Here at the End of All Things

“In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien

Today is the day after Thanksgiving. The table has been cleared, the extra chairs have been returned to the basement, and what is left of the turkey dinner (not much!) has been tucked into the fridge. The faint echo of last night’s laughter and chatter has faded into silence, following the taillights of cars that slowly disappeared into the darkness outside. Something you cannot quite place has ended, and something you cannot quite name has been lost—even if plans are already in place to put up Christmas trees, bake cookies, sing songs, and ring in the new year.

In those unattended moments, our hearts ache for something we cannot quite describe. Maybe we wish those happy times with loved ones could have lasted just a little while longer. Maybe we think of past holidays and grieve for those who would have filled the empty seats at the table this year. Or, maybe we tell ourselves that just one more smile or just one more hug would have been enough to stave off this feeling of an ending. For God “has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into [our] hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). However much we may long for the timeless, or even for just one more page in the chapter, all adventures, seasons, and stories upon this earth must come to an end.

The recent apocalyptic readings let us linger in that ache as we come to the end of the liturgical year, weeks before the crowds fill Times Square—but not for long. We hear about the passing of the world, the end of time, and stories we may wish would end quickly: terrifying beasts, kingdoms falling, people dying of fright, and even heaven and earth passing away! Much as Tolkien describes, “Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land.”

Yet, even amid the chaos and ruin of the world, and even in the sorrow we face in our own lives, these readings also give us an anchor to cling to: Christ the King. He promises us the permanence our hearts long for now and in those end times, saying that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). “He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). In a sudden turn that makes our breath catch and our hearts lift, there is something—Someone—that lasts.

In the upcoming weeks of Advent, we will wait for the fulfillment of this promise: for Christ’s coming at Christmas and in the last days. It is a period of joyful expectation, steadfast preparation, and patient endurance while awaiting “the point of intersection of the timeless with time” (Eliot). As Tolkien again writes, “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.” Each day we receive the Eucharist—or, thanksgiving—this joy comes from being with our beloved, our king. Even if our world is in ruin and our hearts yearn for more in ways we cannot quite describe, no one can take this joy, for our God is with us. And with him, we are called to watch and wait for the day we will see him as he is, beyond the appearance of bread and wine—for the day after thanksgiving, at the end of all things.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Scott Hahn, Joy to the World
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the KingOn Fairy Stories
Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P., The Xmas Soundtrack: Rudolph, Frosty, and Man’s Search for Meaning
Fr. Mike Schmitz, Joy to the WorldThe Promise

The Scent of Unseen Roses

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now… Come further up, come further in!”
– C.S. Lewis

The world is our ship, and not our home. Surely you have felt it: in the good desires that do not satisfy, even when they are fulfilled, in the deep stirrings of your heart when faced with the numinosity of true beauty, or in the grief of being parted from loved ones as they pass from this world, emptying us with “the loss and the silence.” We are haunted by “the scent of unseen roses, and the subtle enticements of ‘melodies unheard’” (MacDonald) that come from a home we were made for but have never truly seen. As Lewis says, “All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say, ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’”

Today, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints—those pilgrims who have made that journey home and now see God face to face, as he is. Now, they know: the echo has swelled into the song of praise we hear in today’s first reading, and they are part of the greatest music there is. We remember all of our patron saints, from Our Lady and St. Joseph to the well-beloved St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi, and so many others. As C.S. Lewis says, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints!” There are great scholars and teachers, heroic priests and religious, selfless parents and friends, holy mystics and martyrs, little children, steadfast souls who helped the poorest of the poor—and ordinary people who lived ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. What they all had in common was the longing to see the face of God, “to press on to that other country, and to help others do the same” (Lewis).

Though we can hear the echo of that song, are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses, and even receive Christ in the Eucharist, we are not home yet—we are here in the valley of tears, in the state of the “not yet,” pressing on to that other country as best we can. How can we respond to this inner tug, this state of anticipation? What will our song be? Tempted at times by despair and presumption, we must turn to the virtue of hope. Generally speaking, “in hope, man reaches ‘with restless heart’, with confidence and expectation… toward the arduous ‘not yet’ of fulfillment” (Pieper). As St. Augustine describes it, “God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there, in hope’s fulfillment; here they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country.”

This kind of hope, the hope of heaven, is a theological virtue, along with faith and love. It is “the confidently patient expectation of eternal beatitude in a contemplative and comprehensive sharing of the triune life of God; hope expects from God’s hand the eternal life that is God himself” (Pieper). Hope depends on a person: Christ. As trust extended into the future, it is much deeper than natural optimism; it is an act of the will. Hope is a fighting virtue that inspires one to keep stepping forward even when all seems dark—and the saints did take these steps, as they journeyed through any and every kind of persecution, loneliness, and grief, through God’s grace. When faced with the problem of pain, “in sorrow [they went], but not in despair” (Tolkien). For, just as Christ describes in the Beatitudes from today’s Gospel, “we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory… Estel, Estel!” (Tolkien). Hope, hope!

We must hope, and “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting” as we press on towards Christ. Yet, “the greatest of these is love.” Hope helps lead one from an imperfect love of God—desiring him only for our own sake, and for the sake of our loved ones—to the perfect love of friendship, caritas—affirming God for his own sake. This kind of love, another theological virtue, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). This is the kind of love we see in the saints, especially in Our Lady, who believed what was spoken to her by the angel would be fulfilled, bore the son of God in her womb, endured the death of her son for the sins of the world, hoped against hope for Christ’s resurrection, and longs to lead us home to her son, interceding for us from heaven. Who knows how many “unseen roses” come from the loving intercession of Our Lady!

All of the saints intercede for us in this way, loving us as we stumble forward. We are not alone in running this race; they have valiantly kept the faith and now help us on our way. So, let us take courage, run in their footsteps, come out of ourselves, and draw others after us! Let us persevere in hope that our faith will yield to sight, and our hope will yield to possession after a lifetime of self-surrender. That, as we behold the face of Love, all will be well, and all of our questions will die away as the echo swells into the sound itself and we join in the glorious praise of God by those living in their own country—not as wayfarers, but as children home at last. The term will be over, and the holidays will have begun. The dream will be over, and it will be the morning, on the first page of the most beautiful story that never ends, and “in which every chapter is greater than the one before” (Lewis). At last, we will never doubt again, and there will never be a need.

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, Letters
Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien
Josef Pieper, On Hope
St. Augustine, Sermon 256, 1.3.4.
Fr. Mike Schmitz: Homesick, The Fighting Virtue, Kingdom Come

Eucharistic Hearts

“Oh humble sublimity! Oh sublime humility! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides himself under the form of Bread. Consider, brothers, the humility of God and pour out your hearts before him.” -St. Francis of Assisi

The chapel is bare, except for the San Damiano cross, the Our Lady of Guadalupe image, and a tiny vase of yellow flowers. A single sunbeam falling across the room seems to make the tabernacle glow with an inner light. In front of our small group of volunteers, gray-cloaked sisters and friars vowed to Lady Poverty kneel in prayer, quietly saying the words we say each Mass when we lift our hearts up to the Lord.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest…

Faithfully joining with the angels and the saints and the sounds of the city streets, we behold our Love, who is love, and who daily descends to be with us, even to the end of the age. “And as He appeared in true flesh to the Holy Apostles, so now He shows Himself to us in the sacred Bread; and as they by means of their fleshly eyes saw only His flesh, yet contemplating Him with their spiritual eyes, believed Him to be God, so we, seeing bread and wine with bodily eyes, see and firmly believe it to be His most holy Body and true and living Blood” (Admonitions). The priest standing before the altar begins to raise his hands. It is the “the point of intersection of the timeless with time…the gift half understood.”

Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you…

Hundreds of miles away, a little girl stares up at the same cross with folded hands and wide eyes. Her gaze darts from the cross to the priest, and then to the tiny host in his hand. An even smaller boy kneels beside her, squirming slightly and leaning against their mother, whose head is bent over clasped hands. As the white-cloaked priest genuflects, their father catches her eye and smiles slightly. She can’t help but smile back, gently putting an arm around her son and holding him close.

Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me…

The family then proclaims the mystery of their faith: their Lord and Love has died and risen from the grave. He sets them free, breaking open their stony hearts and slowly giving them natural hearts—hearts that pour themselves out little by little in “service, love, sacrifice, and courage” (Admonitions). United with our friends in gray, they see Christ in the breaking of the Bread and are given strength for early morning holy hours, first steps and last days of school, and unspoken hopes and murmured prayers. It is “a lifetime’s death in love, ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.”

Repair My house which, as you can see, has fallen into ruin…

Finally, we kneel in silence, having received the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In those precious moments, our hearts—having fallen into ruin—are also changed, are transformed and repaired by Love. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, “The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Love; It signifies Love, it produces love. The Eucharist is the consummation of the whole spiritual life.” For “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And for this reason, staring up at the San Damiano cross, “we call [that] Friday Good.”

For our Lord is here, hidden under the forms of Bread and Wine, the “one great thing to love on earth.” He is with us; he has not and will not abandon us. Even if we leave and follow our own devices, even if it feels like we are held in captivity and only prayers for deliverance can escape from our lips. He is here, and he is waiting to bring us home. Oh humble sublimity! oh sublime humility!

Oh loving mercy, oh merciful love…

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
St. Francis of Assisi, Admonitions
Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper
Catholic Underground Music

The Very Wine of Blessedness

“Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.”
—Psalm 100:1–2

Almost nine months ago, we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which commemorates when Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. Having journeyed through many liturgical seasons since then, we are now quickly approaching her nativity on September 8. What a day of great joy that must have been for her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, for “a woman’s greatest joy is when she brings a child into the world” (Sheen). What a day of great joy it should still be for us, the beloved children of Mary, though we live in a very different world.

From the start, “the melody of [Mary’s] life [was] played just as it was written,” Fulton Sheen writes. Blessed among women and prepared from conception to receive the Lord, she heard the song of Christ, the very Word of God, and observed it, singing back with all her heart. Her fiat began with the Annunciation, continued in the Visitation, and lasted her whole life, even when her heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow. As St. Louis de Montfort says, “Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ.” Her own immaculate heart—taken, blessed, broken, and shared with us, much like her son’s—remains perfectly in the sacred heart of her son, the true bridegroom and the new Adam.

Mary is the new Eve, the new Ark of the Covenant, chosen by God to be the vessel through which Christ comes into the world. She is “the new wineskin brimming with contagious joy,” Pope Francis writes, as we hear in today’s Gospel. “Her ‘contagious fullness’ helps us overcome the temptation of fear, the temptation to keep ourselves from being filled to the brim and even overflowing, the temptation to a faint-heartedness that holds us back from going forth to fill others with joy.” Her joy is already complete in her son, but it overflows to the children given to her at the foot of the cross. She always leads us to her son and longs for us to remain in his love, to bring us home to heaven, so that our joy may be complete in him for all eternity.

The days have come when the bridegroom has been taken away from us. Jesus has ascended into Heaven, Mary has been assumed after him, and we remain here, “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” We fast, we pray, and we long to see the source of our love face to face, even as we adore him in the Blessed Sacrament. For now, our joy, as Lewis describes it, “is never a possession… [it is] always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be.’” But, when we remain with him in silence, pondering these things as Mary did, he sings to us and makes us into new wineskins, ready to receive him and those he sends us. Over time, “[our] hearts, wounded with sweet words, [overflow], and [our] joy [becomes] like swords, and [we pass] in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness” (Tolkien). Our hearts become new creations in Christ, ready at last to pass from death to life.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

 

Reading Suggestions
De Montfort, True Devotion to Mary
Lewis, Surprised by Joy
Sheen, The World’s First Love
Tolkien, The Return of the King

In the Folds of His Mercy

O inconceivable and unfathomable Mercy of God,
Who can worthily adore you and sing your praises?
O greatest attribute of God Almighty,
You are the sweet hope of sinners.
—The Diary of St. Faustina

One of the largest thorns in the crown of Jesus is the distrust of souls, a lack of trust first sown when Adam and Eve were tempted to doubt God’s steadfast love for them. Unable to see or understand the plans of their father, they grasped at a way to protect themselves, hardening their hearts. This original lack of faith was passed on through salvation history, as we see in today’s readings. In the first reading, the Israelites panic when they cannot see any water in the desert and seem to forget how God had just led them out of slavery. Even Moses comes to a breaking point as their leader. In the Gospel, Peter recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, the living water, but even he resists God’s plan when he cannot understand why Jesus will have to suffer.

Still, this “truly necessary sin of Adam” sparked the greatest story ever told: the story of redemption and merciful love. God did not give up on the grumbling Israelites, who were stuck in their own circle of misery, or on Peter, who later abandoned Christ during the passion and was left in bitter tears. As Robert Stackpole, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, writes, “Saint Thomas Aquinas defined mercy in general as ‘the compassion in our hearts for another person’s misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him’ (ST II-II.30.1). Divine Mercy, therefore, is the form that God’s eternal love takes when He reaches out to us in the midst of our need and our brokenness. Whatever the nature of our need or our misery might be—sin, guilt, suffering, or death—He is always ready to pour out His merciful, compassionate love for us, to help in time of need.”

St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, and whose feast we celebrate today, poured out his life to show people the truth of the love of God as our merciful father. He had a great love for souls, for the suffering Christ, for the doctrines of the Church, for Mary, and especially for the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament, and relied on Divine Providence, even when he could not see or understand what God’s plans were. He was known to be moved to tears of contrition and love in the presence of the Eucharist, overwhelmed by this ultimate sign of God’s mercy. He was filled with sorrow for his own sin and an intense longing for others to come home to the love of God, which came through in his joyful, indefatigable preaching and in the love and kindness with which he cared for all he encountered. Instead of hardening his heart, he allowed it to be broken and shared it willingly.

Blessed Jordan of Saxony, O.P., puts it best: “Whilst he thus laboured to make his own soul pleasing to God, the fire of divine love was daily more and more enkindled in his breast, and he was consumed with an ardent zeal for the salvation of infidels and sinners. To move the divine mercy to regard them with pity, he spent often whole nights in the church at prayer, watering the steps of the altar with abundance of tears, in which he was heard to sigh and groan before the Father of mercy, in the earnestness and deep affliction of his heart; never ceasing to beg with the greatest ardor, the grace to gain some of those unhappy souls to Christ.”

Is it any wonder that St. Dominic had a special, ardent love for Mary, considering that her trust in God’s love is meant to counter the distrust of Eve, and that she also longs to lead us to Jesus, her Son, the new Adam? As the Nashville Dominicans note, “His life, his work, his Order were placed under her protection, and he invoked her in every difficulty and danger… The Blessed Mother filled him with heavenly favors, watched over him with motherly care, and gave him the habit of his Order. A tradition cherished in his Order… ascribes to him the first teaching of devotion to the recitation of the Rosary. His disciples were called ‘Friars of Mary,’ and have carried her Rosary and scapular to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

St. Dominic wasn’t just known for his tears, for his lifetime of studying, and for his preaching: he was also known for his joy. Just as Mary burst into song with her Magnificat, St. Dominic sang, even in the midst of darkness. Since he knew God as his merciful, loving father, how could his heart not overflow? Let us then follow their example, as the psalmist says today, and “sing joyfully to the Lord.” Light of the Church, teacher of Truth, rose of patience, ivory of chastity. You freely poured forth the waters of wisdom. Preacher of grace, unite us with the blessed. St. Dominic, pray for us! Amen.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Fr. Guy Bedouelle, O.P., In the Image of St. Dominic
Kentucky Thomism podcast, The Tears of Dominic
St. Dominic novena
St. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia
Robert Stackpole, What Does Divine Mercy Actually Mean?

Crossing a Bridge

In his mind a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps.
—Proverbs 16:9

In today’s first reading, we draw near the end of the story of Joseph the dreamer, who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his own brothers. What followed—a life spent in exile, filled with heartache, loneliness, and imprisonment—could not have been further from the dreams his parents had for their beloved son. Still, Joseph surrendered to the will of God, took the adventures that befell him, and eventually guided the entire country through a seven-year famine. As he tearfully told his brothers upon their reunion, “It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5). After years of suffering, the family was healed, countless lives were preserved, and God’s saving power was revealed. What a story!

Much like Joseph, Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, whose feast we celebrate today, totally abandoned themselves to divine providence and freely undertook the adventures God presented to them. Both had deeply desired to enter religious life in their youth, but those desires remained unfulfilled. Louis had been refused entry to the Great Saint Bernard Monastery in the Swiss Alps, and Zélie had been turned away from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Faced with living in the world, each then trained to enter an artistic profession. He became a jeweler and watchmaker, and she became a lacemaker. Yet, they were still filled with grief and an aching desire for holiness—Zélie especially, for her older sister did have a vocation and entered the Visitation Monastery in Le Mans. For a young woman already filled with anguish and who truly viewed life as an exile, the additional separation from her sister was particularly painful.

But, not long after her sister entered religious life, Zélie found a kindred spirit in Louis—a gentle yet energetic man living a quasi-monastic life in the world—while crossing the St. Leonard Bridge in Alençon. They were married three months later at midnight on July 13, 1858, each vowing to be “an angel in each other’s life, radiating the face of Christ to each other and committed to bringing each other closer to God” (Renda, xxiii). When the two visited her sister on their wedding day, Zélie writes, “I cried all my tears, more than I’d ever cried in my life, and more than I would ever cry again. My poor sister didn’t know how to console me… [Louis] understood me and consoled me as best he could because his inclinations were similar to mine. I even think our mutual affection grew through it. Our feelings were always in accord, and he was always a comfort and support to me” (Renda, 288).

Marriage was not a consolation prize for Sts. Louis and Zélie, as they soon learned. It was a true calling, and one meant to be lived out fully. During a time where consecrating your life to God, performing miracles, or dying as a martyr were considered the best ways to achieve holiness, this couple was instead led to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way, a little way. Their fiat was embedded into every aspect of their marriage—they put God first and loved him more than they loved each other or their children, and they loved each other and their children very much indeed. One only needs to look at how they signed their letters when away from each other: “Your wife who loves you more than her own life” and “Your husband and true friend, who loves you for life” (Renda). Their daughter, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, called them “a father and mother more worthy of heaven than of earth.”

Sts. Louis and Zélie lived lives seeped in prayer, the sacraments, and charitable works and raised their children to love God. Their spirituality was characterized by humility, trust, living in the present moment, love, and gratitude. Zélie was a Third Order Franciscan, and Louis had a particular affinity for Eucharistic adoration. They were devoted to Our Lady, received Communion as often as was acceptable at the time, and continuously gave of themselves to each other, their children, their extended family, and their whole community. Zélie was both a brilliant businesswoman and a dynamic mom; Louis was both eager to run to someone’s rescue and dedicate himself to study in his monastic-style cell in the family attic. They adored their children, accepted all the joys and sorrows of family life, and leaned on Christ in all circumstances, knowing they were not perfect people or parents.

Their story of crossing a bridge may seem like nothing but a charming tale, just as their daughter may seem like nothing more than a little flower. But there is much more to their marriage. St. Catherine of Siena describes Christ as a bridge reaching from Heaven to Earth in her Dialogues. For the rest of Louis and Zélie’s marriage, crossing a bridge meant uniting their sufferings to Christ, carrying their crosses, and “enduring to the end.” They had nine children, but four died at a young age, including the sons Zélie hoped to see celebrate Mass as priests. They faced many sicknesses in their family. Zélie valiantly endured an excruciatingly painful death in Louis’s arms at the age of 45 from breast cancer. Louis lost his wife too soon, gave his daughters to Christ one by one as they entered religious life, and quietly suffered from severe physical and mental illnesses before dying at an old age.

Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin are not saints because their daughter Thérèse is a saint and Doctor of the Church. They aren’t even saints because all their children entered religious life, or because they suffered greatly. Sts. Louis and Zélie are saints because they did the will of God, and they did it with all their hearts. They lived lives of astounding holiness and simplicity, offering their sufferings to God with courage, living in the grace of the present moment, and trusting in his love unconditionally. As the first spouses to be canonized as a couple, let us pray for their intercession for the healing of families around the world and for us to let God love us and lead us—even if we are led, one shaking step at a time, to somewhere different than we originally dreamed, like Sts. Louis and Zélie, like Joseph the dreamer, both sent ahead of us to help point the way to Christ, the bridge “walled and roofed with Mercy.” May God’s saving power be revealed through our lives, and may he make us saints and bring us home. Amen.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Original composition: A Rose From Our Lady
Mongin, The Extraordinary Parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Renda (ed.), A Call to a Deeper Love
Martin, The Father of the Little Flower
Martin, The Mother of the Little Flower

A Sacrifice of Praise

“Lord, I am your servant,
your servant, the child of your maidservant;
you have loosed my bonds.
I will offer a sacrifice of praise
and call on the name of the LORD.”
– Psalm 116:16–1

Many years ago, a Dominican friar told us—a group of fairly naïve college students—that we would wish we had suffered more once we came to the end of our lives. Back then, sitting in that dimly lit church, anxiously awaiting the day of our total consecration to Jesus through Mary, how could we have understood his words? For, as St. Paul writes in today’s first reading, we are suffering; we are afflicted. The whole world “is groaning in labor pains even until now” (Romans 8:22), whether these pains are from illness, poverty, loneliness, loss, betrayal, our own struggles and sins, or even death itself. We are perplexed—we don’t understand how our loving Father could allow such sorrow, and we may never know the whole story behind the problem of pain on this side of Heaven.

What do we know? Let’s start at the beginning. This valley of tears was not God’s original plan for us, not before the fall. Yet, even when we chose to hide our faces from him, his love was so great that he devised a plan more wonderful than we could have ever imagined. He chose to suffer with us, dying in the most horrific way possible, to loosen our bonds, to open the gates of Heaven, and to lead us home. And, as St. Pope John Paul II says, Christ’s passion gave our pain a supernatural value. “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his sufferings, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ” (Salvifici Doloris). Think about it. This world may very well be that valley of tears. But, every tear now has meaning and power when united to his sufferings. Our prayers and sacrifices, whether they are St. Therese of Lisieux–sized or St. Teresa of Calcutta–sized, will help bring our brothers and sisters home to Love itself.

Even if this is all a mystery, and the pain is too great—we do not have to bear it alone. From his cross, at the height of his passion, Christ gave us Mary, his mother, to be our mother. And, he gave us to Mary to be her children—just as he tells his Father “they are your gift to me” (John 17:24), we are a gift to Mary! St. Louis de Montfort writes, “As in the natural life a child must have a father and a mother, so in the supernatural life of grace a true child of the Church must have God for his Father and Mary for his mother” (True Devotion to Mary). We are the spiritual children of the handmaiden of the Lord, whose own heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow. We can run to her in complete trust, asking for her intercession, weeping with her each step of the way, “closely united to Him unto the Cross, and so that every form of suffering, given fresh life by the power of the Cross, should become no longer the weakness of man but the power of the Cross” (Salvifici Doloris).

If that wasn’t enough, Christ found a way to physically stay with us “always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). How? Precisely through what is described in today’s psalm: a sacrifice of praise—the Eucharist, Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we read in the catechism, “The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church’s life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church” (CCC 1407). We even hear this as the priest says Eucharistic prayer 4: “We offer You His Body and Blood, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world. Lord, look upon this sacrifice which You have given to Your Church; and gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one Body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise.”

Death may be at work in us, as St. Paul writes, but life is also present, and this life grows every time we receive the Eucharist, a living sacrifice of praise. Our hearts are changed when we receive him in the Blessed Sacrament and cooperate with grace, so that his life “may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). Our hearts become more like his heart as they too are taken, blessed, and broken, meant to be shared through the tears—and meant to be filled with his joy, another mystery. As C.S. Lewis writes, “Praise is the mode of love which always has some element of joy in it” (A Grief Observed). Our grief can, miraculously enough, become joy when united to his, just as Christ told his apostles at the Last Supper when he instituted the Eucharist.

This life is full of suffering, yes, but there is also joy, even if that joy is tinged with the greatest sorrow. Call on his name and try to remember that the tears have power, even if your heart is breaking. Receive his own heart, blessed and broken in the Eucharist. Trust in the love of your mother, who always leads you to her Son, who is himself the answer to all our questions. As Lewis says, “What other answer would suffice?” What other answer could? Maybe we will someday be able to echo the words of St. Paul when he says, “I find joy in the sufferings I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church” (Colossians 1:24). And maybe, just maybe, we will someday be able to wish we had suffered more, as our hearts cry out of love for our brothers and sisters, with a love a little bit more like his.

Totus Tuus.

 

Reading Suggestions
St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of PainA Grief Observed, Till We Have Faces
Fr. Paul A. Duffner, O.P., Redemptive Suffering
St. Pope John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris