The Tragic Beauty of the Cross

There is only one way to be saved….period.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”

These words of Christ in John 14:6 are some of the most famous in all of Scripture.

But what most people don’t realize is that Christ declares them at the Last Supper, shortly before the start of his brutal Passion.

In fact, at the end of this chapter, he and the Disciples leave for the Garden of Gethsemane.

And understanding this context puts a little deeper spin on how we understand apply Christ’s declaration. This is no generic call to “seek Christ.”

It’s something far more intense.

He’s calling us to the tragic beauty of the Cross. He’s telling us that in order to be saved, we must be nailed to our crosses in union with His.

We must crush our self-love and mimic the humility of Christ, who

though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

Phil. 2:6-8

And realize that this union with the Cross – this dying to self – to which we’re called is not a one-time event.

It’s a daily picking up of our crosses and following Christ to Calvary.

St. John of the Cross describes our entire to journey to God as a kind of “Dark Night,” in which we are more and more conformed to the crucified Christ.

It sounds a bit scary, doesn’t it? But thank goodness, it’s not the end of the story.

The tragic beauty of the Cross lies in the fact that it’s only the first half of the story.

After the Crucifixion comes the Resurrection.

Good Friday is always followed by Easter. Salvation is at hand!

And the joy of our new life in Christ far outweighs the difficulties and crosses of this earthly life.

That’s the beauty of the Cross. It prepares us for eternal ecstasy.

As St. Paul declares in Romans 8:18, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

So cling to the tragic beauty of the Cross of Christ! Don’t let go! The Son is on the horizon.

Have a blessed Triduum!

Matthew

P.S. It’s coming shortly after Easter! CLICK HERE to sign up for the wait list to be notified when it goes live.

The most dynamic, clearest path to spiritual transformation you’ll find anywhere.” – Mike Aquilina, Author & EWTN Personality

The Real Reason God Permits Temptation

Isn’t it funny (and annoying) that those things you gave up for Lent seem to present themselves way more often than normal? People keep offering you that frothy beer or fancy dessert, and you have to give it the old “just say no” Nancy Reagan routine.

And I don’t know about you, but it’s ridiculous how hard I often find it.

(Perhaps traveling to the land of biscotti and cappuccino on pilgrimage during Lent wasn’t my brightest idea.)

Even so, God uses temptations to our great advantage in Lent, as well as the rest of the year.

How? Why?

Well, temptation comes from the Latin tentare, which means “to try” or “to test.” So temptations are a tool God uses to see how we measure up.

“Matthew! Are you saying God actually causes temptation? Doesn’t James 1:13 says, God “tempts no one”?

Yes, it does.

We’re talking here about what are called “temptations of probation” – special trials allowed by God that aren’t encouragement to sin.

(The kind that come from the Devil are called “temptations of solicitation,” with which we’ll deal another time.)

Think of guys like Job and Abraham, or even St. Joseph.

They experienced trials. And so do we.

Why?

It’s pretty simple. God is testing the quality of our love.

He wants to know if you only say you love him at Mass (or on Fat Tuesday), or if you really love Him when the rubber meets the road.

(Of course, he already knows because he’s closer to us than we are to ourselves, as Augustine said. But we still have the free will to act one way or the other. As St. John Chrysostom says, “For we must first choose the good; and then He leads us to His own. He does not anticipate our choice, lest our free-will should be outraged.”)

The great early 20th century theologian, Fr. Francis Remler calls temptations of probation a spiritual acid test.

They expose us like nitric acid poured over fool’s gold.

After all, a lot of people look virtuous.

They’ve got a big breviary with ribbons. A first-class relic of St. Jerome is embedded in the full-grained Italian leather cover of their limited edition Hebrew-Greek Interlinear Bible.

They can even pray over their meal in Latin.

But as far as God’s concerned, actions speak louder than a “Hammer of Heresies” tattoo peeking out from behind a rolled-up shirt sleeve.

He wants to know the true state of your virtue.

That’s the role of these kinds of temptations. God permits them because He wants to know if you practice what you preach.

That’s part of the value of Lent. It’s like a 40 day pass to a spiritual gym.

It’s a time to get pumped up.

And if you aren’t working out your spiritual muscles on a day-to-day basis, you’re going to become a 98lb. spiritual weakling.

I guess you could call God your personal spiritual fitness coach. And by permitting temptation, he not only gets you fit, but provides opportunities to flex your mystical muscle…not for your glory, but for His.

“In this you rejoice,” says St. Peter, “though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pt 1:6-7)

So keep smiling and saying “no thank you” when the dessert tray comes your way in this penitential season.

You’re building virtue that will help you resist larger (and perhaps more dangerous) temptations in the future.

God bless you.

Matthew

P.S. It’s coming! CLICK HERE to sign up for the wait list to be notified when it goes live.

The most dynamic, clearest path to spiritual transformation you’ll find anywhere.” – Mike Aquilina, Author & EWTN Personality

Taking Lent by Force

Most of us dread Lent on some level. And that’s natural because it doesn’t appeal to our senses.

Let’s be honest, we’ve all been tempted to cut the Lenten corners:

“Let’s see…how about no alcohol…wait…scratch that… alcohol…I mean no beer (cuz then I can still have a bourbon in the evening); no desserts…desserts…I mean no chocolate (this is going to be brutal!); and of course, no television except for reruns of Person of Interest since it stars Jim Caviezel and he played Jesus.”

But while it’s hard, Lent is huge. It’s a very necessary part of spiritual growth. In fact, there’s a sense in which it is the most important season on the liturgical calendar. Think about it.

While there’s certainly a sense in which Christ made the path to heaven “easier” by his Incarnation, death and resurrection, he also made it go straight uphill. And in order to progress up the hill, we don’t have to be just good, but perfect. (Mt 5:48)

That means this hill isn’t just an uphill climb, it’s an uphill battle. It’s a hilltop that must be taken by force.

After all, what does it mean to be a saint?

The great 19th century French Jesuit, Fr. Grou says that if it just means certain routines and staying faithful to a few favorite devotions that are compatible to a life of basic self-comfort, there would be a lot of saints.

That kind of life is to which the Israelites were called in the Old Testament. They had a whole laundry list of prayers and sacrifices that had to be done on a regular basis.

But those sacrifices were all ordered to changing their lives and receiving “a new heart” (Ez. 26:36).

And we’re called to the same kind of transformation. We’re called to more than saying our rosaries and getting to Mass.

We’re called to interior warfare against ourselves. Why?

Because pride and self-love are our two biggest enemies. Nothing harms us more.

To put it bluntly, we are our own greatest enemy. That doesn’t mean we’re totally corrupt as I was taught by Calvinists growing up. But we are fallen.

We have to realize that sin blurs our vision of God. It causes us to chase after the bright lights and baubles of this world.

That’s why we’re our own greatest enemy. That’s why the saints describe the spiritual life as a war. In the final tally, spiritual progress is measured by how many victories we win over ourselves.

This is a hard concept for a lot of people to accept, especially those who are used to the sweetness of the Lord and consolations that are common in the early stages of the spiritual life.

But Lent is a great reminder that the spiritual life isn’t one of constant comfort and sweetness. It’s a war. It’s a fight against an enemy that will use every one of our weaknesses against us.

That’s why it’s so important to strip ourselves of attachment to the things of this world and turn our eyes toward heaven. This world isn’t bad, but it’s not nearly as amazing as the world to come, our ecstatic union with God Almighty.

It’s an incredible, unbelievable, eternal life worth fighting for!

And this understanding should have an impact on how we mortify ourselves during this penitential season.

When deciding what to sacrifice, think about your weaknesses. Think about the major faults that cause you to fall back in your journey up the spiritual mountain.

Those are the things you need to target in Lent.

Exterior sacrifice is meant to lead to interior transformation. So ask the Lord how your penances this Lent can help you win the spiritual war.

Make Lent matter for eternity.

God bless you!

Matthew

P.S. It’s coming! CLICK HERE to sign up for the wait list to be notified when it goes live.

The most dynamic, clearest path to spiritual transformation you’ll find anywhere.” – Mike Aquilina, Author & EWTN Personality