For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.
MATTHEW 16:25 DOUAY-RHEIMS
I write this on Good Friday of 2017, and it is my reflection not only on the passion of Christ but the nature of life itself. I have been on both sides of it. I was a Christian who lost his faith and embraced atheism. Then through the intercession of our Lady and my wife, I came back from that living death to the new life I live now as a Roman Catholic. In my journey, one thing remained with me. It was and remains the Unchanging Fact. Life is suffering.
All of the world's schemes, philosophies, and all the rest are vain attempts to escape the Unchanging Fact. There are those who have gotten the raw deal in life. Perhaps they were born in poverty or were cursed with some crippling or disfiguring disease. They never got the breaks in life. Life broke them instead. These are the poor in spirit.
The rich in spirit are those who got the breaks in life. They were born into wealth and comfort. They went on to success, fame, and the rest. Then, they discovered how disappointing and empty life can be. So, they destroyed themselves in loveless relationships, alcohol, drugs, and the rest. Then, there are those who look perfect on the outside, but their home lives are a wreck. I've lived long enough to conclude that comfort is the shortest path to madness. If you doubt this, witness all those celebrity meltdowns.
Material affluence often leads to spiritual bankruptcy, and there are those who are poor who would love to run the risk of that spiritual bankruptcy. They commit the sin of envy not realizing what they covet. As James 4:3 puts it, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." God will never answer a prayer to be made spiritually bankrupt.
As I meditated during the Stations of the Cross today, I thought about a lesser message of the cross. The greater message is obviously about the Atonement and Christ's love and reconciliation. But the lesser message has to do with Christ's admonition to take up our own cross and follow Him. Why should we do this? Why should we also embark on our own personal via dolorosa? The answer is twofold.
The first part of the answer is the fact that you are on the path of suffering regardless of what you do. I rejected faith in Christ because I lived under the delusion that perhaps life had something to offer. After a decade of this, I realized that it didn't. You can either suffer with Christ or suffer without Christ. Christ endeavors to disabuse us of the notion that life has much to offer.
The second part of the answer is that by choosing Christ you are choosing life. This is that abundant life Christ spoke about. This should not be confused with the heretical gospel of the prospetarians who believe that Jesus suffered and died, so you could get a Mercedes-Benz. This is that abundant life where you become dead to the world but alive in Christ as St. Paul references again and again. I call this mindset "holy indifference."
I have suffered much in this life, yet I don't consider myself to have suffered as much as the saints, martyrs, the apostles, and Christ Himself. Yet, my own experience confirms what they teach. Life has nothing to offer us. Life does not satisfy. Life is suffering.
The best life has to offer is a momentary delusion and the amnesia about our own fates. We act as if death will happen to others but not to us. In the meantime, we suffer. What compounds the suffering is that it is meaningless. But with Christ, it has meaning.
This is the heroic virtue of Jesus Christ. He took His own poverty, His own suffering, and His very death and turned it into a gift to God the Father on behalf of us. And we also are given the opportunity to turn our own miserable lives into a similar offering. In that embrace of our own sufferings and crosses, we find meaning, purpose, and life. You can die for nothing, or you can die for something. No matter what, we all die.
I have often wondered why God allowed me to go through all the things I did, but I see the blessing in it all now. God was bankrupting me in order to offer me the true riches He had to offer. As a Protestant and a Calvinist, I accepted suffering, but I saw no value in it. It was pointless and stupid. Then, I fell away into atheism which was also suffering that was pointless and stupid. Then, I encountered Catholicism, and I was told that my suffering could have value and purpose. For some reason, that resonated with me.
I don't always get answers to my prayers. Like Paul, I am left with my thorns. But I know that these thorns are for my ultimate good. I am grateful for my suffering, and I see the gifts in my afflictions. It is a poor father who provides a comfortable life to his children causing them to become spoiled and soft. They only love their father for what he gives them and not for who he is.
God is no sugar daddy. With Christ's work on the cross, the penalty for sin has been removed, and the path to salvation has been opened. Yet, we are still left with suffering. God expects us to share in both the glory of Christ and also the suffering of Christ. He could suspend this order of things in an instant, but He does not.
Anyone could embrace a savior that takes away the pain. It is another thing to embrace a savior who expects us to suffer and offer that suffering up. People don't want the suffering Messiah. I think this is why Judas Iscariot did what he did. He signed up for the glorious Messiah that would defeat the Romans and bring glory to Judea in conquest and prosperity. This was the notion in the minds of the other apostles as well. They didn't get it.
People want a Messiah who will transform them and their lives and the meaning of life itself. Jesus actually delivers on all these counts. Yet, we are so blind and stupid that we just don't see it. People just want the Mercedes-Benz. They don't want the birthright. They want the bowl of lentils.
To appreciate what Christ has to offer, I think it helps to be driven to the absolute edge of suicide and despair. You have to become utterly sick of this world and this life. In the blackness of that sickness and emptiness, Christ can shine a light, and you can see it. It is easy to turn your back on that darkness and leave it behind.
I have Christ in my life. This is what matters to me. I don't have a Plan B for this life. I had one before, and God let me take it. And I found that it was not for me. There is only Christ. Nothing else than Christ will ever satisfy me. Nothing else can make me happy.
Life will always be suffering. That can be endured. What cannot be endured is suffering without meaning. Christ gives meaning to my suffering and to my life. I offer that life to Him. Without Him, I would have no life. And when I lose this life, I hope it will be given back to me in the Resurrection.