Reflections On and Excerpts from Benedict Groeschel's
y Matt Abbott
"My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" The unforgettable words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, uttered when He was dying on the cross. How many times in our lives do we at least inwardly cry out such anguished words? For me, it has been many. Though my sufferings - or imagined sufferings - pale in comparison to those of Our Lord, I still can't help but wail with despair (or something very close to it). Why? Because I am weak, and oh-so-prone to self pity. Poor me. Poor me. Woe is me.
Without a doubt, the most difficult task of being an authentic Christian is having to endure suffering. This despite believing that suffering, brought about by original sin, can be meritorious if we unite our own sufferings with those of Our Lord, who suffered like no other, so that we may have the possibility of eternal life. Suffering, for many, is physical, but for many more, it is mental and spiritual. Depression, angst...that feeling of melancholy.
No one is more aware of this reality than Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR - the renowned author of numerous Catholic books, among them Arise from Darkness: What To Do When Life Doesn't Make Sense (1995, Ignatius Press). Arise from Darkness is an easy yet compelling read that, in the words of the book's back cover, "offers help and guidance for any Christian troubled or burdened by life. If you are struggling with fear, anxiety, grief, loss of loved ones, hurt, anger or anything that makes life difficult...then this book was written for you." Indeed.
The book has 184 pages, with seven chapters, an epilogue, a collection of prayers and thoughts, suggested readings and index. The chapter I would like to focus on is Chapter 5, "When We Are Our Own Worst Enemies."
I have been just that on many occasions. I still am. I know I'm supposed to place all of my trust in Our Lord; but, I must say, it is easier said than done. I'm always fretting over things that I have no control over, and I get angry because I can't control them! What a vicious cycle. It's worth quoting some lengthy passages from this very poignant chapter.
"We have considered the problems that we may have with others and our difficulties with the Church. Now we must look at the problems we have with ourselves. You may find that if you look into your own life (especially as you get older) one of the most important realizations in the process of maturation is that we bring many, if not most, of our problems on ourselves. When things don't make sense, it's often because we didn't make sense out of things. There may be some consolation in knowing that this is a general human experience.
"One finds the tendency to make troubles for oneself even in the lives of saints. Like the rest of us, even these special people brought on many of their own troubles. Few are exempt from being their own enemies at least some of the time. Saints, sinners, biblical personages, and even modern celebrities all gather together under the great banner that says: "Let's sink our own boat." It's one of the more obvious and universal signs of original sin that with a series of well thought out moves, carefully considered, prudently studied, and done with great expeditious-ness and even prayer, we sink our boats, saints and sinners alike.
"In many cases, one has to be a bit of a sinner to be one's own worst enemy. However, it is not by any means necessary. You can do this just as effectively even if you're devout--you will just do it a bit more piously. We can all say with a certain amount of conviction that 'we've met the enemy and it's us' (pp. 85 - 86).
How do we avoid being our own worst enemies? "We should organize our lives around eternity to avoid self-destruction," asserts Fr. Groeschel. "I'm not saying that everybody should enter the cloister. That's a rare vocation. But I am saying that whatever we do, no matter what evaluation other people may make, we should consciously and purposely live every day so that it contributes to our salvation...."
In a particularly interesting portion of the chapter, Fr. Groeschel cites examples of "imperfect" behavior in Sacred Scripture and from Church history:
"I occasionally give retreats to bishops. I used to give more, but in my old age I'm getting a little too honest, so I don't get as many invitations now. Bishops, as you may not know, are a very battered and beat-up group. When I give a retreat to the bishops, I have to be quite gentle because they know better than anybody else how miserable things really are. Years ago, bishops never heard the truth. Now they never hear anything good or even nice.
"Whenever I give a retreat to bishops, I try to remind them that they are the successors of the apostles. But remember what happened to the apostles. The twelve apostles were there for the great Passover of the New Testament, and they ran away. They ran away! Doesn't that tell you something? St. Augustine always reminded his fellow bishops that one does not necessarily become impeccable upon becoming a bishop. Bishops have to watch out more than anyone else because from those to whom much is given, much is expected.
"In the New Testament, we find many examples of people who sank their own boats--St. Peter, Judas, the high priests. The high priests missed the Messiah because they were being expedient. Aren't we humans peculiar creatures? I suspect that both Peter and Judas, on the one hand, and the high priests, on the other, were operating on resentment. Peter and Judas resented our Lord's not setting himself up as a secular messiah. Jesus didn't come to Jerusalem and turn the gates of the temple to gold and the spears of the Roman soldiers to butter. He stayed up in Galilee, healing all of those lepers and Gyro-Phoenicians and preaching in places like Nairn, which to this day doesn't have a main street. Peter and Judas said, 'Why don't you go down to Jerusalem? What are you doing up here?' And then when he finally decided to go to Jerusalem it was the wrong time as far as they were concerned. They resented Jesus because he went down even though he knew he was going to be killed." (pp. 95 - 96)
"The saintly Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England. She had never been raised a Catholic, but she had been baptized a Catholic. By excommunicating her, Pius absolved the English Catholics of their responsibility of allegiance to the Queen, putting them into the position of possibly being traitors. Initially Elizabeth herself did not have strong anti-Catholic feelings. But she was put in a political situation by a pope who was very saintly but who many think did the wrong thing. English Catholics are likely to tell you he made a lot of martyrs unnecessarily.
"The history of the Catholic Church in the United States is filled with dumb moves. A century ago, thousands of immigrants from Ukraine and Carpathia came to the United States. They belonged to the Ukrainian and Ruthenian Rite of the Catholic Church. By ancient custom, their diocesan priests were allowed to marry and raise families. At that time there were no Eastern Rite dioceses, so these devout immigrants were cared for by Latin Rite bishops. Some of the more conservative bishops, mostly Irish and German immigrants themselves, went along and accepted the tradition of married priests even though they found it foreign to their experience.
"However, the leader of the Americanizing movement in the Church, Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul (then considered a great progressive), so badly treated the Eastern Rite Catholics that hundreds of thousands of them left the Church and became Orthodox. I have often heard Archbishop Ireland called the founder of the Orthodox Church in America, because he lacked a broad vision of the Church."
So, we see that even the best of the best can make mistakes. But what separates "us" from "them" is their extraordinary trust in Divine Providence and their remarkable holiness. Few of us will see sainthood; yet we are all called to be saints. We must do our best. Eternal life is all that really matters. But, to repeat the old cliché, it is easier said than done. I'd like to think that as soon as I finish this article, I will become docile, joyous, and saintly. The perfect example of a faithful Catholic. But I know better. Every day is fraught with troubles - both real and imagined, in my case. And every week or so I seem to be on the brink of despair. Woe is me. Woe is me.
So please pray for me, dear readers. And I will pray for those who truly have the heaviest of crosses to bear. And, of course, they bear them with a joy and trust that I might never have.
http://www.catholic.org IL, US
Matt Abbott - N/A, 773 769-6416
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