Imagine the Lord carving a cross just for you–gently, lovingly, bent over his workbench, holding you in his mind, in existence, in love. Knowing exactly what you need for holiness, exactly how much you can carry, the curve of your brokenness, the shape of your sin, and the weight of your pain.
In Divine Intimacy (#97) Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. describes the importance of interior mortification and the acceptance of our personal penance in the circumstances of each day above any corporal, voluntary penance we may choose for ourselves. Laying down our opinions, judgments, and our very wills in the blood at the foot of the Cross bears a richer reward than shopping for a cross of our own design.
I have laughed ruefully with friends some years about “God choosing our Lent.” And there’s truth to that: sometimes our state in life, obligations, and the particular sufferings of our lives provide a penitential season written more like a personal prescription. The renunciation is then a surrender, more than anything–and yes, an embrace. Whatever you want, Lord. And a finding of Him hidden in each moment of obedience, like a host, small and likely to be overlooked. And yet, right there, in the center of the circumstances of our lives.
Fr. Gabriel writes, ” Do we not sometimes try to avoid a person whom we do not like, but with whom the Lord has brought us into contact? Do we look for every means of avoiding a humiliation or an act of obedience which is painful to nature? If we do, we are running away from the best opportunities for sacrificing ourselves and for mortifying our self-love; even if we substitute other mortifications, they will not be as effective as those which God Himself has prepared for us. In the mortifications offered to us by Divine Providence, there is nothing of our own will or liking; they strike us just where we need it most, and where, by voluntary mortification, we could never reach.”
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, who had given up a life in the world to live one of penance for the Church, realized the importance of one’s state in life. She wrote to her sister, a mother at home with two little girls: “Little sister, overlook no sacrifice, there are so many we can gather up in one day: with the little ones you have many opportunities; oh, give everything to the Master.”
This is the passive purification Fr. Thomas Acklin, OSB, and Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB describe in their book, Spiritual Direction: A Guide for Sharing the Father’s Love.: “The most powerful form of purification takes place when the individual’s will is not involved in initiating or choosing a penance, but rather, only in whether to accept the purification as it comes. This passive purification is powerful and formative in opening up the freedom of the individual to respond generously and spontaneously to the will of God at each moment. Learning to give a heartfelt yes to trials and challenges is an ongoing development in the spiritual life. Trials and challenges are lived out daily and moment by moment. They come in the form of interruptions in our schedule, physical illness, minor and major failures, encounters with our weaknesses, confusion, desolation in our prayer, our own sins and the sins of others, and emotional suffering, to name a few examples. Although it can be hard to look forward to these painful experiences, they are precious pearls that mortify our will and teach us to embrace the divine will.”
The call for us in every moment is to first, accept it, then, to sanctify it by uniting it to Christ (Fulton Sheen says this is how we turn our crosses into crucifixes) and then, to thank God for it precisely because we know that He, in His infinite goodness and wisdom, is using it for His glory and our sanctification.
We know that in everything God works for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28
I guess the point is this: don’t discount the daily opportunities of the moment to die to yourself. Take those moments when you have to set yourself aside–and there may be a lot of them–and offer them up to God. The thing is that when we choose a penance, that is our choice and we give God what we want to give Him–and of course, He accepts it with love. But when He chooses a cross in our moments, then that is the particular way He wants to sanctify us.
The beautiful surprise? We find in the end, that the Carpenter has not only carved for us a custom made cross. He has smoothed and shaped and sandpapered a hollow place in our soul made perfectly for Himself. He waits there for us. Will we meet Him there this Lent?