See, my servant shall prosper,
he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.
Even as many were amazed at him—
so marred was his look beyond human semblance
and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man—
so shall he startle many nations,
because of him kings shall stand speechless;
for those who have not been told shall see,
those who have not heard shall ponder it. — Isaiah 52: 13-15
Regular readers know that I am a Passionist. What is that exactly? The article on the Passionists at Wikipedia is brief but generally accurate. You can find out more at the website and blog of the Passionist Nuns of St. Joseph Monastery, to which I am attached as an oblate associate. Essentially, my relationship with them is that I love them and they love me. There really isn’t any more to it than that. I am not under any obedience to them. I just love them…but…it is true love, not because it is my love, but because it is my love with the love of Jesus poured out to us. This is the love which is found when we offer ourselves for others. My relationship with the Passionist Nuns is one of redemptive suffering. I offer all of my sufferings for their intentions, whatever they may be. In return, they pray for me and for my family.
There is no greater gift than love, and there is no greater love than the love of Christ in His Cross. Jesus said:
Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. — John 15:13
My first duty is to my family, especially to my children, but my truest friends are the Passionist Nuns even though they are cloistered and I never speak to them unless it is absolutely necessary. (Unfortunately, due to Bipolar Disorder, my brain sometimes tells me it’s absolutely necessary when it really is not.) We are friends to each other only much as we are Christ to each other, and in my relationship with the Passionist Nuns, which is quite different from that of other friends, Christ is there in fullness.
Since I converted to Catholicism, one of the greatest agonies for me, apart from my physical and mental disorders, has been finding out that so many people do not really know the depth of what happened on the Cross. Even among those who are Catholic, there is very little understanding of redemptive suffering, that our sufferings have value when they are offered in union with the sufferings of our Lord on the Cross. All Christians know that redemption is through the Cross and that the Cross is the source of all graces. All Christians know, even protestants who believe in Sola Fide, that if you truly love Jesus, you will do God’s will. All Christians know, too, that we all fail at this every day, but that Jesus is still there for us in His Cross of redemption. How this becomes manifest to us is where we disagree, but that is because of human error, not God’s error.
How sad it is that even though we all believe these things, we are divided, Catholic and protestant. What separates us, I think, has to do mostly with a lack of understanding about the Incarnation….that we are all PHYSICALLY connected to each other, because the world (including our flesh) was created through Jesus. Our flesh exists because of His Flesh. We are created in His image. We all belong to Him completely. This is why it was possible for Him to save us when He Himself suffered death on the Cross. Because God is not bound by time (only we are), we all were hanging with Him on the Cross. His Sacrifice was the Gift of Himself, and the only way we will not be saved is if we deny this gift of salvation by rejecting the will of God in our lives. We do this when we refuse to take up the cross in our own lives and follow Him.
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. — Luke 14:27
Bearing your cross is doing the will of the Father, as Jesus did in His Agony in the Garden, but it is also understanding that we are not God. We are His creation, made to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him. We do not have His power. As Mother Teresa said, we are to be as pencils in His hand. Grace comes from His Sacrifice. We Catholics seek to be like our Blessed Mother, sitting patiently at the Foot of the Cross.
Because my flesh (and yours) was hanging with Jesus on the Cross, my sufferings (and yours) endured in doing the will of God are, thanks to His Sacrifice, redemptive. (Click here for Scripture readings on redemptive suffering.) Graces flow from the Cross of Jesus when we offer our sufferings with Him and in accordance with the will of the Father. When we do God’s will, even though it hurts to do so, graces flow and help us to become the people He has created every human being to be – saints. The more we do this, the more we understand how great is His love for us, and the more we see the Cross as joy…as St. Gemma did.
Personally, I have a major problem with free will, due to my Bipolar Disorder. (I am also on the autism spectrum.) In Proverbs, we read that “a righteous man falls seven times,” and Jesus says to forgive “seventy times seven.” That’s 490 times. I mess up way more than that every day. Thankfully, I don’t have to be concerned about whether the things that I am offering my sufferings for are good things, because I have the Passionist Nuns. I offer my sufferings for their intentions, because mine can be so screwy, in the context of my brain. In this way, the intention of my heart is good, even if my brain might not have all the pistons running well. Sometimes, I do ask things of God — most usually when people ask me for prayers. Because my brain is messed up, my prayers for others are almost always the same, that they may come to a greater understanding of God’s will, and that God’s will, whatever it may be, will be manifest in their lives. In this way, I know that I’m not asking for something pointless or wrong. In the end, no matter what we may face in life, God’s will is all that matters.
I am grateful to Leila Miller, my former spiritual director, for being the first person to tell me about redemptive suffering. I had been catechized upon my conversion by a very faithful (and thorough) priest, but even so, I had already been a Catholic for six years before I heard the term “redemptive suffering” from her. What a shame it is to have gone so long without this understanding, but now, I have my life’s calling, to suffer for the Passionists, which brings graces to them, and to be grateful for the graces I receive through their prayers for me.
I realize that this makes my life much different from the lives of most people these days. I am offering everything for whatever some nuns in a monastery, whom I rarely speak to, think is best…but it is the Gospel, to understand what Jesus has done for all of us on the Cross, and to understand our role in the words “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Jesus desires our love, not just for Himself, but for each other. The love He returns to us is indescribably beautiful.
I have an important update to my post from yesterday in regard to the subject of “Intrinsic Disorder.” Many thanks to Marie Dean who pointed out to me via email, and who pledges to write a related post soon on her blog, that disorder is never intrinsic. This is the point I was (clumsily) making in my post, but I failed to point out that the use of the term “intrinsic disorder” is itself erroneous. I’m guessing I was subconsciously remembering how I have been treated in the past when I took issue with a term (“gay”) when writing on this topic. There is no such thing as an “intrinsic disorder” in Catholic spirituality. That man is intrinsically disordered, in spiritual language, is a protestant belief. We can attribute the error’s popularity to Martin Luther, primarily.
It is my understanding that “intrinsic disorder” is a medical term. Perhaps this is where Elizabeth Scalia has heard the term used before. In Catholic spirituality, we refer to same-sex attraction as “objective disorder.” This means, as I stated in my post, that it is something not inherently a part of our own being. Marie pointed this out to me via email (and rightly so):
Objective means outside one’s being but real, such as an objective perception or objective view; we sin objectively against God’s commands, and a disorder which is objective can be changed, (I can objectively become more holy, for example) wherein an intrinsic one cannot be, by definition.
Spot on. Mind you, I don’t expect the average person who is not well-studied in Catholic teaching and/or apologetics to understand why something that initially seems so trivial can be such a huge deal, but it really is the difference between understanding that you can become a saint and the false belief that one cannot possibly become a saint, in the sense that Catholics understand sainthood.
Protestants after the tradition of Martin Luther believe that human beings are intrinsically disordered. Luther referred to “saved” people as snow-covered piles of dung. Fr. William Saunders writes:
Luther believed that original sin had completely destroyed our likeness to God, so that a person lost his free will and all his works were sinful. He taught that after baptism, original sin remained. (While Catholics distinguish original sin from concupiscence, Lutherans essentially do not.) Even after baptism, man’s nature remains depraved; there is no re-creation. However, through baptism and the graces merited by our Lord’s passion and death, a man is clothed in grace and thereby appears just in the eyes of God. Martin Luther described a justified man as a snow-covered pile of dung, clean on the outside but not on the inside. (Please note, this is literally Luther’s imagery.) He explained further, “I understand grace in the sense of a favor of God, but not in the notion of a quality in the soul. It is any exterior good, that is, the favor of God as opposed to His anger.” For Luther, grace then remained extrinsic to the person, and did not produce a new creation. So the classic Lutheran phrase, simul justus et peccator — at the same time righteous and a sinner — captures the state of the person even after baptism.Following this reasoning, since man is depraved and sinful, so are his actions. Therefore, good works are meaningless for Luther, and have no part in justification, thereby ignoring the teaching of St. James. For Luther, salvation comes through “faith alone.”
Protestants of this erroneous tradition also believe that they can subjectively determine what the truth is without the aid of the Church. They see fides ecclesiastica as a false doctrine, hence their belief in Sola Scriptura. Anyone who has spent time debating protestants on the topic of subjective belief and objective truth should have no trouble understanding the topic of objective disorder. This is why I think that anyone who writes about Catholic theology and spirituality would do well to spend at least a month or two engaged in apologetics debate with protestants. The use or misuse of one term may seem trivial to you, but it is often the difference between understanding the truth about God and not understanding the truth about Him. As I have notedrepeatedly, it is the difference between life and death for me, personally.
I have been called a “drama queen” by Catholics who disagree with me on this because I ended up in the crisis unit when a former spiritual director got this wrong. I assure you that every time I write on this topic, I think of this. Please pay attention. Lives are at stake. If I said that “hives” are at stake, you’d have reason to ignore me and call me a loon who is just seeking attention and worldly glory because I’m “jealous” of some other blogger, but lives are at stake. Sometimes even one letter being wrong can change everything. My aim is to lead souls to Christ, not to generate traffic to my blog. If just one person comes to Christ because of what I have written here, it will be worth everything to me.
Today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter Apostle. (Readings here.)
All Catholics are being called to give up our Pope for Lent. Regardless of what any of us may think about the situation, the Holy Spirit is at work here. God has decided this. Of this, there can be no doubt. Things could change at any time, but God is in all of it.
Some of the things I have said about the Holy Father’s resignation have been hard for some to hear. (Read here and here.) You shouldn’t be disturbed by it. Don’t put much stock into what I think and say. I don’t. I am not God. What matters is what God is saying to all of us in this. I remain convinced that Pope Benedict is doing what God is asking him to do, and in this, I trust that he is making a holy decision. Still, I have been a Christian long enough to know that things are not always truly and fully as they may appear to be to us, who are mere humans. God’s ways really are mysterious. I could tell you many personal stories that have proven this to me, as I’m sure any faithful Christian could. We trust, we hope, we pray, but we also can ask questions and express concerns. When we ask questions and express concerns, we are doing God’s work just as surely as the Holy Father is, as we are all one Body in Christ. What I am convinced of is that the Church will continue to stand as she has for over two thousand years, regardless of what any mere human being may do, because God is in charge here.
Many are giving up, for Lent, the use of social media, overindulgence in things that are bad for our physical health, use of swear words, etc., but for many others, it is God who decides what we shall give up, just as He has decided that Catholics will give up our Pope. So it is with my family now, as we are going through a test of fire. At least two of my close Catholic friends, are also going through a test of fire this Lent that was chosen not by them, but by God Himself. Such things used to leave me in a sense of awe, that God acts in ways that make His presence in our lives far more convincing than even the presence of people in our lives. We know He is with us, because He has spoken in these ways that call us to do His will, especially now at Lent.
There is a “must read” article at Great Catholic Homilies on the topic of disorder, narcissism, mental illness, and finding our identity in Christ, by Fr. Joseph Eddy, vocations director for the Mercedarian Friars:
It was announced in 2010 that Narcissism would for the first time be removed from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This was a surprise to many even within the psychological community. Narcissism can be defined as a disorder which causes a person to fixate on oneself, one’s ideas, and one’s works. In general, it is characterized by a need for constant attention.