[N.B.: a friend gave me some good input and recommended I write shorter posts with fewer points. I will try this and if I happen to write a longer one, I will break it into multiple parts. This one is long, so today, Part I, tomorrow, Part II]
I recently gave an evening of reflection for priests, permanent deacons and seminarians on St. John of the Cross. Always a joy to have reason to return to St. John’s writings and yet again be set in the light of Christ and have all my darkness and shadows exposed for healing.
As I prepared for the talk, I found an older talk I had given on St. John and healing. I gave it to a group that was trying to discern their engagement with various faith-based healing movements. I thought for today’s post I would simply copy here some of my outline notes from that section of the talk for your own reflection.
I. Healing in Christ: “Power made perfect in weakness”
i. What is the core raison d’être of God’s healing? Healing grace removes all that encumbers us from love, i.e. the embrace of the cross of Christ
— Love the cross of Christ not masochism. Masochism distortedly loves the cross as a desirable end, while Christian love redemptively embraces the cross as a necessary means of loving God-neighbor-enemy in a fallen world. Sign for St. John that we have embraced the cross redemptively is our joy in the good our labors bring others and the glory they bring to God. Sign of an un-redemptive suffering is that they turn us in on ourselves. Genuine healing, which St. John refers to as “purgation,” frees us from our naval-gazing incurvature and leads us to forget ourselves, die to ourselves and become outward and upward facing lovers of God and others.
— What is included in the cross? The heart of the cross encompasses all hardships we must endure in carrying out our vocation to do the will of God, follow Christ, die to self, practice virtue, renounce sin, love imperfect neighbors, forgive, accept and offer-up unavoidable suffering and be faithful to all the demands of duty that come from one’s present God-willed commitments, i.e. love. Listen to St. Paul:
— 2 Cor. 12:7-10: “…to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
— 2 Cor. 11:23-30: “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one–I am talking like a madman–with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
— When a reporter objected to the fact that Mother Teresa was healthy, while the people she cared for suffered terribly, Mother responded: “Yes, that is true. I am not worthy to suffer as they are; but God has made me worthy to walk with them as they bear the Cross of Jesus.” For Mother, suffering gave one the opportunity to love with cost, which is love with depth. An elderly Russian Matushka back in 1989 once told me, “You Americans are so shallow because you do not know how to suffer. If you do not suffer you cannot know God. We Russians know suffering well, and it makes us saints or demons, depending if we love or not. Under Communism there are many demons because God has been banished and there is no love.”
— Archbishop Fulton Sheen: “The modern world, which denies personal guilt and admits only social crimes, which has no place for personal repentance but only public reforms, has divorced Christ from His Cross; the Bridegroom and Bride have been pulled apart. What God hath joined together, men have torn asunder. As a result, to the left is the Cross; to the right is the Christ. Communism comes along and picks up the meaningless Cross; Western post-Christian civilization chooses the un-scarred Christ. Communism has chosen the Cross in the sense that it has brought back to an egotistic world a sense of discipline, self-abnegation, surrender, hard work, study, and dedication to supra-individual goals. But the Cross without Christ is sacrifice without love. Hence, Communism has produced a society that is authoritarian, cruel, oppressive of human freedom, filled with concentration camps, firing squads, and brain-washings. The Western post-Christian civilization has picked up the Christ without His Cross. But a Christ without a sacrifice that reconciles the world to God is a cheap, feminized, colorless, itinerant preacher who deserves to be popular for His great Sermon on the Mount, but also merits unpopularity for what He said about His Divinity on the one hand, and divorce, judgment, and hell on the other. This sentimental Christ is patched together with a thousand commonplaces. Without His Cross, He becomes nothing more than a sultry precursor of democracy or a humanitarian who taught brotherhood without tears.”
— H. Richard Niebuhr said of early 20th century liberalized Christianity: “They preach a God who, without wrath, brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”