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  • Sarah Raad

Substitutes

Saint Thomas Aquinas explained that there are four main substitutes that we use for God, and these are wealth, pleasure, power and honour.

The Crucified Christ (Rubens)

Saint John of the Cross said, “The road is narrow, he who wishes to use it must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be willing to suffer willingly for love of God in all things.”


And I have been thinking about this casting off to suffer willingly for God – this WILLING substitution of pleasure for pain. And it has intrigued me over these last few days. You see, I have been reflecting on some words of Saint Thomas Aquinas that related to substitutes.


Saint Thomas Aquinas explained that we humans use four main things as substitutes for God when we are seeking to fill the spiritual void in our lives, which Saint Augustine described so poetically in his “Confessions”, “Our heart is restless until it rests in You”. These substitutes – according to Saint Thomas Aquinas – are wealth, pleasure, power and honour.


Father Robert Baron said, “One of the most fundamental problems in the spiritual order is that we sense within ourselves the hunger for God, but we attempt to satisfy it with some created good that is less than God… Sensing the void within, we attempt to fill it up with some combination of these four things (wealth, pleasure, strength, honour) but only by emptying out the self in love can we make the space for God to fill us.”

And I have been reflecting on this void over the last few days.

You see, I often try to fill the void with wealth… But Christ never substituted God for wealth… He was born into poverty – with not even a bed to rest His head on and not a home to call His own. He worked – for FREE – as a teacher and gave away all prospects of paid employment as a carpenter… When He travelled, He and His companions, were often hungry. And now – in Heaven – He bears only the scars of the nails from the Cross on His Holy Hands.


I try to fill the void with pleasure… Not only do I seek pleasure out, but I fail to deny myself pleasures because I cannot sacrifice or atone for my own sins – or yours – because I lack the discipline of the mind or body to endure in my offerings. But Christ was stripped of all pleasure during his Passion and Death. Christ revealed to Saint Faustina, that when He was scourged at the pillar – which we commemorate in the second sorrowful mystery of the Most Holy Rosary – that His suffering was to atone for sins of the flesh. That means that my Beloved’s flesh was torn from His Holy Body because I choose to experience sinful pleasure in my flesh…


I try to fill the void with power… And yet, the only real power is God… And God – Christ – was weak to all the world’s eyes. He died nailed to a piece of wood, that He Himself carried to the very last of His strength to the place of His own execution, as the lowest of all criminals and suffering the greatest of all torments.


I try to fill the void with honour… And yet, Christ died alone, naked and ashamed in the sight of all the world – a criminal dishonoured and dishonourable for all the world to see.


And I reflect on all this substitution – because it really is backwards… For – in the eyes of the world – my Beloved was poor, in pain, alone and dishonoured when He died…


And if God – King of the Universe and Lord of Endless Glory – died like that, who am I to desire anything more? Who am I?


For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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