Category: Lent

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Chastity and Mercy 1: Beauty Trumps Brokenness | Andrew Comiskey

Chastity and Mercy 1: Beauty Trumps Brokenness

A tough woman careful to avoid the gaze of others hears a man asking for her help. She turns toward Him. Jesus needs water, yes, but more than that He wants to give her what she needs—mercy that will well up from her depths and satisfy her forever. We discover her morally broken state later on in JN 4; all that matters now is that Love has come to her and that Love alone can make her whole.

Chastity is all about wholeness. Far from the pale and passive face we ascribe to it, chastity gives generously, purposefully. ‘The successful integration of sexuality within the person’ (CCC#2337) means that we can be liberated from lust and rigorous self-concern and free to offer ourselves to others for their good.

Jesus embodied that self-giving as a man—as God yes, but most definitely as a man. He is tender and strong. Jesus is appealing, and probably as puzzling to the Samaritan woman as He was desirable to her. No matter: Jesus was clear in love; clear in what was best for her.

In that way, Jesus the merciful is also Jesus the chaste. Chastity means His gendered, sexual self is united—in no conflict–with His worship of the One. Seamless integrity: the chaste Son’s need for ‘water’ in whatever form was sourced in the River of His Father’s love for Him. Committed to the Father’s will alone, His very human encounters with women and men alike resulted in greater wholeness in their lives, as we shall see throughout these six weeks.

We are not Jesus, nor are we exact replicas of the pre-fallen pair who celebrated their loss of loneliness in bold, shame-free sexual love (Gen.2:18-25)! Today we live East of Eden, as inclined to shame and fear and exaggerated desire as we are generous self-giving. No matter. Though God’s image in us may be broken, it is not destroyed. Something deeper in us longs to become potent in love and lovely in response to it. While we have breath, we represent Him on earth as either male or female, of which the Catechism sings: ‘Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way’…their union grants them a share ‘in the Creator’s generosity and fecundity.’ (CCC#2335)

Bearing His image means that we can know this truth—you are a good gender gift. Marriage is but one expression of such gift-giving. Your masculinity is potent, capable of engendering life in others; your womanhood is creative in its exquisite response to such life. Whether single or married, chastity is the virtue that frees us to grow into the gift we are and to learn to offer that gift.

Scary yes. The Samaritan woman may have averted Jesus’ gaze altogether had He not met her with such kindness. Similarly, He meets us this Lent with Almighty mercy, longing only to unite us with Himself. He is the source of ‘living water’ who seeks to well up in us. Might we leave old ‘wells’ behind this Lent and journey with Him toward chastity, the art of generous self-giving?

‘Father of mercy, You made me and now You seek to redeem me. You know me better than I know myself. I ask for the mercy to linger in Your presence and wait for You. I am confident that Your eyes of Love will reveal what is truest and best about my humanity. I marvel at how I am made to be like You. I welcome You as my Source, the Love I need to live and to give as a sexual, gendered being. Spring up, O Well.’’

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Ache, Eat

“Jesus said to His disciples, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in God’s Kingdom.’ “
(LK 22: 15, 16)

Jesus ‘eagerly desired’ to dine with His friends; those two words convey Jesus’ ardor, His passion for fellowship. Simply put, He longs for communion with us.

The word Luke used for desire is ‘epithumias’ (Gr.), the same word used by James to describe desire that becomes lustful when we attach to false objects of devotion (James 1: 14, 15).

Desire rises and falls on its object. When we lovingly trust Jesus enough to surrender our desires to Him, we can be assured that He will cleanse and fortify the mixed bag we bring to Him: all out of love for us!

I did not overcome lust by suppressing the mixture in me. Rather, I took Jesus’ passion for me seriously and opened my heart to Him. What’s there to hide, anyway? We can know like David that ‘all our longings lay open before God’ (PS 38:9); that truth invites us to commune tenderly with the One who longs for us.

Perhaps after reflecting on 7 deadly sins that afflict each of us, we may be less inclined to focus on sinners out there and to linger before Him for our sakes. We need Him! And He is adept at pruning what is proud and smug and grafting in what will bear fruit forever. Like St. Peter, we may squirm when He bows to wash our feet but it is the only way we can walk where He is going (JN 13: 8).

Being broken by our sin also frees us to gather as Christians. I much prefer a small group of sinners than a band of preening saints. Leading out with smelly feet, not our resumes, invites real community. His healing requires that we linger there. Just as the disciples reclined with Jesus at the Passover meal, with St John leaning on His chest (JN 13:23-25), I want to linger with my fellows, becoming His body broken and His blood shed, one for the other.

If we lived the truth that Jesus’ towel and table–His passion for us—is far more satisfying than other loves, we would not be in the mess we are in today. Our imaginations are so perverse that we cannot imagine St. John resting on Jesus’ frame without suspecting his sexuality. Ah well. We are a mess. Let us race to the table and towel of Jesus this Maundy Thursday, and welcome His passion for us.

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Lust in the Light

‘Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.’ (Rom. 12:21)

All sins are not created equal. Overeaters wear their vice in plus-sized outfits; the slothful bear a gloomy countenance, swathed in grave clothes. Both confess their sins wordlessly. Yet the lustful can radiate good health from overheated frames, giving the appearance of order while driven by disordered desires that if conceived commit violence against all involved. Let’s not compare a breakfast of brownies or dour self-doubts to the one sin that St. Paul claims most opposes one’ own body (1Cor. 6:18) while violating intimacy with Jesus. (vs. 13-17)

Lust is a secret sin that incurs the shame of wasting one’s generative powers; that shame can further isolate the sexual sinner from openly expressing his/her vice. Yet the technology that now drives lust has so obliterated our good shame that we are now nearly shameless, naked and on fire, losing the feeling of exposure which demands what only the Lamb can provide.

With the help of Google fiber, split seconds exist between any lustful thought and a perverse pornographic image that sears itself on the heart, to be recalled at whim. Lust begins with disordered curiosity and ends up disordering our desires by awakening passion it only frustrates. Good gifts we are, yes, but lust lures us to pervert the essence of that gift in cheap exchanges that bankrupt our most precious offering. Even the shameless can feel its futility. Scripture claims that the law is written on our hearts, (Rom. 2: 15), which testify to the truth that God made us to give ourselves only where committed love creates an openness to life.

Any fluency on this topic is because of my sordid history; lust is my most deadly sin. For this I feel blessed shame, a gift in light of my rather shameless background. Growing up on the CA beach in the sexual revolution, we ‘spent’ our bodies to buy new sensations. Although my inclinations were homosexual, lust may better define what drove and derided me. The Catholic Church smartly defines lust as sexual pleasure sought for itself, without the goals of lasting communion and child-bearing, and cites masturbation, pornography, fornication, and homosexual practice as among its expressions (CCC2351-2359). Sexual immorality is an equal opportunity offender. For all who lust, we have an Advocate, the ‘Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.’ (JN 1: 29)

The Lamb leads us to purity, or better put, to chastity, which is the stern and splendid task of integrating our sexuality within both our bodies and our spirits. (#2337) What a long and invigorating adventure! His unfailing love enables our daily surrender to Jesus and His members. Through trustful confession, accountability, and ongoing prayer, He pours Himself out upon us and accesses the heart’s true cry for love and connection. We learn to love real people. Overtime, Jesus helps us to become chaste and so overcome our disintegration, the lustful tendency to dart from real love to fantastic counterfeits.

Along the way, many of us welcome the call to offer our bodies to one person over a lifetime. Jesus and His bride prepared me for Annette. With her I learned to focus my sexual energies in the context of loving a person who was like me and yet profoundly ‘other than me’—body, soul, and spirit. I praise both marriage, and the Lamb who was slain. Together, the two reclaimed for me the gift of sexual love from the distortions of lust.

‘Jesus has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being: He has set us free from the domination of lust.’ (St. John Paul ll, Veritatis Splendor)

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A Glutton For Nourishment, Part 2

‘Can you make the guests of the Bridegroom fast while He is with them? But the time will come when the Bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.’ (LK 5: 34, 35)

Those days have come–feasting gives way to fasting for 21st century disciples who long and wait for Jesus. That is the paradox of going without in order to invite Him in. Fasting can be a feast of His Presence. His Spirit broods over persons who lay aside normal fare in order to welcome the unseen reality of Jesus-with-us.

Gerald May says it like this: ‘To experience a little hunger now and then can be a beautiful reminder of the deeper hunger of our souls.’ That hunger is for intimacy. His love for us is deeper than a brother’s, a mother’s, or a spouse’s: no-one loves us the way He does, because no-one has ever suffered for us as HE did (paraphrasing Pascal.) In the words of St. Faustina: ‘If you don’t believe My words, believe My wounds.’

So we choose the weakness, the faintness, the disquieting effect of physical hunger in order to open ourselves to the One who loves us most. In this way, fasting necessitates that we unplug from normal activity a little. Without food, we cannot do what we normally do. We are inclined to recline back on His unseen chest, to listen for the whispers of Him who said that He abides, dwells and lives with persons who partake of Him, the Bread of Life. (JN 6:56)

That means that we must deliberately turn down the roar of our noisy lives and the calories that fuel us into the fray. Start slowly, forsaking a meal but choosing to spend that time with Him. Let fasting quiet, slow and ease you into His Presence; don’t let it drive you mad as you seek to do all things without food. We surrender food in order to sustain deeper intimacy.

‘Be still and know that I am God’ (PS 46:10). Perhaps our resistance to fasting can be attributed to the fact that we cannot be still. We are overly attached to screens and rings, other people’s stories and demands, so much so that spiritual attentiveness becomes painful. But not impossible. Unplug. Fast from food, Facebook, fantastic plotlines that displace the one you are living. Welcome Him.

Keep in mind that this is not St. Benedict writing. I am naturally addictive, more inclined to grasp at sensational things than to ponder spiritual mysteries. I just know that if I want to give people Jesus I need more than my ideals and a strong cup of coffee. I need to sink into the Source and give time and space for Him to be my main meal. That means fasting. I now look forward to slowing down in order to savor the One I love most. I am a glutton for such nourishment. May the Spirit grace you this Holy Week with stillness and hunger for Him.

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A Glutton for Nourishment, Part 1

‘It is not the nature of things we use, but our reason for using them, that makes what we do either praiseworthy or blamable.’ St. Augustine

The greedy grasp after ‘things’; gluttons and sexual sinners (our last two ‘deadlies’) attach to pleasure. You could do worse. Jesus never raged at the unclean and overweight the way He did the religiously proud. Still, freedom from the Pharisee does not atone for sins of the flesh. Lent demands that we face with integrity our temptation to satisfy our desires our way.

Unlike sex, food is a necessity for everyone. We are weaned on it, fortified by it, and blessed by feasts at which we thrive in the joy of fellowship. Food can be a human pleasure, a delightful accompaniment Jesus shared many times with His disciples. In fact the Pharisees tagged Him a glutton. Food is praiseworthy–relished by God and a gift from God for our social and physical nourishment.

Food can also become an arm of our grasping, controlling selves. We become gluttons when we look for food to feed the deepest longings of our heart. Though food can enhance friendship, it cannot be our friend. The glutton romances food. One colleague confessed to extended fantasy over potential meals-to-come; another admitted to a fantasy parade of dancing BBQ meats that tempted her.

Both women are Christian, lonely, and share a history of early trauma and neglect. For as long as they can remember, food provided a kind of nurture, a reward that no human being offered as consistently. Food became the friend they could control, until it began to control them. Benign food became a brutal master.

Addicted to the rush of calories, they experienced consolation in overeating but suffered physically and socially from it. Gluttony thrives in the dark; my friends ate politely with others but binged alone, shamefully. Instead of drawing them into relationships, food barricaded them. Their oversized bodies reflected a kind of self-protection, an evident sign that another relationship was mastering them.

St. Paul said: “Everything is permissible for me but I will not be mastered by anything’ (1Cor 6:12). The Christian mastered by food can confess that mastery and like all addicts admit his/her powerlessness. Then grace alone can begin to activate the will to gather with others and face the heart’s true desire for love and intimacy. Quite apart from which diet works, Jesus wants to be the premier love through which we gauge the health of all our other relationships, including the one we have with food.

He helps us to go without and to experience our real hungers; He teaches us to turn wordlessly toward Him in the ache that arises when we refuse counterfeits. He wants us ‘to taste and see that He is good,’ that He is able ‘to satisfy our desires with good things.’ For that goal, the 40 days of Lent is but training for how God wants us to live all year.

One-third of Americans are overweight. Our sin of gluttony is obvious but not chronic. We can turn to the Source of our nourishment and begin to be reconciled to the good gift of food and of our bodies, through the Love that satisfies.

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