Meeting Christ Between Crossroads
Today has been a day of great suffering, thanks be to God! It is Tuesday, June 12, 2012 and the high is supposed to be in the low 80’s. After visiting the site of Custer’s Last Stand (my first visit to a battlefield!) we continued where Night Shift left off on Highway 212 on our way to the Ashland Reservation (The Labre Mission). Though by this time it was late morning and the temperature had already risen considerably, I decided to run the first five miles. Since I am the only runner on my shift, this is a tricky process which essentially requires relatively flat terrain so the van can always keep me within sight. Though this is without doubt a necessary safety procedure, it also makes the distance seem longer because you repeatedly reach the van, pass the van, and eventually watch the van pull ahead of you once again and park a short distance ahead (usually only around 0.3 miles). Repeat for five miles.
I had two interesting encounters on my run this morning. The first relates to last Friday when I was walking with the Fedoryka brothers. Dan shared that he always imagined horses as the incarnation or embodiment of angels. When I questioned why, he reflected on the majesty and power of the animal and how these traits were in a way terrifying as is the power and majesty of the celestial beings. Upon passing one particular horse today, it began trotting alongside of me, nodding its head. I immediately reflected on Dan’s perspective and readily welcomed the new enthusiasm the encouraging gesture brought to my step. In fact, I even started nodding my head back at the creature in appreciation. It continued by my side for a short distance and then left me to the rest of my miles.
The second somewhat strange encounter I had on the road had a similar motivating effect, though by different means. It was probably within a half of a mile after my salutation with the horse that I was confronted with a sharp tinge of fear. I did not notice the shadowy dog approaching until it was mere feet in front of me, running along the shoulder in the tall grass. The van had just pulled away from me and I knew I had no defense except my already tired arms and legs. I prepared for the worst, for who knew where this dog had come from, why it was running at me, and what it would do when our paths collided. As it passed me it possessed a distinctive grin on its face; yes a grin. Our eyes locked as it passed beyond my shoulder and, surprisingly, continued on without any hesitation, which I found exceptionally unusual considering the typical response of at least mild curiosity I would have expected from any dog. Prompted by my previous spiritual encounter with the horse, I immediately sensed an opposing force, the mockery of the evil one. ‘Who are you to believe this is doing any good? A dog could achieve what you aspire.’ But something deep within me resounded ‘No, I will not let you.’ What would I not allow? Something beyond myself fully rejected the thought that our efforts did not hold any purpose. With this my pace was confirmed and as my feet beat the pavement I praised God for sending his Advocate to live within us; for it was not of my humanity which responded so convincingly and promptly against this sharp moment of mockery, but of the Spirit. From the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, and holy Eucharist) each of us possesses the indwelling of the most holy and adorable Trinity. It is from this life within, and this life only, that I could respond with such conviction in the face of an attractive lie.
This also prompted me to remembrance that just as much as we are offering up our sacrifices and sufferings for the conversion of souls this summer, the demonic forces are attempting to work against us. There is a great battle being waged in the hearts and minds of the people in this country, nay the world, and it is only that Spirit within us that brings about our victory with Christ Jesus in joining our suffering to his. This is what I find the most joy in: that I have been blessed to live in a time and place ripe for the harvest, in which saints can be molded by the fire of God’s love if one only allows it to burn within him for the lost of this world, for those chained by sin. If we strive for and embrace this same love, the love which compelled Christ to die for us all, then we can truly find joy in every suffering offered up to him for this cause. And with these offerings, however small they may be or seem, we can possess true confidence that they will be abundantly fruitful, transformed by Christ’s infinite merit into glorious gifts to the Father on behalf of our brothers and sisters. In fact, I often repeat a short prayer when I am feeling most exhausted: “I give this to you Lord. Use it well; I know you will.”
Now I’m not one to give in to superstition; neither do I believe in any way that either the horse or the dog were somehow possessed by spiritual beings, but it is interesting the motivation such impulsive thoughts can bring to a person, and how little interjections that may seem frivolous in one moment may prove to be providential soon thereafter.
The last mile of the morning’s five proved to be the hardest I have run in a while. In part because of these encounters, I soon reached a point of physical and spiritual exhaustion which brought a convulsive whining. Suddenly I was very much a child who had fallen and scabbed a knee and, upon seeing her mother, bursts into tears. And that moment is where I found myself suspended, running in desperation: that instant of beholding all beauty and goodness and the complete security that it encompasses and simultaneously beholding the threatening doubt of never being able to reach it. That last leg of my run transformed into a run towards my mother. I certainly thought of my Mama back home, whose life has been such a fragrant and holy witness in embracing a life of redemptive suffering, and I also thought of our precious Lady and her perfection of love. This brought me to agony.
As I battled a tantrum of tears and the heaving breaths that resulted, this word “agony” came to mind and I began reflecting on the Passion of our Lord. This connection is why I love praying the Sorrowful Mysteries during runs, but today I found myself focusing on the Way of the Cross meditations, and especially on the fourth station when Christ meets his mother on the way to Golgotha. There is a memorable scene in The Passion of the Christ depicting this. What could have possibly been Jesus’ experience in this definitive moment? But asking this also emphasizes the shortcomings of the film. Jesus is depicted with firm conviction in reaching his crucifixion, and logically so for a man so conformed to the will of the Father (as is also witnessed in the great martyrs of the faith), but it is also within this that I feel there is a grave misrepresentation: Christ is too stoic, too disconnected from his humanity. What man, no matter how strong, no matter how committed, would, in the state of utter rejection and enduring the worst of cruelties, not experience a serge of complete abandonment to tears at the site of the outstretched arms of his mother? It is even known that soldiers, upon being mortally wounded, cry out to their mothers.
The experience I had on the road to Ashland prompted a similar response that only seemed to emphasize this realization: here I was, so bold as to equate what I was partaking in with the word “agony”, and my suffering was completely outmatched by that which Christ endured for our sake. And I was crying for the arms of my mother. Alas, the Lord brought me great joy in this solidarity in his suffering, however small of a part I was granted to feel and experience, especially in the gift of perceiving more deeply his humanity. May we all experience and praise God for the many ways in which he offers us an encounter with him on the crossroads of life’s joys and sufferings.
Thank you so much and please continue to keep all of us in your prayers!
your sister in Christ,
Northern Walk ’12