Try to receive your suffering as a privilege, or as the Medugorje visionary Vicka who suffers so much herself has said, as a gift from God.
Try. It’s easer said than done! But it doesn’t have to be something big, it might be nothing more than having to endure several failed attempts to insert a cannula. Or an everyday difficulty.
Don’t waste your suffering as Pope St. John Paul once said.
We struggle to understand this because we do not have a deep connection with the person of Jesus, his life and teaching, and with the true meaning of Christmas and Easter.
We pay more attention now to mindfulness and various other spiritual practices – good in themselves… as far as they go – but we do not have a deep connection with Jesus born of Mary, the son of the living God.
Jesus born of Mary is Heaven torn open, exposed… the mystery revealed, waiting for us to jump in, he is God who came down, lived among us, attempting – and still attempting – to reach us, leaving us a rather detailed understanding of eternity, how it works, what it’s like, what to expect…
We have been formed by divine teaching… but you’d hardly know it. He has revealed so much of the mystery.
He taught us there’s a definitive standard – love – by which we will be judged.
He taught us that within this love there is ultimate justice and judgement.
He taught us that what we do to others we do to him… ouch 😣. Imagine the joy and the sorrow of that! Everything that happens on earth arrives into the heart of God.
He taught us that mercy costs, that forgiving an offense and embracing an offender is painful 😓. On a universal scale he illustrated this on the Cross.
Every time God forgives, the struggle and the suffering of the Cross continues… until the end of time.
Every sin creates a piece of hell on earth.
Every time there’s love – true love – the resurrection continues to happen on earth.
How much sin – offensive hurt – can a person endure before he turns? How much could you endure? Now apply the question to God.
For example, abortion alone – executed as a human right and which the majority have now decided is our choice – is horrendous suffering in the heart of God, beyond all human imagining.
Still, God remains gracious. It is grace beyond all human comprehension – a love so merciful that it astonishes even the angels – that prevents God turning, that prevents the partial and even the complete destruction of the earth 🌍.
At times it is Our Lady who is holding the line which is why she’s repeatedly asking for prayer and sacrifice – help me here! Sacrifice has a similar value to suffering in Heaven – provided each is freely offered.
The earth survives through the pure graciousness of God – but do not underestimate the cost.
When suffering comes our way we are given the opportunity to work intimately with God in the work of salvation, in sharing the burden of saving humankind.
When that suffering is borne or carried out of love for the Saviour – I want to help you Lord because I love you – we’re already well advanced in the communion of saints.
Sadly, for many it’s the deep connection with Jesus that’s missing when suffering comes our way and we’re left “like sheep without a shepherd…”
I couldn’t help but notice that they laughed at Jesus.
That hasn’t changed, they laugh at us too because we have faith. We’re ridiculed often.
And when Jesus had made his point no doubt they said, “she wasn’t really dead, we made a mistake!”
These things don’t change.
In last Sunday’s Gospel the disciples fear death by drowning Mk 4:35-41
So Jesus calms the storm, the disciples fear of death disappears to be replaced by “even the wind and the sea obey him”
They’re awestruck – their focus changes from the fear of death to his power over the the storm, over wind and rain…
So what happens next? Where does Jesus lead them?
To the encounter recorded in this Sunday’s Gospel… where Jesus leads his disciples back to confront death in the death of a little girl 👧
The loss of someone close to us always plunges us into grief, dark and heavy grief, horrible.
But who told us that death is the worse possible scenario for the deceased?
Jesus doesn’t fear death, he doesn’t consider it as the worse possible event – in last Sunday’s Gospel he’s asleep, in this Sunday’s Gospel he demonstrates his absolute authority even over death – on the contrary he fears sin, he fears offending his Father. According to Jesus there’s something much worse than death – offending God unto hell.
But for those who die in Christ death is the best possible scenario and anyone who dies in Christ is consumed by love; of which even the greatest human love is a dim – very dim – reflection. They have only one all consuming desire; to stay with God, and the desire to return is non-existent. They’re being totally consumed by loving fulfillment.
The best contemporary example I can give is Mirjana’s experience of Our Lady in Medugorje. It is important to grasp that when Mirjana sees Our Lady it’s not just a visionary experience, rather, Our Lady brings Heaven with her – after all she is of Heaven – and Mirjana is caught up in Heaven. The consequences are illuminating; Mirjana has only one desire, to stay with Our Lady which means to go with Our Lady (death). Mirjana says that when she’s with Our Lady not even the love she has for her daughters would bring her back, and when the experience ends Mirjana collapses into a deep darkness. It takes her weeks to recover… and she really struggles to go back to ordinary life, to ordinary love, to love that’s a very dim reflection of divine love.
It’s all consuming nature is like having a son or daughter in love with someone of whom you do not approve – try getting your point of view through to him or her! It’s all-consuming.
On the other hand those who do not die in Christ long to come back and un-do and re-do so much. This desire at that level, a burning desire incapable of being fulfilled, is more than enough punishment!
Firstly, I want you to understand that the decline of the church is itself an example of Jesus own teaching, eg, Matt 5:13, “…if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.”
This is what has happened to the Catholic Church in our time. The fall of the Catholic Church in Ireland is this teaching of Jesus – and many similar teachings – made flesh in our time. This is intended to teach us, all of us, people inside and outside the church about the consequences of ignoring the teaching of Jesus.
I want you to grasp this – the teaching of Jesus is always made flesh, it becomes our lived experience.
This is not just true in the church but also in the world; any decline in the human-divine relationship – unchecked – will always result in a time of decline which in turn leads to a time of suffering for humanity through real historical events. This is the reason Jesus begins his ministry; repent! For example, according to the message of Fatima, World War II was one such event. Bear in mind the message of Fatima was saying this twenty years before the actual event. In our time Medugorje is flagging similar warnings concerning our future.
Secondly, I want you to understand that there will also be gracious acts of God that will reverse the decline.
I don’t know how far the decline will go before this begins to happen. For example, I do not know how many parishes will close, how many congregations will die out before it happens. But when it does happen, it’ll be dramatic and rapid, in a matter of days… quite suddenly there’ll be queues for Baptism and Confession.
At this point – on this July day 2021 – the Divine correction of the church is well advanced but the correction of the world is only in its very early stages. The church first because in the mind of God the church – the gathering of his disciples – should be the yeast in the dough that is the world, but when the yeast is off, well, then it has to be fixed – and fixed first. Then the dough. Again, the teaching of Jesus is being made flesh, it is becoming our lived experience.
The more shocking the crime the more it will help us to grasp the full force of God’s love and the true meaning of mercy.
The hired man on hearing sentence pronounced is likely to add; “and I hope they throw away the key!”
The good shepherd on the other hand stands before the judge and doesn’t plead for leniency or mitigation but rather offers himself – his life – to take the place of the guilty prisoner and serve the time on his behalf.
The hired man simply runs away. The good shepherd lays down his life.
This image also helps to explain the difference between our understanding of mercy and God’s understanding.
Our understanding is little more than mitigation, leniency, a lighter sentence whereas Gods understanding is paying the full price on behalf of another.
The pain and the price of injustice, of mercy, do not disappear magically, rather it is always being absorbed in human flesh and ultimately in the Godhead – there are no short-cuts.
So what do you think; are you more hired man or good shepherd? I think I’m more hired man!
Finally, the image helps to explain the difference between a job and a vocation.
It was a toxic mix of unbelief and sin that killed Jesus and it is another toxic mix of unbelief and sin that has killed the Catholic church in our time.
But where was Jesus between his death and resurrection, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? What’s that space like? Can you enter it? Cardinal Ratzinger described this space in terms of solitude – fascinating – because I’m now linking the fear of solitude and the fear of death, but that’s for another day. This time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is a gestation space… and I believe the Catholic church and most if not all denominations right now, can be likened to that space between dying and rising, and we’re waiting, watching patiently at the tomb. It will come… as sure as dawn follows night. Besides, you can only truly kill what’s not of God.
Secondly, the creed tells us that He descended to hell during the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday meaning there is nobody beyond his reach – at a price, of course.
Thirdly, morbid applies only to hell, and those who describe even the slightest mention of death as morbid have yet to experience even the tiniest glimpse of Heaven. In fact, when they speak in this way, they unwittingly speak from hell’s perspective!
The debate about keeping our churches open for public worship continues to rage in circles, minority circles it must be said. When I tune into the debate there are several scripture passages that spring to mind.
Like so many others I think of Jesus reminder: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matt 4:4. Taking this verse it seems safe to suggest that in the mind of Jesus, his person and his teaching are essential, at least of equal value to the food that we purchase from essential retail. The fundamental problem for Heaven therefore – brought into sharper focus by this pandemic – is that so many people do not consider the person of Jesus and his teaching to be as essential as their visit to the supermarket.
Of course, this is a faith position flowing from my relationship with Jesus Christ and his teaching. Realistically, at this point in salvation history I do not expect Government and its agencies to get this – and I certainly do not expect it to apply to all the people of Ireland. Faith in Jesus Christ and all that flows from faith, that which is often disparagingly referred to as dogma must be found within or it is not found at all. For every piece of dogma there must be a corresponding interior recognition in the depths of human freedom, a moment of transforming spiritual insight. I cannot stress this enough; dogma is found within, and insisting that people abide by a dogma that they have not found within will almost always result in rejection, even hatred. This has been the particular error of Irish Catholicism. A foundational tenet of the Christian faith is that God always respects human freedom. In the realm of God, respect for human freedom – even unto hell – is non-negotiable. As St. Augustine said: “He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent.”
Obviously, my freedom is convinced that Jesus and his teaching are essential. Indeed, I believe that humankind rises and falls according to our relationship with Jesus and his teaching. As Simeon said of the child Jesus: “you see this child, he is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel…” Lk 2:34. There is nothing as essential as Jesus Christ and his Gospel and since the Mass is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, his very person, I believe that Mass is therefore essential. As Padre Pio once said; “the earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”
Nonetheless on balance I am inclined to support the moving of worship to online forums in accordance with NEPHET advice. It is important to stress that worship has not been banned and comparisons with penal times do not stand up to critique, no more than the idea that this is persecution; this is so far removed from persecution that it belittles the meaning of the word and the reality of true religious persecution in many parts of the world. Furthermore, for people prohibited from attending Mass all the effects of Holy Communion can be received through spiritual Communion. I do believe that we can gather safely in our Churches – I do not doubt it at all – but by remaining open for worship we might unwittingly facilitate after-worship gatherings that have potential to become super-spreader events. For me, the moral weight drops on the side of caution and online worship until NEPHET advises otherwise.
If our lives have been curtailed, they have been curtailed to teach us, and to prepare us for the future. These are not random meaningless events – these are soul teaching moments – another step toward our common future that is being determined one step at a time by our relationship with Jesus Christ and his teaching. These events might look like obstacles but in truth are stepping stones toward a time when humankind will fully understand that “the lamb will conquer and the woman clothed in the sun will shine her light on everyone.” Seriously do we really think that God is going to be defeated, removed from the face of the earth? The same God who standing before Pilate said: “You would have no power over me… if it had not been given you from above…” Jn 19:11. Why can’t we view the current restrictions in this way? The same God of whom John reminded the people coming for baptism: “God can raise children for Abraham from these stones.” Lk 3:8.
Similarly, those believing we are now seeing the end of the Catholic church in Ireland, or anywhere for that matter – the comment sections on social media are full of such remarks – are a version of those who observing the destruction of Jesus believed they were seeing the end of Him and his movement. It was a toxic mix of unbelief and sin that caused the destruction of Jesus, and it is another toxic mix of unbelief and sin that is causing the destruction of the church in our time, but the destruction of Jesus gave way to the risen Christ and the destruction of the church – or more accurately the destruction of all that is not of God in the church in our time – will give way to a risen Church.
So much about this debate reminds me of Peter who drew his sword to defend Jesus and his belief in Jesus because he could not see the bigger picture. Jn 18:20. There is a question here about the proper recognition of these events in salvation history, about our recognition that the civil power always functions unwittingly in the plan of salvation. Peter has an excuse for not seeing the bigger picture because the seminal action of God that we call the resurrection had not yet happened, but what is our excuse? That, as Ronald Rolheiser observed, our awareness of God and God’s plan borders on agnosticism?
God is almighty, totally in control, suffering, enduring, correcting, leading, even allowing restrictions on the public celebration of Mass, bringing human freedom to value Jesus and his teaching as much as the food purchased from essential retail, or he is not God at all. God’s victory is certain, but the victory is nothing more than the turning of hearts and minds to God. Even allowing for an act of God – an act that must respect human freedom – this is not likely to be an easy journey!
This journey is as certain as Jesus’ declaration that “till heaven and earth disappear not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the law until it’s purpose is achieved.” Matt:5:18. The only real unknowns are the exact contours of our journey toward valuing Jesus and his teaching. Make no mistake, this is our common future. This is a journey that will slowly – and somewhat painfully – shatter humankind’s propensity toward unbelief. Of course, some will always resist. It is going to be a seismic struggle between Heaven and hell, belief and unbelief, incarnate in history, possibly involving the persecution of religious practice for a time – are we not currently being prepared? – and undoubtedly paschal in nature. As it unfolds the proper role of the church will become evident; our primary role is not about putting the kingdom here and there – remember the lamb will conquer and is conquering – but to act as a bridge, for sure a compromised bridge, but a risen bridge capable of providing difficult passage for human freedom to reach the place where Jesus and his teaching is valued as much as the food purchased from supermarkets. Can we imagine a struggling and bewildered humanity in the future, including future Irish leaders, looking to the Catholic church – albeit a risen Church – for help and direction? No? Like Peter we are in for an unforeseen and unexpected fulfillment. We must let humanity walk this walk, we must respect our place in salvation history knowing that God is far from finished with us.
“Your kingdom come” we say in prayer – even as I write, even as you read, it is happening, right now, right here. Let us not seek however creatively or ingeniously, but very naively, to find ways around the soul lessons that this pandemic is intended to teach.
In my next blog I will try to tease out the soul lessons that come packed inside the current pandemic.
But every time I read the parable of the sower I’m struck by its reach. Is there a reason advanced for unbelief that’s not included in the parable?
Jesus compares people who hear the word to seed that falls on the edge of a path.
The seed of the word is sown in the heart but there’s no understanding. Where there is no understanding, abandonment follows.
The heart is simply not receptive – receptivity is the precondition of understanding – the heart is not open, and entry through anything that’s closed solidly is difficult. The word simply bounces off non-receptive hard objects and falls away.
Next, Jesus compares people who hear his teaching to the seed that falls on patches of rock. It lacks both rich soil and deep roots.
When confronted with human suffering and human failure including outrageous scandal – scorching sun – the faith of some people withers because it’s not deeply rooted in the rich soil that is Jesus Christ.
Scorching and withering – apt descriptions of human suffering and failure.
That objections to God using this very argument can attract millions of views on YouTube suggests that many have not taken Jesus and his teaching seriously. The God that many refuse to believe in is not the God found in the teaching of Jesus Christ. They dismiss a God unrelated to Jesus Christ!
Next, Jesus compares people who hear the word to seed falling in thorns; falling in the midst of the worries of this world and the lure of riches the seed is choked to death! A strong image, mind. Choked, and common parlance adds “the living daylights out of!”
It’s dramatic, but for most people the choking happens unconsciously. It’s simply that other stuff – the cares of this world (interests that are good and wholesome in themselves) and the pursuit of wealth – take our hearts. For many the interests become false gods.
Is there a source of unbelief that’s not covered in this parable?
It seems that many people attempt to believe without Jesus Christ and his teaching which means they end up struggling to believe at all.
Like Fatima, at Medugorje Our Lady has entrusted secrets to the 6 visionaries; each visionary is to receive 10 secrets.
As far as I know 3 of the visionaries have already received the 10 secrets; 3 have received 9 of the 10.
When all ten have received the ten secrets, the secrets will start to unfold in our life experience.
One of the visionaries, Mirjana, has been instructed to reveal each secret to the priest of her choice – Fr. Peter – and he is to reveal it to the world shortly before it happens (starts to unfold). All 10 secrets will be revealed in this way – before each happens.
This suggests that the secrets will unfold in Mirjana’s life-time, which means their unfolding is imminent because Mirjana is now 55 – or thereabouts – and she can’t live forever!
This is supported by the fact that three of the visionaries are one secret each short of receiving all ten secrets.
What do we know about the secrets?
Like Fatima, they’re highly likely to be the broad outline of the future of the world, and at the same time, they’re the working out of Our Lady’s victory in human affairs – Our Lady is reported as saying that she will finish in Medugorje what she started in Fatima. In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. Triumph suggests a struggle.
Our Lady has permitted the visionaries to reveal that the third secret is a visible and permanent sign on the hill in Medugorje – a sign that will lead many to belief and to conversion.
It will mark a radical and dramatic return to belief, possibly to the Church, to Mass, and to the Sacraments. It’s possible it’ll look like the spiritual life of Medugorje but on a world-wide scale.
We also know that the seventh secret troubled the children greatly and that they repeatedly asked Our Lady about the possibility of it being softened. Our Lady’s response was always the same – pray! We now know that it has been lessened but Our Lady also told the children to never ask about it again saying that God’s Justice was already offended enough!
We can say with some confidence that the unfolding of the 10 secrets will be the working out of Our Lady’s victory in human affairs, in the flesh and blood of human beings, in our history, just as the prophecies made in Fatima became the lived experience of a number of generations.
But, the further we are from God, the more difficult will our journey be… which is why Our Lady has been repeatedly asking us to pray and fast now, that our path and her victory may be eased.
Every moment is in God’s hands, but it’s texture and substance is determined by us.
In this moment I want to draw your attention to Medugorje and to say simply but forcefully; pay attention to Medugorje.
Pay attention because it marks out the future of the world, it paints a picture of our common future.
It does so in much the same way as Fatima did, in broad strokes. Very broad strokes, and we fill in the finer details.
Fatima painted a picture of the world over a period of 100 years – from 1917 through to the millennium and the following years.
In Fatima Our Lady entrusted 3 secrets to the children.
Firstly, and perhaps many will find it very odd, Our Lady showed the children a vision of hell. The vision confirmed that there is ultimate Justice. I’ll return to this in another blog.
Secondly, Our Lady warned of a future war – World War II – that would break out “if people do not stop offending God” and of Russia spreading error – the error is not so much Communism as the unbelief that goes with it.
Thirdly, the vision of a man dressed in white (the children understood it was a future Pope) climbing a mountain, on the way he passes through a City in ruins, and reaching a Cross, he’s shot.
World War II unfolded with devastating consequences (more than 60 million people perished in World War II).
Unbelief – atheism – has a very strong foothold.
The City in ruins is the Church and the man who is shot is Pope John Paul II.
With the benefit of hindsight we can see that Fatima, which is to say Heaven prophesied a broad picture of the world and the Church we’ve become familiar with, but if you listen to our self-talk, even the self-talk of believers, we speak as if we never heard a word of this. Quite simply, we haven’t been paying attention.
But Fatima also prophesied that “in the end” the Immaculate Heart will triumph.
As John Paul II recovered he asked for the Fatima documents to be brought to his hospital bed.
When he fully recovered he had the bullet that almost killed him encased in the crown of the statue of Our Lady in Fatima.
Shortly after John Paul II was shot the apparitions began in Medugorje.
Just as Fatima painted a broad picture of the past 100 years so Medugorje is now painting a picture of the next 50-100 years.
Medugorje provides the broad contours of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart.
Pay attention – it’s our common future.
In my next blog I’ll consider the significance of the Medugorje secrets.