This entire entry stems from a thread regarding the "creation of evil" and free will. I wanted to post it here as well because I think it's a great conversation!
God grants us Free Will
God is the Supreme Author of creation... all things visible and invisible. Our creed states as much. However, does this mean He created evil as well?
My answer is no. Evil is not a thing to be created. It is a choice. One cannot "create" love, one can only choose it, right?
The same holds true for evil. One cannot "create" evil. One can only choose it. God, being Supremely wise, holy and loving, has the capacity for evil.
However (and this is a big however), being that He is Supremely wise, holy and loving, He eternally CHOOSES goodness. He eternally chooses love. THIS is the gift of Free Will that He imparted to us. If God doesn't have the capacity for evil, then God is not all-powerful. God wouldn't 'need' free will because He'd be incapable of evil. However, God IS all-powerful. The difference between Him and the rest of us, however, is that He's always chosen goodness and love over evil and hatred. Thus, God must have free will if He was able to grant it to us as a gift.
So, keeping His Perfect Example of free will in mind, let's move on.
God created the angels before humanity. Angels are purely spiritual beings that were also granted the grace of free will. We are taught through tradition that one third of these angels utilized their free will in opposition to the Divine Will of God (His Divine Will being Supreme Goodness). As a result, these angels were cast away from His Divine Presence (since to be united to God is to be united with His Will - which is Love above all else).
God did not cast them aside in judgement. They chose to dislodge themselves from His Goodness through pride. As a result, God, in His Goodness, created a place for them separate from the other angels who chose Goodness. Basically, He put the "bad kids" in the corner so they didn't disrupt the rest of the class. Those who wanted to continue to grow in love and understanding of God could remain with Him in Heaven.
Then God deemed it time for the physical realm to spring forth. After setting things into motion, He chose to bestow upon humanity the same gift given to the angels - free will. However, humans are intrinsically different from angels. Angels are purely spiritual beings. Humans are the union of body and soul (which is why Catholics believe in the "resurrection of the dead"). As such, our free will is going to be utilized differently from that of the angels (though with the same premise... freely choosing good over evil).
Eden was a physical realm that was in perfect union with the Will of God - Adam and Eve included. Genesis states as much when it writes of Adam "walking blameless before God." Adam's will was united to that of God's Divine Will, and there was peace. Eve, too, lived in union with God's Will. Until, that is, she meets up with a pesky little snake.
As we all remember from our elementary days, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge were located in the center of Eden. The Tree of Knowledge, when we trace it back to it's Jewish roots, was known as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is an important distinction because Jewish tradition understands this Tree to be the mixture of good and evil. Until humanity (through Adam and Eve) ingested this fruit (thus introducing the conflict of evil), good was humanity's nature. Evil was something altogether separate that had no place in the nature of humanity. We simply understood and trusted that God knew best, and we willingly went along with the plans He set forth because we naturally understood Him to have our best interests at heart.
That changed due to the 1st sin (which was Pride, not disobedience). When the serpent suggested to Eve that she could gain the knowledge that God had and begin making her OWN plans that would be even better than those of God, she was feeling the temptation of pride. When she acted out in eating the fruit, it was not disobedience that goaded her... it was her own pride. Her mistaken belief that she could somehow gain wisdom above God's. That given the chance, her will could rival that of God's. Sound familiar? It was the very same sin that Lucifer introduced to the other angels. It was the very sin that caused their downfall as well.
This was the first time humanity said "No" to the Divine Will. The second time was when Adam came along and accepted Eve's sin into the family line. In allowing himself (as head of creation) to sully humanity by not only accepting this sin, but taking part in it, Adam solidified our downfall. Now that both of our parents (Adam and Eve) have sullied themselves with the stain of sin, all subsequent generations would feel the smudge on our natures. This is original sin. It's not an actual "sin" that newborns are held accountable for. It's the tendency towards sin that we have inherited from our ancestors. Much like the child of an alcoholic is more likely to become an alcoholic himself, the children of sinners are more likely to sin. We are children of Adam and Eve. The tendency has been passed from generation to generation, and with the exception of Our Lady, all of humanity has been marred by the stain of this original "No" to Divine Will... this original misuse of free will.
Out of love, God sentenced us to a physical death so that we might once more reunite ourselves to His Will. Since humanity had marred its nature through sin, God rightly passed judgement on us, deeming us unfit to reside in Eden as that was a place of peace and unity with God's Will. Humanity, having now turned from God's Will, would be forced to work their way back to their original Divine Inheritance. Free will, having been gifted at our time of creation, was not taken away. Instead, as punishment for misusing this gift to alter our purely good nature, we would need to learn to properly use this gift for love.
That is what our lives on Earth are all about. We are learning to love. We are learning to consistently choose good over evil. We are learning to trust the Will of God and allow ourselves to take part in His plans for Divine Providence. THAT is the meaning of our earthly lives.
Upon death, we are judged on how well we learned this lesson. Did we consistently strive to love others? Did we consistently choose good over evil? Did we trust in the Will of God to move our lives in the direction necessary to once more gain eternal happiness?
If the answer is a resounding "Yes," we gain entrance to Heaven. If the answer is "Eh, it was a hell of a struggle, and I've got a ways to go, but I at least learned that Your Will is right" we gain entrance to Purgatory with the promise of Heaven. Finally, if the answer is, "No, this is all bull, God, you're just a big bully" we cast ourselves into Hell.
And yes, I said we cast ourselves. Much as those original fallen angels had.
At judgement, we see our own lives in the Light of Divine Truth. We see our souls as God sees them, and in the face of this Truth, we cannot help but understand our successes and failings. We, ourselves, pass sentence before the Throne of God (before which no sin or dishonesty can stand). We accept whatever "reward" we are given because at that moment, we cannot help but understand God to be Supreme Justice. Thus, our soul either joyfully enters Heaven (where our free will exists, but has been perfected so that it is united always to the Will of God), willingly enters Purgatory (with the understanding that our free will can be cleansed through the fires of God's Love in order for us to prepare for Heaven), or willingly seeks Hell as the only respite from ourselves away from the burning Justice of God's Truth.
Christ as Judge
God is mercifully patient, this is true. However, He is Divine Justice as well, and this Justice is not simply meant to punish - it is meant to protect and nurture those who wish to remain true to His Divine Will.
In His Mercy, God grants us enough trials and experiences through our lives in order for us to properly learn Love. This was revealed by Saint Michael to someone whose name escapes me.
St. Michael the Archangel revealed that every person on earth is given exactly what he or she needs to learn how to live by God's Will. It is up to us to heed these lessons. They don't continue in Heaven because at that point, all free will ceases to formulate through one's own accord. It is either solidified with access to Heaven, becoming engulfed in the Divine Will, forged through Divine Love in the embers of Purgatory, or left to fester with no hope of respite in the bowels of Hell. Our actions on earth determine which area our free will goes for a make-over (if one is necessary) after earthly death.
A few months ago, as my class and I were discussing the 10 plagues God sent to force the pharaoh to give the Israelites their freedom, the topic of the Angel of Death came up. This same discussion ended up finding its way into my inbox this morning from a friend of mine who is trying to decide if Catholicism is right for him.
The tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborns, was a punishment doled out specifically by the Angel of Death. My class had a really hard time wrapping their heads around the image of the angel pictured in the book. He was wielding a sickle (much like the one pictured), and left a trail of death and lamentation in his wake. Not one of the kids could believe that God would intentionally "murder" children like that.
I had to reel them back in for a bit. I explained that God never "murders" anyone. The picture they saw wasn't a recreation of that night... it was an artist's choice of symbols and images to tell a story. In the book, we saw a mighty angel holding a sickle. Around him were crying mothers and lifeless children. The artist chose these things for a reason.
First, the Angel of Death didn't bring God's punishment to the firstborns... punishment was meant for those left behind who would feel the pain on an emotional level (considering that months of physical punishment did nothing to deter them).
This angel carried a sickle to symbolize the "harvesting" of souls. The sickle is an agricultural tool that is specifically used to remove the most desirable parts of grain. In ancient Egypt, that's exactly what the firstborns would have been considered. The souls that this angel harvested (firstborns) were the most desirable and respected family members in Egyptian times. The fact that God demanded that the souls makes the punishment that much more severe.
Finally, the crumpled, broken parents who clutched the lifeless bodies of their children were meant to evoke strong emotions - the artist wanted to REALLY hit home how devastating this plague was in its emotional severity, so he used young children to symbolize all firstborns.
Firstborn didn't just mean babies. It didn't just mean toddlers. Firstborn meant everyone from child straight on through adult. It meant everything from calf to chicken to donkey. God harvested the most revered of Egyptian lives for Himself as proof that He was God over all - even the best protected. He controlled Life and Death (not just over base nature and animals, but over humanity as well - something Pharaoh never accepted as true until this final plague).
However, my class was still having a really tough time reconciling God taking these innocent lives with their image of a pure, holy, and loving Being. This is very understandable considering we, as humans, many times see death as a horrible, evil thing (especially when it is the death of an innocent... someone who did nothing to cause or solicit an untimely end).
One student asked me, "Do you think they [the firstborns] were scared?"
I paused for a second, because I realized then that my poor class had in their minds this image of a massive weapon-wielding warrior with wings blazing a trail through Egypt slaughtering unsuspecting children. Their collective looks of horror and disbelief challenged me to break down the Angel of Death for them a bit... into one who looked a little more like this:
Sorry it's not super clear!
The Angel of Death wasn't running around slashing throats. In fact, I doubt the people who were chosen to die that night even felt pain. Though I never thought about it before, when she asked me that, I immediately pictured one of those children, soundly sleeping, engulfed in a brilliant light. The Angel of Death was present, and he showed this tiny soul something of Heaven. He gently said, "Come, little one. God is calling you home." He reached out his angelic hand and without thought or hesitation, the soul - immeasurably joyous and willing - leapt from its body and consented to be carried along to meet the Source of such radiating, all-encompassing Love.
Instead of punishment or pain, these souls were met with joy and love... comfort and beauty. The Angel of Death is not this menacing monstrosity that humans should fear. Instead, he is the herald of our Heavenly welcome - the one tasked with the joy of bringing us home after our earthly sojourn.
Shhh - I've got a secret to share...
This is a post I've attempted to start dozens of times. I'm half wondering what's going to happen to this one.
Will this be the one that gets published? Or will this one, too, be drowned out by tears, frustration, anger or sadness?
Guess the only way to find out is to keep typing.
My earliest memories revolve around my two younger siblings (both sisters) whom I always tried to "mother hen." I'd initiate games, I'd always be the "teacher" during pretend play, and I'd be the one that would organize and direct whatever mischief we'd get ourselves into.
However, I never liked dolls. That was my sister's thing. Maria was the quintessential "mother." She'd run around carrying her dolls everywhere, being sure to feed, diaper and burp them. I was much more interested in real babies. Plastic recreations simply made me feel cheated. I wanted real children to play with!
Like this in hot pink molded plastic!
I remember one Christmas, "Santa" brought me a swing for dolls. Santa, mind you, was our neighbor, Stan, who would dress up and bring us gifts on a random night leading up to Christmas - we all looked forward to that special visit every year. Anyway, the year he gave me the doll swing, I knew a mistake had been made. "Santa," I said, "I think this is Maria's gift."
Truth be told, Maria's eyes were glistening with jealousy. She hadn't opened her present yet, but boy did she want mine! It was pink and white and perfect for any doll lucky enough to find itself seated there.
Santa replied that he was certain the swing was mine because he picked it out especially for me. He knew I'd need it for the gift Maria was getting. Turns out she was given a Baby Alive type doll - moving parts, eyes that opened and closed, and she even giggled after sipping her bottle. Maria was absolutely in her glories, and she immediately went to town cooing over the new "baby doll" she was given charge over. I took its spoon and tried to figure out how the disappearing peas worked.
That night, feeling completely gypped, I went to bed angry with Santa for not knowing that I thought baby dolls were stupid. What he said about me needing it for Maria irritated me even more, because my Christmas present should've been for ME, not for Maria.
Obviously I was a selfish little brat at 5 years old. *Sheepish grin*
Anyway, I'd love to say that I immediately learned my lesson but I didn't. It took me a few days of sulking before I understood that "Santa" had wanted to foster sharing between my sister and I. Shannon, at this point, was still too young to really play with Maria and I (though I remember trying to get her into the doll swing at one point). I also tried to get our cat, Sparky, in there, but he refused to have any parts of it.
Finally, Maria said to me that her dolly wanted to take a ride in my swing. I knew her dolly didn't want to do anything of the sort. Dolls don't have emotions or desires. Maria just wanted to use my swing. Stupid doll. No, no she can't use my swing. It's my swing, and even though I think it's a stupid present, she can't use it because it's mine.
Maria (being extremely sensitive at this point in time), crinkled her face at me and said I was being really mean. I should be nicer to the baby doll because her feelings were hurt now that I was being so mean.
Just like I knew Maria was expressing her own desire to use the swing through the doll, I understood then that she was also letting me know she was hurt because I was being mean to her.
Fully reproached, I handed over my swing to let her play to her heart's content. I was the big sister... it was my job to be nice to Maria, even if I thought what she wanted to do was stupid. I realized, too, that letting her play with the swing made me feel like a mom. I spent a while with her, just helping her play, wondering if that's what our mother felt like when she sat down to play a game with me.
I was proud of myself because I knew what I was doing was right. I was acting like a real mom - something I'd always, always wanted to be - even from an early age.
Anyway, fast forward through the years. I began keeping a diary. The diary wasn't just a collection of angst-y whining that is typical of a tween (but boy is there a lot of that in there!). It was a history lesson meant to show my future children that I was once exactly like them.
My entries always called out my future progeny. I'd write letters to them, or when I'd describe the mischief I'd get into, I'd say "So don't think Mommy doesn't know what kind of games you're playing when you just say you're going out with friends! I know better!"
Really. I did this from my very first diary entry (I still have them all) and continue right up until present day. All throughout my pregnancy with Vincent I'd write him little love notes telling him about all the excitement his very existence brought. I'd mention his future brothers and sisters, telling them that I couldn't wait to feel the same excitement for them, just so they didn't feel left out at all the talk about Vincent.
I always imagined my kids finding my set of diaries in a forgotten box in the attic. They'd laugh at the same entries that now make me cringe, they'd be surprised by some of my antics, and they'd learn something from my more vulnerable moments. It was always my hope that these diaries would give them a window into who Mommy is outside of just "Mommy." I always wanted my kids to understand that I'm a person with emotions that rival their own... that Mommy DOES understand the hurt of lost friendships, the joy of new romance, and the thrill of independence.
You see, in my mind, these children already exist. They always have. I've been longing for them from my earliest memories. I've thought of them, planned for them, and made many decisions based on what their future perception of me would be (hence my lack of tattoos even though I've always really, really wanted one). I've just been waiting for them to finally arrive so I could meet them.
That's what makes this entry so incredibly difficult for me.
I am the mother of children I'll never meet.
I am not infertile. John is not infertile. Neither of us are sterilized, and there isn't even an age issue considering we're both young enough to not have the fear that accompanies the pregnancies of older mothers.
Why, then, am I lamenting the fact that I will never have the family I'd always envisioned?
Here is my secret...
My husband does not want any more children and defends his desire to use birth control to ensure I remain barren.
This is typically the moment I delete the entry and lock myself in a bathroom. The thought of other people knowing that this is my reality is incredibly scary. To even admit that this is my reality is tantamount to me "giving up" on my kids - the ones who always have (and always will) exist in my heart, just waiting to be given a body to hug me with.
Ugh - each passing sentence has me feeling like I'm walking through thicker and thicker mud. I keep stopping mid-sentence, unsure if I can continue, half-wanting to retreat and find that aforementioned bathroom.
However, I won't stop this time. The pain of secrecy is almost as much to bear as the pain of vulnerability now. The last couple weeks have been particularly thorny for me, which I think is why I'm now feeling the overwhelming "urge to purge" through writing.
Several friends recently had children (with about a dozen more expecting). I'm both ridiculously happy for these friends and admittedly jealous. I am truly thrilled for the new life they're bringing forth because they all deserve the happiness that these children will undoubtedly bring, but I also have a twinge of jealousy that I don't get to experience growing my family as well.
Every time I hold their newborns or see the pictures on Facebook, my heart both grows with joy and falls apart with grief. I don't say anything to anyone about this, because God forbid anyone feel guilty about sharing their joy with the world. I would never want that. I really do enjoy sharing in their joy, and I am content to keep my grief my own. I really am.
However, the questions are getting to be too much, the insinuations too hurtful, and the comments too overwhelming.
Over Christmas, we spent time with a family that just had a newborn. Of course, I was more than happy to hold her to give her mom a break. Several comments were made by my family that I looked good with a baby girl (or maybe I'd be next, etc). I both appreciated the comments and just about died from how overwhelmed with grief I felt. More than anything I'd like to add a few more names to the family tree, but I knew what they didn't. Their longing for grandchildren / cousins / nieces / nephews pales in comparison to mine. Couple it with the fact that I needed to keep that tid-bit to myself only made it worse. I was walking around choking back tears knowing that I couldn't provide what we all wanted.
Over Easter, we spent time with this same family. The new mom asked when John and I would be having another. Thank God for sunglasses, because tears immediately sprang to my eyes. Having been bombarded for weeks with babies and pregnancy reveals, I was barely able to conceal the pain as I murmured, "Hopefully one day. Still haven't quite convinced John the timing's right."
I then looked up at the ride my niece was on and made some sort of comment about her making an adorable face. I couldn't actually see Alliya's face, but it immediately brought the conversation to a halt as the mom tried to search her out among the crowd.
My beautiful Alliya!
Later that afternoon, my niece saw me with the baby again. As she and Vincent were dancing around the living room, she said,"Aunt Gina, do you want another baby?"
I smiled at her and said, "Alliya, I'd like 100 more babies."
She laughed (as did my mother-in-law) and replied, "Why did you have Vincent?"
I said, "Because I loved him so very much."
My mother-in-law was trying to answer her as well, but Alliya was pretty intent on my response. She's a smart one! She didn't accept my answer as good enough, so she pressed me further with
: "Then why don't you have more?"
Her innocent question was more loaded than she realized, and I fault her none for the immediate torrent of grief that coursed through me. I pulled the newborn against me and kissed her head, once again taken hostage by my pained knowledge that the baby I held wasn't mine and likely never would be.
I soon handed the baby back to her mother so I could recollect myself in private. I could see John sitting on the porch talking to the men and it made me slightly irritated that he never got these kinds of questions. These were conversations for women, not men. Besides, even if someone did ask him about children, he'd nonchalantly express his contentment with Vincent (which is fine). Then this weekend, we spent some time with my best friend's family. She and her brothers have exactly the kind of relationship I always knew my kids would have with one another. Watching Mary and her siblings play ball in the yard together was both wonderful and painful. When I think of the children I'll never have, I can't help but feel like I'm cheating Vincent out of his siblings. I mean, I even asked John about that - he and his siblings have a good relationship. Didn't he think that Vincent deserved the same?And then I worry about when we get older - will Vince be forced to care for us by himself? Will he have no support system with which to rely when John and I die? It's one thing to share this sorta pain with your friends - it's entirely different to share it with those who know EXACTLY the loss you feel. Who but a sibling can share that sort of grief with you?And then what if Vincent does grow up and decide to become a priest (I can only pray - ha!). In addition to me not having children, I would then also be denied grandchildren. These things are painful to me alone. John doesn't really desire these things, so there isn't any loss for him in that regard. And that's fair. I can't (and wouldn't) force him into caring for something that is a non-issue. He can't be faulted for his feelings on this subject. Considering how bombarded we are anymore regarding children being nothing more than a hinderance to personal gratification and success, I really am unsurprised. He was afraid I'd resent him for his feelings, but I can't. I understand his feelings and they are valid. So please don't attack him for that which he has no real control over. His feelings are just as strong (and valid) as mine.Hiding this flood of emotion has become extremely taxing. I don't like to bombard John with it, and I certainly never want to "out" him to his family (because no doubt there would be some head-wagging from certain corners). I also never want to make others feel bad for sharing their joy - or even making comments that imply the children I'd bear are wanted.
But the pain is there. It is palpable, and I honestly think this must be what couples struggling with infertility face. It has made me much more sensitive to my own comments regarding children and time-frames that revolve around them. After all, I'm kind of dealing with a forced sterility.
No, that's not fair. It's not forced. It took me a while, but I've recently come to understand that this is something I have willingly accepted for the benefit of my husband.
Lady and the Atheist
For a while, he was worried I'd grow to resent him for his unwillingness to grow our family. He'd avoid the topic like the Plague, afraid that if he was honest about his desire to remain a one-child family, I'd divorce him for someone who would give me what I wanted.
In fact, he suggested I do that, himself, during one of the many heated debates we had about this.
He was also concerned I'd attempt to force a pregnancy. God only knows how he thought I'd do that. I explained I'd never force a child into a situation in which he or she might end up resented. For as much as I want these children, I'd never want to raise them in an environment in which they weren't given the unconditional love due to them.
Besides, I didn't marry John because he'd be my baby-factory. I married John because I love him and saw a future with him. We did have discussions on children before marriage, and I've always envisioned a large family. His vision changed along the way (hence the situation I now find myself in). Regardless, I vowed to stick it out with him. I didn't vow to stick it out with him so long as he conformed to my desires for a large family.
Now two of my friends who are aware of the situation have pointed out that John, himself, vowed to be open to life. That opens the door to an easy annulment so I could drop him and move on.
While I understood they were attempting to help me "out" of my situation, they didn't understand that I didn't accept divorce (or even annulment) as an answer. Even though I technically have every right to dissolve the marriage because of his refusal to accept this particular vow, I would never do such a thing. It's non-sensical.
Well, for starters, I know without a doubt in my mind that John was meant to be my husband. When I prayed to Our Lady for a good man who would be an incredible father, the response was John. He is a good man and an incredible father. His ideas on the size of our family may have fluctuated, but his integrity as a person never has. Also his ability to provide a life for Vincent and I can never be called into question. I have more in John than most women could find in 100. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Besides, if you think about it, marriage is a covenant. It's a promise between two people to uphold certain things, right? Well, how many covenants did God make with the Israelites? Plenty - each one of them broken by humanity. However, God never reneged on His end of the deal, right?
Maybe this is the cross Christ is asking me to bear. Thus, I offer this to Him for whatever it is that He needs it for. I admit that I really, REALLY struggle under the weight of it at times. These last few weeks have been the toughest by far. But I believe that He never gives us something so heavy that His Grace can't prop us up enough to handle it.
In accepting this, I think I really came to understand what I've always said about Christ's love. When I explained to John the sacrifice I was willingly making for him (and thus, for our marriage), he responded with, "I don't deserve so much sacrifice. It's too much."I heard myself in his voice. I really did. We were having this heart-to-heart in bed when he said that, and I can honestly say I immediately pictured myself at the foot of the Cross saying the same thing to Jesus. The point of sacrifice is NOT that the person you're sacrificing for deserves it. A real sacrifice is a gift of love, given freely because you WANT to give it without any expectation for repayment. That quote I found a few months ago was right:
Love transforms suffering into sacrifice.It is LOVE that enables me to make this sacrifice without contempt, without resentment, and without anger. That doesn't mean I won't feel intense emotional pain. Love just gives me the strength to survive it... to endure it willingly for the benefit of both John and Christ. That knowledge is the only thing that gives me solace. I understand this is a wound that won't heal... and maybe it's not meant to. Maybe it needs to stay fresh with each innocent comment, each new pregnancy, and each new experience I have seeing siblings tottering around the park together while Vince unsuccessfully tries to butt in and play, too. My ways are not His ways, and maybe He's got something in store for me up ahead. Just keep me and my family in your prayers. As I said, this has been an incredibly difficult few weeks (on an emotional level), and I'm hoping this entry lets off some of the steam that's been suffocating me.Also, for those of you still with me ('cause wow... this really got long), I appreciate the time you spent. Blessings to you and yours.***PS - I've written a rebuttal to several of the more Negative Nancys who have written in to lament the many shameful things I've said. That can be found here.******PPS - I've now had to swap commentary to "Approve First" due to the overwhelming number of respondents who have declared themselves Christ by judging my husband and I guilty of mortal sin. So feel free to comment, but know that if you overstep your bounds, I'm very friendly with the delete button.***
For Good Friday, I was lucky enough to find a parish that offered Confession for two hours before noon.
The church was barren, save for an empty wooden cross crowned with a ring of thorns. I wanted to kiss the cross as I waited for confession, but it was in the sanctuary so I could not.
This church had also removed all the kneelers which I thought was interesting. I didn't mind kneeling on the floor and thought it was a good idea that we could now offer up this slight mortification in union with Christ.
All the fonts were either empty of draped in purple. It almost felt wrong that the sunlight poured in through the gorgeous stained glass windows. Did nature somehow forget that Jesus was suffering death? Did the sun forget that we were to remember His Passion today?
No - nature didn't forget. That same sun shone down upon Christ as He followed the Via Dolorosa. That burning sun tried so hard to light His way... to warm His Body that must've been shivering dreadfully for lack of Blood. It poured its rays of warmth over Our Lady to offer her even the simplest of condolences. It offered itself to the people - the same people who angrily kicked, spit upon and mocked the Savior. If the sun could think, would it have let loose torrential solar flares in an effort to enlighten these ignorant people that they were cruelly murdering the innocent and mighty Hand of Creation? Would it have spun faster to strengthen its gravitational pull in order to pull its God closer to itself in a protective embrace?
That sun - our sun - was the same sun that shone down on Christ's hanging Body upon the Cross. It didn't forget... maybe it just knows better than we do the power of Christ's resurrection and wants to remind us that though our hearts are black with grief, His Light will prevail and will work Itself into even the darkest of tombs.
Then I began thinking about Our Lady and the grief she must've carried along that same trail of tears. To stand at the foot of His Cross and to fully understand that this was the Sacrifice she was born to offer in union with Her Son... incredible. The same Baby she cradled in her arms and nursed at her breast... the same Child who picked her wild flowers and proudly crafted His first wood project into a gift for her... the same Man who she watched heal, love and unite - now she watched His final, passionate act of Love during His earthly Life.I cannot even imagine that pain. When I think of the Blessed Mother and the other women who were forced to watch their children be sacrificed (for early martyrs, this was common- to endure witnessing the torture and death of your children before being killed yourself) my heart nearly stops. My breath always catches because as a mother, I cannot help but put Vincent's face on each of those children. I cannot help but imagine my own indescribable terror, pain and fury as I was shackled to a wall to endure Vincent's agonizing torture, unable to help, comfort or avenge him. Would I be able to offer our suffering up to God as Mary did?And I do think of this often. I can't help myself, especially with the increasing amounts of political pressure being built up against the Catholics not only in this country, but all around the world. It's no secret that Christianity is the most persecuted faith in the world (actually, it might be in the US where many assume it's Islam). Also, since I subscribe to VOM's monthly newsletter, the reality of this problem is often in my thoughts. My husband has often questioned why I continue reading these things as they tend to make me upset. I respond that my ignorance doesn't help, and at the very least, these folks deserve to have people aware of their plight... even if the only thing we can do is offer prayers for them. I'm not willing to ignore the suffering of others in order to spare myself a few sleepless nights. It doesn't seem right. I won't lie - there have been times where I've wanted to put down books or newsletters. I've wanted to ignore particular headlines because of the emotional stress I'd end up with, but I typically end up reading on. I have to. How would I feel if someone ignored me? How would I feel if someone had the ability to help me and shut the door because it was just "too painful" to even acknowledge my pain's existence?It's why I forced myself to endure learning about the different methods of abortion. For weeks I'd burst into tears, dropping to my knees to beg God to force us to stop these heinous murders. I didn't care if that meant the world would end, I just wanted the suffering of these innocent children to stop. This was actually during a period that John tried "forbidding" me from accessing the internet. Heh - he knew he couldn't really forbid me, and I doubt he wanted to, but he was so upset for me that he didn't know what else to do. He didn't understand why I kept trying to learn more about abortions. He said, "You know they happen, and you learning about how they happen isn't going to make abortions happen less."I said, "You're right. My understanding won't stop abortions because I already made the decision to never participate, but I bet if others who haven't made that decision learned about abortion it would happen less!"And it's true - so many people who are "pro-choice" really don't understand all that goes into an actual abortion. For all the philosophical waxing pro-choicers do, they never once get into the hard-science of what an abortion physically does to both a child and the mother who carries it. But I digress. Sorry!
Back to Good Friday. After confession, I went to my own Church for the silent prayer before the Crucifix before 3pm when the statue was veiled. I tried to imagine how God the Father felt - He willingly handed Jesus over. He understood that His Sacrifice was necessary, but the cost! How much He loves us to do this!
Would I be willing to hand over Vincent for such a slaughter?
I mean, let's say that 1 million people were in jail. I'm not talking about the US jail system that allows inmates to watch TV, hang out in a cell, and be provided with 3 meals a day.
No... I'm talking about a hellish, hard labor camp akin to Auschwitz or worse.
Now let's say these million people aren't just random strangers... they're family. Yes, they are family that's guilty of every offense possible ranging from cursing all the way through murder, but they're family. Would I be willing to sacrifice Vincent for the lot of them?
Let's take it one step further... let's say these million family members aren't just distance relationships. They're a million Maria's and Shannon's... a million Raymond's and yes, even a million Evelyn's... my true brothers and sisters. What then? Would I be willing to hand Vincent over to save them?
And finally - even more than being my brothers and sisters - what if they were my children? What if these jailed souls were my children? Would I be able to hand over Vincent, my first, only and beloved son over for a torturous death so that they might be freed from jail?
What if I knew that even if I offered Vincent's life for theirs that they'd ridicule our sacrifice? That they'd scorn him?
How could God the Father ever consent to this sacrifice??? How could Christ, knowing full well what the future would hold for His wayward children???
Yes, we indeed crucified the entire Trinity that first Good Friday. We continue to crucify Them each time we are negligent in our duties as Christians... as dignified human beings made in His Image.
May God have mercy on us, and may we remember the Love shown to us through the truest Sacrifice ever made.
The picture to your left is of my wonderful grandparents - Eugene and Ida. I wanted to include a photo of my Grandmom, but the only ones I have of her (digitally) are those from her nursing home days. None of those photos do her justice, and I have serious doubts about her approving those had I chosen to post them.
Today I took John and Vincent to see Nanny, John's paternal grandmother. She lives with one of her sons, Michael, who has taken on the lion's share of her care-taking. Recently, it's begun taking a toll on him and he confided that she's been wearing him down with her loneliness. She calls him around the clock and complains when he doesn't come home right away.
I offered to visit her with John and Vince for the few hours Uncle Mike needed to tend to the Church. He's a sacristan for his parish, and he enjoys feeling useful. It also gives him time away from home.
So today we went during the 9-12 time frame she's most lonely for Uncle Mike. Vince was angelic and lavished an impressive amount of affection on her. Vince is normally very affectionate, but wow. He must've had his sixth sense working overtime or something, because all he wanted to do was sit with her, share his toys with her, kiss her, or call her name. She thoroughly enjoyed the attention!
However, even with us being there, she reached out to call Uncle Michael twice. She also vented to John about her loneliness. My heart broke for her because I understood the situation for what it was. John, on the other hand, just got frustrated, thinking it was a guilt trip or some manipulation for future visits.
That broke my heart twice.
I told John the story of my own Grandmom and something horrible I did that I still regret to this day.
After my Grandfather passed away (he suffered from Alzheimer's), my Grandmother began to rely even more heavily on my mother for everything. Normally a sharp, attentive and independent woman, my Grandmother suddenly couldn't function without my Mom's guidance. Mom would get phone calls from Grandmom the second she came in from work. Mom would get phone calls that woke her up in the mornings. Mom would get phone calls moments after walking through the door after having spent the morning with her.
At this point, my mother was sick, herself, so couple her illness with my Grandmother's incessant loneliness and then add that 5 of her kids constantly needed attention and boom - she was ragged. I remember her being so tired all the time and I felt awful for her.
Well, one Sunday, after Mom had walked in from seeing Grandmom, I picked up the phone as it rang. I was upstairs in my Mom's room, so I had heard my Mom walk through the door.
(Ugh - I'm cringing as I write this as I recall my horrible, horrible reaction).
Grandmom was on the other line.
Now you have to understand something about me and my Grandmother - regardless of what anyone says, I was totally her favorite. She was mine, too, and we had an unspoken agreement to have each other's backs regardless of what was going on. She always gave it to me straight, and I appreciated her honesty, love and affection. I loved her like no other, and in my book, she could do no wrong...
... until the day I picked up that phone.
My Mom heard the phone ring and I could almost hear her entire body dread the inevitable "Mom, Grandmom wants to talk to you" that was coming. So instead of shouting that over the bannister, I told her I would take care of it. I asked Grandmom if I could help her with anything.
She said no, she just needed to talk to my Mom.
In what will forever be my most regretted utterance ever, I said, "Grandmom, what do you need Mom for? She was over there all morning, and she'll be back again tomorrow. She's really tired right now. I think you call too much."
(Seriously... now I'm crying because I realize what an awful, awful mistake I made.)
Grandmom was somewhat taken aback by my reaction and we somehow parted ways. I'm sure I said "I love you" in an attempt to ease the mean words I'd just said, but I know they hurt.
I was annoyed with Grandmom. Why did she need to bother my Mom so much? I understood she was lonely, but to be calling so much, so often, and for nothing? It was making me so annoyed for my Mom's sake.
A few months later, of course, we found out Grandmom also had Alzheimer's. I can't even express the depths of guilt I felt upon realizing that my anger and annoyance had been directed against my innocent Grandmother who honestly had no idea what was causing her emotional instability. Instead of patiently trying to offer her my understanding, I abruptly accused her (in my mind) of the same manipulation and guilt trips that John now accused Nanny of.
I saw all the signs today that I neglected to see as a teenager. I pointed out that Nanny was obviously confused on dates and the time of year, and I pointed out her apparent short-term memory fog regarding how often she'd attempted to call Uncle Mike while we were there.
John got quiet for a while after I told him how I'd handled my own Grandmom and what the signs his Nan was showing. I didn't want him to write her off as "too strong" or "too independent" for "this nonsense" like I'd done with my own Grandmother years ago. Instead, I was really hoping to help him understand that which I couldn't as a child - the people we love and look up to our whole lives sometimes can't remain the triumphant, unbreakable heroes we make them out to be. They, too, are human. They, too, succumb to age and illness. They, too, will one day be in need of our love and care - the same love and care we craved from them as they nurtured us into who we are.
With that in mind, I made a mental note to get over there once a week. I failed Grandmom in that regard - but maybe I can begin rectifying that mistake through Nanny.
Love transforms suffering into sacrifice.
I really wish I could figure out who is responsible for this particular piece of art. It's beautiful.
Anyway, I found the above quote in a new book I'm reading. It leapt off the page at me and I've been thinking about it ever since. Oddly enough, John and I were playing a game in which the question "What is a more powerful emotion - Love or Hate?" was asked. Without a doubt, the answer is "Love."
Hate may have been what inflicted Crucifixion upon Christ, but LOVE is what enabled Him to bear that hatred. Hatred cannot bear Love. It cannot sacrifice. Love, however... Love can not just bear the hatred... it embraces the sacrifice.
Sure hatred is fiery and fast - incredibly powerful and unfathomably destructive. Yet this destructive and fiery force burns out because it simply cannot sustain itself. Love, though... love is gentle and steady and infinite. Love creates. Love protects. Love perfects.
Surely Love is the most powerful emotion as love is the essence of God, Himself.
With all the talk of redemptive suffering I've encouraged amongst my CCD kids, you'd think I wouldn't have to keep repeating this to myself. Unfortunately, knowing the truth of those words and accepting the truth of those words are two VERY different things.Three years ago, I was involved in a car accident (on election night, actually). I was rear-ended by a young driver who was watching another car accident across the road. He didn't see me stopped in front of him, and never had a chance to break until his front end was in my trunk.
Anyway, as a result of that, I've suffered from a herniated disc in my lower back. It is incredibly painful at times. Most times, actually, especially when you're a mom attempting to chase down your super active toddler who is bigger than kids twice his age. My pregnancy was difficult (I got pregnant about a month and a half after the accident), and lugging around a baby, in a car seat, plus diaper bags, toys, etc for the first year didn't help matters.
Bathing, changing diapers, picking him up and moving him from place to place (car seat to shopping cart, floor to high chair, ground to stroller, etc, etc, etc) are all extremely taxing on my back. Even simple things like throwing him up into the air, letting him "superman" on my legs, or picking him up so he's able to reach a basketball net are painful gestures. Bathing is still the absolute worst, and only gets worse as he gets bigger.
Anyway, I had to stop going to the chiropractor about a year ago because finances got tight. Insurance refused to pay out since I was "as good as it gets" and litigation won't finish for God only knows how long with the guy who smashed into me. I'm basically on my own for pain management, and over the last few months, I've become increasingly aware of the fact that I simply cannot manage anymore.
I've put pressure on the lawyer to get things wrapped up faster so the insurance company is forced to begin paying for treatments again. Since they request up-to-date check-ins with doctors, I've had to begin going again. Yesterday was the first time I'd seen the orthopedist since I was pregnant. He went over my charts and asked me questions. He did a quick battery of tests and announced that there was simply nothing that could be done for me short of invasive surgery. He also openly doubted that I'd be able to get insurance to pay for any of it due to the time-lapse. He also informed me that the defense lawyer's doctor was attempting to blame the disc herniation on a lumbar puncture I had received prior to the accident (I was tested for meningitis).
I asked if that was even REMOTELY possible and he laughed it off saying, "Dear God, no. Not even a little bit. But that doesn't stop lawyers from convincing people who don't know any better otherwise."
I was absolutely deflated. Any hope of finding relief from this incessant (and increasingly problematic) pain went up in flames. The doctor could tell I was upset, so he quickly left the room so I could compose myself in peace. I hate making folks feel uncomfortable, so I made a rather quick exit, myself, and attempting the consolation dance in the privacy of my car.
I immediately dove head-first into the pool of misery I created for myself. I felt guilt for not being an "unbroken mom" who could happily toss Vince into the air a million times. I felt shame for relying on John to get Vince out of the car or lifting him into his high chair when I simply cannot. I felt overwhelmed by the thought of enduring this pain - as it worsens - for the rest of my life. Future pregnancies and children... could I handle them? Or would I be even more broken by the time they came into the world? Guilt doubled over my lack of parenting for children who didn't even exist yet!
Then a thought occurred to me. Jesus must've felt WAY more freaked out than I did at the knowledge of what He was going to be experiencing. Torture and crucifixion are way worse than any amount of this back pain, and yet He accepted it without a word of complaint to His Apostles. He understood it was meant for salvation. My guardian angel must've been the one to whisper "It's redemptive suffering" into my ear, because I was hit with the realization that pain, too, is a blessing if only we open our hearts to its merit.
So I forced myself to stop crying... to ignore the thoughts of self-pity from my mind. I succeeded in refusing to feel sorry for myself, but I didn't quite accept that the pain was redemptive. I couldn't open my heart to that just then. I'm simply not mature enough spiritually, I guess.
I prayed. I'm driving down 295 just praying that Jesus will open my heart to the merits of such pain. Knowing I'm a logical little bugger, I think the Holy Spirit was kind enough to show me the humility I've gained in suffering through this debilitating injury. Ever-independent, I've prided myself in "not needing anyone." Now, however, I willingly acknowledge my inability to do even basic things. This humility, I realized, hasn't just effected things like asking John to help with the baby... the humility I gained from this injury (and continue to gain) is probably what opened my heart to "reversion" in the first place. I'm not all-powerful. I'm not so arrogant as to think I can handle everything and anything on my own. Such a realization is a death knoll for Pride, and though that vice still has its claws dug into me, its grip is slipping.
Now I'm not claiming that this epiphany has somehow lifted my desire to complain, self-pity or get angry at how "unfair" things are... I no doubt will fall into that countless more times. It is important to recognize, however, that there is truth to the blessing of redemptive suffering. I think God granted me this reminder so vividly because of all the discussion we've had in class. Plus, He probably realized I was getting a little too whiny and needed to knock me down a peg or two (okay, more like 20).
In conclusion, I am blessed to have a Father so kind as to remind me of the lessons I seek to teach others. In the process of making me a better teacher, He makes me a better person. :)