It takes humility to realize most of our personal suffering does not save anyone, least of all ourselves. Ironically, it usually takes suffering to break down our pride and turn our hearts to Christ the Redeemer, the only One whose suffering and death can save anyone. However, we all secretly want to earn our salvation by purifying ourselves through a false idea of saintly suffering, desperately trying to earn God’s approval and pay for our failings.
So, most Christians must hit rock bottom before we are desperate enough to change, to let go of our ego and surrender in humility to Christ our Saviour. Ony a drowning man realizes he needs to be saved and can’t save his own life. Only a deathly sick man grasps the truth that his only hope for survival is a Divine Touch from God.
Centring on Ourselves, Not God
We tend to think of Lent as a time to share in the suffering of Christ yet when we do so, we often become morose and end up centring more on our own sacrificial devotions than on God. Lent is a time to get rid of the flub in our lives but only so we are able to connect more to the Heart of our Beloved, and more on the people around us who are in need. Lent is not an excuse for dramatic acts of fasting, wearing sackcloth and ashes, figuratively or literally. These words from Isaiah are like brilliant beams of light, cutting through any false notions we might have about this season of repentance:
Is this the manner of fasting I would choose,
a day to afflict oneself?
To bow one’s head like a reed,
and lie upon sackcloth and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD? (Isaiah 58:5)
Our Father is not interested in such spectacles which simply focus on ourselves and our sins. As mortals. we are all the same. As St. Paul says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This fact is a given.
The truly repentant man, the sort of man who is acceptable to God, is described in the Psalms. A repentant man is contrite, humbly acknowledging his sin in simplicity, trusting more in God’s mercy than any of his own heroic acts of supposed repentance. It is God alone who washes us from guilt, who cleanses us from sin. He is not concerned with mere outer actions of repentance like sacrifices but on our inner attitude. Only a humble and contrite heart will do.
I Suffered For Decades
At the age of nine, my father saw his mother dead in a bathtub of blood after a failed home abortion. This trauma affected his entire life. I, in turn, took on the burden of my grandmother’s sin as a child and as a result, I felt I was sinful, guilty, and responsible. Even after years of breakthroughs, after confessing hundreds of times and praying for my grandmother, my unborn uncle William, and my father, I still had not surrendered everyone in my generational line completely to Christ. I realized I was still living like a victim of the fact that my grandmother killed herself and her unborn baby. Kids and even grandkids believe they somehow are responsible for the death of someone close to them and unconsciously become victim sacrifices to pay for deep feelings of guilt.
My spiritual director recently told me:
In all humility, allow Jesus to die and pay for your grandmother’s death and the death of her baby. Repent. Picture sin as a black mark you carry in your heart and let Jesus pay for that sin by receiving light from His Sacred Heart. The truth will set you free. You will finally realize Jesus is the only one who can pay for Sin because He has no Sin. There will be Divine forgiveness for you and you, in turn, will have love for others because Jesus’s love will be shining in you.
I knew my years of interior suffering were because I was still playing the victim, but I felt stuck. After Madonna House and a few priests prayed for me, I felt something break off my heart while I slept. I was lighter like a cloud had lifted, burdens and chains seemed to have disappeared. The next morning I woke up with the words of a song in my head, “Something has just happened, deep inside my soul, deep inside my soul.”
I went from darkness into the light of Jesus. I feel like the paraplegic who was lowered down in front of Jesus by his friends. I think I finally get it, after all these years. I am allowing Jesus to save me from myself. Joy flares up in my heart.
Genuine, spiritually powerful redemptive suffering does exist as a genuine call from God. However, what most of us experience is far from redemptive because our suffering is not in union with Christ’s suffering nor in union with Divine Love.
Redemptive suffering is not long-faced misery, because it is life-giving and life-affirming as we live in, with and through Christ our Saviour. This suffering might involve physical pain, but it is lived in the Light, in peace, and in joy. When we are no longer the centre of attention, but we chose to make Jesus Christ the centre, all heavy, psychological despair and mental anguish dissipate like insubstantial mist under the burning sunlight.
Not only is God looking for an attitude of true humility but He desires positive actions. We all fall into the dubious habit of asking, ”So, what are you giving up for Lent this year?” Wrong question folks. Isaiah is quite clear:
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-11).
Then the Scripture breaks into words of glorious joy, inspiring hope in all of us mere humans because positive acts of mercy, love, and concern shine like beacons of light into this world of ours. God will answer our prayers with mercy because we have shown mercy in positive acts of love and concern to those in need.