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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

The Gaze from the Cross, Part 2

Day 17 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

The Gaze from the Cross, Part 2 (Please also read Part 1Part 3 and Part 4)

‘Remember My Passion; if you don’t believe My Words, at least believe My wounds!’ (379)

We meditate on the Cross, or Passion, of Jesus because His Cross is His most exquisite and profound manifestation of Mercy for us. St. Faustina says it best: ‘The greater the suffering, the purer the love.’ (53) He endured a slow, agonizing death to give us everything He had: His water for washing away our sin (or the burden of another’s), His blood as the source of our new life.

Such Mercy deserves meditation. Understanding its concept in words is not enough. We learn through seeing, so Mercy’s visual witness matters as well. For many, the image of the Cross suffices, for others, the crucifix.

St. Faustina received a glorious, life-giving image of Christ Crucified that may help another group. Its uniqueness lies in His wounds flowing with colorful, healing power.

The wounds matter. Isaiah prophesied that ‘by His wounds we are healed.’ (Is. 53:5) The marks of God’s suffering have a unique healing power; the visual reminder of them can meet us in our misery, draw us out of isolation, and unite us with Himself, the Source of our healing.

There we wait, often in pain, for the Mercy that meets us in our suffering. We can know that in the depths of our grief or loss or shame His Mercy for us is deeper still.

That is where meditation upon the Passion is crucial. Alone with my twisted thoughts and emotions, prayer can become a torturous exercise in rehearsing the suffering at hand. Yet with eyes and heart open before the visual witness of His Passion, we can hand over the unbearable weight.

We entrust it to Him. That is why Jesus told St. Faustina to write at the bottom of her image of Christ Crucified, ‘Jesus, I trust in You.’ We are agreeing with Him: ‘Jesus, Your Mercy is greater than my sin (or wound, loss, etc.); I trust You and Your Mercy more than my capacity to work it out alone.’

Then we can listen for His healing word, as St. Faustina beautifully models throughout her diary. Our hearts are unencumbered, able and ready to receive. We can attend to His still, small voice; we wait expectant of the encouragement, wisdom, or insight we need from our good Father.

Trusting in Mercy is the key to a clear and free heart, a heart that can attend to others’ need for Mercy. As we learn to meditate upon His Passion, allowing His wounds to assume ours, we lay the ground for becoming genuinely merciful. St. Faustina received this word from Jesus: ‘By mediating upon My Passion, your soul acquires a distinct beauty.’ (1657)

‘Those who look to the Lord are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.’ (Ps. 34:5)

‘Jesus, we ask for the grace to meditate upon Your Passion. Help us to witness in Your suffering a place to go in ours. Free us from the strife and stress of merely recycling our woes in our head. Open our hearts! Through our gaze on Your Passion, summon the unbearable and bear what only You can. Give us listening ears as well. Incline us to Your Merciful Word toward us in our need.’

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote or simply a page number in parenthesis. Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska – Divine Mercy in My Soul (Association of Marion Helpers, Stockbridge, MA 01263) is available through the publisher or Amazon.com

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The French Lesson

My first desert experience occurred shortly after I became a Christian. Having moved back to my parent’s home from the gay ghetto of Long Beach, I grew bored. Fast. So I moved back to the beach, only this time to a family of French folks who were renting out a tiny 20’ by 8’ room in the back of their large home.

Not a good idea. My motives were impure—I wanted to have fun again, and the peculiar Christians I had met were not fun. Needless to say, I immediately returned to my old habits. Only this time it was not fun. I found myself guilty, ill at ease with new ‘friends’, feeling and acting false. I was not being true to the stream of new life coursing through me. I had to stifle the Spirit in me to dance with other spirits.

I loved the French family. But they did not know what to do with me. What must they have thought: Was I gay? A member of some fanatical American cult? They were typically liberal, with many gay friends and relatives. I partied with them; I amused and confused them, and failed to give a clear account of who I was.

In this desert, I was only confused.

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Abandonment

‘But I cry to you for help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
I have suffered your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me;
Your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood;
They have completely engulfed me.
You have taken my companions from me; the darkness is my closest friend.’
PS 88:13-18

Jesus’ rejection, abuse, and murder at the hands of men were not His greatest sorrow. It was His Father’s abandonment of Him on the cross.

Jesus expected the scourge of political and religious foes. The desertion of His disciples, however painful, was bearable.

Through it all, He held fast to His steadfast consolation–the Father who promised to never forsake Him. One cannot imagine His dismay when the Father abandoned Him to the darkness of sin.

He was willing, yet not prepared for the scourge and judgment of sin to fall upon Him. He knew the truth: what is holy cannot commune with what is foul. Jesus realized that the evil in humanity demanded a sacrifice. The price had to be paid. And He knew that whatever bears that sin becomes a horrible, stinking cancer that the Father cannot look upon.

Nothing can be further from the Father than that which is accursed!

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Merciful Dad

At the core of my same-sex attraction was the struggle to find a father, and so discover my own masculine power and purpose.

I had a father alright, and a pretty good one: Thomas Augustus Comiskey. But for most of my life I could not apprehend that goodness, much less take it on as my own.

In a language familiar to any desert creature in need of living water, I detached from him early on in my life. My own rebellion, coupled with his relational faults, inspired a wall. Behind that wall, I identified myself as ‘other’ than him. I thought myself to be superior to him.

In truth I became blind to my own weaknesses and the strengths he possessed.

In the last several years of his life, God in His mercy prompted me to press into relationship with him. My father and I forged a bond. Our focused times together inspired a genuine affection and appreciation toward him; my aggravation and petty judgments began to fall away. Like Jericho, the wall crumbled, and I could welcome this man into my life.

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Merciful Rest

Running hard in the jungles of Venezuela or on the pampas of Argentina (or crazy lost anywhere in Europe) may sound fun but actually it is exhausting. And so I was upon returning home after a particularly arduous trip.

Annette and I took a few days off—no release; I increased my sleep each night—no release. Everything seemed hard and a hassle; even normal sources of connection and renewal seemed more a drain than a gift. I was approaching burn-out (the experts call it ‘pre burn-out’), and it scared me.

I went back into counseling with a trusted Christian and began to see that my works for Jesus were overtaking my devotion to Him. Slowly, steadily, I was spending less time in His Presence and more time tending to the needs of my large family and the growing global family of ‘Living Waters’ ministers.

The Lord turned and looked at me the way He did Peter after the apostle’s third denial. Like Peter, I wept bitterly. (Lk 22:62) I had made a vow to the Lord years earlier that nothing would come between us, that I would wake up every day and seek His face, regardless of other demands. I denied Him that. My works for Him had overtaken my devotion to Him.

I had to return to Him. That began a rather long process of exploring fresh ways to pray. I discovered contemplative prayer, the quiet prayer in which one simply rests in His Presence, calling to mind and heart only His unfailing love. In that way, God works His way in us, without a lot of words, as we seek only to rest in Him.

I spent anywhere from 30 minutes to 60 minutes each morning just gazing on His goodness. (Meditating on the cross and a few choice scriptures helped out here.)

To be honest, I was so tired that’s all I could do—no interceding for the ‘10-40 window’ or racing through the Old Testament for this haggard saint!

I re-entered the rest of what He had done for me. I fulfilled the exhortation ‘to make every effort to enter the rest’ (Heb. 4:9-11), and discovered there was a Sabbath rest for me. If I did not draw constantly from that merciful stream, then I risked ‘falling into disobedience’ (v.11).

That disobedience involved my works outpacing my devotion to Him, and could disqualify me from God’s call—to grow in strength and wisdom as I keep digging ditches around the globe.

I found rest as I sent down my roots into this mercy stream. I could draw from it at the beginning of the day, and throughout the day, as I paused to consider what He had done for me.

He restored my soul. The water levels rose as I made the little daily effort to be still and receive His grace.

‘He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me besides quiet waters;
He restores my soul.’ (PS 23: 2, 3)

‘In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.’
(Is. 30:15)

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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