Tenebrae

By Bhuck (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Tenebrae is Latin for darkness. For three days, the daily prayers of the Universal Church slowly put out the candles, until the last one, is extinguished during the Nocturns, that is, the evening services of the Liturgy of the Hours.

That last candle is the Earthly life of Jesus.

So I was thinking, how little I really did for our Lord this Lent. I was startled that Easter had come so soon, and so feel ambushed and under-prepared.  While thinking about this, I realized the Crucifixion also can represent when the mortal and material things crowd out our recognition and memory of God.

One could be forgiven for thinking that this sets one up for failure.  After all, we are physical creatures with… things to do, right? And if our attention strays for a moment, what do we do if that kills God?  Indeed, a number of my non Christian and even Non-Catholic friends scorn the crucifix as  glorifying suffering and pain.

Tomorrow, we even have a service called “Adoration of the Holy Cross” where folks crowd down the isle to give a Crucified image of Jesus a kiss. In their hearts, they are not kissing a mere image. That’s not the point. They are kissing God, as He died for them.

Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So with these strange Catholic rites, how does this prepare us for Easter joy? Why do my pathetic and scrupulous musings have to do with the God of Faith Hope, and Love?

There is one thing that separates maudlin sentiment, passing and pleasing sensations for the deep and abiding foundation of True Love. That would be– you guessed it– the willingness to suffer for the sake of another.  God could have redeemed us in other ways– he could have simply showered us with good feelings and made all that bad sin go away.  But he didn’t.

By Cuddy Wifter (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This strikes at the heart of why many people turn their hearts away from God.  They see the suffering around them, and wonder why a rainbow doesn’t just part the clouds and take away what you feel is wrong. If God is all Good, how can he stand any of this wretched calamity that surrounds us?

James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We spend so much time shaking our fists at the heavens we forget some basic things.  First of all, God isn’t redeeming perfect spheres of holy goodness. He’s redeeming willful and pride loving human beings who naturally dwell on what benefits *them* first.  We like sin. We forget why it is sin at all. We pretend it doesn’t hurt others. We forget it damages ourselves, and those we love most.

We argue on the eve of the Crucifixion who is greatest. We deny knowing those we love and care about, and claim to want to follow into death– and do it persistently.  We scramble away in fright when it is suggested that someone might be a traitor, but don’t ask themselves– could it be me, in my heart?

The examples I use aren’t just anyone. They aren’t the worst examples I can think of– they are the best!  They’re the disciples and first saints of our Holy Church.  IF they can fall that hard, what does that say about the rest of us? So if God is Love itself, then we must need to suffer to understand, to truly comprehend the value of Love, and what it all means.  Most feelings that people claim are love involve only pleasure.

By Meister der Ilsung-Madonna (anagoria)[see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

Pleasure is fleeting. It makes you feel better for a short time, but it never quite satisfies completely. I mean, why is it we always write songs about regrets the next morning after “a night of love”? Was it really love at all, if you aren’t concerned how that other person still feels, and what they will do the next day? What about for the rest of your life– or Eternity?  Do you still remember your first crush? I do, and I still pray for him.  It’s not that I’m particularly holy, it’s that he did some fairly– memorable things.  He showed me that he needed particular prayer in a way I’ll never forget.

By Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Love isn’t just suffering,–nor is it just caring. Compassion is a different word for a reason. It’s Love because that suffering is a willing, conscious, and persistent sacrifice on their behalf. You feel joy in your sorrow because how ever bad it is for you,  know it will help someone else. It is being glad that you can do something, that you can contribute anything to the well-being of another. Their happiness is more important than your own.  And you are supposed to love everybody, because God does.

That’s the secret– it’s not just us. God suffered for us, when He didn’t have to. There is a tradition that states that Jesus experienced– from the prayers in Gethsemane to the Crucifixion and Death– all the suffering that you and I experience in our lifetime– in those moments– from all people throughout history, before and after His earthly Life.  This is the moment were God downloaded all suffering any of us could comprehend and all that we ever had – all at once. And he used it all to save us from ourselves. But wait, there’s more.

Suffering also changes us.  Suffering takes a lot of stupid silly stuff out of the equation of our hearts.  Suddenly what is important is vital, and what is fleeting falls by the wayside. I was a much better Catholic when I was broke and praying that the lights stayed on, that we had a roof over our heads tomorrow and that there would be a next meal.   The problem is, you have to use it, you have to guide your path in a certain way–even in that pain, strive to love God. Or your suffering is meaningless, it simply perpetuates itself with no value. It’s a complex issue, but who ever said life was easy?

We don’t like to think about that, because– if God loves us, why wouldn’t  he want us comfortable?  Well, like it or not, that’s what Heaven is about.  Heaven is eternal, your iPad, this blog, my web habit, my hunger– is not.

The second thing is that we discount Heaven because we hate Hell.  We hate Hell because we  hate Necessity and forget Purgatory.   And Purgatory is, you guessed it, more suffering for the object of cleansing our souls to be fit to stand before God.

By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The “temporary” Joys of Easter reflect the Eternal Joys of Heaven. Lent was like our hat-tip to Purgatory. Because both Lent, and Purgatory come to an End. God’s Love, never ends.  That’s why there has to be a Hell.  He loves you too much to let you fade into nothing.

Hell is the absence of God. We have a lot of guesses what this might be like, but ultimately all who go there choose Hell over God because they love something else more than God. Some theologians say that in Hell, people just become closer to whatever that is that they loved more than God– for all eternity.  So… if you can’t stand God, rejoice~! What ever it is you love more will always be with you.  And you don’t even have to be Christian.

That makes us Christians sad, but we are weirdos. We want everyone to be close to God, because he is Love and Mercy itself.  God is the best of Everything.

Antonio González Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a good thing that we don’t have to be perfect.  He loves us, and all we have to do is return the favor genuinely, day after day. If we fail, we have to own up to our iniquities (that would be confession), dust ourselves off (remember our baptism), face him with Love ( Mass and the Eucharist) and try again to better embody His Goodness and Mercy.

There have been a lot of people who walked around, talking about stuff, helping and healing people.  There have been so many that we only rarely even remember their names, let alone what they said.  Only one ever volunteered for Crucifixion.

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