We are just three days away from the beginning of our Lenten observances. Our foreheads will be marked with the ashes on Ash Wednesday to symbolize our mortality (that our bodies come from the dust of the earth and will return thereto after our deaths) and of our need to do penance for our sins in a figurative spirit of sackcloth and ashes. We are called during this upcoming season of Lenten penance, which consists of more than ten percent of the calendar year, to die to self, to embrace our crosses with joy and gratitude, recognizing that each cross that comes our way has been fashioned for us from all eternity by the loving hand of God for His greater honor and glory and our own sanctification and salvation through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is thus very important for each of us to remember that there is nothing that any of us suffers in this passing, mortal value of tears that is the equal of what one of our least Venial Sins caused Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to suffer in His Sacred Humanity during His Passion and Death and that caused Our Lady's Immaculate Heart to be pierced through and through with those Seven Swords of Sorrow.
Although we are called to bear our crosses with joy and gratitude as the means by which we can pay back at least part of the debt that we owe God for our forgiven Mortal Sins, our unforgiven Venial Sins, and our general attachment, if any, to our past sins, we are still flesh and blood human beings. Crosses may hurt sometimes. They may hurt a lot. Our Lord Himself suffered excruciating pains during His fearful Passion and Death that only a handful of genuine mystics or very holy spiritual writers have been able to comprehend and then to describe in words. Our Lord wants us to recognize that He wants us to show Him a greater degree of love by enduring the more difficult, the more painful crosses, recognizing, obviously, that we can show our love for Him by the patient endurance of even the smallest of crosses as love given unto Love Incarnate helps us to die to self as we cooperate with the graces He won for us on the wood of the Holy Cross by the shedding of every single drop of His Most Precious Blood and that flow into our hearts and souls through the loving hands of Our Lady, she who is the Mediatrix of All Graces.
Showing us His ineffable mercy and forbearance with us erring sinners, God gives us length of years to learn how to love Him more fully as He has revealed Himself to us exclusively through His true Church. We come to despise our sins the more and more that we love God. We come to recognize the enormous price that we owe to God for our sins the more we meditate upon the love He showed us by becoming Incarnate in Our Lady's Virginal and Immaculate Womb by the power of God the Holy Ghost to suffer and to die to atone for our sins although He was free of the guilt of sin. We come to consider suffering as the path to victory as we see in our own personal "via dolorosas" nothing other than the royal road to the victory of eternal life. Yes, it may take us many years to come to accept and then to interiorize these truths. Well, that is why God, showing us that ineffable mercy of His, gives us length of years so that--maybe, just maybe--we might "get it" after forty or fifty of sixty or seventy years.
To accept with resignation and perfect abandonment to the will of God every seemingly bad thing or disappointment or human setback or suffering or illness that happens to us is an imperative of the interior life. Some come to this sooner in their lives than others. Let me explain, if ever so briefly.
As I may have explained on other occasions on this site, a friend of mine from grammar school was paralyzed from the waist down in an automobile accident in the summer of 1967. When I commented to her 1992 upon meeting her again for the first time in thirty years about how well she carried her cross of immobility and various other physical afflictions, she said, "What cross? I don't have any cross to bear. Why not me?" Yes, that is the reaction we should have when something seemingly "bad" happens to us. "Why not me?"
We can't spend our lives thinking about what "might have been" or what "should have been" or "what could have been." There is nothing we can do about the things that have happened in the past other than to accept that they have occurred within the Holy Providence of God and to make reparation for our either refusing to accept those things that involved crosses with equanimity and resignation to the will of God and to make reparation for our sinful choices that have caused pain in the lives of others and for ourselves. And if we have been the victim of injustice from others, we must keep in mind these wise words written by Father Edward Leen, S.J., that I have quoted in several past articles on this site:
Under the reign of Satan men were hard and unfeeling, without pity or tenderness. The one thing they looked up to was the physical power to dominate, and the one thing they feared was the helplessness of poverty. Their life was divided between pleasure and cruelty. Pride and haughtiness instead of being regarded as defects were regarded as manly virtues. Weakness was almost synonymous with vice, and all this tended to fashion hearts imperverious to the grace of God and to every human feeling. Conversion of heart was for them extremely difficult. What God required on the part of man as a necessary condition of their friendship with Him was to them abhorrent, for the practice of the Christian virtues of submission, humility, and patience would be regarded by them as degrading. They had to learn that what was not degrading to God--since nothing could degrade Him in reality--could not be degrading to them. Turning to God postulated on their part not only a change of heart, but also a change of mentality. Their human values were almost all wrong. In the terse words of St. Ignatius describing the pagan world" "They smite, they slay and they go down to Hell". . . .
In other words, it is the law of things as they actually are that we must continually suffer from others; it is the condition of our being that we shall be the victims of others' abuse of their free wills; it belongs to our position that our desires and inclinations should be continually thwarted and that we should be at the mercy of circumstances. And it is our duty to bear that without resentment and without rebellion. To rebel is to assert practically that such things are not our due, that they do not belong to our position. It is to refuse to recognize that we are fallen members of a fallen race. The moment we feel resentment at anything painful that happens to us through the activity of men or things, at that moment we are resentful against God's Providence.
We are in this really protesting against His eternal determination to create free beings; for these sufferings which we endure are a consequence of the carrying into effect of that free determination. If we expect or look for a mode of existence in which we shall not endure harshness, unkindness, misunderstanding, and injustice, we are actually rebelling against God's Providence, we are claiming a position that does not belong to us as creatures. This is to sin against humility. It is pride. (Father Edward Leen, In The Likeness of Christ, Sheed and Ward, 1936, pp, 17-18; 182-183. See! I told you I'd get you those exact page citation. I will be using more of Father Leen's book this Lent.)
Slacker that I am, I have had to learn over the course of many decades now that it belongs to my position that my own desires and inclinations should be continually thwarted. One of the major disappointments, humanly speaking, occurred just about ten years ago now after I was recommended unanimously by the faculty of the Department of Political Science and International Studies of the C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University for a full-time faculty position after nearly a decade of teaching in the department as an adjunct professor (getting paid per course without a full-time salary) and one year serving as a visiting professor on a full-time basis. I thought that my years of "exile" from having a full-time faculty position were over, that I could finally "relax" and "breathe" a bit back home on Long Island with a full-time salary and benefits. Such was not the will of God for me as senior administrators rejected the unanimous recommendation made by the faculty.
This was a disappointment. It was, however, one that I had to accept as coming from the hand of God, Who had other things for me to do apart from what I wanted to do, that is, to continue my career as a college professor of political science. Although I did adjunct again at C. W. Post in the Fall of 2001 and throughout the entirety of the 2002-2003 academic year before singing my "swan song" in the winter intersession at Post between December 28, 2006, and January 11, 2007, any real hope of securing a full-time teaching position effectively ended ten years ago, at which point I began my "Living in the Shadow of the Cross" lecture program across the nation that brought me in contact on March 11, 2001, with one Sharon Collins, who was in attendance at my first lecture at Saint Mary by the Sea Church in Huntington Beach, California. I wouldn't have met Sharon if what I wanted had come to pass, namely, to teach full-time at the C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University. We must accept everything as happening within the Providence of God and live in peace.
There is certainly a sense of humiliation in not being able to do what one is trained to do, of one's expertise not being recognized or wanted. Contrary to what the naturalistic spirit of the world teaches us, however, humiliation is good. It is the path by which those of us who have suffered from pride and disordered self-love can be beaten down more and more, ground up and crushed so that there might be some small chance that the humility and meekness of Christ the King can reign in a man's soul until the time of his death. It is good for us to be hated and misunderstood, rejected and calumniated. Very good. This is what our sins caused Our Lord Himself to suffer. We are better than Him? I don't think so. And it is our duty for us to abandon ourselves totally to God's Holy Providence when "things" don't appear to work out for us, understanding that the just and silent man of the House of David, Saint Joseph, was called to take his own family into exile and then to start his life all over again in Nazareth after the death of the murderous King Herod the Great.
Many of those who do not have the Catholic Faith, however, and/or who do not understand how to live the Faith, which is, of course, a gift of the working of graces in our soul of the graces sent to us through Our Lady's loving hands, are prone to consider earthly failure or disappointment or setbacks as catastrophic events that must be "resolved" by doing violence to those they hold responsible for their sufferings and/or by ending their own lives by means of suicide. Stories abound of those jilted in romance taking "revenge" on those who exercised their free wills to reject their romantic advances and of disgruntled employees taking up arms to kill their supervisors and co-workers.
The story of the University of Alabama at Huntsville biology professor who calmly shot her colleagues during a faculty meeting on Friday, February 12, 2010, killing three of them, after she had been turned down for tenure is the all-too-logical result of what happens in a world where people are concerned about career goals without being concerned at all for seeking their eternal tenure as a member of the Church Triumphant in Heaven in the glory of the Beatific Vision of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. So what? One gets turned down for an academic position or for a promotion or for tenure. So what? The only thing that matters is that we accept God's Holy Will with equanimity, recognizing that He has other work for us to do if our desire to work in our chosen field of training or in a particular place is not in accord with His Holy Will.
Others of those who, to use Father Leen's phrase, rebel against the will of God in their lives seek to escape by anesthetizing the "pain" of career loss or personal rejection by means of the excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages and/or the use of mind-numbing or hallucinogenic substances. There is no thought of offering up one's sufferings and humiliations and rejections to the good God Who means to bring good out of all of the evil that happens to us in our lives, starting with the opportunity to make reparation for our sins and those of the whole world as the totally consecrated slaves of Our Lady's Immaculate Heart. There is only the thought of one's wounded pride and of "getting back" at those deemed responsible for offenses given.
Then again, of course, a nation where over four thousand innocent preborn babies are killed by surgical means every day under cover of the civil law and where thousands more are killed by chemical abortifacients will degenerate over the course of time more and more as wanton acts of violence to "settle scores" become common place. After all, we have contraception and abortion because men and women refuse to accept the will of God as manifested in the fact that the conception of a baby is the natural, logical end of that which is proper to marriage during a woman's childbearing years. Reject the will of God in the person of a little baby, good readers, and it is easy to reject the will of God in all other things.
Pope Leo XIII, writing in Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus, November 1, 1900, put the matter this way:
This generative and conservative power of the virtues that make for salvation is therefore lost, whenever morality is dissociated from divine faith. A system of morality based exclusively on human reason robs man of his highest dignity and lowers him from the supernatural to the merely natural life. Not but that man is able by the right use of reason to know and to obey certain principles of the natural law. But though he should know them all and keep them inviolate through life-and even this is impossible without the aid of the grace of our Redeemer-still it is vain for anyone without faith to promise himself eternal salvation. "If anyone abide not in Me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up and cast him into the fire, and he burneth" john xv., 6). "He that believeth not shall be condemned" (Mark xvi., 16). We have but too much evidence of the value and result of a morality divorced from divine faith. How is it that, in spite of all the zeal for the welfare of the masses, nations are in such straits and even distress, and that the evil is daily on the increase? We are told that society is quite able to help itself; that it can flourish without the assistance of Christianity, and attain its end by its own unaided efforts. Public administrators prefer a purely secular system of government. All traces of the religion of our forefathers are daily disappearing from political life and administration. What blindness! Once the idea of the authority of God as the Judge of right and wrong is forgotten, law must necessarily lose its primary authority and justice must perish: and these are the two most powerful and most necessary bonds of society. Similarly, once the hope and expectation of eternal happiness is taken away, temporal goods will be greedily sought after. Every man will strive to secure the largest share for himself. Hence arise envy, jealousy, hatred. The consequences are conspiracy, anarchy, nihilism. There is neither peace abroad nor security at home. Public life is stained with crime. (Pope Leo XIII, Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus, November 1, 1900.)
All the more reason, of course, to pray for the conversion of men and their nations to the true Church, outside of which there is no salvation and without which there can be no true social order.
This coming season of Lent offers us an opportunity to make reparation for our own past refusals to accept the will of God in our lives with equanimity and total abandonment. to His Providence, to say nothing of the opportunity to give thanks to Him for keeping us alive to make another Lent of prayer, penance, self-denial, mortification, and almsgiving. Our past observances of Lent should teach us that we need Our Lady's help to make these coming forty days ones that will dispose us to entering into the life-giving mysteries of Our Lord's Passion, Death, and Resurrection during Passion Week and Holy Week with a renewed spirit of fervor and gratitude so that our joy at the Easter Vigil Mass and on Easter Sunday will be expressed throughout the year by viewing everything that happens to us and in the world-at-large through the eyes of the Holy Faith.
Praying for the repose of the souls of the victims of the Alabama shooting and for the recovery of those who were wounded, as well as for the conversion of everyone involved, including the perpetrator, to the true Faith, may we beg Our Lady's help, especially through her Most Holy Rosary, to accept the will of God with joy, giving everything that we suffer back to Him through her own Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart.
An eternal tenure in Heaven awaits those who persevere until the end by carrying their cross in this life as they keep close to the Mother of God Who is as close to us in our own sufferings as she was on Mount Calvary as she witnessed her Divine Son suffer as a result of our own sins.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, pray for us.
Saint Valentine, pray for us.
See also: A Litany of Saints