Friday, August 26, 2016

Suffering


Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church...
Colossians 1:24

I have never really understood what Paul was saying there. How can anything be lacking in the death of God, Son of Man, on the cross?

Notations on that Scripture verse point out that Paul was not saying that Christ's death was insufficient. Certainly, I agree that was not St. Paul's intent, but it's quite a strange statement to make...

However, Paul was suffering, had suffered, and expected future suffering as a man who was abused and imprisoned many times for the sake of the Gospel, and as he experienced those trials, I have no doubt that he was thinking of all the new Christians for whom he felt his suffering had meaning, precisely because he had united it with Christ's.

Have you ever heard a Catholic say, "Offer it up!"? Catholics have a unique perspective. All Christians feel that Christ gave suffering incredible meaning in his passion, crucifixion and resurrection, suffering born of love that saved humankind and raised our humanity to heaven. But Catholics also believe that we can unite our own continual suffering here on earth to Christ, in fact that we can participate in our Savior's suffering for the Church, our family, for all of humanity.

Some may argue that God doesn't suffer; Christ no longer suffers. Christ's suffering ended with the resurrection. I don't know. Does he suffer in the same way as us? No. But I would argue that if there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine who had no need of repentance, God's love is intense beyond imagining. And is humanity still suffering? Absolutely. Are we still harming others through acts of selfishness, pride, greed and cowardice? We're still sinning, yes. Do I think God suffers with us? That is an interesting question, and I think Elie Wiesel said it very well in a scene from Night. In it a young boy is hanged and dies a slow, agonizing death in front of assembled prisoners at a Nazi concentration camp. Wiesel wrote:

Behind me, I heard the same man asking: 
"Where is God now?" 
And I heard a voice within me answer him: 
"Where is He? Here He is. He is hanging here on this gallows."

Few of us our likely to witness or experience such terrible, intense suffering. But I believe in a very personal God, so I think God is there. If we are truly His creatures, made in His image, how could he not be?

When I converted to Catholicism, the idea of giving suffering great meaning in Christ impressed me. If Christ took suffering and made it the tool of redemption, then we as Christians can make our suffering more than just a cause for complaint and pity. I believe wholeheartedly that every act of love and sacrifice becomes infinitely more powerful when united to Him. So even if we are having a bad day at work, the boss is blaming us for something beyond our control, we can offer it up for someone. If our children receive detention, instead of wasting energy on resentment, they can offer it up for the kid with whom they got in the fight that landed them there. If we have been in a car accident and are feeling physical and emotional pain, we can offer it up for any others involved and for those who aid us afterward.

I find this even applies to fasting. I am no good at fasting, frankly, but if I know I am fasting for the needs of another or in solidarity with another, it becomes much easier to keep that commitment, to make sacrifices and to pray more frequently. Why? I am offering it up.

In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice. 
-Viktor Frankl

And I have strong faith in its effectiveness. Christ can do more with our big and little trials than we can. He can, quite miraculously, work them for the good of another - of many others, I believe, if we cultivate this habit of giving it fully and humbly to our Redeemer.




Monday, August 15, 2016

The Water (story of a creek hike continued)



My family went hiking by beautiful Clear Creek in west central Arizona this summer. You can read of our adventure in the post "A Creek Runs Through It" at my other blog. I'll share this excerpt here:

It was at this swimming hole that I shed frustration and felt joy while watching my children revel in the water, enjoying nature giddily. They splashed around and fought the current and scrambled up slippery rocks and waded through deep narrow places in the stream, laughing, and I was right behind them, reliving my childhood and drinking from the fountain of youth in the only and best way.

In that post I tried my best, as writers always do, to show just how that creek water made me feel as I watched my children play in it and pushed my own legs against its current joyfully, all of us fully engaged.

I'm attempting to do so again, because I didn't succeed the first time.

In talking about it with my husband Matthew one evening over port, I expressed the opinion that writers are not free to say that they don't have the words for an experience or feeling. We're supposed to find the words.

He disagreed.

In our conversation I rambled off adjectives, tired ones, insufficient ones, and still could not express fully how that fresh water made me feel. He told me to admit my wordlessness, use my weary adjectives, and let my readers imagine for themselves how astonishingly cool creek water pulsing against their legs on a dry, hot summer's day might make them feel.

For me it was a spiritual experience...

Perhaps it reminded me of the love that filled my youth, of the company of my siblings, parents and family pets, of a childhood ensconced in nature...

But there was also the mystical temperature of the water.

I tried so hard to find words fit to describe it. Unlike every other creek I have ever known in my life that makes you shrink from its stark chill, momentarily shocked even on a scorching day, this creek's water was stunningly cool in a way that drew you in deeper, made the cold and the damp a vital, invigorating part of that moment, and made you feel wholly revitalized as you walked on the slippery surface beneath its powerful current.

Instead of making me recoil at first entry, it made me feel reborn, super-humanly alert, in harmony. I wanted to wade in it all day with my four happy children.

My little guy waits
Later, after hiking up the creek to some lovely spots, I sat for several long minutes atop a red rock at that original swimming hole, staring into the deep, eddying green below and trying to find the courage to push my body off into that inscrutable water.

My son Berto and daughter Ana had already done it easily and encouraged me to go ahead.

When I finally dove in as we were supposed to leave, my brave plunge reminded me of baptism. For a few seconds I was thrust into darkness as if into death. Then I pushed out of that beautiful pristine water, more fully alive.

And I thanked God for the memories of that creek explored and that day enjoyed in the company of my family.




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