A Reflection for Times of Trail
By Brother Leonard
Christ has said that those who want heaven must deny themselves, must take up their cross daily and follow him. This following of Christ — where does it lead? It leads to a crucifixion that can sanctify us very quickly and enable us to help others on the way to salvation. Pius XII said very strongly: “We must undergo with Christ a mystical death on the cross so that we can apply to ourselves the words of Saint Paul: ‘With Christ, I am nailed to the cross.'”
This crucifixion is not a station of the cross to be merely looked at or meditated upon; it must be experienced. We know well enough what crucifixion meant for Christ. What can it be for us in this modern civilization? In this day and age, it can mean that, believing in God’s love, we allow ourselves to be willingly placed by providence in an arranged situation or trial, where we are unable to help or defend ourselves or to remedy the situation as Christ allowed himself to be on the cross. It can be having our heart broken, letting our own will and its plans vanish, so that it can be remade into a likeness of Christ’s own Heart, through which life and death flow.
This rules out self-determination, the modern defense mechanism against God’s persistent pursuit of us. If we are able to be guided by the Holy Spirit, then we must present the Spirit with a person willing to be guided. This is hard to come by unless we receive the grace necessary to humble ourselves to a real experience of our very nothingness.
Christ’s victory of redemption was accomplished in the most part by his passion in the garden. He had allowed himself to be placed in such a situation that the psychological pressure on his human soul to adhere to his own divine will was beyond our imagining. This type of suffering can be ours in varying degrees. If the terminal work of our purification, usually reserved for purgatory, is applied to us in this life, it can lead to a very potent encounter with Christ and strongly point us to the heights.
To attain such a reorientation in such a relatively short time requires a special set-up. We are put under the extreme pressure of adverse circumstances specifically designed to make us accept freely what is happening to us. It can be a real wound of purification. The process is somewhat similar to pressure applied to a glued wood joint, over a period of time, to form a solid bond. The suffering entailed can be so penetrating that it seems to destroy us, yet it can be the short cut that leads to God’s presence and ability to do redemptive work. When the pressure is removed you may be in the garden of beginning contemplation.
Saint Paul’s conversion shows what can happen when there is full cooperation with grace, when God speaks to the soul in unmistakable accents, with a proper response. Before his conversion, his spiritual activity was simply tremendous, but he was doing no supernatural work; in fact, he was destroying God’s work. During those few moments of God’s special action, he was almost inert physically, but his will’s acceptance of God’s desires was such a concatenation (or series of interconnected moments) of grace that he was thoroughly reoriented. If he had qualified his acceptance by distracting thoughts about his future, the result would have been impaired. Note that he accepted the situation as it was presented and gave God full permission to act. This incident in his life merits deep study.
Let us now conjecture what might happen if we were, in God’s providence, to cooperate with grace and desire to give ourselves very generously to the work of saving souls: a total gift of self, a deep commitment in fully embracing God’s will. We have said that supernatural activity over a period of time is supernatural work, that is, it has supernatural value. Our lifetime would provide a definite supernatural result. If God took us at our word, God could arrange to have us produce this lifetime output in a few years. The remaining years would then be at an increased output, which could be applied to others. Of course, the process would entail suffering — crucifixion probably — because the whole personality would be changed. See what a different man Paul was from Saul.
We would probably be very conscious of God’s power working in us, the psychological pressures effecting their end. With victory would come Christ’s mind as our own. The great end result could be that we would be enabled to love God so much, do God’s will so perfectly, be so completely God’s instrument as a channel of grace that divine providential love would be able to freely flow over the whole world and so neutralize the prevalent hate and evil; that other persons would be affected by the leaven to such an extent that the Heart of Christ would be consoled and he have pity on us poor sinners.
About the Author
Brother Leonard O’Dowd, OCSCO (1905-2007) was a graduate of Lexington (MA) High School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Trained as an electrical enginner, he worked for many years at General Electric. In 1945, at age 40, he entered the Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island. In 1951, Brother Leonard professed his final Solemn Vows at Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. As a lay brother, he served the community as an electrician; designer and tailor of liturgical vestments; and as porter of the monastery. Surrounded by his brother monks, he died in 2007, at 102 years old. The reflection above was printed in Healing Flame of Love, a collection of Brother Leonard’s writing that was published in pamphlet form by Saint Joseph’s Abbey.
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