Detachment From The World

“Don’t have Jesus Christ on your lips and the world in your hearts.” – Ignatius of Antioch

The writings of Ignatius of Antioch are some of the most important of the Apostolic Fathers. The writings on the Real Presence in the Eucharist are often a catalyst for conversion for many non-Catholics. In fact, the word Catholic in reference to the Church was first used in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. We owe him much in reference to our identity of faith as a people of the Eucharist – The Catholic Church.

Writing at a time of savage Christian persecutions by Emperor Trajan, Ignatius of Antioch was fed to the lions of the arena. Failing to renounce his faith, he died a martyr.

What if Ignatius of Antioch had merely professed Christ with his lips yet reserved his heart for the things of this world? Would he have quickly recanted his faith and preserved his physical life for a while longer? Certainly, modern man cannot imagine the threat of death by lions! Having your flesh torn from your bones by sharp teeth and claws would no doubt produce a retraction of faith in all those who did not have Christ in their hearts.

But what does this mean to you and me, modern humanity? Although there are still Trajans in this world (ISIS etc.), most of us live comfortable lives of distraction (thank you Facebook and Netflix). Our faith is tested, yes, but often in smaller less lion-esque ways. How do we know if we too profess Christ on our lips, but keep the things of this world in our hearts?

Pride might keep us from admitting that the world is too great an influence on our choices and thinking. Looking at my own life I can see clearly a pattern of worship for the things of this world. It is hard not to love what the world loves. In fact, if we do not love as the world does, we quickly become – an outsider. Now this is the beginning of conversion!

Who were these early fathers of the Church? These trailblazers were not the celebrities of today; they were set apart from the world. They were hated by the world. However, the Christ they professed with their lips became the fire in their heart with which they set the world aflame!

So, I write this to you my fellow social outsiders. Perhaps you have chosen to live with a radical love of Christ in your heart. Maybe this means your life looks a bit different than most. To all my fellow Catholic homeschooling moms, and those with more kids than “average,” I see Christ’s love in your heart. To all those friends who have rubbed the color off of their rosary beads and know every saint and novena by heart, I see you at every daily Mass and your heart expands with Eucharistic love. To all those little modest souls who veil and kneel before the Eucharist at Mass, your devotion to Jesus is spectacularly sweet.

No, none of you reflect the values and priorities of the world, and that is more than ok. Your heart is rightly ordered toward God. Although the world will mock and criticize a heart conformed for Christ alone, grace flows freely upon these little acts of martyrdom of the self. Have courage as the lions of today circle about. We live in the world, but are not of the world.

Act as if God alone existed and nothing else.” – St. Ephraem the Syrian

Wanting What God Wants

“Life Himself came down to be slain; Bread came down to suffer hunger; the Way came down to endure weariness on His journey; the Fountain came down to experience thirst. Do you, then, refuse to work and to suffer?” – St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine has a way of cutting to the heart of a thing. Suffering has been the greatest and most challenging paradox and enigma of the Christian life. How do we suffer and why? Nearly all arguments against the reality of God can be brought back to the question of suffering. Too easily, we forget the ultimate suffering and the ultimate innocence of the One who suffered not for His own merit or advantage, but for ours.

Christ did not come into our humanity so that we did not have to suffer, but so that our suffering would not be meaningless, – so that we would know how to suffer. He elevated humanity’s suffering to a redemptive reality. No, the Incarnation came not so that our lives would be easy, but so that our lives and the suffering in them could have the greatest value.

Too often in my life I have uttered the prayer, “Lord take this cross. Remove this suffering.” There are times and contexts when this prayer is the most natural. Some sufferings seem too great to shoulder and asking God to rescue you comes before any other thought.

These are times when I am low in the valley of suffering and confusion. Trusting God feels impossible and His love feels withheld. If He loved me He would not test me like this! However, Scripture reassures us that God does not test people, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one.” James 1:13

The prayer that is needed in the midst of suffering is in fact not natural, but supernatural. If by nature we demand to be rescued and treat God with suspicion and recoiling at His love, then in that moment of suffering we must pray for the supernatural grace of trust.

In moments of encroaching despair and confusion, our prayer becomes, “Yes, Lord, I want what you want. I trust in Your merciful love.” We pray this even if God is not bringing us what we think He should. What God in his Divine Wisdom permits to come into our lives will always be for our ultimate good, even if it is pain and loss. St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “If God causes you to suffer much, it’s a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint.”

As we pray for the supernatural grace of trust in the midst of our suffering, let us not forget that we are merely pilgrims in this place. Our final destination is Heaven. Do not become overly attached to and concerned with the struggles of this life. Do not lose sight of your heavenly goal. If you are filled with anxiety and agitation, then you may be too filled with the worries of this world while relying too much on your own natural ability to respond. What nature cannot understand or reconcile, supernatural grace within us accepts as God’s loving will.

Lord, help me to trust in Your merciful love. Grant me the grace to trust when my fallen humanity tempts me to despair of Your love. Merciful and loving God shower upon my soul the supernatural grace to trust in Your love even in the dark and lonely places of this life. Amen.