Sunday, December 27, 2009

Stabat Mater

I had this sudden inclination today to listen to the Stabat Mater (Dolorosa), which is a Latin hymn. The title translates to, "the grieving mother stood," and the literal English translation of the lyrics is phenomenal. Truly this woman was blessed to behave as she did, feeling as she did! And what a lesson she has to teach us!

Lately in my prayers and interactions with friends, I keep finding myself returning to the idea that our situations do not cause us to act how we do, but rather WE cause ourselves to act as we do. There is such a tendency in all of us to blame anything but ourselves for the misfortunes that befall us - we can even blame God! How could He let such misery befall us?! Why is this happening to us? And yet, there is always Stabat Mater Dolorosa, eternally standing in grief, eternally modeling and exemplifying the virtue and the promise of Christ, even through the worst of all possible situations.

This woman's son, who was a blameless innocent and the Son of God, was turned over to Roman officials, sentenced to a gruesome death, betrayed and abandoned by all His friends, and was being crucified before her very eyes. Yet, she stood. Her heart was breaking, for sure, and her sufferings would have bested the sufferings of any other woman ever to have walked on the face of the planet, yet she stood. And through the sorrows of that day, through the pain and agony of watching her only son begotten of the Holy Spirit as He was whipped and nailed to a cross, she felt a deep peace and joy in her trust and faith in God. As we laud our Stabat Mater dolorosa, we also grieve with her - we rejoice for her faith and trust in God, yet we feel the same human emotions of sorrow and joy, pain and peace, heartbreak and overwhelming love.

The literal translation to the Stabat Mater is here: This woman who was so in love with God that she bore His Son was given this heartwrenching situation - much worse than anything that any of us will ever experience in our lives. Yet, we call Mary BLESSED among women! I think this is cause for a little investigation... :)

We recently celebrated Christmas Day, where we find Our Blessed Mother with her betrothed in a cramped stable, surrounded by smelly animals, with the Son of God. Both are overjoyed and filled with wonder at the appearance of three strange men coming to visit the Christ-child, and Our Blessed Mother must have been full of emotion. Imagine: you have just been given a precious gift, God's only Son, and now you must raise Him! Your every action as a mother is done for the Child of God!!! Talk about anxiety as a parent - normal parents go weak at the thought of raising a child - imagine God's only Son!!! As I approach the Nativity scene, I do so with this song in my heart: I think it conveys equally the wonder and overwhelming joy of Christ's birth, the joy at the humility and peace of Our Savior lying sleeping in a manger, and the beauty of beholding this beautiful creature whose eyes are locked on her child. She could care less where she is, or what is going on around her. The only thing that matters to her at that moment (and for the rest of the moments of her life) is this precious child that has been given to her by God. The thought of beholding such a creature brings tears to the eyes, tears of gratitude that God created such a beautiful creature out of clay, tears of wonder that He was even able to create such a beautiful creature, and tears of penitence that He would love us THAT much to give us not ONLY His only son, but also His Beloved, the new Eve, the Mother of the Church.

In that lowly stable, Mary is overwhelmed by the Spirit, filled with love for this little child, this Christ who has been given to her by the Father. Fear is replaced with love. Fear is replaced with trust and faith that God will not leave her, even through a very difficult situation, in a very difficult time, with very difficult people who do not understand where Jesus came from and what He is meant for. Mary takes all this things and meditates upon them in her heart - what a beautiful place for her thoughts to take root! The only things that she will act upon are the things that are of God, and the rest of her thoughts are discarded, upon careful consideration in her heart, as not being of God. How beautiful! She is tempted to fear, but she discards her fear, because she finds in her heart that it is not of God. Her meditation allows her to know God so intimately that she cannot be separated from Him.

Mary forgets all of herself, lost in God, and becomes the vessel through which light enters into our dark world. How can one grieve at the thought of such a light? How can one seek darkness when one's eyes are focused on the light? Truly the impossible was possible with this Daughter of God because she believed in His Word.

Cut to the Crucifixion. Different scene entirely. There is not even a manger in which Christ could rest. He is being whipped, carrying a heavy, wooden cross. People are jeering, cackling at the man who claims to be the Son of God. They call Him a falsity and a liar, mock Him as the King of the Jews. They call for His crucifixion over Barabbas, a noted criminal. He bears it all with a supernatural strength, but His very human mother remains, standing, watching all of this pass. And holding it in her heart and allowing it to take root, because it is of God. Whatever will grow, she trusts that God wanted it to be planted in her heart, and she allowed it to take root so that it would grow strong and flower into something beautiful. Yet this woman who so wisely discarded her fears before does the same again, keeping for herself all the sufferings and discarding the despair, keeping the pains and discarding the hopelessness. She finds God, hidden as He is in the situation, and clings fast to Him, her Rock in times of trouble. Truly THIS is the way to suffer, THIS is the way to suffer in Christ and with Christ! Not out of self-pity or a hatred of others, but out of love of God - to suffer because of human emotions, while maintaining the supernatural virtues of hope, of peace and love, of truth in one's heart. It doesn't make the Crucifixion any less painful, but it redeems the pain as being of God - it does not explain the sufferings, but it gives them an underlying theme of peace and love in Christ.

And if we are to imitate the Blessed Virgin, we must take our own human sufferings as they come, with the same love of Our Mother, trusting in God's Divine Providence, clinging to that which is of God, that which we know in our hearts to be true, good, and beautiful, and discarding the rest. No matter if it hurts at first - there will be peace in the pain. If you are left with a basket full of sorrows that are of God, then rejoice!!! The basket that you carry was surely made in Heaven, and will one day be used to carry even greater amounts of joy! Where would we be without such a basket? With nothing to carry our joy in, that's for sure!!! I know I don't want to be carrying away from my prayers the joy of Heaven in a dinky tin can. I want the largest basket possible - one where I can barely walk, it's so big!!! Yet, that same basket opens us up to receive more of the sufferings that hurt so badly - so what?! Our capacity to love is not defined by our situations, but rather by our willingness to receive them into our hearts - to meditate upon our lives with the diligence and persistence of Mary, weeding out that which is not of Christ and keeping close that which is of Christ.

The first complaint which comes to mind: what if I don't know what is and is not of God? The response: so what? God DEFINITELY knows what He made and what He didn't make. And often He leaves some kind of signature mark on that which He made: either a sign of peace, or love, or true joy. He knows what He wants for us, and all we have to do is know Him to know His Will.

And we don't have to be superstar mystics to understand what God wants for us THIS DAY. We don't have to see into the future, we don't have to have a five-year plan. We simply need to know, for today, for RIGHT NOW, what God Wills for us. God Willed that Mary watch her Son in agony the day of the Crucifixion, and Mary lived that moment fully. God wastes not a single moment of our lives - He uses every second to build our courage, to build our faith and trust in Him, to learn to love better and under more duress. Suffering takes on shape when it is suddenly no longer meaningless and without purpose. It becomes redemptive.

I am currently a second-semester senior in college without a job post-college, as are many of my classmates. We are all starting to feel the anxiety of a life ready to be lived. I have many friends and family members approaching marriage right now, anxious to begin a new life together. And yet, the more of my life I spend in waiting, the more I realize that our "right now" is truly the most precious gift from God - worth infinitely more than any "tomorrow" or "next year" or "yesterday" that anyone could ever imagine. God created time so that we could live moment by moment praising His glory, not so that we could attempt to change the clock by either backtracking or speeding it up. My own dreams of the future come to nothing in the eyes of the Almighty, and my little wonderings are as nothing compared to the Greatness of God. God is in the present, as I know that He has been in the past, and will be in the future. What more is there to know that is not already known in our hearts? :)

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Children of Christ and the Seeds of Love

There are so many instances of children of God judging one another throughout all of the Gospels. Can you even imagine Joseph's distress at the thought of his beautiful wife's dire situation of being pregnant and unmarried? And yet, he was told by an angel, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins." Talk about having misread his bride-to-be.

Or look at the entirety of chapter 7 of Luke. The elders who speak of the centurion's slave assert that he "deserves" to have Jesus heal his slave, yet Jesus is truly impressed by the centurion's faith only when he sends word that he is unworthy of having Jesus under his roof. The widow cries because she misjudges that her only son is gone forever through death, and Jesus calls her son back to life. People don't understand who John the Baptist is (or Jesus, for that matter), and the Pharisee Simon unrightfully judges the sinner who washes Jesus' feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. Quite the lot of misunderstandings for one chapter!!!

But, what do we see in all these instances? How are they all tied together? Christ, in each instance, meets everyone where they are (as He did in His birth in Bethlehem, as He did throughout His life), and loves the sinner as he is. He died for sinners, not for the seemingly perfect, but rather for sinners. And the first step in claiming Jesus as our own is admitting our own sin - otherwise, how can we claim Him and His Mercy?! After all, Jesus did not die for the perfect; so if you are perfect, you are out of luck!!!

Instead, what we see is Christ's compassion in all things. He goes to the centurion although at first he is prideful, acting out of a love for the man himself that swallows the sin of his pride. He meets the widow in her despair, giving her a sign that she might believe, rather than waiting for her to come to Him. He meets the crowds in their confusion and rumors about John and corrects them with love and truth. He offers them analogies that they can understand, and acknowledges their sins while offering the hope that, in the future, "wisdom [will be] vindicated by all her children." He explains to Simon the Pharisee the difference between the repentant sinner and the one who judges her, between the one who shows great love and the one who loves little, yet He affirms Simon by telling him that he was correct in his judgment of His parable: "you have judged rightly." The question of Jesus becomes not, "who is this who even forgives sins?," but rather, "who is this who loves so greatly even those who love so little?"

Our lives are marked by opportunities to judge others and "love little." We can say that one is not "holy" when they do not attend daily Mass, or pray the Rosary every day. Yet, the tears of one truly repentant sinner are worth more than all the daily offerings of a pious Christian. But, how does the repentant sinner reach the point of tears? What moves them so much so as to cry of humility in the face of greatness? Is it not the infinite and merciful love of Christ? Before salvation, there must always be all-encompassing and overwhelming amounts of Love. It is the driving force of the universe, the origins of the earth, created by our good God at the beginning of time.

"So, where does this leave me?", you might ask. "The one trying to better my faith life bit by bit, working on being a good human being in the face of such a seemingly distant goal as imitating Christ?" It means loving others by piercing through the veil of their sin, loving others not because of the person they could be but because of the person they are. It means not wishing that others were better people so you could love them more. It means loving them so much that Christ shines through you. It means allowing that light of Christ to permeate yourself so much that others feel that light, that love, that mercy, and are overwhelmed by the love felt for such imperfection as that of human beings.

We are called to imitate Christ as Catholics, and Jesus Himself taught us to serve even the sinner. Even when washing the feet of one of the worst and most notorious sinners of all time, Simon called Peter, Jesus was told to get up and stop washing Peter's feet. He did not stop His foot-washing, however, and continued performing the Will of the Father, loving Peter through his inability to understand, which caused him to sin. And once Peter did understand, after having denied Christ three times, it was only relying on this overwhelming love that he was able to overcome his own guilt and follow in Christ's footsteps.

If you are a practicing Catholic, chances are you have at some point in your life felt the overwhelming mercy and compassion that is Christ's Love for us. Many of you probably experienced this love in Church at some point. But, what about those people who would never set FOOT in a Church? Or perhaps those crotchety people who seem to hate everyone and everything? Here's a new remedy for the problem: LOVE them. But not the kind of love that wishes they were better for their own sake. The kind of love that is accepting others as they are at exactly that point in time. Loving the crotchety for teaching patience to others, loving those who are unkind simply because they are human beings and part of the body of Christ.

This kind of love that Christ teaches is not a love that asks for anything. It hopes for everything, but does not expect anything. It gives and gives and waits for no response, confident that a seed needs water and sunlight to be given any chance to grow. It does not water the seed to see the beautiful flower, but rather waters it simply because it understands that a seed needs water to grow. It provides and does not think of outcomes, but rather thinks only of the other.

This is the love that we are called to have for everyone. Talk about a hard calling! The Pharisee in us wants so badly to say, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner."
We want so badly to say that nobody understands us, that we are alone in our condemnation of the evils of the world. Yet, this acknowledgment of the evils of the world is what Jesus came to save us from!

"Simon, I have something to say to you," says the Lord. "Tell me, teacher." "Do you see this woman?" Jesus asks. "When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair." Lord, forgive me for not realizing that my brothers' sins are jewels that adorn the path to their salvation! For, you have said, "her many sins have been forgiven, hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."

Lord God, it is not just about your own mercy that you speak, but about the mercy of your children!! If we are to love others rightly, we are to offer them mercy as you offer mercy - freely and without reserve, exchanging judgment in favor of your supreme goodness. It is not possible for others to "show great love" unless we first see that your mercy is extended to other sinners as much as it is extended to us ourselves. We realize that we restrict the capacity for other sinners to love when we love them less, and that when we channel Christ's love for us, we are helping to enable them to see Christ's mercy and compassion for them. And this is our true aim as followers of Christ - to be the mirrors reflecting His Light, even onto sinners, even onto the imperfect; simply because we are loved in imperfection and sin, very much unto death.

Lord, we pray that you might teach us how to love one another as sinners, as you have loved us. We pray for strength and trust in your love, that we might not trust ourselves, but trust in your infinite mercy and compassion. We ask for eyes that are blind to the judgment of the world, and hearts that cry out to You in every corner that you have hidden Yourself in this world - in people, especially. We pray not to change others, but that You might heal and touch our hearts, so that we are better able to do Your Will and love one another as You have loved us! Lord God, grant us pure hearts this day that look not to the sin, but straight to the hearts of other sinners like ourselves - and only see there the beauty of Your beloved creations!!

Thank you, God, for the irate, for the persecutors, for the confused, for the offensive, for the people who make us uncomfortable, for the sinners, for they give all of us a reason and an opportunity to love them purely, like You love us!!! :) May we always see the blessing of the tiny seed, and nurture it with all the love that we have!!!!

In Christ through Mary,
Christina :)