“We serve God better by our sufferings than by our actions.” (Saint Francis de Sales).
I read a story recently, about Saint Josemaría, who visited a dying man to give him the sacraments. The man had lived a very sinful life, until – at the hour of his death – he repented and made his confession to the Saint. As Saint Josemaría got up to leave, he offered the man a crucifix from inside his own pocket so that the man could kiss it. The man refused to kiss that Cross, because he cried, “I can't kiss Our Lord with this filthy, rotten mouth of mine!” Luckily for the man, Saint Josemaría replied, “Very soon you are going to embrace Him and give Him a big kiss, in Heaven!”
I have been reflecting on this story for some time now because the contrition of this sinner is such an example of repentance to me. And I must surely fix my mind on the Cross if I wish to repent… For we live in fearful times. Many many people are afraid of how the world will be now that we have experienced the last almost two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many people the implications of this pandemic are significant. Many people are afraid – for their health, for their finances, for their families. Many people are angry – for the loss of their work, for the unprecedented restrictions, for the loss of precious time with loved ones. And many people are sad – for they grieve for the life they used to live and take for granted, which they believe may never return…
But, one thing that I have realised – and I can feel a significant difference in my approach between this year and last year, through Grace and no merit of my own – is that because God is perfect Goodness, there is nothing to fear! In fact – through Grace – the various problems of this pandemic can serve as an opportunity to be Crucified with Christ!
I know it sounds bizarre – this gratitude for the opportunity for Crucifixion – but perhaps it is not as bizarre a desire as it may at first appear.
Saint Josemaría said, “We love – we should love – the Cross sincerely, because where the Cross is, there is Christ with his Love, His presence that fills everything… It really bothers me when people use the Cross as a synonym for difficulty and mortification. The Cross is something positive, and has been ever since God chose to give us true life through the Cross.”
For it is only through the Cross, that we can strip everything away – all those things that cause us to sin – and see instead God’s saving Grace. It is only when we are united to Christ’s Passion that we can bring His love to the world.
I recently saw a photograph of the feet of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I kept a copy of the image and have used it as the artwork for this particular blog. The image of her feet strikes me, because they remind me a little of the feet of my paternal grandmother, may God rest her soul.
You see, my paternal grandmother had very severe rheumatoid arthritis and as a result – despite numerous surgeries – the toes of her feet, and the fingers of her hands, were bent and broken and severely deformed, as were all of the joints in her poor frail body.
When the joints between the bones are deformed and inflamed, it is extremely painful to use them. It hurts to move. My memories of my grandmother are filled with her bent-double shuffling steps, and later – in her seventies – of her hunched over in a wheel chair. Now – upon reflection – Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta looks the same to me.
She carried her Cross… As she walked the streets and hospitals and tended to the poor, on her tired, crippled feet, she brought the Crucified Christ to the world. She brought Him with her hands and her smile and her work – but more importantly… She brought Him with her feet.
And as I reflect on this quiet martyrdom of the Saints – during their own private Crucifixions that perhaps nobody really ever noticed and I understand the true power of the Cross.
For Saint Josemaría carried that little cross inside his pocket – the better to kiss, and Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta walked on her own two feet – the better to love…
And, when I notice these things, I hear the words of Saint Francis de Sales who said, “We serve God better by our sufferings than by our actions.”
And, so, I look at the feet of Saint Mother Teresa...
I look at her feet…
For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.