August 5, 2009

Letting God Move In

One of the greatest privileges and beauties of my life as a parish priest is that I am a witness to some very intense spiritual lives.

Often their experience is very wrenching; it brings them God's joy and peace, but it also imposes on them some of the sorrow and pain of the Lord's Passion. Usually it is the former that is seen outwardly, while God (in his mercy, to protect us from vainglory) keeps the "pain of heart" and spiritual anguish secret. When I encounter people who seem to be going through this double experience, I can't help but think of St. Francis and the stigmata. Brother Thomas of Celano, Francis's first biographer, describes Francis's internal state as he is about to be imprinted with the Passion: ...tristis et laetus, et gaudium atque moeror suas in ipso alternabant vices. (First Life, 94) "Sad and joyful, with both joy and sorrow alternating by turns in himself."

When the Holy Spirit finds a soul willing to work, he puts it to work for as long as it can consent. But why does God put souls through this 'emotional rollercoaster'? For me I think it has something to do with the grace of Christmas.

When it came time for the Word of God to be born in the creation that the Father had spoken through him, "There was no room for them in the inn" as St. Luke tells us. That's the trouble with the "world" in the spiritually negative sense. There isn't an obvious and given place for God to dwell. From the sin of our first parents down to the sins, injustice, culture of death, and philosophical and practical atheisms of our own day, God has been excluded from his creation. When God wills to be incarnate among us, there is no room for him to be born, and he dies outside society, both literally and spiritually. "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

This is why the spiritual life can be such a wrenching, perilous journey. God is looking for homes in this world, for He delights to live among us. When God finds hearts and minds that are willing to be a home for him in this world He sets about cleaning, purifying, and hollowing them out for his own. This is not an easy process on the emotional level, as we are called to let go of more and more of our external selves, parts of our self-conscious being we mistakenly thought were our real selves.

It's rough, but it's our joy. As it was with St. Francis as he became in his body a home for our Lord's Passion, it is our joy and our sadness, our peace and our pain of heart.

8 comments:

Adoro said...

You know, Father, I'm just glad that sometimes He gives us a respite from the agony, although we know it's only brief, that makes it that much more of a blessing.

Adoro said...

Sorry, have another comment: this post reminds me of an insight I received on my retreat, will write about it later. But it has to do with how our broken hearts are exactly what opens the door for Him to enter.

Brother Charles said...

Hearts break, whether for good reasons or bad. The spiritual work is to make sure they break open, rather than break closed.

Brother said...

I like the whole notion of Christ indwelling and God cleaning house so that he has a nice place to live.

Julia said...

Good post. That purification, purgation, whatever you want to call it, it can be so painful and draining, but at the same time it's also wonderful, even delightful in a way. Humiliation breeds humility.

It puts you at the foot of the cross, which is where we all need to try to live.

Paul A. Zalonski said...

if this is helpful let me know: suffering is supposed to open up space in our heart for mercy. is Christ in front of me? do I believe that Christ is THE way, the truth and the life? do we believe the promises of Christ to be true? do we believe that suffering is salvific or a waste of time? the answer to these questions is indeed the result of serious spiritual work.

pennyante said...

Paul, I see suffering can result in two choices for the individual: either you become bitter or you become more merciful and compassionate in your dealings, not only with others but with yourself too.

4narnia said...

this is a great post, Fr. C! i forget exactly where in Sacred Scripture it says this (maybe you can let us know), but this seems to fit with the message of your post: "when we are weak, then HE is strong." God can and does work through us when we are weak, humble, open and make room for Him in our lives. it's not an easy thing to do, especially in this very materialistic world, but the more we detach from the things of the world, the more room you make for God. and the happier, more merciful, more compassionate, and more peaceful we will be. PEACE! ~tara t~