‘They will look on Me, the One that they have pierced…and grieve bitterly. On that day a fountain will open to cleanse them from sin and impurity’ (Zech. 12:10; 13:1).
Jesus mirrored hard truth. Outraged man shattered the mirror. God retaliated by releasing a flood of divine mercy from His broken frame, the only source that restores us to the truth.
Barbara Taylor Brown says it best: ‘I remember being at a retreat once where the leader asked us to think of someone who represented Christ in our lives. One woman stood up and said: “I kept thinking: who is it who told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?” Jesus died because He told the truth to everyone He met. He was the truth, a perfect mirror in which people saw themselves in God’s own light.’
The Desert Stream staff now habitually gathers to tell each other the truth about one another’s strengths and weaknesses. As the sugary, soft fruit of the therapeutic age, we delight in blessing each other’s good points but brace ourselves for the bad. We flinch to even use language like ‘bad’, preferring words like ‘unchallenged strengths.’
What I recall from those meetings is the ‘bad.’ I couldn’t recount the ‘blessings’ but have wrestled in the wee hours with the difference between how I see reality and how others see mine. I have not wanted to kill certain staff members but I’ve rehearsed ‘setting them straight’ monologues before sleep. How much bigger the gap between God’s truth and ours? The difference: in exposing our self-deceptions, He submits to our smashing, and offers Himself as the antidote.
He gives all—His body pierced for our washing and broken for our bread, the meal that makes us whole. For us who are troubled and touchy and too readily defended—pour out Your ‘vengeance’ upon us this Good Friday, Good God.
Barbara Taylor Brown again: ‘In the presence of His integrity, our pretense is exposed. In the presence of His constancy, our cowardice comes to light. In the presence of His fierce love for God and us, our hardness of heart is revealed. I am not worse than you nor you I, but leave Him in the room and there is no room to hide. He is the light of the world. In His presence, we either fall down to worship Him or do everything we can to extinguish His light.
Today, while He dies, do not turn away. Make yourself look in the mirror. Today no-one gets away from being shamed by His beauty. Today no-one flees without being laid bare by His light.’
‘In the Church, Jesus entrusts Himself to those who betray Him over and over.’ Pope Emeritus Benedict
As we proceed with Jesus to Calvary, we linger at the Last Supper where we witness St. Peter dining comfortably with Jesus, curious of who Jesus’ betrayer might be and confident that it is not himself (JN 13:21-38).
Perhaps the purpose of Lent and Holy Week is to challenge such confidence by inviting us into the desert in order to spotlight our denials. No better lesson than St. Peter’s: after a holy meal surrounded by friends, he steps out alone into the klieg light where he strives to save his life rather than lose it for Jesus (JN 18: 15-27). I am less surprised by his and our unwillingness to be true to Jesus than by our lack of self-awareness. Only faithful? We deceive ourselves.
The seven virtues we looked at this Lent expose gaps; they highlight self-illusions. We whose hope masks unresolved grief, whose faith caves to fear in a second, and whose love dares not conflict—the desert lays us bare. In the heat and the hunger, we who champion global justice and enslave love ones, who exercise fortitude in consuming multiple episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Walking Dead’ but cannot abide with Jesus for 10 minutes, and while viewing divide our souls with more graphic violence, sex and words than our grandparents experienced in their lifetimes—that is the unchaste mess we are in.
At least Peter’s three denials were obvious. Ours are not. This Lent, I am grateful for a renewed awareness of my denial of wisdom, the truth of how things really are. I would rather frame reality as pleasant in order to please myself and sleep peacefully. I am subject to the spirit of the Israelites who implored the wise: ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel’ (IS 30: 10, 11)!
Like St. Peter, we want to honor Jesus but refuse to be personally dishonored. Peter refused a good foot-washing (JN 13:6-8). Yet he like us needed cleansing at core. We need love to engulf our clubfeet, scour the dirt and stench, and transform our moral disabilities into something pleasing to God. He sees all and summons us to give Him all this Maundy Thursday. Hobble to the altar with expectancy. Take heart: ‘The burning sand will become a pool’ (IS 35: 7).
Chastity: Order in Our Courts
Following Jesus to Calvary requires temperance, that gift of the Holy Spirit which sets love in order within us. The ordered soul loves to linger with Jesus. Yet we with shifting, bloodshot eyes struggle to keep watch with Him. Gerald May is right: ‘Addicts cannot meditate.’ So we cry out: ‘Come Holy Spirit, set love in order within us by uniting us with the One who has power to compose us. Make us whole as we fix our eyes on the One who suffers to set us free!’
Leanne Payne describes the peril of the divided heart: ‘An unhealthy fantasy life destroys. It wars against the true imagination which can intuit the real and thus is creative. When our minds are pregnant with illusion, we cannot be impregnated with what is true.’ (The Healing Presence) This Holy Week let us ask Jesus to take every lie that divides our hearts and unite us with Himself through His Spirit. May we linger longer with Him, uniting our suffering with His as we await new life.
Chastity is the first fruit of temperance. It derives its meaning from 1Cor. 12:24 in which St. Paul describes how God orders His members into one whole Body, ‘giving greater honor to the parts that lack it.’ So too does God order the various parts of our individual humanity into a whole. Chastity involves the integration of sexual love—the powerful, frustrating well of desire we bear in our bodies—with our first love relationship with Jesus (CCC #2335).
The Holy Spirit guides this lifetime goal of integration. Becoming chaste is about becoming whole, and involves as much our accepting the good gift of our gendered humanity as it does rejecting ‘the seductive power of an artificial civilization driven by lust and greed.’ (Joseph Pieper; 1Thes. 4:3-8)) Knowing how we subject our gift to La La Land, we cry out: ‘Jesus, the very forces that gave us life now threaten to destroy it. Have mercy, holy God!’
He does have mercy. His kindness draws us and binds up our fractures so we can abide longer with Him. His purpose in ordering our sexuality? So we can enjoy creation with the One who created it. He does not want His world to demonize us but rather to be a source of delight, within the loving limits of truth and the Spirit-fed virtues of temperance and chastity. How liberating to turn from sensational self-interest toward a genuine desire to know and honor the whole of a person!
We cleave to the One who is ‘resolute toward Jerusalem’ where Calvary awaits Him (LK 9:51). He calls us to walk with Him so we can gift others with a whole (enough) witness of gender clarity and tempered desire. We become for them a witness of the God who amid suffering binds up sorrow with love.
‘We seek to be chaste because someone we love needs us to be chaste.’ – Heather King
‘He who loves his life will lose it.’ (JN 12:25)
‘Because we are vulnerable we can be brave,’ says Joseph Pieper. CAN be brave. The truth is—most of us are cowards who seek first to preserve our lives from further wounding. Persons who demonstrate fortitude give up their lives to follow Jesus; they entrust to Him the diminishment they experience from others and somehow thrive on His nourishment, especially in suffering. When the battle gets harder, brave Christians get better. Through Jesus. For Jesus. Let me give you three examples of fortitude in action.
Sara married young to a fellow Asian, a Christian, who deserted her for another woman. She could not agree to dissolve the marriage as she made vows not just to a man but to the Man. For fifty years, she has stayed faithful to God and to the man she still considers her husband. Robert Gagnon is an Ivy League scholar who wrote the best book ever on ‘The Bible and Homosexual Practice’ (Abingdon Press). Over the course of his academic career, he has been reviled by peers while his work remains the gold standard. Sue entered into lesbianism after an abusive childhood in England. She sought spiritual answers and became a Buddhist nun. In Thailand she met Jesus, the Man of her dreams who equipped her to become a healing missionary. Surrounded by the heavenly host, a compromised church, and a gang of sinners who are becoming saints, she delights in partnering with Jesus to awaken hearts from the drowsy idolatry/immorality of Thailand.
Three factors mark each of their lives. First, they suffer because of what is right, not because of foolish daring. Sara believes she made a vow until death. She’s not dead yet and cannot in good conscience yield to the men who have wanted her. Robert stands on a profound understanding of God’s will for the sexual redemption of persons. Period. He cannot change that truth even if popular opinion does. Sue must be faithful to God’s call, however difficult that call is. The failure of others does not negate God faithfulness and call on her life.
Their diminishment in battle has not resulted in death—martyrdom—which is the highest honor accorded to persons possessed by fortitude. These three major on endurance, a second facet of fortitude; they sustain ‘little deaths’ as they endure shame for the joy set before them. No grim-faced sufferers these—each exercise what Pieper describes as ‘a vigorous grasping and clinging to the good’, namely holding fast to the little cross Jesus has asked of them as He steadies them with His Cross. Endurance for them is neither passive nor mournful but active, drawing water from an unseen but very real Source. And joyful! I have seen each of these three in serious hardship but never once succumb to self-pity, a third mark of fortitude. They refuse to be broken by grief; their losses and tears draw them closer to Jesus.
For us all, fortitude frees us to face our vulnerability in faith; we entrust ourselves to the One who does not promise freedom from injury and sorrow but freedom for Himself. He makes us alive in the fight for what is authentically good and true and beautiful. The battle prepares us for heaven.
Sara has a Bridegroom who awaits her; she is making herself ready for Him. Robert’s reward is thousands who through his work ‘run in the path of God’s commands’ (PS 119:32) and who teach others so. Sue is Jesus’ presence for a harassed people who under her care come clean from sin and demons. Fortitude frees her to prepare a tribe for heaven, for Jesus. Those who lose their lives find them, many times over.
‘Justice without mercy is cruelty.’ Thomas Aquinas
When St. John (JN 8:1-12) describes the Pharisees hauling the adulterous woman before Jesus in the hopes of exposing His inability to unite mercy and justice (Lev. 20:10), with whom do we identify?
Like me, you can probably admit that you are both prostitute and Pharisee. Many of us who come out of sexual disintegration have worked hard at coming clean and helping the Church clean house. Congratulations. We now are less tempted by unclean spirits and more inclined to religious ones. What else explains the shock we feel when a real sinner shows up in our midst?
God is faithful. Might we recognize in our Christian ‘enculteration’ a flash of the inner-Pharisee whose outrage over the gender meltdown in our day tempts us to look with disgust at the unidentified gender being before us? Have we forgotten the bullies who beat us up at school before we were LGBT-anything, just lost and alone in our uncentered selves? What about the religious who squinted through their smiles at us? The idiotic counsel from church men who punctuated their platitudes with ‘just don’t tell anyone…’?
It is good to forgive and also not to forget how tough it is for outliers to find footing among the holy ones. And if we do forget, just wait. God is merciful to bring up old struggles of the flesh just to remind us of how vulnerable we still are and how somehow, we need the saving love of Jesus more today than yesterday. Let the accusing voices roar. Let the demons howl and chase us right back to the feet of Jesus where our divided souls can find refuge from the stones and stony gaze of Pharisees. C.S. Lewis is right: ‘If religion does not make you an awful lot better, it can make you an awful lot worse.’
Maybe your sins are not sensual; you cannot relate to the prostitute. Then think about adultery as illicit virtue, not sex. Have you quietly begun to pat yourself on the back for your ordered life rather than to thank God for His mercy? Perhaps you spend more time praying for your holiness than for saving a tortured soul from the flames of hell. Many of us can confess honestly that we needed the disordered son or daughter or spouse or friend to rouse us from our self-centered faith and to cast ourselves once more on the saving love of Jesus.
The sweet, savory truth: Jesus is God’s justice for broken ones like us! And it takes a good break in order for us pilgrims to be made new by His mercy, a cleansing love which engulfs and transforms our injustices into something good.
All we have left is tears, evidence that we have lost our way, grown cold in the light, weary in well-doing, unmerciful. Tears are good. They show us that we still have hearts that can break. What better time to break than now as we walk with Jesus to Calvary? Maybe our broken hearts are required to make room for persons who will perish unless they receive a share in His heart through ours.
‘The fire of divine love, which burns on the altar of our hearts…miraculously turns itself into water, the compunction of tears, which purifies us from sin and commends our good works. When our works are sprinkled with tears, splendor shines upon us, and a ray of light radiates from our depths with a serenity of delightful brightness.’ St. Peter Damian