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September 8, 2010

Our Worst Can Be the Best We Give to God
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.

Struggles We All Face in Life

At different times in our lives, we face a personal crisis of some sort. It could be a health question, a problem at work or something that causes tension in a family. It could be a “phase” we are passing through or negative mood that goes on for weeks. We might think we should warn people to stay away from us. We are frustrated with ourselves and we feel on edge.
 
At such times, we become especially aware of our own woundedness and sinfulness. Even though we know we are sinners, we try to be good people, try to live our faith, want to keep the commandments. But we hit a wall and are knocked for a loop. To make it worse, we sometimes wonder if we even really want to be good, and that scares us.
 
We can remember good times when we felt confident, even a bit self-satisfied about how we were doing—at least in comparison with some people we observed. We could spot others in trouble and wonder what their problem was. But now it’s us and we don’t understand what is going on inside us. The cliché that “the devil made me do it” isn’t really convincing. Even our excuses don’t carry much weight. It's us!

Jesus' Choice of Disciples

Having drawn a sad picture of our struggles, we now see why the Gospels are so helpful to us. Jesus chose ordinary men to be his closest followers. It is abundantly clear that these men were by no means saints. They were tough, weather-beaten fishermen, hot-tempered zealots who were ready to fight the Romans at the drop of hat, tax collectors who knew all the ins and outs of cheating people. The 12 men  closest to Jesus were a motley group. The Gospels give a sampling what Jesus must have had to put up with when he walked with them, taught them and suffered their self-centeredness. They argued as to who was the greatest among them (Lk 22:24). Oh yes, they had pride. One time Jesus was rejected by some Samaritans when he wanted to pass through their town (Lk 9:53ff). James and John, were ready to call down thunder and lightning upon the Samaritans. I guess since they had cured a few people in their early missionary journey, they had assumed that God would honor their demand to destroy those who seemed to be rejecting Jesus. Even though they heard Jesus preach, they did not seem to understand what he was saying.

These  men were ready to punish the Samaritans to the hilt, without the slightest idea that they themselves would do something far more terrible and sinful. They had been eyewitnesses to all Jesus’ teaching and miracles. But they would deny him, betray him and run for safety in utter panic when they were in danger. Yet, the Lord forgave them—even before they asked for forgiveness (Jn 20:21ff).

Our Best Gift to the Lord Is Our Woundedness

This brings me right back to where I started. Sometimes doesn’t it appear that we have nothing to offer the Lord? All we see is our failings, our fumbling, imperfections and especially our sins. But our greatest gift to the Lord, believe it or not, is not our talents, not our virtues or our so-called gifts. All those are really God’s gift to us. The most precious things we can give to the Lord are our failings, our sins—pride, anger, sensuality, jealousy, whatever we tend to hide from ourselves and our wounded self-image. These are exactly what the Lord wants from us, for the same reason Jesus was so attracted to sinners and law breakers. He touched them, ate with them, call them his friends. He loved to spend time with them. Our strength comes not from conquering ourselves, but rather realizing that in giving ourselves to the Lord as we are, we allow him to forgive, strengthen and heal us. He can handle our sins and weakness. For heaven’s sakes, he bore the sins the whole world on the cross. His arms were outstretched not just because they were nailed to the cross but also so that he could receive the sins of the whole world—including ours.
 
To say we are truly sorry is to give up what we have done wrong, give up those moods and snits that we experience, those angers and jealousies that keep reminding us of our failings. We give them to the Lord, and, in so doing, we gain strength to get through those difficult times
 
We think, mistakenly, that it’s up to us to get ourselves cleaned up, so to speak, when, in reality, the Scriptures say that we are washed clean in the blood of Jesus. (Heb 9:14).  We get discouraged when we don’t know how to face those struggles that seem to stick to us like glue. What Jesus says to us from the cross is: “Come to me, you who are weak and weary of heart; bring your burden and your sins to me” (see Mt 11:28). He really does want them. You would be surprised how that offering can bring grace and strength to begin again. It’s the perfect time to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and admit that we need the Lord’s help.

Friar Jack's Inbox
Readers respond to Friar Jack Wintz's August E-spiration, Musing: Reflections on the Stigmata

Dear Friar Jack: I always enjoy your newsletter. It helps me to stop and focus for a short span of time. Today’s message on the stigmata was the first time I have actually heard the stigmata described as it relates to Christ. Thank you for that and for the prayer at the end. I read the prayer twice, because it struck me so when I prayed it. I will keep it with me. May God bless you! Suz-Anne

Dear Friar Jack: Thanks for this inspiring reflection on the stigmata. I recently learned I have some health issues. As I go through the process of dealing with them, I will reflect on St. Francis’ understanding of the significance of Jesus' wounds and imitate the love of Jesus and St. Francis by offering myself through Jesus and Mary to the Father in atonement for my sins and those of humankind. If my cross could save just one soul, it will be well worth it! God bless you, and thank you for addressing a subject avoided by all too many! Jim

Dear Suz-anne and Jim: Both of your comments suggest to me that you understand well that Christ’s five wounds express the overflowing love of Jesus for us. St. Francis understood this and on seeing the Crucified Jesus’ love for him was moved to respond in kind and to imitate that same kind of love. Jesus said it all when he told his disciples, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for ones friends” (John 15:13). It seems good for us to respond in a similar way. Friar Jack

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for the reflections on the stigmata. The message did give me more understanding. I have heard and read about the stigmatist, Teresa Neumann of Germany. Would you have any updates about her story since the World War in the 1940s? Marion

Dear Marion: Teresa Neumann (1998-1962) was a German Catholic mystic and stigmatic, who lived all her life in Bavaria, Germany. In the 1940’s, I was a student in St. Louis elementary school in my hometown of Batesville, Indiana. The news was often published in those days that she was a stigmatic who often experienced the wounds of Christ. Up to now the Church has not come to a final judgment on her case and much remains veiled in mystery and surrounded by controversy. I feel it best not to get too embroiled in such cases but to follow the lead of St. Francis who saw in the wounds of Christ and in his own wounds expressions of Christ’s great love for us. You and all the readers of Friar Jack remain in my prayers. May God bless you all and fill you with light! Friar Jack

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Welcome!
I am Fr. Jim Van Vurst and hope you'll enjoy
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