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 .” 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.