Thursday, May 29, 2014

When Discouraged By The Church Or By Our Sins, Look Up and Hope

Icon of Christ the High Priest
We've all experienced, at one time or another, the spread of some particular cold or stomach ailment.  People will say, "Well, it started with a scratchy throat and then two days later I started to cough."  That's when others will say, "Oh no.  That's what I had!  It's going to get worse!"  Soon enough and everybody is talking about (or suffering with) this ailment.

In my life as a priest, I've sometimes noticed something similar in the spiritual life.  In the course of pastoral work, I will hear amazingly similar things from a variety of people all within the same time period.  It's like they are all experiencing the same spiritual virus.  One such spiritual virus going around is discouragement, and I want to propose today's Feast of the Ascension as the remedy.

Discouragement is deadly.  Firstly, we can become discouraged by our own weaknesses.  Our humanity--our flesh--is prone to fall.  The person who struggles with the same sins over and over again can be tempted towards discouragement.  In this instance, discouragement can lead to giving up on prayer, giving up trying to fight, throwing oneself more and more into sin, and even outright rebellion against God and his commandments.  It leads to an interior sadness.

Another type of discouragement comes from experiencing the weaknesses of others, particularly in the Church.  I think this type of discouragement produces alienation, anger, separation from the sacraments, alienation between ecclesiastical authorities and laity, and rancor.  It also leads to sadness.

In recent months, I've encountered a good number of folks--lay and clergy--who feel discouraged by the Church.  Just as in the first type of discouragement people tend to give up on themselves, in the second type people tend to give up on the Church.  They see the weaknesses of others or the weaknesses of various structures, and they give up practicing the Faith, receiving the Sacraments, and loving the Church.  Giving up on our flesh and giving up on the flesh of others is not the answer.

If that were the answer, God would have saved us by taking away our flesh!  Instead, he became flesh.  Today, the Feast of the Ascension, we celebrate the fact that Jesus redeems our flesh.  One of my favorite hymns is, "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus."  In the final verse we sing, "Thou within the veil hast entered; Robed in Flesh our great high priest!"  That's awesome!  Just like a priest dons special vestments in order to enter the sanctuary, so Jesus--who is the One High Priest--robes himself in our humanity.  He doesn't take away our flesh.  Instead, he brings our weak human nature into the sanctuary of the Eternal God!  In doing so, he gives us hope.  The Feast of the Ascension is a feast of hope.

The problems that confront each one of us in our own flesh and the problems that we encounter in the weaknesses of others are not simply to be looked over or ignored.  We should be diligent in growing in personal holiness and in calling forth the best from our brothers and sisters.  But, our weaknesses and the weaknesses of others should never--NEVER--never cause us to become discouraged.  How do we keep from discouragement?

We have to keep Jesus at the center of everything.  We have to remember Him first.  He--the eternal Son of God--became flesh.  He took on our human nature.  He stands in heaven in that human nature. He is there in the flesh; our flesh.  When we see our weak human nature, when we see the weak human nature of others, let's remember that Jesus Christ stands--wounds still present--before the Father.  Where he--in his human flesh--has gone, we have every hope to follow.

If I were to guess, one of the most common pieces of counsel that I give to people is, "Don't get discouraged."  Discouragement is to surrender to the Evil One.

If you are overwhelmed by your sins, don't be discouraged.  If you feel like no matter what you do to be holy, you fail, don't be discouraged.  If you feel like people in the Church have harmed you, ignored you, maltreated you, been oblivious to your needs, or are just way off course, don't be discouraged. Instead, look up. Look up and see Jesus standing at the Altar in Heaven.  He stands there with our humanity.  He stands there and intercedes for us in the flesh. Whatever weaknesses of the flesh that we encounter today--be they our own or those of others--we must always see them in the light of the Ascension.  The Ascension does not immediately take away the weakness of our humanity.  But, if we continually make acts of Faith in the Ascension, then these weaknesses can never defeat us.  Discouragement is a deadly disease.  The Ascension is a life-giving cure.

"Jesus, I firmly believe that you ascended into heaven, bringing with you our frail human nature.  Whenever I encounter my weaknesses or the weaknesses of others, let me not become discouraged.  Instead, let me hope in you.  By Faith in your ascension, increase in me a firm Hope that I too will someday--despite all of my weaknesses--be with you in Heaven.  May I always live as a member of your Body, the Church.  Amen."

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Fr. Barnes. I see myself in much of it, but be assured, though I may get discouraged from time to time, I am a Catholic first and will persevere to the end, in prayer and Sacrament. God bless you.