As I write these words I have only a few days until I go through an amputation that will take the remaining part of my left foot and part of my left leg. To write that many feelings are occurring in my heart is an understatement.
My Current Days
My days of preparation before the surgery are happening in a hospital. These days in the hospital are filled with seemingly endless hours for my mind to dwell, stew, ponder, and panic about many things. I’m structuring my day around the Liturgy of the Hours, while also, “filling” the time between the hours with the Lenten scripture readings (that have brought me to tears at times), kind conversations with staff, writing down my thoughts, engaging in social media stuff, and an occasional movie or podcast. Yet, with these seemingly endless hours, plus the many feelings welling up in my heart, my mind keeps returning to this insight from a Carmelite brother below.
A Loving Peace
Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved. ~ St. John of Cross (Sayings of Light and Love #115)
Through everything going on in my life, at this moment, my heart is resting on the peaceful and peace filled truth that God loves me. This peace my heart rests on is not some sentimental notion of God’s love for me. By sentimental love, I mean a love that merely tries to satiate the feelings occurring in my heart.
Now, a turn to the question of why. Why do I think God has brought me to this wisdom of St. John of the Cross at this moment in my life? One thing I know is that it is not to deny what I feel. I am sad, worried, unsure, hopeful, anxious, plus feeling so many other feelings. Denying these feelings only harms myself by keeping my heart closed to Christ. In a more positive way, I think the wisdom from St. John of the Cross above is a divine refuge for my heart in love.
God’s love for me doesn’t reside in my denial of these feelings or diving into them imprudently. Noting that this imprudent dive to manage fully these feelings only inflates my pride, which is the sin that strives to keep God’s love at a distance via self-sufficiency and self-gratification. God’s love for me doesn’t arise from my feelings or relationship to them. It is offered freely to me in good and/or bad times. I do nothing to earn it or produce it. However, God’s love comes primarily through His creation, because God’s love raises up what He, Himself, has called good and then very good, through, by, and in His love. Thus, the detachment that St. John of the Cross writes about is an image of freedom.
Freedom to Rest
The image shows to me the freedom to respond to God’s love. For me to freely know that from His love my heart has received peace requires that I acknowledge His love stands apart from what I feel and is not dependent upon it. Detachment allows for one to stand in a position of openness to love no matter what else comes from in or outside a person. Please know, I am afraid what will happen during surgery, yet the peace of God’s love allows me to see, feel, acknowledge, and accept that feeling of fear, but to not remain imprisoned by it. Why? Because, my heart is bound to His love not to my fear. A love that I desire to return to Him, by sharing it to those here in the hospital.
To Suffer For Whom?
Finally, the thought of suffering for the Beloved as stated by St. John of the Cross. I know God isn’t cursing me in my moment of suffering. I actually have no anger at God because of this amputation. I made choices in my life that allowed me to serve my country and become a better man but I was hurt in the process living out those choices. When I read St. John of the Cross’s words about suffering for the Beloved, my mind and heart turns to Colossians 1:24. This verse from St. Paul was and is currently a foundation stone for my life in Christ since returning to His Church in college. What does the verse say “I complete what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His body the Church.” Now, Paul isn’t saying something is lacking in Christ’s suffering and death on the Cross.
What might he be saying? Well as, Christ looks upon His Church as His Bride, who He loves, He loves her to the point of offering Himself for her upon the Cross. It is from the Cross that She receives Her life. We, in our sufferings, can express that same love for the Church, Christ’s Bride, who we are a part of from the moment of our baptism. Hence, via God’s grace given through His love, Christ allow’s one to strengthen the Church through the embracing of suffering as Christ did for Her upon the Cross.
God doesn’t rejoice in our suffering, but through Christ, it is now a means from which love can strengthen the Church, His Bride. Suffering need not be a barrier to love anymore. Suffering is now like a spiritual turbine through which life in the Church is animated and energized by the flames of love made known by a willing embrace of one’s own suffering.
My Lens For The Annunciation This Year
This post is going up on the Feast of the Annunciation. The Feast where the initial taste of Christ’s victory is offered to His Bride, the Church. I enter this Feast not as a stoic, but as a feeling human being, who like Christ asked for the chalice to pass by Him. Yet, as Christ spoke in the garden “My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39b). I thank the Holy Spirit who took me to the above wisdom of my brother John in Carmel. From whom I received strength to respond like Christ “Thy will be done.” I know the peace that God’s love allows my heart to rest on is a peace that the Spirit allows to have its roots planted in the Garden of Carmel. A garden of untold nourishment. As another brother, Bl. Titus Brandsma wrote:
“Stay with me, Jesus, my delight, your presence near makes all things right.”