‘Jesus called the people and his disciples to him and said, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”‘ (From the Gospel for Sunday, 16th September, 2018.)
Do you long to stop worrying your way through life? So many people are consumed by worry, the kind of worry that they keep to themselves. Like any kind of negativity, there is an ostracising element to it that keeps us from engaging fully with our life and with others. It can keep us from ourselves.
I suppose the way the mind works can be a kind of enslavement. They say we can’t come close to imagining the bliss of heaven, but perhaps this will be heaven for the millions of worriers of the world: never being anxious, remaining forever free from the tricks of the mind as they drive us down the darker roads of life. Perhaps we won’t even remember what it is to worry… what an incomprehensible thought that is. Can we imagine it? …no, not yet.
Heaven! Sometimes there’s a homesickness for the place we’ve never been to. It’s a curious thing to be an alien in the only place one has ever known, as the Psalmist laments ‘By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept. O How could we sing the song of the Lord on alien soil?’ (Psalm 137.) Deep down, though, that is the long and the short of it. There is a charge inside the human condition that drives the hidden knowledge of God – which lives inside us – back into God. He is the cause of all creation. We have no control over it, as though we’re a passenger in an automated vehicle. We’re being taken somewhere. The strongest, deepest, most intimate moments we have happen in silence: there is nothing to say. Just to grasp at the hem of His presence is enough for all the world to stop, because heaven has come down to earth, and touches the depths of a little soul, so that it is on fire with Him.
This, I suppose, is Home. This is heaven on earth.
So yes, we worry. And we worry that we worry. But this is part of the Cross. It was never supposed to be easy. Scripture tells us: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12.) Christ Himself warned us, over and again, saying ‘…unless you take up your cross and follow me…’. The fact that God foresaw our struggles and trials – and more than that – that He became man and participated in them by His passion and death, is a Christian’s definitive answer to suffering. It is Christ’s way of saying ‘I’ve got your back’. Jesus is in the very deepest recesses of humanity’s brokenness and, by His presence, our trials are transformed into something greater. “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.” (1 Peter 1:6.) And in the words of Christ: “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22.)
Worry, or whatever cross afflicts us, then becomes a kind of fuel injection for the engine of faith. Trust is itself a gift. It drives Scripture, the works of creation, relationships, the clues He leaves for us, through the engine of faith, so that all those many aspects of humanity begin to be receptive to God, and work for Him. God, the engine builder, the only true guide to how we work. This endless landscape of worry is a strange, dark doorway into the world of encounter with God.
There, it has happened again. As soon the word ‘God’ is used, there is a bat’s-squeak of disappointment in the air. By writing the word, there rises a passive assumption that we know who He is, that we have ‘grasped’ Him. Actually, we do not understand God. The word, as it presents on the page, is woefully inadequate. If there was a word to describe His presence in those moments of encounter with Him – and even those chance moments are only a distant doorway partially ajar – then it would simply be too much to write. At its writing, we would fall on our faces, and life around us would stop, as though we were taken up by a huge, colourful and all-consuming procession through the streets of our heart. Perhaps the only word to come close, and it is itself and enigmatic and misunderstood term, is ‘love’.
This, too, is Home: love, ever new, ever re-presenting to me, returning despite my littleness, regardless of how many times I turn away. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love never insists on its own way.
When considering the works of creation, we naturally turn to nature. But the work of creation is much closer to home, too, initialising in our hearts at this very moment. Our Creator continuously invites us to become His blank canvas, as He creates a masterwork of universal peace, unity and integrity and dignity. In this painting, we are the medium, the agents of His love. To us He has entrusted the care and building-up of the human race. His love is like a new kind of pigment, so bright that we cannot fully register it with our human senses; to a degree it remains a mystery, yet it is part of us and we see its effects on those we meet. We think here of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament: an experience that is beyond us, yet ourselves.
Negativity keeps us from ourselves, but God restores us to the condition of being fully human, fully alive. Even when we ourselves are worriers, it is our privilege to be His ambassadors to those around us, in those seemingly unimportant backstreets of our lives – the smiles, the consoling words, the few moments offered to someone who is alone, the decision to keep from commenting negatively, the grace of choosing our words, the attentiveness to see when someone is in need of connection with God’s love. It isn’t necessary to donate the money for a new hospital in order to make a difference, or give your life savings to a charitable cause. By reaching out in the obscurity of everyday life, to those we know and to strangers, we are building up the Kingdom of Heaven. As Paul said: ‘Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.’ (1 Thess 5:11)
Experiencing darkness and trials can give us the empathy and vision to see the need for love in the eyes of others. When we’ve been through it ourselves, we understand better. God Himself became man and suffered for us, so that we might live. And so with our own sufferings. By the grace of God, our own darkness – in whatever form it takes – becomes charged with a new understanding for those with similar problems. Shapeless and obscure though it is, hidden within the mystery of faith, we come face to face with the real goodness that comes from suffering: growing in love.