Giving Thanks

It is right and just to give thanks to God.  Why?  Because all good things come from God.  Life.  Love.  Joy.  Peace.  But, what about the other things…?

In order for us to truly and fully receive these good gifts from God, we human beings are given, along with the first gift of life, the gift of freedom, or freewill.  For it is only when we are free to choose that we are free to love.  Yet, the shadow side of this great light is the freedom to hate, and even the freedom to be apathetic.  And where there is hate or apathy, there is pain, sorrow, and struggle.  When we are experiencing these hardships, sometimes we look to God and ask, Why?  Why should we praise You?  Why should we give You thanks when life can be so terrible?

I don’t think it’s the customary thing to look at a crucifix  on Thanksgiving Day,  but I believe that we should.  Every day.

crucifix-2-flash

The crucifix reminds us that God knows. God did not need to become human like us, God did not need to experience pain, betrayal, rejection, grief, fatigue, frustration, sorrow, death. But, when the Word was made flesh, when Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Divine became incarnate. Jesus, both fully human and fully divine, experienced all that it is to be human. Willingly. Lovingly. Even though, before his crucifixion, he agonized, filled with dread, so overcome that he sweated blood, he ultimately and freely chose Divine Will. He accepted the coming torture, humiliation, and awful pain of dying on a cross. He who is without sin, he who is perfect, underwent terrible violence at the hands of those who either hated him or cared nothing for him. He was stripped and killed by them. And yet…

He forgave. Being not only fully human, but also fully divine, Jesus is also Mercy Incarnate. He shows us, in the living of a human life, the true way to the good things. Enjoyment of the good things of life doesn’t come from having a life where there is no pain or suffering. The good things of life are love and peace and joy. Love and peace and joy are truly and beautifully good because they are not dependent upon the circumstances of life. They are not dependent upon other people’s choices to be careless or to hate.

No matter what others may do to us, no matter what horrible circumstances others may create for us, like war or desperate poverty, and no matter what comes our way through the workings of nature, like disease or physical death, the good things remain solid and true. Love cannot be blocked or destroyed by suffering. Mysteriously, love can be discovered or intensified through suffering. God knows. Christ’s love for his mother and his disciples was undaunted – even his love for all humankind was not weakened by his dying on the cross. In fact, his last words were of forgiveness for those who made him suffer so terribly and of loving consideration for those who were grieving for him. And then he gave his all, in his final human words, to God. “Into Your hands…”.

We are all in God’s hands. Circumstances may try us and others may seek to harm us. But, when we live, not by the measure of temporary and physical things, but by the measure of eternal and spiritual things, the Good things of God, then we can know, even when our lives are most difficult, the ways of peace and joy and love. For “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[1]

So, looking at the crucifix can help us to be thankful.

Maya Angelou once said that, in the midst of your worst experience, when you are down, suffering, and sorrowful, if you can look up from that misery and say, “Thank you”, then you are blessed. You are experiencing grace and are, most certainly, succeeding as a human being.

I don’t know if I can do that in the future things that will befall me. I know that I have done it in the smaller things that have come before this moment. In the midst of my disability and debilitating disease, I am grateful. Of course, I have much for which to be thankful – for my friends and loving family, especially my blessed and amazing parents who give tirelessly and joyfully of themselves to me and others, and for my home where there is safety and plenty. This temporary and physical life of mine is good! And, yet, my physical body is certainly not the best. Breathing can be difficult, just getting comfortable so that I will not have pain is a trial, and, as always, I can’t even scratch my own cheek or wipe my own bottom.

But, I am grateful. I can sit here and actually think about how weak and helpless I am and still say, “Thank you.” I hope and pray that I may always be able to do that. (And I hope and pray that I will not be put to the test.)

This particular Thanksgiving, I am especially grateful that my father did not have a heart attack and that he got through septuple coronary bypass surgery successfully. I can add this to the list of many blessings. And I am mindful of those in the world whose loved ones have died this year, of my own cousin, who at 47, suffered cardiac arrest and now has severe, irreversible cognitive brain damage. My cousin’s husband and sons, with their care and devotion to Barbara, prove that love is scary strong, that love is unconquerable.

Life is hard. Life is terrible. Life is good. This is our faith as Christians, and it is a great mystery, a mystery that can only  be known in love, that can only begin to be glimpsed when we gaze upon a crucifix…

Happy Thanksgiving.

© 2015 Christina Chase

 


 

[1] Romans 8:38-39

Photo Credit: A crucifix in the vestibule of St. Paul’s Basilica in Toronto, ON, Canada. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

The Charity Case Tries Charity

Integrity, I have heard it said, is the quality of a person whose actions correspond to his or her beliefs.  So, I, who believe in Christian love and charity, ask myself as night comes on: “Was Christ integral to what I said and did today?”  How do I know I’m not just preaching for other people to see, just another Pharisee, a hypocrite…?

I’m going to look over the last couple of days to see what I have done, starting from the day I wrote my most recent Bible Burst (For As the Body) which motivated me to think on my works.  Presenting in list fashion will be most efficient.  But, I warn you, the list of works is pathetic.  If my sister is sick, I can’t go to her house and make her supper.  If a child falls to the ground in front of me, I can’t pick him up and carry him to his mother.  If I see anyone in physical need or peril, I can’t lift a finger to help.  Literally.  The muscles of my legs, torso, arms – and, yes, most of my fingers – are too weak for me to even move them.  I’m the one who needs supper to be made for her – and fed to her.  I’m the one who needs to be carried.  But, that is absolutely, positively, utterly and completely no excuse for me not to be charitable.  This little list could be so much longer if I had integrity… but, here it is:

I woke up Wednesday morning and would have liked to have gotten out of bed, but waited 20 minutes before waking my parents for assistance – they needed the sleep.

I stayed on the bedpan an extra five minutes without saying that I was ready so as not to interrupt my parents who had become involved in doing something else.

On Thursday, I wrote a short email to a disabled woman, whom I’ve befriended online and who is mostly homebound, sending her a couple of pictures.  (That felt like an act of charity.)  And, through Facebook, I sent one sentence to my former home health aide who moved away in order to let her know that I’m thinking about her and to tell her that she’s awesome, because I know she needs to hear it.  (That felt like an act of friendship.)

Also on Thursday, I gave one of my current home health aides a Snickers bar for her birthday, along with a pretty birthday card that quoted Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  She is not a religious young woman (kind of a fallen away Catholic) and her very secular life is full of difficulties and hardships.  I did not intend the card for evangelization but, rather, as actual comfort, inspiration and hope.  All I said when I gave it to her was, “Well, with all you’ve been through this year and with your plans for this coming one….”  That was it.  And I was even uncomfortable with that.

Lastly, I’ve been trying, for several days, to figure out how to forgive someone that I have called my friend and who has always boldly called herself my friend – but who has lately been unreliable, disappointing, and just….  Argh.  I don’t know.  Her life is a mess, it’s no wonder she screwed up and let me down.  But, it still hurt… and I still have to forgive her, not just say that I do.

This is a sad little list.  It’s not even pathetic in a good way, just paltry.  It seems like most of the so-called acts of charity that I can think of are merely attempts at being less of a charity case myself.  I’m always the needy one.  I don’t think that delaying my needs for a few minutes really counts toward “works”.  I also prayed for others, praying the rosary (something that I try to do every day, so it often feels like a chore) but I can’t say that my heart was in it.  The Divine Mercy chaplet that I prayed for the people of embattled Africa was a little more heartfelt.  And I can’t even think of anything I’ve done today, except offer my day to God – whatever that means, for I’m often very unsure.  Heavy sigh.  But… as I think about it more… I did what I did as a Christian – I only did most of the things on this list because my faith prompted me, like an inner stirring of the Holy Spirit.  Before I was a Christian, I was much more selfish than I am now.

I know there is nothing that I need to do to prove my love to God, for God knows what’s really in my heart – but, perhaps that’s why I’m so concerned…?  I say that there is nothing that I must, or really can, do to prove my love, and, yet, Jesus asked Peter, after the Resurrection, whether or not he loved him.  Peter had to declare three times (corresponding with the three times that he denied even knowing Jesus) that he did love Jesus, saying, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.”  And after each declaration of love, Jesus told Peter to do something.  Kind of like, “You love me?  Then do this.”  So, our love for Christ requires action.  We have to do something about it – it’s that kind of love.  It’s not the warm and fuzzy, content-to-sit-on-your-couch-and-bask-in-the-glow kind of love.  I think this particular passage of Scripture is stating that to love Christ is to serve Christ.  The two are inseparable.  For God’s love is action.  And we are meant to love one another as God loves us – with action.

I think it’s important to remember, though, that doing good works, performing acts of charity, is not anything that we do for God.  These are not gifts that we give to God.  These are simply necessary actions inherent in being loving people.  That’s who we are created to be.  When I fall short of who I truly am by not being an actively loving person, I am not in error because I broke a rule and made God angry with me.  I’m in error because I’m not really me.  Maybe it’s more like God is sadly disappointed with me when I don’t live up to my full potential, when I don’t love as I was created to love – kind of like the way I feel about my friend.  The difference is that, I think, for God, forgiveness is not an act of forgiveness, like it will be for me, mere human that I am.  Forgiveness, for God, is being.  – – Oh, I am so not God…

… as it should be.

Christina Chase

Consecrated

To consecrate is to set something aside for a divine purpose.  On Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, I made a personal act of consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Through this, I hope to become ever mindful of the presence of God and of my privilege as a child of God to reflect His divine image in the world.  And this is the prayer I privately prayed then and now every day:

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, to Thee I consecrate and offer up my person and my life, all my thoughts, words, actions, trials, joys and sufferings, that my entire being may henceforth only be employed in loving, honoring and glorifying Thee. This is my irrevocable will, to belong entirely to Thee, and to do all for Thy love, renouncing with my whole heart all that can displease Thee.

I take Thee, Christ, O Sacred Heart, for the sole object of my love, the protection of my life, the pledge of my salvation, the remedy of my frailty and inconstancy, the reparation for all the defects of my life, and my secure refuge at the hour of my death. Be Thou, O Most Merciful Heart, my advocate at the throne of Divine Justice, and screen me from the wrath which my sins deserve.  I fear all from my own weakness and malice, but placing my entire confidence in Thee, O Heart of Love, I hope all from Thine infinite Goodness.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine. Annihilate in me all that can displease or resist Thee. Imprint Thy pure love so deeply in my heart that I may never forget Thee or be separated from Thee.  Hold me in your Sacred Heart, O Jesus Christ, my Lord and Lord of all.  I implore that I may love You more and more.

I beseech Thee, through Thine infinite Goodness, grant that my name be engraved upon Thy Heart – for in this I place all my happiness and all my glory: to live and to die as one of Thy devoted servants.

Amen.