The following are not my own words, but they are exactly my heart and the Truth that my life experiences have taught me; Suffering and gratitude make up the only path to sanctity. In reading the facebook posts that friends have been posting about the things in which they are thankful for this year, I realized I don’t have so many of those things and I was tempted to feel a bit sorry for myself. But in reading these words of St. Faustina Kowalska I began to count my blessings into infinity! Because:
Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering, we learn who our true friend is.
True love is measured by the thermometer of suffering. Jesus, I thank You for the little daily crosses, for opposition to my endeavors, for the hardships of communal life, for the misinterpretation of my intentions, for humiliations at the hands of others, for the harsh way in which we are treated, for false suspicions, for poor health and loss of strength, for self-denial, for dying to myself, for lack of recognition in everything, for the upsetting of all my plans.
Thank You, Jesus, for interior sufferings, for dryness of spirit, for terrors, fears and incertitudes, for the darkness and the deep interior night, for temptations and various ordeals, for torments too difficult to describe, especially for those which no one will understand, for the hour of death with its fierce struggle and all its bitterness.
I thank You, Jesus, You who first drank the cup of bitterness before You gave it to me, in a much milder form. I put my lips to this cup of Your holy will. Let all be done according to Your good pleasure; let that which Your wisdom ordained before the ages be done to me. I want to drink the cup to its last drop, and not seek to know the reason why. In bitterness is my joy, in hopelessness is my trust. In You, O Lord all is good, all is a gift of Your paternal Heart. I do not prefer consolations over bitterness or bitterness over consolations, but thank You, O Jesus, for everything! It is my delight to fix my gaze upon You, O incomprehensible God! My spirit abides in these mysterious dwelling places, and there I am at home. I know very well the dwelling place of my Spouse. I feel there is not a single drop of blood in me that does not burn with love for You.
O Uncreated Beauty, whoever comes to know You once cannot love anything else. I can feel the bottomless abyss of my soul, and nothing will fill it but God himself. I feel that I am drowned in Him like a single grain of sand in a bottomless ocean. -The Diary of St. Faustina Kowalska [342, 343]
For being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the number of Americans affected by homelessness has reached a staggering high. These often dirty, unkempt persons–and their equally grungy baggage–slumped on so many street corners, glare at us in stark contradiction as we live comfortably in our clean, warm homes; tend meticulously manicured lawns; and sit in the leather, heated, lumbar-supported seats of our fancy cars.
Many individuals and families without a home to call their own, have only America’s deep economic problems to blame. Families who were securely middle class, enjoying the many luxuries and conveniences of the American Dream, suddenly lost their jobs and found themselves unable to care for themselves and their families. Some are able to move in with extended family members while they work to rebuild their careers and their livelihood. Many more are not so blessed with this safety net, and they and their children, end up in shelters, living in vehicles, and even on the streets. Not that it is ever charitable to label anyone “those people”, but it simply doesn’t apply any longer. People, so much like you and me, are finding themselves in deep financial strife for as many reasons as there are worn-out, tear-streaked and dirt-blotched faces walking the streets, grappling at hope for the future.
It’s true, there are some people who choose to live a poor and homeless life for spiritual or noble endeavors, but those folks are rare. It is much more common for a person, or a whole family, to find themselves on the streets due to poverty, mental illness, developmental disabilities, loss of employment, and addiction. Not only is the challenge that caused the homelessness seemingly insurmountable, but the shame, ridicule, judgment and hardships, experienced by the poor and homeless, add a humiliating, frightening, and wearying, effect on the lives of each person, and each family member, touched by this suffering.
As I write this, I have been homeless for the past 5 years. But even before then, I experienced homelessness in my family of origin many times during my childhood. Being on my own since age 15, I have slept in my car, shelters, various public buildings, and on countless couches of friends and generous acquaintances all across this great country. So, I’m not exactly coming from your perspective, if you’ve never experienced homelessness. However, I am not a “stereo-typical” homeless person, either. If you know me at all, you can probably agree that I seem to be an unusual blend of abject poverty and the middle class! I actually think I can identify more with your experience of life than I can with most people living on the streets or packed in homeless shelters. So when I say “we” in this article, I include myself in that ‘we’.
One of the habits we fall into is ignoring the problems of others, usually when they represent something that we are afraid of. The thought of becoming so poor that we could find ourselves homeless is scary! And it’s not just affecting the people on the margins of society anymore. It affects our neighbors, friends, and family members. Being in such close proximity to one of our biggest fears can, undoubtedly, cause us to turn a blind eye in order to “feel” immune. However, even if you are blessed to never come too close to losing the roof above your head, you can find ways to help you identify with those in, arguably, the most difficult situation of their lives. Why do you want to identify with the homeless? Because common ground builds a conduit for compassion and mercy to flow between us and those who are suffering. Think about it, we all experience poverty in different ways.
Some of us experience a spiritual poverty. It’s like we are floating in the air, tethered to our God with only enough Faith to keep us from being completely lost to the anti-Christian society around us. This causes Christ to experience homelessness, because our hearts, intended as a home for Christ, are littered and overwhelmed by so many activities, responsibilities, and expectations that we barely have enough time or energy to clear a walkway to the cluttered throne for God to squeeze Himself onto. That is, we don’t find regular time to pray and invite Him to help us clear out the mess and prioritize.
Some of us experience an emotional poverty. In the name of progress and efficiency, nearly all of our interpersonal experiences have gone virtual. For many of us, most of our communication is done through text, email and social media. As a result, we’ve lost that sweet connectedness found in hearing the sound of a familiar voice with its tone, inflection, and uniqueness. In a not quite unrelated topic, depression is continually peaking at an all-time high, too. Meaningful interaction has been a number one casualty to our fast, isolating, and convenient twenty-first century societal norms. People feel alone in a crowd of faces, chins to chests, as fingers swipe and tap away at smart phones. Man was never intended to be an island.
Some of us experience moral poverty. In a pleasure seeking world, obsessed with instant gratification and encouraging a sense of entitlement, a chosen soul can be entirely consumed without even realizing it. Where do we hear messages that remind us to reject the worldly standards of the good life? Where do we hear about the eternal hope and joy awaiting us in heaven and how to get there? In the Church, right? How often are you in church, soaking in this message? Once or twice a week? Let’s say you are in church 3 hours a week and sleep 7 hours a night. Are your 3 hours enough to counter-balance the 116 other hours a week in which you are bombarded with “all is relative” messages, laden in anti-Christian values and moral standards, as you go about your busy lives?
We can see how easy it is for individuals to experience a spiritual, emotional or moral poverty in today’s America. And I would argue that as bad and scary as material poverty and homelessness are, they are not near as bad as these poverties of the soul. It may not seem like it’s a big deal. After all, we have a warm home, a comfy bed, and food every night. Geesh! We even get to have and do so many thing we really want, that goes beyond just what we need. But if we accidentally find ourselves in a moment of silence or self-reflection, we can acknowledge that something just isn’t quite secure and grounded inside us. Material homelessness is temporary, even if it is experienced for the duration of one’s earthly pilgrimage. The state of the soul, on the other hand, determines our eternal future. We have to live with this future forever and ever.
My hope is that by acknowledging that I don’t have it all together, I can not only bear with someone who finds themselves in such dire circumstances as homelessness, but that I will also be moved to do something, anything, to help where I can. I hope you will too. Jesus said, “The poor will always be among you.” Those who endure poverty and homelessness are a valuable light and witness to us who are blessed to varying degrees of greater wealth. They might point out that we’ve been duped by the world into finding our security in a perceived permanent earthly dwelling. The poor-in-possessions might remind us to be poor in spirit; that is, to be humble, holy, and pure in our daily lives and interactions with others. And serving and sharing with the homeless can earn for us, not just precious jewels in our heavenly crown, but also a righteous attitude of gratitude for all that we have and enjoy each day. Count your blessings. Do you find an abundance? What can you share with those in need?
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of Truth and Love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it; Always. Whenever you are in doubt that that is God’s way; the way the world is meant to be, think of [Always] and then try to do it His way.” -Gandhi
Ghandi had it! The pure essence of Christ-likeness. And he wasn’t even Christian (per se). The Eastern Spirituality of mindfulness, attachment-less-ness and non-violent/non-conformity could go a long way for us Western Christians striving to live out loud the Faith we profess. That is, be prepared to offer the other cheek with no self-defense and no retaliation in the offensive face of the violence and injustice of others, be they your neighbor or your government–even unto material desolation, bodily harm or death. Only do not obey unjust/immoral laws, decrees and societal norms. Never demand an eye for an eye. Give both your eyes, willingly, if evil takes them.
Maybe I sound a little too “Braveheart”ish (minus all the killing as a means to an end), but American Christians, we have come to the point of being persecuted for our faith, our values and our right to live according to our conscience. It’s real. It’s really happening. Hating people who sin is not helpful. Hating sin is not helpful if it is only a thinly veiled disgust of human persons and does not move you to Holy action. No. Love is the answer. Not the cliché love in romantic songs and love stories. Not the sexual love of a very base and carnal society. And not the codependent love that demands its reciprocation.
It is the True Love of God and of all that is Good. What is Good? Every created thing is Good. Even the man who sins in a most brazen way is God’s precious creation. Yes, even you, who fear that if the truth of your inner world was exposed, your life would be over. It would not. It would finally begin! You are Good, you are created and sustained in, with, and by Him who is True Love.
So, Love yourself, Love God, and then ask Him to help you Love the whole world full of His many other “Beloveds”. Be courageous and stand firm in your Faith, yet, let your motivation for defending your Christian morals, values, and conscience spring from the Source of Love. By the way, it is humanly impossible to Love, with a capital ‘L’. Only because God Loves through you and I, can we really Love at all. Everything else under the name of “love” is feelings and emotion, flesh gratification, or white-knuckling it(pride). Let’s take courage from there being only a single effort required on our part; that is having the desire for, submission to and willing that God’s True Love flow in, and through, and out of us. In this desire to be willingly submitted to God’s work in our hearts, He will be free to grow and nourish that eternal True Love to complete us, and to then, pour it out into the lives of others. There can be no greater happiness, no more sure an eternal security, than that. No matter the cost, no matter the difficulty; Choose Love.
I just think we should look different than those who don’t know Christ personally. Our lives should portray something not like what the world defines “a good life”.
We are called to keep less where they hoard more.
We are called to cling to hope when every reasonable logic says it is hopeless.
We are called to tread a difficult, narrow, thorny, and rocky path to holiness where the many of the world stroll down straight, smooth, paved thoroughfares toward limited self interest and their own demise.
And we are called to turn the other cheek, to keep the peace, when the rest cry, “Vengeance!”
My life may be quite contrary to the American Dream, but if I’m not exuding joy and hope in hard times, as well as in good times, then every struggle I live through, every disappointment, every denied gratification is in vain. I don’t want the pain of my life experiences to be for nothing. I’ve got to be different (holy, sanctified) enough to be noticed.
I want you to notice Christ in my “difference” and strive to be different (holy) yourself. I want those who don’t believe in Jesus, and the existence of heaven and hell, to see my difference and to allow something inside them to soften, just a bit, to the Lord’s knocking on the door of their hearts. I want Satan to see my difference and shudder!
Look at your Jesus on the cross. His Love for you pinned Him there. In His desire for you, He shed His blood.
Jesus on the cross. Don’t forget Him there.
That is why we are called to be different. He is different. His Love from the dimension of the cross will help you on your journey to holiness.
I love You, God.