Few of us approach the scaffold willingly. As the tender hand of providence nudges us toward the cross, we dig up friction. We flatten our soles to the dirt of this earth and press. Christian spirituality makes much about surrender. The disciple of Christ is meant to loose his will to the wind of the Spirit (of which is it written: you cannot tell from where it comes and to where it goes) and surrender his desires in order to follow Christ, to live after the manner of Jesus. An example from the archive—it’s a prayer I penned in the initial years of religious life:
Come Holy Spirit, carry me.
Fasten me firm to your fancies.
Upon your whims, I plant my feet,
Let us fly from here.
From where? From the land of my own will. A lovely idea. It is only a matter of time, however, before the scourge scours the flesh of God and we, his disciples, scatter. Surrender is a radical idea. To go unfightingly toward death? It’s not natural. When the chalice of his passion was pressed to his lips, even Jesus pushed back. “Father, let this cup pass from me.” And yet, the courageous qualifier: “nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” I push back more.
In Honduras we slaughtered a pig. The brother whiffed the sweet spot and landed the axe-head slanted near ear. The pink creature freaked. Four-hundred pounds of hoarse squeals will root you. The sow went wild. Breaking the chains, her stout hooves tore into the earth hauling all her fat rage in livid circles till the brother, two hands to the shaft, swung the axe again. Dead between her eyes.
I’m a bit that way. These years of conversion have found me stubbornly fighting for my life. It would have been easier to surrender from the get. I have heard stories of teenage saints sweetly swooning into the Father’s arms, saints anesthetized by ecstasy just before the heifer, say, gores their fragrant bodies, saints born with a perfect pater noster poised upon their suckling lips. Hagiography, I’m afraid, can mislead the unacquainted. It’s a different style of writing, a different way of remembering. Being a disciple of Christ is never so easy as not to hurt—any saint will affirm that—but with Christ the hurt is never final. Resurrection happens. Yes, it happens but it happens only inside a death. Unless a grain of wheat die, says the Lord, it remains but a single grain.
We, like any creature, once we sense the life we are accustomed to living is actually in danger (and I tell you Christianity is a danger to our lives) most of us will fight to save it. Please God we don’t fight too well. Although its very logic is difficult to unpack, the paradox is promising: he who loses his life, gains it. But, my friends, you do realize it has to be lost. The question each of us will spend our lives answering is just how much of our will can we stand to lose? Or, if you’d rather, how much life can we stand to gain?
+ Br. Joseph Michael Fino, CFR
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