Tag Archives: Mercy

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Magdalenes Rising

I spent Divine Mercy weekend in Ubon Thailand near the Laos border. Beneath a bamboo cross, an international team welcomed a diverse group of Thai men and women whose love for Jesus compelled them to offer Him their sexual brokenness. Ever faithful, He loosed a flood of mercy for persons raised in a Buddhist culture (only .4% claim Jesus as Lord) where sexual abuse and emotional neglect lay groundwork for many to become sexually compromised as adults.

As we ministered, I glimpsed the witness of Mary Magdalene, regarded by many as the Apostle of all Apostles. Culturally powerless, probably a prostitute, she was yet entrusted by Jesus with the message of the resurrection. Her exchange of false lovers and many demons for devotion to the One forged an intimate communion between Jesus and herself; He was all she had, an authority that could bear the most important message of all.

I witnessed men and women alike at our conference weeping at the foot of the cross over their sexual sins and those committed against them. I watched hope rise as Jesus encouraged them through our healing stories.

thai_divine_mercyI observed a young Thai pastor crying out for purity from his depths, wanting nothing to sully his care for the women he serves.  Another man, older and wizened by years of hard work in an outlying village, said very little but his face conveyed anguish as He listened to our histories of affliction and deliverance. His face shone as Jesus extended mercy to Him throughout our weekend together.

Most moving to me was a young woman—an ex-prostitute—who Jesus is making a deep well of mercy. She knows degradation better than most and the lure of big quick money. But she is committed to exchanging her lovers and demons for the only One who can love her without compromise. She knows she must stay near Him through the Living Waters community in order to live true. She weeps as much as she smiles; her eyes convey a heart united with Jesus for dear life.

Jesus is raising up all three (and many others) as witnesses of His life-transforming mercy. He died to put their sin and shame under His wounded feet; He lives to give them life. On Divine Mercy Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching on Mary Magdalene before my new friends in Ubon. We rejoiced together: ‘We have seen the Lord!’ (JN 20:18)

glorious wounds | andrew comiskey

Glorious Wounds

His smooth smiling face may have belied a deeper conflict but none was apparent. Jim responded to my story of sexual brokenness and Jesus’ healing with simply this: ‘My [homo]sexuality has been positive for me. But I can see why you needed Jesus. You were so wounded.’

When I suggested that ‘we are all wounded and that’s precisely why God allowed Himself to be wounded for us’, Jim begged to differ: ‘I understand God differently. I consider myself deeply spiritual, not Christian.’

He did not mean to be condescending. Jim was just being honest. No apparent wounds, no need for the Crucified God. I appreciate that he did not lump Jesus into his ‘Oprah-fied’ gospel.  The truth is: the cross remains a scandal for persons who want to control their own destinies with a little help from God, rather than persons whose help is God.

How did I or any of us come to that place of surrender? I believe that it has something to do with the mercy that meets us in another person, someone who somehow warrants our trust. In the light of love, we are freed to admit: ‘I have needs for love that I cannot manage and that another person cannot satisfy.’

Love alone frees us to lay down sleek defenses and show our wounds. Every week Annette and I gather with a group of men and women who do just that. Mercy drew us and now frees us to be poor together. Out of that poverty—the halting and at times shameful exposure of what needs to be cleaned and set and protected from further infection—we are becoming rich.

God is glorious among us. The Risen Christ, His wounds yet visible, is healing us from the inside out. Around the cross with these ones is heaven-on-earth. Nowhere I would rather be.

I keep praying and waiting for Jim to be among us. He needs us. He just does not know it yet. Maybe my presence will draw him yet, though I pray for others more winsome than I to do the trick. Regardless, I will keep reaching to him in love. May mercy flow like a river from our wounds, clean and glorious.

 

river rising

Chastity and Mercy 6: River Rising

‘…Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, in order to present her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.’ (Eph. 5:25-27)

Jesus reveals His self-giving to the church and world through a host of icons—relationships whose chastity makes Him known in ordered, exuberant love. St. Paul in the above passage uses the whole-enough love of a man for a woman to make earthy and evident Jesus’ cleansing love for His Church.

God gives us little room to write off such a parallel as lofty mysticism; rather, He insists that we embody the truth of the Gospel by offering ourselves generously and humbly to each other as His Spirit secures and empowers us. ‘Our bodies are a Bible,’ insists Christopher West.

Our beautiful challenge? Always and everywhere we offer ourselves as either male or female, blessed with bodies that long for union. Here we discover that it takes God—we who drink deeply of His mercy and revere His truth—to reveal God. We can only master the unwieldy elements of our sexual desire when we are aligned with His desire for the other’s good, not merely with what feels good to us. Owning that goal and the gift one is makes us chaste, one day at a time.

And oh what divine strength and beauty flow from the chaste! No conflict here with virility and fragrant womanhood. Chaste sexuality creates a ‘glow of the true and the good irradiating from the ordered state’ (Pieper) which feeds the souls it encounters, surpassing the adrenal kicks of sexy idols. Icons need not flaunt; they reflect glory from their depths. The Creator shines through His ordered creation and invites the world to know Him through them, through us.

We’ve all tasted and seen God’s goodness through His human ‘windows.’ Seasoned male friendship has been for me, in the words of the Catechism, ‘the witness of God’s fidelity and loving kindness’ (#2346). Merciful faithfulness assumes the face of Jesus through friendships forged in Him. Such friendship empowered this icon (however ‘chipped’) to pursue a particular woman. Annette and I responded ‘to God’s call to give life by sharing in the creative power and fatherhood of God’ (#2367).

Yes, our chaste union is about God’s provision for us. And it is equally about creating and raising them—our kids, made and parented in His image as male and female. We are now a gender mosaic, distinct parts yet composed together in the whole of our lives, a glimpse for others of how Jesus’ love makes His members strong, fragrant, and fruitful.

My starting point en route to chastity was homosexuality; others begin with more traditional failures or just the nagging lie that ‘I will never be a good gift.’ We gather before Him as one Church before the one Cross where we welcome His flood of blood and water. As we bear one another’s burdens, the river rises–first ankle deep then up to our knees, climbing to our waists and then some until we are immersed in love (EZ. 47) and confident that the chaste One will complete our chastity. Along the way we become the flood, exquisite witnesses in humble frames whose very clarity and purity releases living water to all who thirst.

‘And where the river flows, everything will live’ (Ez. 47: 9b).

‘Thank You God for taking our frustrated gift-giving and drenching it in mercy. We just wanted to overcome shameful problems but all along You wanted to enjoy intimacy with us, and to make our joy full by making us Your witnesses. May we delight in the good gifts we are becoming–the clarity of sight and affection we are experiencing. Help us to see others as You do and to love them accordingly, beginning with our most basic commitments. Free us to become a life-giving flow of chaste love, at once tender and bold.’

Chastity and Mercy 3: Just Love

Chastity and Mercy 3: Just Love

‘We seek to be chaste because someone we love needs us to be chaste.’ Heather King

Justice means giving to another what is due him or her. In the sexual realm, chastity serves justice by freeing humanity to be good and faithful gifts to others; that involves keeping our sexual promises with those we most love. Therein lays our happiness, and another’s. The person undivided by lust of any kind exercises justice by employing one’s self-gift to confirm, not confuse or diminish another’s gift. In so doing, we discover ‘human freedom’ (CCC#2339).

Such freedom is miles away from the enslaving drive to withhold from the beloved or to partake of one not our own. That applies to real people as it does to a host of sexy, romantic illusions that captivate us; the screens that ensnare us with stories and pictures of lust have rendered most of us adulterers of heart. Jesus cites such interior compromise as a sin on par with obvious sexual acts in Matt. 5:28. Rather than grant us sinners a ‘pass’ when it comes to our sexual musings, He applies the sin of adultery to any way we objectify others and make them players in the bedroom of our hearts.

So when a woman is caught in the act of adultery and dragged before Christ by a group of law-abiding elders in order to ‘out’ Him as either a libertine or a hardliner (JN 8: 1-12), we need to listen. How does Jesus serve justice?

In order to answer this, we must take seriously how chastity serves justice and conversely, how sins against it are always profoundly unjust. Take adultery: the Mosaic law is utterly clear that to withhold from God and/or one’s spouse and to partake of another not one’s own is always profoundly unjust, so much so that it warrants a sentence of death (Lev. 20:10).  Pieper is right: ‘every external act has social consequences’, including illicit sexual ones; we are now accustomed to so neutering sexual sin that ‘we fail to see its impact on the order of our communal life and the realization of the common good.’ We have all witnessed the wounding of families, communities and nations (Bill Clinton, anyone?) due to sins against chastity.

Like Jesus, Pieper also applies sins against chastity to ‘lust of the eyes’ when he refers to ‘the roaming unrest of spirit’ that drives us to relinquish ourselves to the world and its idols. Unable to live peacefully in our own flesh, we adulterous ones stuff ourselves selfishly with the flesh of others; here we must make real people unreal by separating them from love and honor. Ultimately, we lose touch with reality altogether. Persons who suffer most are not ourselves but loved ones who have experienced the gradual loss of us ‘to the seductive power of stimuli from an artificial civilization, in which the dishonorable team of blind lust and calculated greed’ surround our broken sexuality (Pieper).

Persons familiar with the dehumanizing impact of their sexual sin do well to reckon with the injustices we have incurred. At once withholding and violating, we have damaged others. Sin brings death and warrants death. Further, our enemies are merciless and want nothing more than for us to live accused until death destroys us forever. Many of us have descended into despair, which has driven us into the oblivion of greater sins.

Here we must allow ourselves to be dragged by our accusers before the feet of Jesus. (We resume our glance on Jesus’ treatment of the adulterous woman.) Knowing the merciless hearts of our accusers and His, He refuses to dialogue with them. (a good rule btw for all confronted by the clever and mean-spirited)

Rather, He bends down and considers the many ways these ones avoided dealing with their own sins and so failed to welcome the mercy they needed. Realizing the folly of the unjust passing judgment on the unjust, He asks: ‘If anyone is without sin, cast the first stone.’ Waiting guilty on the firing line, we hear only the sound of stones falling in the sand. When we look up we see only Jesus standing straight in order to look deeply into our eyes and say: ‘Where are your accusers?’ ‘Gone’, we admit. Then neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ His voice is as firm as His eyes moist with mercy. We straighten up as He did, at once peaceful and provoked to leave our sins at His feet. Merciful Jesus serves justice.

‘Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expressed God’s way of reaching out to the sinner by offering him a new chance…God does not deny justice. He rather envelops it and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice.’ Misericordiae Vultus

‘Grant us mercy, O God. Our sins and our accusers are many, the damage deep. May we never minimize its depth; may mercy alone silence and surpass it.’

Chastity and Mercy

Chastity and Mercy 2: United We Stand

The Samaritan woman of John 4 represents many Christians today; you could say she is a ‘type’ of the Church in the 21st century. Her Jewish roots inspired a ‘holiness’ tradition of which she was proud. At the same time, her heritage was also sourced in the intermingling of the Jews with the Canaanites, a nation that worshiped many gods through a variety of sexual practices. She too is divided–a woman of faith (“I know that Messiah is coming” v.25) fractured by a series of failed, dehumanizing relationships with men (v. 18).

Split between the proper and the profane, the Samaritan woman is us. Our love for God is often not reflected in the sexual decisions we make, if we take seriously the rates of divorce, co-habitation, and porn use among Christians (not to mention our lack of clarity on why the ‘gay’ and ‘trans’ self may not be God’s best for His kids). We are a people divided who, if not caught in the undertow of dehumanizing passions, are at least painfully aware of loved ones who are. In the words of Joseph Pieper, we witness how ‘the same forces that give rise to life also have power to destroy life.’

We want more for our loved ones, more for us too. Sick of sensations that ignite souls only to burn them out, we are a people ready for chastity. Something in us knows that we are created for wholeness, for integrity. Chastity means that we are seeking to live a united life; in chastity, we effort to align ‘the powers of life and love’ (CCC#2338) within us with the God who placed them there in the first place. United with the Creator, we begin to discipline our creative powers. The chaste person ‘seeks not itself blindly but with open eyes endeavors to correspond to the true reality of God, self and the world’ (Pieper).

We can know reality! And reality in the sexual realm corresponds with what is good and right and true for others. We know that the sexual bond belongs only to a man and a woman united for life, and we know that creative self-giving, fully clothed, is God’s call upon everyone–a fruitful expression of the connectedness that is related to sexual love. Chastity opposes any behavior that impairs such fruitfulness, and ‘tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity of speech’ (CCC#2338). Informed by reality, chastity discerns and refuses the enslaving power of sexual ‘unrealities’ and so can act clearly on behalf of others’ good. In so doing, we the chaste reclaim our dignity (CCC#2339).

Getting there would be impossible if not for the God who looks upon us divided ones with almighty mercy. Just as Jesus engaged the Samaritan woman, He waits to catch our gaze. He sees what is most real about our sexuality; His Spirit (‘living water’) summons that reality. In His love, He grants us the choice to become chaste, to participate in our becoming whole-enough expressions of His will for us and others. Will we unite with Him this Lent and so allow wholeness to define us more than our divides?

‘Father, our tendency to live divided lives seems woven into the very fabric of our histories, our culture, even our Church. Have mercy, Lord of mercy. Renew our vision of chastity that we might aspire to a whole life, a life of integrity founded on reality, not the unrealities that have deceived us. Thank You that they have not destroyed us. In mercy, do not let them destroy our loved ones. Have mercy on Your divided creation. Unite us in holy love, we pray. Breathe on our cry for chastity. Divided we have fallen, united may we stand.’

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