March 27, 2012

Weeping, as We Should

I've been enjoying the prayers over the people that the new missal offers during Lent. Today's is especially good:

O God, who choose to show mercy not anger to those who hope in you, grant that your faithful may weep, as they should, for the evil they have done, and so merit the grace of your consolation. Through Christ our Lord.

Like so many prayers, this one would be easy to take the wrong way, as if God has somehow decided to be nice to us--and maybe just this once--when what he really wants is to be angry, or if our contrition somehow buys us divine consolation.

The punishment we receive for our sins, in this life and all the way down the road to hell, is only what we do with the emptiness we suffer from lacking the goodness of God that ought to be there. This emptiness, as we sinners sorely know, is all too easily filled with violence, craving, despair, self-medication, and every other settling for less by which we purchase for ourselves our alienation and misery. Take this to our created finality, and that's hell.

The spiritual work is to refuse to fill the emptiness with anything else, but to sit in it and grieve the absence of God we have insisted upon with our sins. This is the beginning of compunction. It does not buy us God's consolation, but merits it in the sense that praying out of the emptiness in a mode of receptive grief opens us to the consolation God is just dying--literally--to give us.

It is in the openness of this grieving for our emptiness that we really begin to see Christ crucified, God having united his very self to our pain, our stuckness, our alienation, our feeling of abandonment. And it is then that we realize the mercy of the divinity of Christ crucified, because he has blazed a trail--for our humanity--through our suffering to the new creation that is the Resurrection.

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