“Suffering is not a punishment,” Robert Ingersoll wrote, “it is a result.” Suffering, we learn as we go, is the price we pay to bring life to fullness, both for others and for ourselves. It is not to be desired in a neurotic kind of way, but it is definitely not to be denied. For when we refuse to suffer, we refuse to grow. Suffering requires us to stretch our souls to the boundaries of personal growth. It brings to the surface in us both strengths and weaknesses we could never, in any other way, know we have. It is not about surrendering ourselves to pain left devoid of meaning. It is about finding meaning in the center of the self whatever the stresses around us.
~Joan Chittister, from The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life—the Ancient Practices Series
In Requiem For A Nun, William Faulkner wrote “The salvation of the world is in man’s suffering.” A part of us acknowledges the wisdom of this saying as we consider the great sacrifices many have made for the betterment of others, yet we know it isn’t enough. The noblest efforts of our greatest men cannot begin to reconcile the great gulf between us and God brought about by our rebellion. In the end, only the suffering of Jesus can save us, and our highest aspiration is to humbly accept the gift of grace and to live a life in grateful service.
The life of Jesus is not a monument to the past; it is an invitation to the fullness of our own futures.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
D I G D E E P E R
Art: The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, 1590s, Studio of El Greco
Like the ancient and medieval worlds, the modern world is quite aware, when it comes to contemplating the mystery of Christ, that it is circling around the center of the drama in which God and man are involved. Even in the purely human drama, the two themes concern central, dramatic situations. On the one hand, we have the kind of solidarity that goes the whole way—that is, to death—as at the end of Dostoyevsky’s Idiot or in King Lear; and, on the other hand, there is the representative suffering that is found (both in its religious and in its social aspect) in Euripides, which Faulkner and Camus (Requiem for a Nun) have convincingly portrayed in our own time.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, from Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory: The Action, trans. Graham Harrison, vol. 4 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), 266–267.
Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –
From this – experienced Here –
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years – exhale in Years –
Without Debate – or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be
From Anno Dominies –
The liturgical year is approaching Lent and its days of introspection which proceed Easter. Joan Chittister observed that liturgical time is the arc that affixes the layers of life. It binds heaven and earth into one and the same rhythm. Rather than give ourselves totally to life as we know it here and now, liturgical time raises our sights above the dailiness of life to the essence of life.
The liturgical year, with its great traversal from life to death to life again, carries us from one pole of time to the other with a sense of purpose and progress. It makes us aware of the presence of the kind of time that is not time, that is not our understanding of time, that is beyond time.
To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, And a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep, And a time to throw away; A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace. What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, It shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, And nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him. That which is has already been, And what is to be has already been; And God requires an account of what is past.
Art: This artistic motif in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth depicts the Trinity along with the apostles and all believers in Jesus gathering to spend eternity together.
Literature: Joan Chittister and Phyllis Tickle, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life—the Ancient Practices Series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010).<!–em