Saturday, July 4, 2015

An unblemished sacrifice.

October 19, 2011

Mother Teresa would say that we must be empty of self so we can be filled with God. One night at prison ministry, we were reading a scripture passage from 1 John Chapter 1 that says that anyone who sins is not of God. (We tend to use the Good News Translation, which may not be the most literal but it is the most comprehensible for the people we're working with.)
Now the message that we have heard from his Son and announce is this: God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him. If, then, we say that we have fellowship with him, yet at the same time live in the darkness, we are lying both in our words and in our actions. But if we live in the light—just as he is in the light—then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. If we say that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us.
We discussed the obvious fact that in our human weakness we do still sin, even though our Baptism cleansed us of Original Sin and any previous sins we have committed. So we have the Sacrament of Penance and Reconcilliation to free us from our subsequent sins and reuinite us fully with the Mystical Body of Christ--which is probably part of why we instantly feel so great after being absolved of mortal sins, because we're plunged back into the Body of Christ.

To be full of grace means to be filled with the Holy Spirit which means that Christ is in me and I am in Christ. Just like Original Sin resulted in shame and a lack of trust that inhibited openness and perfect communion between men and women (and between humans and God), venial sin weakens our communion with the Mystical Body of Christ and mortal sin completely ostracizes us from the Communion of Saints.

This reminded me of a dream I had about confession--I woke up and wrote that the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation "cures our imperfect sacrifice with Christ's perfect sacrifice". At the time, I thought that was half-sleep nonsense. Since then I've come to understand that the Passion of Christ took away the sins of the world and we are granted access to that destruction of sin through the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. These Sacraments allow us to unite our sacrifices to Christ's perfect sacrifice in order to be in Him and to dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven--to be resurrected and ascend with Him after death. This is absolutely not something we can do by our own power.

In Baptism, we are Baptized into His death and spiritually undergo our own mini-death. We are meant to understand our life after Baptism as the beginning of our eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. We will not die again, rather at the end of our earthly life we will enter into full union with God. This is why the early Christians were fearless when facing death. However, until we are completely separated from worldly attachment through our earthly death, we will gradually journey in that direction through a series of crosses by which we undergo suffering, dying and rising. Through each mini-resurrection our union with God increases. We are emptied of self and filled with God.

I remember the moment during my adult conversion when I was put to the test. I had to decide between the only way of life I knew and an unknown Life in Christ. This happened to me after my first RCIA class. Until then I had simply been learning about the faith and more or less going through the motions. I remember understanding that I had to die to my old life and, as best I can, give everything to God. I remember struggling with the decision and attempting to rationalize that I could decide later, but God demanded an answer right then and there. I fell into a sort of weepy despair--I was afraid. I was afraid that I would give up and that I wouldn't be able to finish the race, as St. Paul would say. Surely it would be better to never have known God than to love God and lose Him. But God insisted that He would help me if I let Him, and that there is no reason to be afraid. I was still afraid but hopeful--now I wanted to accept this offer and to give myself to Him. But as has happened so many times since, I felt too weak to respond. I told God that I want to do this but I can't, I need help. "Lord, I have the desire but you have to give me the strength to do this." I pleaded and began to feel stronger. I made the commitment and all of my fear and anxiety melted away.

We really do have to emulate Christ in giving ourselves over completely to the Will of God. We do have to, as much as possible, give ourselves as sacrificial victims to God--united with Christ's perfect sacrifice. We renew this sacrifice during every Mass and should approach the Eucharist with this in mind. Thinking back to the feelings of trepidation leading up to my initial sacrifice to God (although I had not yet been Baptised) I am reminded of the seriousness of the sacrifice. When I walk up to receive communion am I really ready to give everything to God and to comply with whatever he asks, always trusting that he is asking out of love? Am I willing to sacrifice my job and my financial security? Am I willing to sacrifice my health? Am I willing to suffer the loss of a loved one? Am I willing to be humiliated through no fault of my own? To be unjustly persecuted? Would I be ready to give my life? This is what I'm telling Him when I receive His body and blood--that I am ready to take up my cross and follow Him even unto death.

It's important to realize what 'taking up my cross' means. In general it means that I will suffer nothing more than what I would have suffered anyway but with a spirit of abandonment and trust in God. It amounts to accepting each difficulty, and sometimes even tragedy, knowing that in my suffering I can either be for God or I can be against Him. Suffering with God is always the easier way. However, in our weakness and pain we tend to say, "I know better than God. He has made a mistake." Meaningless suffering is transformed into an priceless sacrifice when we willingly accept it and offer it back to God in faith, believing that somehow God's way is best for everyone.

In Three Ages of the Interior Life, Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange suggests that we should always approach Holy Communion with our death in mind. With infinite trust, I should praise the Father for His goodness in determining the perfect manner and moment for my death, although at the time I may not understand it. I should accept my death in advance (right now) and offer it to the Father, in union with that of His Son, in atonement for my sins and those of the whole world. I should offer my death in thanksgiving for His Mercy and for all the blessings and graces I have received thus far and will in the future. And I should offer my death in petition that we all will be in a state of grace at the time of death. We should welcome each mini-death along the way with the same spirit of trust, sacrifice, thanksgiving, and hopeful petition. We may not all be called to persecution and martyrdom, but we are all called to take up our crosses and follow Him even unto death.

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