By Matthew Cramer
“Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” (Rev 3:19,20 RSV)
There are those who seemingly make their way through life with minimal effort because of their money, physical attributes, creative talents and other special advantages. They are exceptions to the general rule. It doesn’t take long for most of us to figure out that life isn’t easy. True, we do enjoy occasional success and the rare achievement that bring us joy, peace and happiness. Many of us, however, often find ourselves chest-deep in failure, rejections, woolly emotions and illness on the one hand, and vulnerable to threats from within and without on the other, all ready to engulf us.
With the passing years, we perceive the truth, bit by bit. By the time we reach the age of thirty or so — and this depends on the ease of the ride we have been through — we arrive at an epiphany: Life is tough and the realization of most of our dreams of perfection, accomplishment, peace and fulfilment demands very hard work which may yield uncertain outcomes.
Concerned by the implications of this discovery which underscores the bleakness of our prospects, we set about finding ways and means to improve them. The secular offer self-help books and seminars, films and retreat centers. Then there are pastors, life counsellors, PhDs and MDs — all armed with theories, tips, testimonials, instructions, insights and practical wisdom to help us get through life.
Some of these offerings are just plain schlocky. A fair body of secular wisdom is certainly helpful, but it only succeeds in scratching the surface. Besides, it’s vulnerable to being influenced by fashionable groupthink, and frequently adopts new untried theories as it discards the old failed ones. It’s just not rich, deep, and dependable enough to make a significant and lasting impact for us.
When this realization hits us, we begin wondering if there’s anything else to fall back on and usually turn our thoughts to God, the infinite, all-powerful Being of Love, who has created us. Christianity tells us that our first parents had offended God and, thereby, corrupted our existence irrevocably. Each one of us inherits the taint of that corruption through spiritual and physical DNA passed down from one generation to the next.
God in His Infinite Mercy sent His only Son Jesus to Earth to be sacrificed, an infinite act of love and obedience that would restore the righteousness of our relationship with Him. Jesus “…came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man”.”[He] suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day…” (The Nicene Creed, CCC §198)
Besides gaining our Redemption, Jesus established His Church and sent the Holy Spirit to be our Counsellor. More than two thousand years later, we have reliable teaching and the testimony of those who have gone before us. The Sacraments offer a New Life in Baptism to replace our damaged one (What Jesus Did), forgiveness for our individual sins, and sustenance in the Body and Blood of Our Lord.
Pursue the Relationship
With this abundant horsepower (no disrespect intended) to support us, how is it that we often find ourselves helpless, alone, confused, and at the mercy of whatever life throws at us, with no one to turn to?
The answer lies in the depth and breadth of our relationship with Our Lord. Testimony of countless people affirms that a relationship with Jesus makes life a whole lot easier to negotiate. However, each step that takes us closer to God is more difficult than the last, because it requires us to grant Him that much more influence in our lives. Our yield constitutes a dying to self.
Humanity in its weakened state often prefers a relationship with God that we might describe as Spiritual Cruise Control. We seek to harvest certain blessings and a degree of comfort, but shy away from the next few steps toward further progress, fearing that it might challenge our prideful independence. Unfortunately for us, an axiom of spiritual life contends that we are either getting closer to God or moving further away from Him. There is no static condition which allows us to exist in stasis.
It makes no difference whether our relationship with God is inspired by a born-again epiphany or traditional devotional practices. At whatever place it was yesterday, our relationship must move forward today and be still closer tomorrow.
Getting closer to Our Lord involves allowing some part of our prideful old life to die and embracing (or releasing) another aspect of our New Life. In the beginning, we are easily able to sacrifice minor attachments in pursuit of anticipated blessings. But with time, we must confront serious obstacles that could bring death to our souls. These may well be our attachment to bad habits, addictions and corrupt values — and even good things that are not beneficial for us at that point in time (See Embracing Conflict With Hope).
The most critical of these obstacles involves the following question: To whom should we submit our lives? Deep down, at the center of all our issues is obedience to the God Who created us. Disobedience to Him caused our problems in the first place and it is obedience to Our Lord that forever takes center stage.
We must constantly strive to deepen our relationship with the Lord, dying to self along the way. Trips to our own Garden of Olives and Calvary that take us to the limit and past it are in our destiny. Just as Jesus did, we will prefer alternatives, but we must submit.
If we decline these “opportunities”, God will provide new ones out of His infinite mercy. Ultimately, we must submit or unequivocally reject Him. A probing Christian once asked: “How do I know if I’ve died to self?” A wise man answered: “Dead men have no preferences!”
Mull over the last two paragraphs slowly; let the words sink in.
Invoke Transforming Power
It’s time to ask: “So what’s on the other side?” Resurrection! is the answer. The result of an infinite act of mercy and forgiveness, forever changing the course of mankind and history, was proven by a simple, documented, earth-shattering fact: “He’s alive!”
“He’s alive!” Imagine how the women at the tomb, the disciples on the road to Emmaus and those cowering in the city felt when they heard that cry. All their confusion and fears were washed away in an instant. “He is risen.” “He’s alive!” “Everything He said is true.” “He’s the Son of God.” “All His promises are real.” “He’s alive!”
Jesus isn’t just alive in the limited sense of Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven — two unique events in history. He’s alive right here, right now, right next to us, holding us in existence, caring about us, aware of our struggles and eager to provide us comfort, advice and protection.
Dying to self liberates the fruit of our redemption and opens the treasure trove of the Church to us. With each step, greater Resurrection power of the New Life is released: The clarity of Wisdom, the confidence of Faith, the protection of Discernment, and much more, as written in the Scriptures.
Faith in Jesus is essential for us to weave our way through life. Walking on the water can be scary and cause us to hang back, as did Peter (Mt 14:29, 30 RSV). “He’s alive!” — a simple statement of fact and an act of praise — invokes in us the Resurrection power that bolsters our faith and cuts through the vicissitudes of life.
When troubles wash over us, let this be our hue and cry:
He’s Alive! He’s Alive! He’s Alive!