Friday, June 17, 2011

Your Personal Apostolate: Chapter Six

A series of blogs presenting you the contents of the book, an award-winning love story for every soul.

Not sure what God has in store for you?
His plans are wondrous, loving and beautiful.

Accept Him, seek Him, love Him,
and return His love to those around you.

Prepare to be amazed, for
God is at work in you!

Chapter 6 ~ Sharing Jesus’ Passion

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

Matthew 27: 27-31

At various times in life we suffer physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. Suffering is part of the human condition, and is commonly viewed as unpleasant and to be avoided. However, suffering plays a crucial part in our formation. Suffering is of immeasurable value to our Christian walk. That is because suffering plays an integral part in loving!

While the experience of love can be very pleasurable, love can also cause us great pain. For example, when someone we cherish dies, we experience profound sorrow. When we acknowledge the suffering of another person, empathize with them, and serve them, we share their pain. When we decide to have relationships, we put ourselves at risk of experiencing pain in many different ways. Love can cost us much. Love cost Jesus everything.

Examining how we view and respond to suffering provides us the opportunity to evaluate and redefine our approach to suffering. Consider your responses to the following questions. Do you regard suffering as worthless, or as a reality of life which can result in great good? Do you reject suffering or embrace difficulties patiently, relying on God’s strength to get you through trials? Under what circumstances are you most willing to remain faithful to God’s Will? Certainly those caring for the sick, the young, the frail, the lonely, the abandoned, and those in need exemplify the sacrificial love Christ extended to each of us. Conversely, when we allow ourselves to be the ones ministered to, we cooperate with the Christ-like service of other people. Let us take
care not to block the actions of God working through others!

Experiencing physical, emotional, or spiritual pain may cause us to withdraw ourselves from the source or perceived source of the pain. When we suffer, we may also withdraw ourselves from God. However, suffering has tremendous personal and social benefit. Just as a sculptor carves his masterpiece to perfection over time and with much effort and attention, so too are we sculpted and refined as people through joyful and painful experiences. “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

By examining our responses to frustration, disappointment, delays, detours, losses, or pain, we gather important insight about how we view suffering. Do we lament when events jolt us out of our comfort zone or when we experience discomfort? Do we ask God that we and others obtain exactly what we want? Or, do we pray for the strength to persevere and remain faithful to God and His Plans? Do we see our plans as being better than God’s plans?

Some of the obstacles we may face include illness, loss of income or security, separation, death, divorce, disillusionment, accidents, relocation, job loss, career change, despair, abuse, neglect, and lack of cooperation from ourselves or others. Sometimes our circumstances may be dire and catastrophic. The goal is to trust God in good times as well as during trials and to look to Him for guidance and direction when we are suffering physically, emotionally, or spiritually. May we see all circumstances as opportunities to bring us closer to God and to each other.

If we are unwilling to embrace the discomfort and pain of trials, neither we nor our Christian discipleship can ever mature to become extraordinary. We increase our sanctity when we patiently cooperate with God through all circumstances. How often we have the misconception that God is very close during prosperity and is very distant during trials! Actually, God is never so close to us as when we accept difficulties with great love. Why? When we bear our trials patiently and lovingly, we resemble Jesus. Great things are accomplished when we persevere through trials and allow God to work in us and through us.

Just as Jesus’ Crucifixion led to our redemption and was followed by His glorious Resurrection, so too can our suffering be followed by our own resurrection of sorts: intimacy with God, personal growth, increased sanctity, greater faith, and an increased capacity to serve others. The outcome is love! Something very critical happens during times of difficulty: we find ourselves more willing to turn to God. Certainly it is during trials that God gets my best attention! Whenever we suffer, we should ask God “What are You trying to tell/show/teach me?”

Moreover, we must be willing to accept His response! Suffering provides us the opportunity to reevaluate, learn, and grow in virtue and love. Suffering is essential to our life’s work. Many times we are able to serve others better and become more compassionate as a result of our trials. How important it is to be open to God’s plan during such pivotal times, and maintain our trust in Him.

Certainly the suffering Jesus endured throughout His lifetime and at the time of His death had great purpose. As discussed in Chapter 2, Jesus suffered a great deal during His mortal life. He embraced a life of poverty and service, living and dying for our sake. God chose to do this because of His great love for us. What would have happened if Jesus decided not to suffer for us, His creatures? What happens when we resist during times of trial instead of being open to God’s plans?

Jesus’ personal ministry was one of sacrificial love. “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Let us boldly define trials as events having tremendous value, resonating beyond ourselves to benefit countless others. Let us examine the essential role of suffering in our personal apostolate by looking to Jesus as our model to imitate. “Every pain patiently borne, every blow to self, shapes the real eternal self. It was the Crucifixion of Our Lord that prepared the way for His Resurrection and Glory” (Fulton J. Sheen, Our Grounds For Hope) 9.

In previous chapters we discussed acknowledging God’s presence in our lives, accepting His love, loving Him in return, and allowing Him to use us as instruments of His love. This process can be refined and can come to fruition through suffering. Consider this beautiful description by Fulton J. Sheen (Our Grounds For Hope): “Every tear, disappointment and grieved heart is a blank check. If we write our name on it, it is worthless. If we sign it with Christ’s Name, it is infinite in its value. In prosperity, Christ gives you His gifts; in suffering with faith, He gives you Himself” 10.

Sharing Jesus’ Passion: A Personal Reflection

Several years ago my family and I visited the tomb of Venerable Fr. Solanus Casey at St. Bonaventure in Detroit. During our initial visit there, my sister suggested that we touch our scapulars to Fr. Solanus’ tomb, and so we did. We returned two weeks later and while in the gift shop I suddenly felt instructed to purchase a “woman’s” scapular. While continuing to browse I was unable to think of anyone I knew who needed one, so I did not purchase the scapular. Once again, I looked to my own limited knowledge instead of trusting in God, who knows everything!

A few weeks later on my way home after Mass, I was at the scene of a terrible accident. A young man on a motorcycle was struck by a sport utility vehicle on a five lane, fifty miles per hour stretch of well traveled road. The force of the impact hurled the man horizontally across four lanes of the road and he landed in front of the car ahead of me. Traffic stopped abruptly. The fact that the man was not hit again by another vehicle was in itself a miracle. I was very afraid to see the condition of the man who was most certainly injured, so I decided to remain in my van. Competing with that decision was a strong prompting to leave my vehicle and go to him.

I resisted, certain that there was nothing I could do to help. I remained in my van, again relying on my own knowledge instead of trusting in God. However, God had something very important for me to give him. Once again, I felt strongly compelled to get out of my van and go to him. God’s Will was very clear and He provided me with the courage I needed to leave my vehicle and approach the injured man.

The scene was as horrifying as I had feared. The man’s injuries were severe and his broken body convulsed violently on the road. Crowds of people stood frozen on the sides of the road, weeping. As I wept, I had an understanding of this man as a brother to us all. While approaching the man, I understood that I was to remove my scapular and place it on him! In that instant I knew that the woman’s scapular I was instructed to buy at St. Bonaventure was meant for me, to replace the one I was wearing.

Weeks before the accident, God had already planned that my scapular, touched to the tomb of Fr. Solanus, would be given to the injured man as his life hung in the balance. A firefighter on the scene placed the scapular on the man for me. I was filled with an overwhelming desire to pray to The Virgin Mary and knew that she was there interceding for him, as a most loving mother would. I was astounded to witness how the young man was given this pivotal intervention by God, along with Our Lady and Father Solanus. What love, what mercy!

I remained at the scene until the paramedics arrived. They were instructed that the scapular was to remain with the injured man. Once that was accomplished, I felt Divine permission to leave. At that very moment a police officer approached me and showed me a way to depart the area. On the way home, I knew that God’s Most Perfect Will had been accomplished in all that had just taken place.

A feeling of total consolation superseded any worry for the man despite his horrific condition. I experienced incredible peace and understood that we should trust in God always. The profound peace, consolation, and joy I felt remained with me for two months. The remarkable events of that day left me with absolutely no doubt that we must unite ourselves to God’s Divine Will and trust Him, no matter how tragic events appear to our human perception.

Sharing Jesus’ Passion: For the Reader

How have trials led to change in your life? Have you asked for God’s help and guidance and for patience during suffering? Do you ask for the grace to see events from His Perspective? How has He manifested Himself to you during or after trials? How have your trials helped you to grow closer to God and to others? Do you feel greater love for God knowing He chose to suffer for your sake? How has suffering helped develop and refine your personal apostolate?

Dear Lord,
Please grant us the grace
to trust in You always,
and to view trials as opportunities
to grow closer to You and to others.
Guide us
as we open our hearts
and allow ourselves
to develop
and be transformed
into the likeness
of Your Son Jesus.


Chapter Seven ~ His Resurrection and Our Journey