February 4, 2018, Sunday
“Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that is perishable, though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ: whom not having seen you love; on whom, though now you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” —1 Peter 1:6-9
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” —James 1:2-4
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” —2 Corinthians 4:16-18
“He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.” —1 Peter 4:11
In these days I have visited my parents in Connecticut. My father is 91, my mother, 84.
I cannot say whether the visit is marked more by sorrow or by joy — sorrow at what is happening to them, joy that they are still here.
The two feelings seem to intertwine. There is not unmixed sorrow, or unmixed joy.
We sit together and the sun’s shadows lengthen, and the red-headed woodpeckers fly to the bird-feeder and peck at the suet, and we remember old times. But also much is now forgotten.
Certainly mortality seems near, “Sister Bodily Death,” as St. Francis sang in his Canticle, like a shapeless cloak upon my mind and heart, in the lines on their faces, in the age marks on their hands, in their unsteadiness.
Then there is nostalgia — a “longing for the return”…
I feel this too, like a great “I wish” or “if only” welling up from within…
I remember my father playing touch football with us in autumn, the leaves on the lawn crackling under our feet. I was nine. He sketched plays for us in the palm of his hand — “go out five steps, fake right, go left, and I will hit you with a pass right in your breadbasket.” His breath puffed out white in the cold air. And his finger left a white mark on the red skin of his palm where he drew the line of my route. The route was there in the palm of his hand.
And I ran the pattern, and he threw the pass.
So it was.
We all have this same journey to make, this journey of divestiture, of leaving behind, of dispossession, of loss…
This unites us.
We are all mortal.
And yet, each of us senses, in the longing at our core, in our longing for meaning and for love, for Logos, for Agape, in our longing for forgiveness, for healing of wounds, for a restoration of all that slips away and falls short, that we were not made for nothing, but for something…
But for what?
The ultimate purpose of a man or a woman is not to be “happy” in some superficial sense, or to “be fulfilled” in society.
Man’s ultimate purpose is to encounter God, and through this encounter to be transformed and transfigured, even through our suffering, which enables us to give up everything that is not holy, not transcendent.
And what is the path, here, toward this goal?
In this world, it passes in part through suffering, which becomes compassion, that is, love.
Suffering, as the scriptures above show, is an essential process in order for the inner being of any of us to be “excavated.”
It is the antidote, the counter-process, to all that would leave us superficial, without depth, “hollow men.”
The emptiness we sense within, the longing for what we inarticulately call the lasting, the perfect, the holy, the eternal, is a longing for nothing less than the holy, nothing less than the eternal.
Sitting with my aging, dying parents, I sense my beginning and my end.
The personhood which we share can only be deepened and prepared for the indwelling of the divine though suffering, through sacrifice.
And so, paradoxically, our suffering leads to the inner transformation which enables us to encounter and embrace, and be embraced by, the hidden God who surpasses all understanding, but can be known and recognized in His epiphanies, when He in His condescension draws near to us.
If becoming “fully alive” as a man or woman is our destiny in Christ, the path passes through suffering. which creates the possibility of self-transcendence, of love.
Why this is so, I do not fully understand.
I have experienced the deepening of empathy after having suffered deeply.
Suffering is real, and lack of suffering is, in some way, unreal.
But what is real is ultimately the true God alone, and what is unreal is unlike Him.
So when we suffer, we are able to stand and wait for that which we desire, which is ultimate reality, divinity, holiness.
In this, we have reason for great joy.
(to be continued)