‘After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied.’ (IS 53:11)
God surrenders to man’s sin and death in order to vanquish his sin and death. Forever. Today and for as long as we live on earth, Jesus desires that our lives declare that truth. He is reunited with the Father! He lives to intercede for us! He pours out His Spirit upon us continuously, and provokes us with the fruit of His suffering–the expansive, generous, inclusive union He now shares with His Father: Raised Son and Proud Papa! We are invited into His reunion—Jesus our brother, God our Father, the Spirit uniting us and making us fully alive. He did not suffer in vain. He is satisfied to the extent that our lives declare this union of Life!
My friend Jonathan Hunter gets this. Raised from the dead of homosexual sin, drug addiction, and the HIV virus (before effective treatment existed), Hunter discovered how Jesus gives us a new lease on life, regardless of one’s ‘prognosis.’ He grew up with a familiar mindset of darkness and impending dread. In Christ, Jonathan discovered that this ‘spirit of death’ need not master him anymore. The Risen Christ is the ultimate grave robber! Jesus has broken death’s grip on Jonathan and all who wrestle with despair. Forever. ‘By His death, Jesus destroyed him who holds the power of death—the devil—and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by fear of death’ (Heb. 2: 14, 15).
While we were in transit at the Geneva Airport, Jonathan received a vision of Jesus routing Satan by storming the gates of hell and bringing with Him a host of people who had been trapped by death in underground caverns. Liberated, these former captives lived to declare the power of what He won for them! Hunter understands better than anyone that Jesus stormed the gates of hell in order to get us out of there. Is this what Matthew meant when he wrote that at Jesus’ death ‘the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people were raised to life…after the resurrection, they appeared to many people’(Matt. 27:52, 53)?
Jesus appears today through an empowered, radiant people free from the spirit of death. My friend Daniel Delgado lived under death’s shadow through a mentally ill, suicidal mother; he escaped into homosexual and transgender fantasy. While identifying as a woman and participating in drag shows, he witnessed a culture of death as friends died young, tragically. That spirit of death hunted down Daniel but Jesus’ Spirit was stronger. Jesus met him through engaging Christians who helped rescue Daniel from an early eternal death.
Today Daniel lives to make Jesus known. He recently had the privilege of ministering to a teenager intent on becoming a woman and unraveling in every way. Daniel emboldened him with the truth of how Jesus saved him—granting him union with the Father and the gift of his own identity as a son. He asked the young man if he wanted that love and that freedom. In light of Love, the young man saw his deception and cried out for mercy. Jesus gave it. He did not suffer in vain. He lives, and is satisfied by us who live to declare eternal Life.
‘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
‘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