Biblical sorrow is not just human drama that makes a good narrative. The kind of sorrow recounted in the Scriptures is intended to instruct us, to reveal to us how to be sorrowful: how to suffer and how to hope. From Adam to Peter, each of the great figures of the Old and New Testaments struggles, sins, betrays, repents. The reality of human existence entails a constant confrontation between fidelity and incapacity, between agony and glory, between fallenness and the hope of a better way, between betrayal and love. Sin, in all of its manifestations, reveals to the human heart its own weakness, its own need for redemption, its own capacity for repentance, its original and foundational communion with God.
The greatest strength we can know is the capacity to live through the daily humiliations of our lives in ways that do not shut out God, but give Him ever greater access and an ever greater hold on the totality of our hearts and the weakness of our lives. What is more, it is precisely this fragility, this existential dependence that shows us how everything, without exception, good or bad, “works for the good of those who love God” (Rom. 8.28). The Catholic understanding of human freedom entails a firm confidence that God directs this freedom for our good, and that nothing we do falls outside His unceasing action, His Providence in our lives.
But there is a disconnect, one that we create ourselves, that divides what is actually a communion of being – the fact that, because of the Incarnation, we and Christ are one. The human heart is made to be probed it this way, to feel a distance, friction, sometimes even a full separation from God. The Psalms are laden with this kind of pleading: “Cast me not out from Thy presence”, as though we might be forever far away from God himself. The human body is tested through weakness, in real suffering, and in this suffering we know fear and feel abandoned. We see no greater manifestation of this than in Christ’s own agony.
Such is the human condition since the Fall, and in the fallenness of the human condition we learn what kind of union we are ultimately made for, what kind of communion we already live out. Although on the natural level we are capable of a certain degree of self-subsistence, every fiber of our being ultimately pulsates with the throbbing heart of God, who in His compassion sent His Son to teach us how suffer and to die, because He wishes to teach us still how to live.
On this account, the panorama of human misery bears the imprint of the Cross, as it also takes on the glory of the Resurrection. As presently we lament our own insufficiency, our weakness, our sorrow, we also learn to long for redemption. Over and over, the story of human misery is a litany of endless witness to the truth that suffering is not the end of the story, that weakness is not the end of the story, that any form of human insufficiency and poverty and loss recounts for us only the beginning of the story— a story that ends in glory.
But believing this to be true is a choice, a choice of faith, a choice that requires us to exercise both the fullness of our freedom and its total surrender — a choice that reveals to us what human freedom itself truly means.
“For freedom we were set free” (cf. Gal. 5.13): freedom to love as God loves, freedom to hope, freedom to overcome great disappointment knowing that there is no humiliation Christ has not Himself known, freedom to endure suffering with patience, to suffer with Christ; freedom that will ultimately not be subject to human limitation and will not fall captive to despair.
“Arise, give praise in the night, in the beginning of the watches:
Pour out thy heart like water before the face of the Lord”
The real capacity of the soul to pour itself out before God, to prostrate itself at His feet in a search for help is the greatest human freedom. Human freedom reaches the apex of greatness when it reaches the depths of need and misery. To need God, to realize the depth of our need for Him, is to arrive at the fullest expression of our dignity, and to live the greatest liberty.
What does it take to reach this point of total surrender? What kind of heartache can propel us to the edge of sadness and helplessness, and then pull us back to search once more for Life itself?
These questions probe the very heart of human existence. We confront the reality of human suffering, of human woundedness, of our own insufficiency, and we realize that more often than not we are incapable of lifting up ourselves, of sustaining ourselves, of giving ourselves relief.
So where does help come from? Where do we find hope that does not disappoint?
The answer is none other than in communion with God himself – a communion that is never withdrawn and marks our very nature, since by our Baptism we have been configured to Christ, united to Him as one flesh.
The Gospel reveals to us what it takes to be worthy of this communion, and how we should live it out. Jesus speaks plainly and clearly of giving up everything that we love in order to seek Him and Him alone.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
– Matthew 10. 37-39
The reordering of our lives and of our love goes even beyond this kind of reordering of things we treasure: mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. Christ clearly asks us to take up our cross to be worthy of Him. But He does not ask this without first giving us the way to do it – without first doing it Himself, in our flesh. In the reordering of human love, the surrender of its power of attachment to things that are not God himself, we learn that we should not hate the things that are given us as treasures in this life – things like family, and children, friends and earthly goods – but that they are not to possess us, and that we are to have a love purified enough to seek the face of God alone, even as we deeply delight in them.
This gradual ascension to the truth and proper order of our lives enables our minds to see that Christ erases the distance we set up between Him and us. It is easy to think that we are close to God when we are good, when we do good, and likewise easy to feel far from God in moments of doubt or hesitation; in trials of body and soul the gap seems to widen, as if we were abandoned to ourselves, left to our own misery. In this human paradigm of vicinity and distance we are blinded to the truth that God is never far away. We may experience Him as far, but He is ever present, and not just present but united: one with us, abiding in us, incapable of absence, because He is pure Being itself, and permeates all the things He has made. It takes significant suffering to experience this and to begin to understand such intimacy and communion – ultimately to live and to rest in the peace of such intimacy and such full communion.
“But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
— Romans 8.37-39
The love of God is visible in His crucified Son, a total oblation and innocent offering – the wellspring of hope for those who are called to make the same offering of themselves. Such is the purification of the crosses we bear through which we are given an undivided heart that seeks to love the Lord first, and through His love to love all else – to be worthy of Him. This is the pouring forth of the heart before the face of God. A liberal, lavish pouring forth, that offers human misery and desire, as well as other goods and our love for them in such a profound way as to make of them an oblation, a total holocaust, an offering pure and acceptable in union with the humiliated and crucified Christ who holds nothing back. In the end, we discover the capacity of the human heart to understand that even if it were to have all the things it desires in this world, still it would desire more. We learn that however strong our love may be, it finds completeness only in the oblation of itself, in its outpouring.
The radical choice of this pouring forth is a choice of faith, and it entails a consecration of our will. And this faith is a fleshly faith — an incarnate faith we should desire ardently and live fully with our bodies, our minds, and our souls. The human heart throbs with human blood, and it aches with human need. We stand at the crossroads between the despair of human weakness and the ascent of faith that gives us a firm share in the fullness of God’s own love, and makes us one with Him. We stand between a presumed safety of our own making, and the abundant life He wishes to give.
Though this seems a place of impossible confrontation between us and God, between our love and His, our very being there, and the very capacity to desire this kind of faith and union is a sure sign that we are not alone in the suffering. A prevenient grace impels both the desire and the offering. We can be certain of one thing, that despite our own insufficiency, He still comes to “give us life, and give it more abundantly” (cf. John 10.10). We plead, then, for the one consolation born of agony – we plead to see His face, that we may know how to pour out our heart, and exchange it for His own.
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
To be tried in this way is to discover that the deepest longing of the human heart is its own purification. Human love shows this to us. Sometimes, the greatest friendships suddenly and inexplicably fail in betrayal. Sometimes, those closest to us disappoint us. Sometimes we love with unrequited love. Sometimes, the heart is weighted in its capacity to love and struggles to find something, someone worthy enough. All of this dissatisfaction gradually strips away from us whatever divides us from the One who remains undivided from us.
“He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, abides in me, and I in him.”
…Abides in me, and I in him.
A communion of Flesh and Blood. Abiding love, carnal, consummated, and true. Fully of God, fully for man.
A Love that defies all human comprehension and all human failings; a Love that knows all and redeems all; a Love poured out, defiled, rejected, betrayed, and still overflowing — a Love that seeks all from us only to give us yet more.
From the wounds of His side, He pours out His Heart like water, that sacred Water and precious Blood may flood our hearts and teach us wisdom.
In the watches of the night we arise.
Daily, He restores the joy of salvation.
Those crushed in spirit, He saves.
You may reach Maria Grizzetti at IncarnationandModernity@gmail.com