Archive for July 2011

“Take It On”

July 29, 2011

The phrase “offer it up” has been around for a long time. Properly understood, it’s a powerful way of turning “trash” into spiritual treasure, cooperating with God in His mission to make all things work together for good (Romans 8:28) and to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). To “offer it up,” is to unite my sufferings with Jesus’ sufferings on the Cross, especially in the Mass, which is a participation in Jesus’ eternal sacrifice–the only sacrifice with supernatural saving power. By uniting my sufferings to Jesus’ I participate in the release of grace into the world, in the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of souls. That’s powerful! And it gives my suffering meaning and purpose.

Without disparaging any of that, my reading and pondering our identity as members of the Body of Christ (see I Corinthians 12, among others) has suggested an additional perspective.

In the Passion, Jesus’ Body suffered. His back was scourged, His shoulder bore the weight of the cross, His hands and feet were pierced, His Heart was thrust through. As a member of Jesus’ Body, I can expect to share His suffering. Perhaps today I’m His shoulder, weighed down by a heavy burden. Or maybe I’m His hand, pierced and bleeding. Whatever the case, if I am to remain in union with Him I need to “take it on”.

When we suffer, there’s a sense in which we’re like Simon of Cyrene, forced to pick up a cross. We can do so unwillingly, or we can choose to “take it on.”

There is a natural human response to want to absorb the suffering of one we love. “Oh, if only I could take that suffering for you.” Jesus fulfills that longing. He doesn’t leave us as helpless spectators on the outside looking in. No, we can’t substitute for Christ. But we can unite with Him. We can suffer in Him and with Him as members of His Body in communion with Him.

The sense in which we “offer it up” is the sense in which we realize that it’s not our suffering, but His. The sense in which we “take it on” is the sense in which we take our place as members of the Body of Christ in His Passion.

This ties in directly with the distinction between
a “replacement sacrifice” versus a “representative sacrifice”:

The history of man and his religion
is the story of his efforts to reunite himself with the divine.
To bring about this reunion, man offers a gift to the gods,
but in the end realizes that nothing less
than the gift of himself will suffice.
And insofar as man is not usually willing
to offer his complete self to the deity,
he searches to find a gift, an offering,
a sacrifice that “represents” himself.
A true representative gift
is one in which the giver is in some way present in his gift;
in this way the gift truly represents man
in his attempt to give himself to God.
Not all gifts, however, can be classified in this way,
for in some gifts man is not present in the offering.
These gifts are called by Cardinal Ratzinger
“replacement gifts,”
where the offerer is not present in his gift,
even though on the surface he believes himself to be
(Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p36).
The distinction, then, is this:
the “representative sacrifice”
truly symbolizes man’s genuine and heartfelt desire
to give himself over, to unite himself to God,
to divinize himself:  in a word, to “sacrifice.”
The “replacement sacrifice,” on the contrary,
is a mere empty sign or gesture
of man’s supposed desire for reunion;
the replacement sacrifice is a replacement of man,
and “worship with replacement
turns out to be a replacement for worship.
Somehow the real thing is missing”
(Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p36).
It is these latter sacrifices
that the prophets seek to correct.
-Christopher Carstens & Douglas Martis,
Mystical Body, Mystical Voice:
Encountering Christ
in the Words of the Mass, p21

When we “take on” suffering as members of the Body of Christ,
we are present in our sacrifice,
in our offering to God.
It brings us into communion with Him,
the union with the divine for which we were created.
It fulfills our destiny.

In addition, it builds up the Body of Christ.
We are not only united to the Head (Jesus–see Ephesians 5:23), but to all the other members as well, throughout time and eternity. When we “take it on,” we never suffer alone, nor are the effects of our suffering limited to ourselves. A “great cloud of witnesses” cheers us on (see Hebrews 12:1).

In my own sufferings (small and not so small),
I’m learning to both “offer it up”, and “take it on.”

Weekly Date–With our Divine Bridegroom

July 13, 2011

My husband and I made a conscious decision to keep dating throughout our marriage. One night a week is set aside specifically for that purpose, and we guard it zealously (although we can rearrange days at need). Last summer we took up the challenge of “Project 52” to plan our dates as special occasions (you can see the outcome here). It’s been a lot of fun & a vast improvement over “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

When we were at Mass yesterday it occurred to me that God has weekly dates with His Bride too–daily, if she’ll come–and they’re always a special occasion (although, admittedly, some are more special than others). He brings out candles, music, flowers, the finest golden dishes, storytelling and intimacy far beyond what any merely mortal husband and wife experience!

God’s Bride is His Church (Ephesians 5:25-32). He dates Her (us!) lavishly every week (and every day) in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

This divine romance can clue us in to what works in our earthly marriages. If God thinks it’s that important to date His Bride every week, perhaps we should consider dating our earthly spouse that often.

And our experience of earthly marriage can and should help us to understand better just what God’s doing for us as His beloved. I can tell you from experience that preparing special time together benefits a marriage. God’s prepared special times to spend with us. It helps if we don’t “stand Him up”!

Overdose of Glory?

July 12, 2011

I built a model of the Old Testament Tabernacle recently. Every time I give the RCIA presentation on the Exodus I wish I had one & this year I found a printable that made it feasible.

(The covering needs help, but there’s only so much I can do with printer paper)

I tweaked a few things & made my own version of the ark of the covenant (complete with flowers, leaves & ripe almonds on Aaron’s rod!).

Passages I usually skim came to life before my eyes. It was striking just how many things lined up with the way we worship today, with special vestments for priests, water for purification before worship (holy water fonts, Father washing his hands before consecrating the Eucharist), the veiled Tabernacle where God was present to His people with the lamp burning constantly before it–and the showbread, most holy to the Lord (another foreshadowing of the Eucharist), etc.

That experience was on my mind as we prayed before the Tabernacle after Mass. It made me appreciate just what a privilege it is to be so close to the Holy of Holies, unveiled (and that’s not even touching Holy Communion!!!). It brought to mind what happened when people in the Old Testament didn’t honor that separation, especially Uzziah touching the ark (2 Samuel 6). That juxtaposed with a bit I’ve been reading out of Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass, by Christopher Carstens & Douglas Martis (on the new translation of the Mass) about our need to learn the language of Heaven through the liturgy in order to be happy in Heaven. They quote John Henry Cardinal Newman:

Now is it not plain that those who are tired, and wearied, and made impatient by our sacred services below,
would most certainly get tired and wearied
with Heaven above?
Because there the Cherubim ‘rest not day and night,’
saying,’Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.’
Such as this, too, will be the way of the Saints in glory,
for we are told that there will be
a great voice of much people saying,
Alleluia; and again they said, Alleluia;
and the four-and-twenty elders said Alleluia.
Such, too, was our Lord’s way,
when in His agony
He three times repeated the same words,
‘Thy will, not Mine, be done.’
It is the delight of all holy beings,
who stand around the Throne,
to use one and the same form of worship;
they are not tired,
it is ever new pleasure to them to say the words anew.
They are never tired;
but surely all those persons
would soon be tired of hearing them,
instead of taking part in their glorious chant,
who are wearied of Church now,
and seek for something more attractive and rousing.
(Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 8, Sermon 1).

Mystical Body, Mystical Voice also references C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, in which people from hell travel to the outskirts of Heaven, only to find that they’re not real enough to walk on the grass or to endure the drops of rain–the grass is like swords that go right through their ghostly feet & the raindrops like bullets that wound them.

Heaven is overwhelmingly glorious for those who are prepared for it–but not for those who aren’t (which is why God mercifully provided a place for those who don’t like Heaven).

The upshot was a question: what if the reason Uzziah died by touching the ark wasn’t because “God went after him,” but rather because he connected with Power beyond his ability to bear–like touching a downed power line? What if he died of an overdose of divine glory? And what if he ultimately went to Heaven?

Saints who’ve had ecstasies have said they would’ve died from such proximity to God if He hadn’t sustained them, and I’m reminded of
Bl. Imelda Lambertini who kept asking how anyone could receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and not die of happiness (and then she did–both–in a miraculous First Communion).

God is all-powerful. He makes an atomic bomb look like a lightning bug. People fell down terrified at encountering an angel, never mind God Almighty Himself. There are constructive ways to approach such power, but there are destructive ways too (I shudder to think of all the sacrilegious and careless Communions!). But since the God doesn’t often reveal the spiritual destruction in a physical way, we don’t notice–this side of the veil. He makes Himself SO available to us here!

Life here is our training for Heaven–not just to see if we can be “good enough” to squeak into a celestial amusement park, but rather a program of discipline in humility and caritas that will enable us to do the spiritual equivalent of running a triathelon with exhilaration instead of agony–to be radiant with the power of the Almighty instead of being fried by it–forever.

It gives a whole new dimension to the necessity of Purgatory!

God’s purpose is to build us up, to ennoble us, to make us real. He wants to empower us to stand before His glory in overflowing exuberance. Some things fulfill that purpose and some detract from it–and He knows better than we do which is which!

I want to be in on this training!

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