An Ever-Present Mystery

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Suffering.  Death.  Resurrection.  Ascension.  These themes are very present to us as we continue on our Lenten Journey into Holy Week.  Every year we are reminded of the Passion of our Lord.  Every year we are thankful for His Suffering, Death and Resurrection, and every year we are at risk of becoming complacent about this awesome Mystery.  I know, it sometimes is hard not to feel complacent about it.  We are comfortable with it.  I think in some respects that’s a good thing.  If we can be confident in God’s Love for us, if we can be sure of our redemption, than good for us!  But this confidence and comfort doesn’t detract from the awesome and glorious fact that Jesus suffered because of our Sins, Conquered Death, and then defied Death as He Rose from the Dead; and no amount of comfort or confidence can ever fully explain the Great and Awesome Mystery that is the Paschal Mystery.

Oh great.  I though this was going to be an interesting blog post about something that has to do with femininity.  Instead, its going to be a Lenten lecture. Blech.

Not quite.  Oh yes, this is a post about the Paschal Mystery – but most certainly not a lecture about the more common talking points of the subject.  What I would like to present to you for your consideration and meditation is that the Paschal Mystery plays itself out in our daily lives.

You’re talking about the suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, right?

Yes.  The Pascal Mystery.  It surrounds us.  In fact, this is part of the Mystery!  When we reference a “Mystery” in the light of our Faith, we aren’t necessarily talking about something that is not understandable.  Rather, when we say something is a “mystery” we mean that it is still being revealed, that our understanding is continually growing.  It also often means that we will not fully understand it until we are in Heaven, but that while on earth, we can continue to gain deeper understanding and knowledge.  Isn’t that amazing?  For the rest of our lives we can gain a deeper and deeper, a more profound understanding of the Paschal Mystery, and yet we’ll never really get to the bottom of the whole mystery until we are in Heaven!  God loves to constantly reveal His Truth to us in new ways – this is what comes from a life of interiority (see the previous post The Inferiority if Interiority )

So what is there for us to learn about the Paschal Mystery of Christ?  I mean it sounds pretty cut and dry – Christ suffered, He died on a Cross, He was buried, and then He rose from the dead, and later  Ascended into Heaven, and then sent His Spirit to His Apostles and Mother.  Right?  Thats why we are all gearing up for Easter and eating a lot more fish  and pizza lately…what more is there to it?

Perhaps one of the most amazing aspects of the Paschal Mystery is that it is still playing out.  In fact when you live a life of Interiority, when you are in Communion with God, it plays out every day.  When you look through the eyes of Faith, you see the Paschal Mystery everywhere – even in creation itself.  Look at the butterfly.  It starts out as a caterpillar – an ugly black or brown wormy thing.  Then it ‘dies.’  It stays in its tomb-like cocoon and when it emerges, it is a beautiful, delicate butterfly!  What a lovely and gentle image of the Paschal Mystery!  Think now of a seed.  It is dead, for all intents and purposes.  Yet, when planted it will grow and become a strong and tall tree, or a fragrant blossom.  What about the seasons?  In many parts of the world there is a season of ‘new life’ which follows a season of dryness, rain, or winter.  These may sound simplistic, yet they are just some of the many ways God keeps the Paschal Mystery constantly before us.

I think its safe to say that most of us know that the Paschal Mystery is is presented to us every time Mass is celebrated, (I mean, we all sing the “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again” ditty semi-robotically) but do we really realize that its happening right before our eyes?  Mass is like a Time Machine – transporting us back to Calvary, for His suffering and death, then to the Tomb – which is empty, then to the Mount of Olives (Mount Olivet) for His Ascension, and finally to the upper room for the Descent of the Spirit.  The Mystery of the Paschal Event is that while we remember and recall these things through the words and actions of the Priest at Mass, they are made present for us at the same time.  Made Present. As in right here, right now.  That is hard to completely bend your mind around – and yet it is the Truth – and part of the Mystery.  We’ve all heard that the Lord loves to reveal Himself to us – all the time if we let Him – but did you ever stop to contemplate whether He ever reveals Himself to us through the complete Mystery of His Suffering and Death, Resurrection and Ascension?

The Paschal Mystery is in many ways one of the linchpins of our Faith – the fact that Christ became Man – fully and totally Human, cannot be divorced from this Great Mystery.  It is in this Mystery that we find the Sacraments – Heavenly realities made manifest by earthly actions and objects.  Outward signs of Inward Grace, instituted by Christ for our Sanctification (Catechismus concil. Trident., n. 4, ex St. Augustine“De Catechizandis rudibus”).  They are also a means by which we participate in the Paschal Mystery.  The theme of a resurrection after suffering a “death” is present in the sacraments themselves.  Baptism is a re-birth into the Life of the Church and into the Life of Christ – it is a death to sin – particularily the Sin of Adam.  Reconciliation is also a death to sin – and a rebirth, a Resurrection, into Grace – the Life of Christ in our Souls – and one that we can avail ourselves of as often as necessary.  What of the Eucharist?  The Body and Blood of Our Lord – the Word made Flesh?   In the Eucharist we see the entire Paschal Mystery available for us to literally internalize.  The God-Man, our Savior, who suffered, conquered death, and Rose to new life, is totally present to us in the Species of Bread and Wine.    The Eucharist is the “Source and Summit of the Christian Life” (CCC 1324), and it is also therefore an embodiment of the Paschal Mystery.

What of the other Sacraments?  There are seven, after all?  The Sacrament of Confirmation celebrates the Coming of the Spirit – and the reception of His Gifts – our own personal Pentecost – which is the fruit of the Paschal Mystery – for at His Resurrection, Christ promised to send His Paraclete to His Disciples and Mother (and by extension – to Us!).  The Anointing of the sick – Extreme Unction – is a preparation for our souls’ own Ascension into the Heavenly Kingdom – a culmination of our earthly journey towards sanctification.  The two “sacraments of service’ – the vocational sacraments – Holy Orders and Matrimony – exemplify the Paschal Mystery in a very particular sense.   Holy Orders is a participation in the Life of Christ on a very profound level.  For women who enter into the Consecrated Life as sisters, they take Christ, Himself as their Spouse.  Brides of Christ they become, and in that sense they become Wedded to the Paschal Mystery of the God-Made-Man.   They ‘die’ to themselves and to the world, renouncing earthly life to give us a glimmer of the next.   Isn’t this what Christ did as well?  Likewise, men who become Consecrated Religious  as monks and Brothers give us a glimpse of the Heavenly Reality of the Loving Relationship that God desires to have with each of us.   Men who become priests enter into the Paschal Mystery in a different way from other religious.  They literally become “other Christs.”  They act “in persona Christi Capitis”  (in the person of Christ, the Head) meaning that “In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth.” (CCC 1548).  What a profound way to enter into the Life of the Paschal Mystery!  To actually embody it in the Person of Christ!  In this Year of the Priest, let us think on the Great Mystery that our Priests live every day – they live the Paschal Mystery – some of them very deeply, as they take on the Sufferings of Christ, as they die to themselves and to the world, and as they witness to the Resurrection.  Let us be thankful for the crucial role they play in aiding us along the way of Salvation!

The Sacrament of Matrimony is one I would like to spend a little more time on.  Many of you, dear readers, I know, find yourselves called to this vocation – whether or not your present situation is one in which you are married, engaged, dating, or hoping (waiting on the Lord…and Mr. Right!).   Marriage is particularly unique in its embodiment of the Paschal Mystery, because  in this one sacrament the entire Paschal Mystery plays out, sometimes in dramatic fashion.  How I wish I had learned early on that Marriage reflects the Paschal Mystery!  What Hope that might have given me during the more difficult times of my marriage!  What Joy I would have felt – better able to embrace the ‘tough times’ as my crosses on my road to a resurrection of sorts!   But I get ahead of myself!

We’ve all heard more than once (a lot more, if you are engaged or newly married) that ‘marriage takes work.’  We’ve all heard that at some point the ‘honeymoon ends and reality sets in.’   We’ve all heard that ‘you will grow’ and ‘your relationship changes.’  None of these pearls of Wisdom ever seemed very hopeful or comforting to me.  More than once after being offered such sage advice I caught myself thinking, “What am I getting myself into!!??”  What I didn’t realize was that I was jumping right into the Paschal Mystery of Christ!  Think of a Marriage as a timeline of sorts of Jesus’ Life.  The joy of the Birth of Christ reflected in the Wedding Day – a new beginning, a new life as two become one.  A journey begun, and a sacrament entered.  Just as God became Man at the Incarnation, so too do Two become One, with the promise of accepting the blessings of the union, should the Spirit allow procreation.  After a while – be it a month, 3 months, a year or several years, the relationship does change, it feels as though the honeymoon is over.    But this is because you are now entering into the throws of the Paschal Mystery!  You are picking up your Crosses.   Sometimes your vocation is your Cross – there will be days when you do not feel anything towards your spouse, worse yet, there may even be days when all you feel is resentment.  There will be sickness, there will be disagreements, there will be discord.  The Evil One uses these times to the best of his nefarious advantage.  He seeks to exploit the times when you are on your own road to calvary to destroy your marriage and lie to you about the fact that there will be a Resurrection.  So many divorces and separations occur at this time!  See, the secret is, since your Marriage mirrors the Paschal Mystery – there will be times of struggle – heart-ache even.   BUT these are the times to “pick up your cross and follow Christ.”  These are the times to reflect on the fact that you are living the Paschal Mystery – and to HOPE, for there is a Resurrection.  What is in between?   Yep.  The Crucifixion.

Oh, great, Laura, stop right there, I am becoming a nun.  Can I get an annulment?  – that doesn’t sound like fun! Now, hold up, before I single-handedly increase enrollment at all the convents in the country (and beyond), let me explain.  The Crucifixion was Christ’s Death on the Cross.  It is what directly precipitated His Rising from the Dead, and His New and Glorified Life.  The long road of suffering and temptation was before the Crucifixion – the Crucifixion was the final act – the culmination.  Dare I say that in some way, perhaps it was a relief?  That once on the Cross Our Lord knew that the end of His suffering was near, and that this gave Him Hope?  On the Cross, Jesus gave His tremendous Act of Surrender to the Father, and spoke Words of Tremendous Love about those who Crucified Him, “Father, forgive them.”   This is what I mean when I talk about the Crucifixion we face in Marriage.  It is a death – but a death to SELF – living for the other.  Loving surrender.  Love, dear readers, is an act of the will, much more than it is a feeling.  Christ proved that on the Cross.  Do you think He felt warm and starry-eyed and fuzzy for the three excruciating hours that He hung there?  Yet that is known as the ultimate act of Love.  That is what is required of us in marriage – total surrender to the Father of All, and a total death to self.  Depending on the crosses we may be carrying, to Act out of Love for the other may seem no less than heroic.

Do not be Afraid!  Do not feel intimidated!  It is the crosses, and the Self-Scarifice – the death to Self, that bring about the Resurrection – and this my friends is well worth it!  My husband and I like to joke with our friends, “You name it, we’ve been through it.”   This really isn’t far from the Truth!  But what continues to amaze me is that we wouldn’t change a thing.  Now, thats saying a lot, because there were more than a few times when I found myself screaming and crying at God,”How can You expect me to deal with this!??  I’m never going to make it through this!  Thats it!  I’m done, I can’t handle this anymore!  Not this time God, this is too hard, and I don’t see how we’ll get through this.”   Yet, we did;  and looking back from where we are now, I couldn’t have imagined all we’d go through – or how much closer and stronger we’d be.  I wouldn’t trade the Marriage I have now, for the one I had when I was a newlywed.    (and the one I had as a newlywed was pretty darn good!)  That’s part of the Mystery!  That is why knowing that Marriage reflects the Paschal Mystery shouldn’t make us wary or trepidacious!  Instead it should give us tremendous Hope and Joy!  You see, God never, ever, ever allows us a Cross that we can’t carry.  Our Heavenly Father allows free will and the post-Eden world to deal us some hard blows sometimes, but He is so Amazing that He can take ANY circumstance and redeem it – and let it bring us closer to Him and closer to our spouse – if we let Him.  Just as Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and accepted God’s Will and Love, and in doing so, redeemed the Act of Adam in a similar Garden that rejected God and His Love, we too can take our crosses – how ever difficult – and use them to either grow closer to God and our Spouse, or to reject God and our spouse.  Yes, I am talking about everything – like I said, God allows some things we’d really prefer He wouldn’t, but NOTHING is above His redemption – with our cooperation.  *Let me just take a minute to point out that I am NOT advocating staying in an abusive situation  – Yes, God can redeem that as well, but He isn’t expecting you to actually experience the physical torture of Christ.  Staying in an abusive or harmful situation is NOT accepting your Cross.  In that case, the most loving thing you CAN do is protect yourself and demand that your spouse receive immediate assistance.  That, dear readers, is tough Love, and sometimes that kind of Love is called for.  It is truly heroic.*

Before moving on I’d like to point out one more thing about the Paschal Mystery in Marriage.  On the way of the Cross, our Tradition tells us, there was a man named Simon who was from Cyrene, and a woman named Veronica.  These individuals made Jesus’ burden a little lighter.  Simon helped Jesus carry His Cross, and Veronica comforted and soothed Him.  In the same way YOU are never alone on your road of the cross.  Whatever Cross you may be carrying, at whatever time, God will send you Simons and Veronicas –  whether in the guise of a counselor, therapist, priest, family member, or friend.  Some people are afraid or embarrassed to seek help in dealing with difficulties that might arise in marriage.  DON’T BE!  Christ Himself needed help along the way of the Cross!  Remember the goal is to get to the Resurrection!   If there is someone who can assist you along the way, and help you get there faster – it’d be silly not to let them!

My last thought on Marriage and the Paschal Mystery is this – it is a journey.  Sometimes it might seem like cross upon cross – like you might never get a break.  During times like these pause for a moment and reflect on just how far you’ve come!  Other times you will not be able to belive that you could ever be so happy!  Then all the harder times will gain perspective and you will be able to see how God used every tough time to draw you closer to Himself, and to strengthen your union with your spouse.  Lastly – understand that Marriage is a Sacrament – it is a physical, earthly reminder of the Infinitely  more Perfect Union that God desires to have with us in Heaven.   It is a share in the Life of Christ – a beautiful opportunity to participate in His Paschal Mystery and to grow in Love for Him who is Our Way, Truth, and Life.

This Holy Week, and during the Easter Triduum, I hope that you experience the Paschal Mystery of Christ in a truly profound way.  At the very heart of this Great Mystery is Christ’s undivided, unfailing Love for you, and it is my hope and prayer that you will openly receive this Love anew from Him this Easter Season.  May God Bless your beautiful Feminine Hearts!

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