Monday, August 18, 2014

My Good Friday Talk on the Seven Last Words of Jesus

On Good Friday, 2014, St. Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church had a reflection on the "Seven Last Words" that Jesus Spoke from the Cross.  I was asked to reflect on the words "It is finished."  I've had enough people ask me about my talk that I'm posting it here:   

There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.”

Our Lady of Good Counsel, where I grew up.
Picture from their web page.
It is finished. I might have spoken these words to Jesus as I wandered away from the Catholic Church. I had been raised in the 70's, and though I went to Catholic grade school and high school, it was a time when children weren't being catechized in the Rockford Diocese, with the thought that it would be above their heads and should wait until they were older, but older was too late.  When I began to drift away from the Church in my teens, I had nothing to hold onto, no foundation.  

Yet, even though my belief was waning, there was some part of me that still understood the importance of the Sacraments. I remember meeting with a teacher and crying because I didn't want to be confirmed. It would be wrong, because I just didn't believe. If I really hadn't believed, I would have waltzed through, no problem. I didn't catch the irony, that Jesus was reaching out to me in the hope that I might not leave Him.

I eventually stopped going to Mass at all. When I left the Church, there were plenty of people--plenty of ideologies--ready to jump in and fill the gap. We're made for worship, and if we're not worshiping God, we'll worship something else, whether it be money, work, good times, or, quite often, the self.

So I took the way of Eve. I know better than God. What does the
St. Therese of Lixieux, Doctor of the Church
Picture from EWTN
Catholic Church have to offer me? Sure, they have Doctors of the Church like St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Teresa of Avila. They have tradition that dates back 2,000 years and scholars and laymen and religious who have been studying and proclaiming and leading the way since the very beginning. What did they know compared to the latest pop psychologist or celebrity on television? So I went on ignoring God, or even worse, dismissing Him in a Star Wars mentality. The force is in everything. I was getting my religion from science fiction films.

I might have been finished with God, but He wasn't finished with me. He'd pop up every once in a while, in a pang of conscience or a warm childhood memory of Midnight Mass or the thought of the warm and generous priests and nuns I had known, but I'd push Him aside and go MY way.

I finally heard Him calling me back to Him and His Church a few years ago, but this time I listened. It was subtle. I missed the sense of community I'd grown up with, the social aspect of belonging to a group of people who believed in something greater than the thrill of the job or the excitement of the latest toy. Something greater than themselves. Something not of this world. And I missed that glorious way the beauty of the Sacraments and the traditions of the Church lifted my eyes up to God. 

I wanted to experience that again, so I made a half-hearted attempt to attend Mass. Infrequently. When I found time, because I was a very busy girl. Busy with stuff.  I had tried a few denominations, but they didn't feel right. I went to OLPH. I tried Saint Kateri, but you were too happy for me, and I was wary of emotionalism without foundation, or spirituality. I'd seen enough "spirituality" in the New Age practices when I lived in Los Angeles.

The final knock on the head was a copy of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis that I'd had on the shelf for years. I finally read it.  It's a series of letters written by the demon Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, giving him advice on how to secure the damnation of an ordinary young man.  One passage caught my eye.

"Surely you know that if a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that suits him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches." 

Ouch!  He was talking about me.  Unfortunately, there were many other references in that book that were applicable to my relationship with God, and since this book was essentially a manual on how to get to Hell, I thought I better make a sincere effort to get back on the right path.

I made the decision that I would come back, not when I felt like it, but with a 100% commitment. And I would get to know, really get to know the Church and her teachings.  I started coming to Mass every week at St. Kateri because it was close and I'd have no excuse not to make it.  I learned that St. Kateri had Bible studies, and I joined.  I delved into the teachings of the Church, actually cracked open my Catechism of the Catholic Church, and I ate up those wonderful Lighthouse CD's--the ones we have on the welcome cart-- like they were candy.  

And I was amazed by what I learned.  That Jesus' yes to God in the Garden of Gethsemane--"Let your will be done."--was a reversal of Adam's no to God in the Garden of Eden. That Mary was the new Arc of the Covenant.

I learned that every single one of us will live forever, but we get to choose where we will spend it.  I learned that when Jesus died on that cross, that he knew every sin I had ever committed, every sin I will ever commit, and he still loved me enough to die for me so that I could be with Him for eternity. He died for me, personally.

I was amazed, but I was more than a little irritated, too.  Why hadn't I known all this stuff? Why didn't 12 years of religious education even touch on these amazing facts, and tidbits, and traditions?  And why hadn't anyone explained that I could have a personal relationship with God? That I could  talk to God, and that He would answer?

I also learned, through an incredible spiritual director, how to discern if it was God who was talking or the Enemy. For example,  I remember when I first began to attend daily Mass, I was embarrassed. These were REAL Catholics who were faithful, and they probably knew that I was an impostor. They'll think I'm arrogant or trying to be holier-than-though, or that I think I'm special because I'm here every morning. That would be the voice of the enemy, because of course God wants you to be at Mass if you can. 

The Enemy, however, will pop into your head for all he's worth to keep you away from God, and there's really only one way around that.

I began to develop a relationship with God, and in His infinite mercy, He timed it so that by the time my husband had a serious work accident that required emergency brain surgery and a long recover, I already had that relationship with Him.  Jesus and Mary were there to support me through the entire ordeal. It wasn't an easy time, but He actually gave me grace and, yes, joy during those rough times. And I reached that point in our relationship by talking to God, by spending those 10 minutes a day with Jesus that Father Albert mentions occasionally.  Those ten minutes will change your life.

I didn't come back to Christ and His Church because I was brilliant and figured out some equation to better living. I came back because He called and guided me back. I came back because, even though I thought I was finished with Him, Jesus wasn't finished with me. He still isn't.

I think that when He said "It is finished", He was referring to His time on earth showing us how to be his disciples, through examples, so that when He rose from the dead to conquer sin and death and eventually returned to the right hand of His Father, we would be prepared to carry on with his work, with His guidance and that of the Holy Spirit.

I couldn't find the artist attribute,
but this is one of my favorite paintings.
When Jesus told Peter to walk on the water, He showed us to always keep our eyes on Him.

When the woman was cured of the hemorrhage, he showed us we should always trust and have faith, no matter what the trial or how long it lasted.

When He called Zacchaeus the tax collector down from the tree and had dinner at his house, He showed us not to separate ourselves from sinners like the Pharisees, but to love them.

And when He said, "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone" He showed us we were ALL sinners, that we should NEVER judge, but forgive, just as He forgives us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

It is finished.

Christ's time on earth as man is finished, but His role in your life is not, if you will only invite Him in.

Take the next minute to reflect on that one thing that's keeping you from having a personal relationship with Christ. Your worries, your fears, that vice, that strained relationship, that past sin that YOU think He can't forgive. Hand it over to Him. Let Him in, because Jesus isn't finished with you.

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