On Friday February 6th, I had the usual pleasure of a long day of ministry, where I have the chance to visit various parishioners who are unable to attend mass on a regular basis due to age or sickness. Here at our parish, Fr. Patrick, Fr. Pat, and myself visit these individuals on a regular basis, bringing the Sacrament of the Eucharist and offering any other sacramental support we can.
The memorial of the day was St. Miki and Companions. Several martyrs who had been crucified in Japan as a result for professing the name of Jesus. I remember as a seminarian preaching on this memorial as a deacon. After praying with St. Miki and companions I felt a connection with this Saint who encouraged his persecutors to be baptized as he was being crucified. He brought hope as he was crucified with many, but he did so with courage and great strength.
On this day I also learned that the Supreme Court of Canada had announced that the law on assisted suicide had been struck down unanimously. What this means as of yet remains unclear since the government may develop conditions around this, but it remains nonetheless an additional mortal wound on the integrity of our nation, Canada. As G.K. Chesterton reminds us, however, a nation is not only to be loved when it is doing well, but it is to be loved even more when it is mired in evil. His point of course is not to endorse the evil, but to bring about a greater sense of mercy and truth to such a nation that it might be healed. But it is no wonder why we are here. Most theologians these days consider mortification in the past to be a heavy and archaic practice. Therefore the Church-herself has lost the practice of suffering in love and joy. We should probably read this.
My initial reaction to the decriminalization of euthanasia was righteous-anger. Here I am visiting with the people many think have no value in their suffering. I am utterly disgusted at this point. Also, I pointed towards the failures of the church and her fickle inability to cast out ambiguity beginning with contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage and GSA’s in High-Schools, and now doctor-assisted suicide. Canada has in fact become baser than paganism who had doctors promising to never commit abortions or assist people to die before their time. Sadly this is the fault of a Church that has spoken but not lived and acted as if what it teaches is true. It is also a church that has spoken error in her members, or remained silent on such matters which frame a deep and genuine relationship with Christ.
The anger I felt was right, and I have no regret in how I felt. However, later that night I also began praying about it and reflected on God’s providence in all of this. Although God’s providence never promotes a spiritual laziness but rather a real sense of culpability within our own inaction and action as such, despite all of that God still has a plan, and can bring grace out of such a horrible situation. Where sin is, grace abounds. I consider the saints who stand in opposition to the values of the culture. We as a Church have seemingly fallen into the trap of caressing the ego and pride of each generation by affirming the values, even if they are half-decent, half-truths. Instead of focusing on the diseased foot, we have pointed towards the healthy foot. Limping along through life inundating it with “happy-talk” or what Jeremiah says is equivalent to saying, “peace, peace” while there is no actual peace (c.f. Jer 6) has permitted the diseased limb to spread to the heart finally bringing to life the fruit of death in a more vigorous manner than ever before. And while I use such stark words to describe what people consider to be compassionate, it is only because Satan deserves no compliments. That is, we must not become complicit in Satan’s amazing capacity to convince us that evil is good and good is evil. People have convinced themselves that murder is love, and that suicide is an act of self-love. People are, in their moral-character evil. Like the prophet Eli who fell off his chair, having received the news that the pagans had taken away their ability to worship God well (consider how in my diocese only 86% practice their faith), so many are shocked and astounded that this has taken place. But Eli was a fool to be shocked. He had been warned, he had been told to discipline his sons who were leaders within the community. Excommunicating and forbidding politicians from receiving the Eucharist who support GSA’s in schools, same-sex marriage, the proliferation and promotion of contraception, abortion, prostitution, and doctor assisted suicide has not taken place. We are the sons of Eli, and Eli has broken his neck.
Yet as I mentioned earlier, all of this got me thinking about the saints. The saints were well known in cultures that also experienced the bleak reality of a fickle and inactive Church. St. Jean Vianney for instance stood against a culture in the enlightenment period which treated reasoning-skills as somehow adding value to one’s own dignity in the world. This hasn’t really changed, it has merely gotten worse. We abort about 90 percent of children with down-syndrome. Nevertheless, St. Jean Vianney who struggled to learn Latin in school was not considered the most intelligent. Yet, he became one of the greatest priests because of his absolute pursuit of holiness and faithfulness to God. He also stood against the rebelling culture, going into the bars and commanding his parishioners to repent. And most importantly he suffered for his people with great love. He gave light penances to his confessing people, while suffering on their behalf great penances for the salvation of their own soul.
You see, in every dark period, most especially in the darkness and chill of what is foolishly called the “enlightenment” God gives way to many signs of contradiction in order to confront the evil within the world. And so as the world becomes more bleak, more darkened by faithlessness, I say to all you remaining steadfast: contradict evil, and shine even brighter. The darker the world is, the more visible your light will shine. We have built the Kingdom of Man and it stands in direct opposition to the Kingdom of God. More and more the ambiguity, the failed attempt to reconcile the world to the Church has failed. And now the Church is blessed with being set-apart once again, albeit in a small way…
When I say, “contradict” I do not mean “react.” Reacting is another thing as a culture of death we ought to be aware of. Reacting goes from one extreme to another, and is usually motivated out of a personal wound rather than peace and love for Christ. Contradict reactions by reproving both extremes. Contradict a culture of death by joyfully suffering all trials and boast of them in Christ!! This actually excites me, and turns the anger into a powerful zeal to prove the world wrong in its cowardice towards suffering. My suggestion is to quote St. John Paul II’s document on Redemptive suffering in our lives. But I will end instead with a quote from St. John of the Cross:
“…one’s journey must not merely exclude the hindrance of creatures but also embody a dispossession and annihilation in the spiritual part of one’s nature. Our Lord, for our instruction and guidance along this road, imparted the wonderful teaching – I think it is possible to affirm that the more necessary the doctrine the less it is practiced by spiritual persons – that I will quote fully and explain in its genuine and spiritual sense because of its importance and relevance to our subject. He states in the eight chapter of St. Mark…if anyone wishes to follow my way, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses it for me will gain it…
Oh, who can make this counsel of our saviour on self-denial understandable, and practicable, and attractive, that spiritual persons might become aware of the difference between the method many of them think is good and the one that ought to be used in traveling this road! They are of the opinion that any kind of withdrawal from the world, or reformation of life, suffices. Some are content with a certain degree of virtue, perseverance in prayer, and mortification, but never achieve the nakedness, poverty, selfishness, or spiritual purity (which use all the same) about which the Lord counsels us here. For they still feed and clothe their natural selves with spiritual feelings and consolations instead of divesting and denying themselves of these for God’s sake. They think denial of self in worldly matters is sufficient without annihilation and purification in the spiritual domain. It happens that, when some of this solid, perfect food (the annihilation of all sweetness in God – the pure spiritual cross and nakedness of Christ’s poverty of spirit) is offered them in dryness, distaste, and trial, they run from it as from death and wander about in search only for sweetness and delightful communications from God. Such an attitude is not the hallmark of self-denial and nakedness of spirit but the indication of a spiritual sweet tooth. Through this kind of conduct, they become spiritually speaking, enemies of the cross of Christ [Phil 3:18].
A genuine spirit seeks rather the distasteful in God than the delectable, leans more towards suffering than towards consolation, more towards going without everything for God than towards possession, and towards dryness and affliction than towards sweet consolation. It knows that this is the significance of following Christ and denying self, that the other method is perhaps a seeking of self in God – something entirely contrary to love. Seeking oneself in God is the same as looking for the caresses and consolations of God. Seeking God in oneself entails not only the desire to do without these consolations for God’s sake, but also the inclination to choose for love of Christ all that is most distasteful whether in God or in the world; and this is what loving God means.”
-The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book Two, Chapter 7, 4-5
St. John Paul II, St. Miki and Companions, and St. John of the Cross, pray for us to defy and contradict the culture of death in the sanctuary of the Church, and in your world. Sacred Heart of Jesus: have mercy on us! Let us seek suffering before affective consolation in all things, that we might be made pure in the fire of your love.