I’ve been a bit absent from this blog lately, and now have time to get back to writing a bit. I gave a talk at the National Catholic Singles Conference this weekend and much of my time the past week or so was dedicated to that talk. This talk marked the first time I gave a speech to a group who had no idea “what was coming,” except the conference organizer. I had them laughing a bit in the beginning, and then started to tell them about my conversion story, and asked them “have you ever met anyone who actually became Catholic, because of the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality? No? Well, get out your cellphone cameras, because you’re looking at one.” It was a nervous and scary thing, but it went well and a lot of people appreciated what I spoke about.
The thrust of my talk was that the single life, and loneliness in particular, shouldn’t be viewed as a waiting room to happiness, or that God has somehow forgotten about us, even if it feels like it sometimes. I shared a lot of the quotes from the books that have helped me over the years and as a result, several of the conference attendees asked if I could share them at my blog. So here goes, in no particular order, and without too much commentary, since anything I’d add would just muddle them up.
- Thomas Merton, from No Man Is An Island
Suffering, therefore, must make sense to us not as a vague universal necessity, but as something demanded by our own personal destiny. When I see my trials not as the collision of my life with a blind machine called fate, but as the sacramental gift of Christ’s love, given to me by God the Father along with my identity and my very name, then I can consecrate them and myself with them to God. For then I realize that my suffering is not my own. It is the Passion of Christ, stretching out its tendrils into my life in order to bear rich clusters of grapes, making my soul dizzy with the wine of Christ’s love, and pouring that wine as strong as fire upon the whole world.
- C. S. Lewis, from one of his many letters
If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.
- From some of my early writing, reflecting on the lessons I learned about the concept of “terroir,” from the film, Mondovino, and that the best wine comes from the worst soil.
Suffering is the necessary ingredient for us to bear fruit, to serve God and to be transformed into the men and women that he desires us to become. Another wine maker in the Mondovino film says that the wine makers in Burgundy strive to “orient their work towards the fullest possible expression of their terroir.” The “terroir” in which we find ourselves living is exactly where he wants us. Whatever God allows in our lives is allowed for our good, and for our sanctification, and our vocation is to work with God’s grace to find “the fullest possible expression of this terroir,” and like the monks of Burgundy, to “extract the best the land can offer for the greater glory of God.”
Life brings us pain and suffering. God’s redemptive power is so great that he transforms suffering into something that is gloriously redeemed. The most acrid and lifeless soil is transformed through his grace and love into the richest of wines, poured out upon the world, “as strong as fire.” Suffering in our lives is like Joseph’s suffering: what the Enemy intended for evil, God intended for good, for the saving of many lives.
I believe that when we suffer, whatever we suffer, God uses suffering in our lives to help us to reach the culmination of who God wants us to become, and He unites our suffering with the suffering of His Son, for the salvation of the world. God plants us in the terroir where we will bear the most fruit, where we truly can become “wines of distinction,” if we submit to his pruning and are content to live in the infertile world where he plants us. He doesn’t desire us to become “rich and fat” grapes, which produce flabby wines. He desires us to work to seek him out, going deep to drink from the wellspring of his Love, going as deep as the roots of the best vines must do. It is His love which places us in a dry and weary land, for then we know it is only Our Father who satisfies us. It is only then that we will seek out Living Water, and in abandoning ourselves to His divine Providence, we will find peace.
- From Thomas More’s A Dialogue of Comfort Against Affliction
For if we determine with ourselves that we will take no comfort in anything but the taking of our tribulation from us, then either we prescribe to God that he shall do no better turn, even though he would, than we will ourselves appoint him; or else we declare that we ourselves can tell better than he what is better for us. And therefore, I say, let us in tribulation desire his help and comfort, and let us remit the manner of that comfort unto his own high pleasure. When we do this, let us not doubt but that, as his high wisdom seeth what is best for us better than we can see it ourselves, so shall his sovereign high goodness give us that thing that shall indeed be best.
- A Carthusian, from the film Into Great Silence
In God there is no past. Solely the present prevails. And when God sees us, He always sees our entire life. And because He is an infinitely good being, He eternally seeks our well-being. Therefore, there is no cause for worry in any of the things which happen to us. I often thank God that he let me be blinded. I am sure he let this happen for the good of my soul. It is a pity that the world has lost all sense of God. It is a pity…They have no reason to live anymore. When you abolish the thought of God, why should you go on living on this earth? One must never part from the principle that God is infinitely good, and that all of his actions are in our best interest. Because of this a Christian should always be happy, never unhappy. Because everything that happens is God’s will, and it only happens for the well-being of our soul. Well, this is the most important. God is infinitely good, almighty, and he helps us. This is all one must do, and then one is happy.
- John Paul II, from Salvicifi Doloris
The Redeemer suffered in place of man and for man. Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.
- Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) on the New Evangelization
Jesus did not redeem the world with beautiful words but with his suffering and his death. His Passion is the inexhaustible source of life for the world; the Passion gives power to his words…
I would like to recall only the beginning of evangelization in the life of St. Paul. The success of his mission was not the fruit of great rhetorical art or pastoral prudence; the fruitfulness was tied to the suffering, to the communion in the passion with Christ.
A mother cannot give life to a child without suffering. Each birth requires suffering, is suffering, and becoming a Christian is a birth. Let us say this once again in the words of the Lord: The Kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, but the violence of God is suffering, it is the cross. We cannot give life to others without giving up our own lives.
I shared some reflections I’ve had on the words above by saying that we often don’t believe that there is a purpose behind our suffering, and yet it is our suffering, if united with Christ’s suffering, that becomes the most powerful tool of the New Evangelization. This is one reason why I don’t share any concerns that those who call themselves “gay but chaste” seem to have over the pastoral language of the Church. Suffering is what brings people into the Kingdom of God, not choice or “sweet words.” Christ’s words were what lead to His Crucifixion, and He never was really that concerned with PR or marketing. He loved, and spoke the truth in love.
- And this, the best for last, from Blessed John Cardinal Newman, written on March 7, 1848
God knows me and calls me by my name.…
God has created me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission—I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
Somehow I am necessary for His purposes…
I have a part in this great work;
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good,
I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth
in my own place, while not intending it,
if I do but keep His commandments
and serve Him in my calling.
Therefore I will trust Him.
Whatever, wherever I am,
I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him;
In perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him;
If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be
necessary causes of some great end,
which is quite beyond us.
He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life,
He may shorten it;
He knows what He is about.
He may take away my friends,
He may throw me among strangers,
He may make me feel desolate,
make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.…
Let me be Thy blind instrument. I ask not to see—
I ask not to know—I ask simply to be used.