of the previous 16 hours or so of consciousness—thus, some people prefer to call the examination of conscience an examination of consciousness. Some people find it helpful to write in a notebook or on note cards because (1) writing helps jog the mind and (2) it provides a record of one’s spiritual life, which can then easily be reviewed before going to confession or spiritual direction.

               First, we should put ourselves in the presence of God. In other words, we should begin with the attitude that the examen is a time of prayer, not just a mental exercise. Devoutly making the sign of the Cross may be enough to do this. Next we just have to remember one word,

B-A-K-E-R.

Point #1: B stands for “blessings.” According to St. Ignatius, this is the most important of the five points.

There are different ways to go about this. One helpful way is to begin by thanking the Lord for some of the “bigger” blessings favors we have received over the course of our lives: life itself, faith in Him, faith in His resurrection, the gift of our vocation, family, etc. These are blessings for which we can never thank God enough.

Then we should spend a few moments recalling how the Lord has blessed us in specific ways throughout the day being reviewed. We may review the day chronologically or spontaneously focus on a particular blessing that comes to mind. This is an opportunity to thank the Lord for His presence in our lives in His Word, the Sacraments, our prayer, our loved ones, creation itself.  We then thank and praise God for these signs of His love for us. These are what St. Ignatius calls “consolations.” The daily practice of personally giving thanks to the Lord will deepen our awareness of just how truly blest we are and thus, we’ll develop a continual attitude of gratitude.

Point #2:  A stands for “Ask.” Although we already placed ourselves in the presence of God when we began the examen, here we need to ask for a special grace from the Holy Spirit. The review/examine should focus on our relationships, our relationship with the Lord and with others. In addition to our thoughts, words and actions, we should also consider our emotions. Our emotions indicate whether we have a proper disposition about what we are asked to do. The Examination of Conscience is an exercise in understanding how God is leading us and our response.  Without the help of the Holy Spirit, we’ll remain blind to our sinfulness.

Point #3: K stands for “Kill.” Why “kill”? Because it was our sins that killed and crucified Jesus. There are also certain feelings and ways of thinking that can take away the joy Jesus wants us to have. They are literally are “kill-joys”.

During this third point, we look at our thoughts, words and actions.  So, again, we gaze across the conscious hours of our day. This time, however, we look not for peaks but valleys, what Ignatius calls “desolation.” In other words, we pay attention to those times during our day when our hearts dropped.

Why might they have dropped?  Perhaps because of some sinful thought, word or action we committed. Or maybe because of someone else’s sin.  Or perhaps we lost our joy because we felt overwhelmed by problems due to our lack of trust in the Lord. We didn’t accept the challenge of these problems as a share in the Cross. We should have been more peaceful about it and offered it up as a prayer for others.

            [Another item we can examine here is whether or not we have entered into the “violence of sorrow” of our wounds—This fall Lourdes, Mother of the Cross and our spiritual mother, spoke to us about the “violence of sorrow.”  She entreated us to “enter into the violence of your sorrows.”  We cannot suffer with Christ or one another, if we do not enter the sorrow.  In our human weakness, we try to dodge pain, turn away, avoid by varied means.  These are three reasons we do not enter our “violence of sorrows”:

1) We minimize them. Do not constantly tell yourself,  “I have no sufferings to speak of.”  You suffer exactly the crosses which Christ gives you—however little or great, you suffer them—and in entering your sorrows you live the Mass.

2) We distract ourselves from them.  You know how that works:  busy, busy, television, telephone, and insufficient quiet time to reflect on your life with Christ.

3) We complain. The smallest complaints neutralize the sacrifice of love.  We comfort ourselves in these insipid ways and refuse to enter the pain of our sorrow.

Point #4: E stands for “Embrace.”  Having identified areas in which we have failed to follow the Lord, or failed to walk in the faith He calls us to, we express remorse for those attitudes or acts in which we thwarted His love. We then allow Jesus to embrace us, sinners that we are, with the rays of his merciful love. While praying over this point, it may be helpful to think of the image of Divine Mercy. Imagine the rays of this image embracing you with His forgiveness.

Point #5:   R is for “Resolution.” As a result of our examination we make specific resolutions to improve or response to the Lord’s call. The choice must be concrete, tangible, attainable.  Since Ignatian spirituality is about decisive action, it is indispensable to make a “do-able” resolution and then to hold yourself accountable. This is where keeping notes can be very helpful.  So for example if during step #3 you recognize that you were uncharitable to someone your resolution will be to apologize or be especially kind to them the next time you see them.