So, it’s been almost 40 days since you made those initial Lenten promises and I’d like for you to reflect a bit about how well you have kept up with them.
If you are like most error-prone human beings (myself included), I’m guessing that this Lent was pretty difficult and filled with challenges which tested you and maybe even caused you to stray. Or perhaps you were faithful to your Lenten resolutions but you nonetheless fell prey to the spiritual dryness that Brandon mentioned in the previous blog post.
You know what? That’s okay.
God does not expect a single one of us to be perfect. All he does expect is that we struggle and make the conscious effort each day to improve our relationship with him and with others. Now, that’s all well and good for me to say that we should be aware of our spiritual development on a daily basis, but the reality of the matter is that this kind of lifestyle is terribly difficult to maintain. Rituals of each day have the tendency to become habit and mindless routine, eliminating God from our consciousness. With all the information we take in and integrate on a daily basis, it is impossible to be alert all the time. This is frustrating, but this tendency may actually be derived from something that our bodies do naturally on their own.
See, there’s this thing that your nerve cells do which is called “sensory adaptation” and it involves the dulling of your awareness to a stimulus over a prolonged period of time. When you first feel something (say, your clothing on your skin), the nerves send a signal to tell your brain that there is a new sensation to be registered. However, as that feeling persists for a long period of time, the nerves tell the brain that nothing is changing and the sensation may be ignored so that new sensations may be registered and assessed. It is quite natural for your nerves to prioritize and this has been tremendously helpful in the survival of the human race, but this adaptation poses significant challenges which hinder our spiritual lives.
As we are exposed to the same Scriptural passages over and over again we get comfortable with them—so comfortable, in fact, that we are numbed to their life-changing messages. As we enter Holy Week, many of us are entering with a sense of familiarity with all of the events which we are about to celebrate. We numbly go through the motions, having heard it all a hundred times before, and we focus most of our attentions on the Easter fun with family and/or friends which lies on the other end of it. It’s understandable considering that it is much easier to think about the tangible events of reality (such as going on an Easter egg hunt or eating chocolate) than about the abstract ideas with which we have no personal experience.
Here’s the kicker though: at the very core of the Passion narrative that we hear today at mass lies the very provoking message that we are not just hearing the story of some people who lived a long time ago and had some stuff to say—we are hearing our own story, and we are hearing messages which are very applicable to our lives today.
I am certain that every one of us has experienced pain of some sort in the duration of our lives. Whether it was physical, emotional, or spiritual pain, it crippled us, at least for a moment, into dependence. Some pain may be quickly remedied with a Band-Aid or a good cry on the shoulder of a friend, but other pain may be more intense or long-term and it elicits the question why?
Why, God, must we suffer?
We find our answer today in the arrest, condemnation, and execution of Jesus. Think about it this way: on the night of His arrest, Jesus not only knew that He was going to die; He also knew exactly how He was going to die. If you can picture the beatings, the scourging, and ultimately the nails being pounded into his hands and feet, I think the magnitude of Jesus’ courage and fortitude may truly be impressed upon you. It gives new meaning to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Since Jesus willingly underwent such excruciating suffering, this enables people around the world and throughout time to better relate with God. No matter what trials we are going through we know that God understands because He Himself has been there. God is no longer this abstract entity somewhere off in space; He is our brother and our fellow sufferer.
By suffering we unite ourselves to Jesus in His pain, we recognize our dependence, and we allow ourselves to rely more completely on God and on others.
In addition suffering enables us to live more fully for the sake of others as we are drawn out of our self-absorption by compassionate awareness of the plight of our suffering brothers and sisters. We can use our resources as well as our own common experiences of suffering to help others to heal. In this way we can discover the good in pain which might otherwise seem useless and unpleasant.
Today in mass we sang one of my favorite songs, which is “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” There are two main reasons why I love it so much:
1. The very tune of the song is sorrowful and draws a kind of melodious wail out of the singer. It is a song of mourning, but it is hauntingly beautiful in the way that it elevates even the act of expressing grief into a form of worship.
2. It places the singer as a participant directly into the narrative of the Passion of our Lord. We are not just talking about those events which went down in Jerusalem a long time ago; we are emphasizing their consequences which impact our modern-day lives and we are emphasizing our own participation in our salvation history.
For, although Christ died all those years ago for our salvation, the event of salvation is an ongoing one in which each of us must stand in as Christ for one another. On Good Friday this year allow yourself to be shocked awake because Christ has a special message for you: you are not alone in your pain and your suffering is not for nothing.
We have the Resurrection to prove that.
God bless and happy Holy Week!