From the feast of the Epiphany through the feast of Mardi Gras we celebrate the Light come into the world. But in the next 40 days, our feastial celebrations will turn more somber. Many of us will venture into the desert places, wherein upon our Lenten journey we shall hope to find ourselves strengthened for that which still awaits us – our final death and resurrection in Christ.
This is the life cycle of a Christian. We are born into mission. We are celebrated. We are wanted and received. We are matured. We are strengthened. And, then we are asked to fulfill our mission. We are asked to die. We are asked to pick up our crosses and follow the One who went before us. We are asked to unite our hearts to the Savior of the World and invited to become one with his mission, his purpose. We are asked to suffer scorn. We are asked to bear the brutality of rejection. We are wounded for his sake. We are falsely accused. We are dismissed and cut off from the world of men. We are found alone, dying on our cross. Or are we?
Throughout the centuries, Christians have been preserving the life, death and resurrection of the Messiah Jesus Christ. In liturgical churches, this cycle begins at Christmas Tide and continues through the Easter Tide culminating at the Ascension Sunday and Pentecost celebrations. These first months of the new year are a whirlwind tour of the highlights of the Messiah’s purpose and mission, while the remainder of the liturgical year is devoted to meditating on Christ’s teachings and the works of the Apostles. Though the cycles vary in evangelical circles, the common elemental thread that runs through the heart of the lifeblood of the Christian Church is this: without the cross the church would not exist.
In his last words, Jesus Christ uttered a great mystery that few men fully know even unto this day. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
To understand these words in their fullness, and the seven last words of Christ, is to step into the Great Mystery to which we have each been invited. Our journey does not end at the manger among wise men from the east, nor does it settle down forever in the ecstatic carnival celebration of the saints whose Messiah has come. It must venture on, into the deep, having been washed clean by the waters of baptism, our soul must follow our Lord into the broad expanse of a silent wilderness. As the mystic saints have all confirmed, our souls must be prepared not for signs and wonders but for the cross and that final cup of blessing from which our Lord drinks on the cross and utters one of his most misunderstood words, “I thirst.”
And these signs and wonders shall follow them that believe…
Christ does not call us into signs and wonders. He calls us each to the foot of the cross that in learning to unite ourselves to him we might understand and believe. Then, we shall see proof of our union. Once we truly believe!
For some saints like Catherine of Siena, Faustina Kowalska, Rita of Cascia, Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio, such union was manifested literally upon their bodies in the form of stigmata. Christ first prepares our souls to receive him and then the body.
He does not wait for our bodies to be purified as living temples before he comes to us but instead asks us to allow new life to resurrect our temples.
We must venture first into the desert where our souls are strengthed before we can bare the passion of the cross in our body, much less become a vessel through which his power can flow into signs and wonders.
I invite you to join me these next 40 days as we go into the desert with our Lord. Study the scriptures (Matthew 4, Luke 4, Mark 1, John 6), commit to a daily meditation on the passion of Christ, ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes more acutely to Jesus’ time in the desert. Why does the Gospel of John not include the telling of Christ’s temptations in the desert but speaks of them instead in the form of a parable of the feeding of 5,000? What is the connection between baptism and the immediate call to the desert? So many believe it was to strengthen our Lord for his ministry, but what if his ministry was just the side effect of his mission. Padre Pio often said his mission was to bare Christ in his soul most completely. The ministry work which came as an effect of his mission become a type of consolation to him. Though he enjoyed seeing others learn to bare Christ in themselves, he never forgot his personal mission was to first bare Christ in himself. Where in your life may you be confusing your ministry with your mission? Read a book on the life of one of the stigmatists mentioned above. While not everyone is asked to bare the visible wounds of Christ in this lifetime and indeed their presence is not necessary for holiness, what we can learn from those like the Apostle Paul and Saint Francis of Assisi who have born the marks of Christ in their body is how to unite ourselves constantly in prayer to Jesus by meditating on his passion. Through this we can become more like Paul, preaching Christ crucified and making disciples. There are over 60 documented cases since the 1300s. Interestingly, 80 percent of them were women.
We’ll be posting the wisdom of the saints, stigmatists, and other men and woman of faith during our Lenten journey on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, as well. Please feel free to follow, like and share with your friends.
Whatever you decide to do these next 40 days, I pray you will find yourself strengthened in the knowledge and love of our Lord. That when you emerge from the desert with him, having overcome the temptations of the accuser and strengthened yourself in the mission upon which our Heavenly Father called you forth from your womb, you will find yourself immersed in His mercy and, having been fully equipped, you will complete that which He has called you to.
Until the Day Dawns,
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