Suffering. Ever since the Fall of Adam, it’s an unavoidable part of life. We suffer daily in little ways. The alarm clock rings too early. We spill coffee all over our work clothes. The kids are disobedient. We get stuck in traffic. These little things are a reminder that all is not right with the world. Something is out of whack. We have lost the close connection with God we were meant to have.
When we face small trials, we have an opportunity to grow in trust and love. We can offer our disappointments and dislikes to God in love, asking Him to use them to bring others to Him. We can say, “Jesus, I trust in you,” praying that He helps us to accept His sovereignty over our day. Because after all, we were never meant to be in charge of our life. These gentle reminders of that fact can help us reorient ourselves towards God. (As an aside, I am experiencing a little annoyance right now from my kids. Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity to put into practice what I am preaching!)
What about tragedies?
Every day on FaceBook, someone asks me for prayers. Sometimes, a loved one is seriously ill. Other times, a FaceBook friend faces clinical depression. Prayers for difficult pregnancies and comfort while burying infants or dealing with miscarriage are common.
How should a Christian face tragic suffering?
Sometimes we have the idea that being a Christian means being a stoic. We try to act like everything is okay. We think that sorrow itself is ungodly. We think an aversion to suffering shows a lack of trust.
Here is a quote about St. Therese from my book:
“Therese was not afraid to be weak, even in her sorrow. She saw no shame in admitting that she was grieving and suffering. ‘Therese reread what Father Pichon had taught during the retreat [before Marie’s profession] in 1887. To suffer according to the heart of God, one need not suffer with courage like a hero. It is enough to suffer as Jesus did at Gethsemane’ ” (Therese and Lisieux, Pierre Descouvement, 148).
How did Jesus suffer in Gethsemane? He sweated blood. He repeatedly begged God to remove His suffering. He asked for others to be near Him and pray. And He said, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
We can’t escape suffering. Although it is natural to desire to, because man was created for joy, not grief, running away from suffering is running away from the Cross of Christ.
So, go ahead and cry. Pray your heart out. Ask others to pray with you. Beg God to help you. Don’t wallow in your suffering, making it, rather than God, the focus of your life. But don’t worry about being a hero. Your life is difficult enough already.
Pray, “Your will be done.” Accept your suffering, if God does not remove it. Accept the death of someone or something that you loved. And cling to true hope of resurrection.
The second reading from Sunday’s Mass included a favorite verse of mine, Romans 8:28:
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
The newly ordained priest who said Mass at Holy Trinity Cathedral preached that God works for good even in our sins. Do you believe this? I do, firmly! So did St. Therese of Lisieux.
Today I’d like to examine St. Paul’s teaching on this subject, and what it means for our spiritual lives.
What can separate us from God?
St. Paul writes:
For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
I have heard Catholic apologists preach on this passage, noting that Paul did not include “sin” in his list. Sin, they argue, can separate us from God, so that’s why Paul did not mention it here. They are trying to keep people from being presumptuous, from thinking that they could sin as often and as badly as they wanted and still go to Heaven.
The Church’s teaching about mortal sin and true hope is worthy of defense. Nevertheless, I believe, after some reflection on Therese’s little way, that Paul was including sin here. After all, he said “nor anything else”–doesn’t that include sin? Paul was not known to be imprecise. He said what he meant. He did not mince words. If he meant “everything except sin,” surely he would have said so!
Now, Paul would never condone taking sin lightly. He says,
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)
Those words leave no room for presumption. But he wrote them to balance out these words, which he had written just previously:
Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. (Romans 5:20)
Let’s step away from Paul’s writing for a moment and reflect on his life. Paul had been a strict follower of the Law of Moses. He was so zealous for the Law, he says, it lead him to persecute the Church (Philippians 3:6). He sinned miserably, standing as witness at St. Stephen’s death, dragging Christians to prison. He multiplied sin after sin–sins that, objectively speaking, were mortal.
But, he says, he acted in ignorance. Therefore, God had mercy on him (1 Timothy 1:13). In fact, Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, temporarily blinding him. After Paul’s baptism, Jesus spoke to him again, teaching him the Gospel and making him an apostle.
Not every sin is mortal
What can we learn from Paul’s life? Sometimes we might commit objectively mortal sins with the best intentions. When we act in ignorance, truly striving to follow God, we do not separate ourselves from Him, even when we do serious wrong. Our sins cannot separate us from God if we are truly ignorant that they are serious sins. When Paul persecuted the Church, thinking he was pleasing God, Jesus stepped in to enlighten him.
This is the first way in which sin fails to separate us from God.
We also know from the teaching of the Church that less serious sins do not separate us from God. They may temporarily keep us from growing closer to Him, but they do not place us outside the life of grace. If they did, even the saints would be in trouble, for many of them acknowledge that they still committed sins of weakness until the end of their lives.
What about mortal sin?
What if we knowingly, willingly commit mortal sin? Well, that’s a serious problem. St. Paul writes
If you live according to the flesh, you will die. (Romans 8:12)
So, how do we interpret this in light of the other passages we have studied? First, Paul does not seem to consider the idea that we could commit serious sin after we come to Christ. He assumes that we are either for God or against Him, in the Spirit or in the flesh. A later generation of Christians would consider the state of people who fall after baptism.
But Jesus knew this would be an issue. He told us that there is only one unforgivable sin–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Church interprets this as a refusal to submit to the Spirit’s promptings to repent.
The key for us when we have committed mortal sin is repentance. Everyone who is still physically alive still has a chance to be united with Christ. Our sins can only separate us from God if we hang on to them. They can’t keep us away from God unless we will them to by our stubbornness.
What this means for us
Let’s return to Romans 8:28. Paul says that “everything” works for our good–if we love God. If we submit to God’s authority, including confessing our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they work for our good. They teach us about the great mercy of God. They teach us to rely on Him, not our strength.
When we go around thinking about how badly we have failed God, thinking that we can never be holy now, because we missed Mass on Sunday, or embezzled money from the company, or lied under oath, or publicly denied Christ–or any other sin–we stand in the way of God’s plan. We fail to let Him work for good through our sins.
When we sin–venially or mortally–our first act should be to turn our eyes to God. We lay our sin before Him, but focus on His goodness, not our sinfulness. Once we have done this (including sacramental confession when necessary), we can ask God to work good through our sin.
We can ask Him to help us follow Him more carefully after our sin than we did before it. We can believe that our sin, now forgiven, cannot keep us from sanctity. We can believe that it will even help us reach sanctity.
Do we believe that God can work for our good through our sins? Or do we believe our sins are more powerful than God?
Note: I know many of you have bought Trusting God with St. Therese, because I see my sales stats. I would like to thank you personally by inviting you to my online book launch party next Tuesday. Please email your purchase number to crossini4774 at comcast dot net with the subject line “Hangout.” I will send you an invitation to our Google+ Hangout. Do it now so you don’t miss out!
In the past week we’ve celebrated two major Carmelite feasts: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16) and the prophet Elijah (July 20). These two great saints in different ways exemplify what Carmelite spirituality is about.
Elijah demonstrates the prophetic aspect of Carmelite spirituality. The Carmelite seal bears these words of his as a motto:
With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts (1 Kings 19:10).
Consumed with zeal for holiness
Elijah was not afraid to confront the rulers of his day. He risked death to preach repentance to King Ahab, while Queen Jezebel launched an anti-crusade to wipe out God’s prophets. He challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest on Mt. Carmel to see whose god would consume a sacrifice with fire from Heaven. After winning that contest (surprise!), Elijah had all the false prophets killed. He led the people to re-commit themselves to the true God.
Then he went and prayed that, seeing their repentance, God would send rain. Elijah’s prayers had kept the land in drought for three years.
So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Eli′jah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again seven times.”And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising out of the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. (1 Kings 18:42-45)
Since medieval times, Carmelites have seen the cloud as a symbol of Mary. She rises from the sea of our fallen humanity, a human being herself, yet without the stain of sin. She pours down on God’s people the pure water of His grace from Heaven. So the return of rain to the land of Israel is also a prophecy of the Woman whose cooperation with God’s grace will bring about the Incarnation.
Here are some more facts about Elijah:
His name means, “Yahweh is God.”
He heard God speak to him in a gentle whisper (or “still, small voice”).
He nearly despaired because he thought he was the last surviving faithful Israelite.
He said, “The Lord my God lives, in whose presence I stand” (1 Kings 18:15).
He raised a boy from the dead.
He was taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire.
And here’s the fact that inspires me most:
“Elijah was a man just like us” (James 5:17).
Prayer and action
The spirit of Elijah, fiery as it is, courageous, uncompromising, is also a spirit of contemplation. He knows that he lives continually in the presence of the Lord. He lives as a hermit on the mountain. His prayer is both contemplative and world-changing. Like John the Baptist who prepares the way for Christ, he prepares the way for redemption. He founds a school of prophets on Mt. Carmel.
Elijah was a man of action and a man of prayer. Since his time, many people have pitted action and prayer against each other. For those of us living in the world, prayer and action compliment each other. We hold fast to the truth, we proclaim it fearlessly. We risk our lives if necessary to remain faithful to Christ. And we withdraw daily into the cave of our hearts to commune with God in the stillness.
The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. Eli’jah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit. (James 5:16-18)
We too can be people of powerful prayer and action. In the spirit of Elijah, we can change the course of history.
Don’t forget to get your copy of Trusting God with St. Therese, on sale in print and ebook formats on Amazon. If you have already bought a copy, send me your purchase order number to crossini4774 at comcast dot net with the subject line “Hangout.” Everyone who buys the book before August 6 will be invited to a digital launch party on Google Hangouts. More information coming soon.
If you missed last week’s post, you missed the announcement of the release of Trusting God with St. Therese. You also missed a contest. I am giving away one signed paperback to each of these two readers:
Congratulations! I will send you both an email asking for your mailing addresses.
Here is what some other Catholic authors have said about Trusting God with St. Therese:
“A heartfelt and fascinating story! In Trusting God with St. Therese, author Connie Rossini bares her soul and shares intimately about her lifetime struggle to trust God. Through the help of St. Therese, Rossini has discovered that God’s grace is essential to conquer fears, anger, and anxiety and will enable trust to blossom in one’s heart. Helpful reflection points punctuate each chapter. You’ll love this book!” – Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, EWTN TV Host and best-selling author
“Connie Rossini has made a great saint into someone accessible and real in her book Trusting God with St. Therese. In the journey through this book, you’ll marvel at how much you’ll relate. But if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself changed … for the better. Rossini has truly put together a gem of a book here, one that is sure to be loved and shared by many!” -Sarah Reinhard, Catholic author and blogger, SnoringScholar.com
Two places to keep track of events related to my books
I set up a new FaceBook page for my publishing company, Four Waters Press. Would you please “like” the page for me? I will be posting all the events regarding my books there, as well as on my Events Page here. That way I do not have to keep book-related events on the front page of my blog. But I will continue to remind you of them as they come up. Look for a schedule for the Blog Book Tour soon. I am finalizing dates with other bloggers who have volunteered to help spread the word about my book.
If you have already bought Trusting God with St. Therese, don’t forget to email me your purchase number from Amazon. That is your ticket to my exclusive digital launch party on August 5. More details on the launch party are coming soon.
I will try to reserve most of my Friday posts for subjects other than my book, so you don’t get tired of hearing about it. Please continue to pray and spread the word about Trusting God with St. Therese. I am convinced that Therese’s teaching on trust can change lives. It has changed mine. It can change yours as well.
If you have already read Trusting God with St. Therese, please consider writing a short review on Amazon or Goodreads to let others know your honest thoughts about it. God reward you!
How is your spiritual life going? Are you feeling frustrated with yourself? Are you distraught over your lack of progress? Do you keep falling into the same sins repeatedly?
Welcome to the human race!
No, I’m not trying to dismiss your concerns flippantly. Sometimes we just need a reminder that we are, after all, fallen. Adam’s sin affects us all. But here’s something you may not have realized:
Your sins do not shock God!
God is used to sinners. He has centuries of experience with them. He even came down from Heaven to live among them. Then people criticized Him for eating with sinners instead of the “righteous.” Yes, He loved to hang out with people like you and me.
God delights in showing mercy. He delights in lifting our burdens. He delights in carrying our yoke with us, comforting our sorrows, calming our fears.
In chapter 10 of Trusting God with St. ThereseI tell how I endured being brainwashed by a group of Christians who believed only they were true followers of Christ. One sentence they said has never left me: “God is displeased with you.” Oh, how untrue that was and is! When we try to follow Christ, He is never displeased with us. He is only displeased by our rebellion, our deliberate turning away from Him. And if we have deliberately sinned or even turned away from Him completely, He extends a hand to bring us back.
Listen for His gentle voice! Look for His grace!
He offers us forgiveness and an eternal life of joy. All for the price of doing the only thing that will make us happy anyway–giving ourselves totally to Him.
The God who bled and died for you is not angry over your shortcomings! But He is saddened by your lack of trust. The only thing standing between you and Him is yourself. Let go! Let go of your fear. Let go of your disappointment. Let go of your self-flagellation. Make room instead for His grace and love.
My first post at SpiritualDirection.com went up on Tuesday, when I already had my regular post up here. But I know many of you who have not already read it would like to do so. I am going to reblog the first few paragraphs here, then link to the rest.
But first, I’d like to let you know that I’m just waiting to receive the final proof for my book. God willing, I will have it ready for purchase by next Wednesday, the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Originally I was going to just have pre-orders begin that day. But both the digital and print versions should be completed, so I have decided to make them available at once. The official launch date will remain August 6, but I am planning many events between now and then. Make sure you check back next Wednesday to enter a giveaway contest and learn about all the special events, bonuses, and contests. Thanks for your prayers!
And now here’s the post from SpiritualDirection.com:
I’ve been pondering lately why I am still working on some of the same spiritual issues I knew I had a problem with years ago. Recent reading and deep thinking have changed my perspective on life. But I realize I’ve been in this place before. I’ve thought about these same issues before, but I haven’t made much progress. I want this time to be different. How should I proceed?
Have you ever experienced something like this:
You attended a retreat and your soul felt rejuvenated. Or a saint’s biography moved you to say, “I want to do that too!” Perhaps a homily gave you a spiritual insight you had never had before. Or a conversation with a more advanced friend urged you forward.
You were inspired. You felt excited about living for God. You were determined to follow Him more closely. For a while, you succeeded. You sailed along on the inspiration. Holiness seemed easy. You resisted temptations without hesitation. You prayed more faithfully and fervently.
Then one day you awoke and the inspiration was gone. Temptations hit you before breakfast, and you began giving in. Soon you were back where you started, before that retreat, book, homily, or conversation.