Better to die a slave?

2.3.2021

Dear dad,

Yesterday was my consecration day. I started the 33-day Consecration to St. Joseph on January 1, and it carried me through the month of January, honestly. It gave me something to look forward to each day. This year is the year of St. Joseph, dedicated by the Church on December 8th, and not coincidentally, during quarantine, I started reading St. Joseph Gems: Daily Wisdom on Our Spiritual Father by Father Donald Calloway. Not knowing, of course, the Church would dedicate itself soon to St. Joseph, nor much about St. Joseph besides his fatherhood of the Holy Family. Mom had the book out in the living room. I really didn’t know anything about consecrations: what they were or the purpose. Honestly, I knew the topic of saints fostered weariness among Christians outside the Catholic Church, in the sense of how the Catholic Church views them. Maybe I was weary, too, as I didn’t explore the theology or reasoning behind the Catholic Church’s teaching. My understanding, far from complete. is simply asking for the prayers of the saints just as I would ask for the prayers of my community members. We are all called to be saints. The saints who the Church has granted sainthood hold a special place in the Kingdom before the Lord right now in Heaven, so they are able to pray to the Lord for us on earth uniquely by the graces God has given them to steward. In the celebration of the mass, people on earth with all the angels and saints come together to worship before the Lord (this is a far cry from the full explanation of saints within the Catholic Church, so please do not take my word but the word of the Church in the catechism from Scripture).

The daily readings from St. Joseph Gems gave me further insight into the purpose of consecration to someone like St. Joseph or the Blessed Mother. Just as the lives of the saints provide us exemplary examples of holiness and love of God, even more so do the Blessed Virgin and her Most Chaste Spouse. We can ask them for their intercession, for their prayers, as they have a special place among God’s Kingdom, and according to His Divine Providence, can come before the Lord on our behalf. In His extreme humility, the Son of God, honored St. Joseph and Mary in His time on earth and submitted Himself to their care before His public ministry.

Consecration means devotion, “a formal act of filial entrustment to your spiritual father so that he can take care of your spiritual well-being and lead you to God.” [Consecration to St. Joseph] “Filial” has been appearing a lot lately for me through varying channels. I understood its positive connotation but not exactly its meaning. In my first theology master’s class at the Augustine Institute, Salvation History, “filial” was used in terms of the relationship between Jesus and the Father. Turns out, it means “of, relating to, or befitting a son or daughter” and comes from the Latin, “filius,” meaning son. [Merriam Webster]

In your absence, dad, the thought of entrusting myself to a spiritual father, let alone the foster-father of Jesus, attracted me. Learning how to be a daughter, a father’s daughter, and remaining one in the varying seasons and experiences of life, proved to be harder than I thought. The moment I think I have it down, a circumstance arrives to challenge the sturdiness of my identity as a daughter. I shouldn’t be surprised, really, that I need the thing I so desperately try to avoid at all costs. Help. I need constant, unceasing, and unconditional help being a daughter. I cannot do it on my own. Knowing and experiencing this, though, does not give me license to throw a self-pity party before God and respond in anger to your loss, dad, as much as I want to and do time and time again.

“The one person, God, who above all could help me be a father’s daughter, is gone. The one person who could remind me who I am. You let him go and now You expect me to handle all this without him?”

“Yes.”

“Well, great. That seems really fair. I thought you were supposed to be Just?”

“I am.”

“Can You explain to me, then, how suffering and death is just? Can You fill me in on the justice of not only the absence of my father but the widespread absence of fathers, living or not? How are the chains by which an autoimmune disease enslaved the body of my dad just?”

“Let Me ask you this, My daughter, is it better to die a slave or limp along the Way of freedom?

And they complained to Moses, “Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? Why did you do this to us? Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, ‘Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians’? Far better for us to be the slaves of the Egyptians than to die in the desert.” [Exodus 14:11-12]

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Augustine says…’It is better to limp along the way than to walk briskly off the way.’ For one who limps along the way, even though he makes just a little progress, is approaching his destination; but if one walks off the way, the faster he goes the further he gets from his destination.”

The bone bruise in my foot improved since I received my MRI results when I arrived in Denmark. I trained in a full session and played 45 minutes in the game last weekend. It felt better than I thought it would in so short a time. I was excited. Being on the ball again energized me and lifted my dreary January spirits. My foot would be a little sore after a session, but it was so tolerable. I didn’t think too much of the soreness. If this was the deal to play, done. After playing in the game, though, the soreness lingered and ached more than before. I thought a tape job for training would provide extra support, and I’d be good to go. Monday went okay. Then comes the day I was waiting for. Consecration day. Woe is me.

The plan for the session looked like a blast. And it was. Everything was great, until 5v5. Shocker.

The level was high and competitive. I ate it up. My foot, though, was killing my appetite. The ache grew into a pulse, which sent shock waves to my brain every time I stepped. “We probably have only a couple more rounds,” I thought, “I’ll be fine.”

My group was in the game. I made a great run behind the defending players, and my goalkeeper lofted a ball heading straight for my foot. I jumped to meet it out of the air and…game over.

Over the course of the 33-day consecration to St. Joseph, Father Donald Calloway provided an abundance of information and knowledge on the greatness of St. Joseph. He discussed the manifold virtues of this chosen earthly father of our Lord and included bountiful testimonies from the saints, popes, and religious men and women about the blessings of a devotion to our spiritual father, whom God the Father entrusted His Mother and His Son to during their time in the world. Though this knowledge is indispensable, Father Calloway prepares the reader for more than an expanse of the mind, rather spiritual transformation and filial entrustment. An expanse of the heart.

“You definitely need to know many things about St. Joseph, but it is very important that you also fall in love with him. Daily prayer to St. Joseph will help you develop a loving relationship with your spiritual father.” [Consecration to St. Joseph]

In loving St. Joseph, he would help me be a daughter and lead me to my Lord Jesus. The Christ Child he knew very intimately in their hidden life in Nazareth. Learning about how close St. Joseph was to Jesus and his immense paternal love for the Word made flesh, I prayed, asking in Jesus’ name, that St. Joseph would incite in me those same feelings of love for Jesus. I asked, in the name of the Son of Man, that St. Joseph would increase in me intimacy with Him. Throughout the journey of getting to know St. Joseph and asking these prayers, I felt this increase in my heart. Just as I know the wind by its noise and effect. Without knowing where it comes from or where it is going, I feel it.

On day 30, three days before full consecration, I wasn’t feeling it quite as much. After a long day, I hoped the reading was short and easy. Day 30 explored St. Joseph as the Patron of the Dying. This should be quick and easy. And it doesn’t really pertain to me, so I won’t have to focus too much. Well, the reading, of course, ended up being one of the longest. With every turn of the page, bitterness swelled in me. Why am I even doing this? Why do I need to know this anyway? I’m good without it. Just when doubts began to creep into my thoughts, the discussion turned to love, taking me off guard.

“Love was the real cause of the death of St. Joseph.” [Venerable Mary of Ágreda]

Huh?

“Saint Thérèse of Lisieux taught the world “the little way” of holiness and childlike simplicity, but St. Joseph long before her had already perfected the spirituality of childlike confidence in God. Saint Joseph gave everything for Jesus and Mary. He poured himself out. When completely exhausted from love, he died from having loved so much.” [Consecration to St. Joseph]

I read those words and then read them again. And again. And again. Is this what I was asking for in loving Jesus? Suffering? Sacrifice? Selflessness? Is love worth all this? I pondered what loving in this way might mean and not exactly knowing the weight of the following words, I thought, “I want to die from having loved so much.”

How pious I must be for desiring to die from love.

Who am I, caked in pride, to think it would be nice to die from love? To think I could even love a day’s true worth of love. An hour. A moment. My mood changes as the seconds of the minute tick by. I live an endless tide of lows and highs, Apathy and charity. I love. Have loved. This much is true. But in what degree? By what do I measure the love I have? By the number of people I date? By how many people like me or think highly of me? By my acts of giving and generosity in comparison to other people? I do this. And its exhausting and overwhelming and constantly changing. Measuring love by man keeps me guessing in endless cycles of encouragement and disappointment. Sometimes I am enough and sometimes I am not. For as much as I know this about myself, my change in moods and confidence, I know it, too, of others. The people around me guess to a certain degree just as much as I do. Not only this, but isn’t love supposed to be life-giving? Isn’t love what we are all chasing after for meaning and purpose in our lives? For stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away. Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love, he would be roundly mocked [Song of Songs 8:6-7]. If we love what we do, our career, we find purpose in it. We find identity. A job can give us meaning. If we love another person, we find purpose in loving them; we receive meaning from receiving their love. But then we lose our job. But then we lose a person we love. I lose my father. And I die, too.

“We may well call St. Joseph the martyr of the hidden life, for no one ever suffered as he did. But why so much sorrow in his life? Simply because the holier a person is, the more he must suffer for the love and glory of God. Suffering is the flowering of God’s grace in a soul and the triumph of the soul’s love for God. Therefore, St. Joseph, the greatest of saints after Mary, suffered more than all the martyrs. The source of his suffering lay in his deep, tender, and enlightened love for Jesus and his veneration for the Virgin Mary. All the elect must climb the hill of Calvary, and it is only through the wounds in His hands and feet that they reach the heart of Jesus. It is not so much a question of penitence as of love; penitence only pays a debt, but love goes further and crucifies itself with Jesus and for Jesus. It is a truth then that the more a soul loves, the more it suffers. That is why St. Joseph’s Calvary lasted thirty years with no respite whatever. When he was honored with the dignity of the foster-father of Christ, the Cross was set up in his heart and he labored in its shadow for the rest of his life.” [St. Peter Julian Eymard]

Three days later, I realized what I had asked for. I was on the hill of Calvary on my consecration day, as I requested to know the love one could die from. Thinking I could ascend to such heights in a matter of a month, let alone at all, when God Himself asked that such a cup of suffering pass from Him. I would dare to drink from this cup?

Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”  [Matthew 26:39]

Upon landing from receiving the ball out of the air, a pain like the stabbing of a nail through my foot utterly knocked me to the ground. I haven’t had many injuries in my life, praise the Lord, and I thought I had a high pain tolerance. Until now. This pain crippled me. I barely limped off the field. Mustering every ounce of pride left in me to hold back tears. I thought maybe it would wear off if I could just keep moving, but every step drove the nail deeper.

But Moses answered the people, “Fear not! Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the Lord will win for you today…The Lord Himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still.” [Exodus 14:13-14]

“and it is through the wounds on His hands and feet that they reach the heart of Jesus…love goes further and crucifies itself with Jesus and for Jesus. It is a truth then that the more a soul loves, the more it suffers.”

God, in His justice, should let us reap the evil and disharmony we sowed in our disobedience to Him. He created us good. He created us to dwell with Him in love (indeed, why we are all chasing it…purpose and meaning). But we chose our own way. Continue to choose our own way. Life apart from Life itself brings death. Being apart from Being itself means lack of being. But God, in His mercy, did not leave us to our deserving fate. Our just fate. Because there was no way for us to remedy our own death, He came to us. He comes to us as a Man Himself. This reality goes against every fallen cell of my body. Have I ever genuinely wanted humility? To be humbled? To embrace my creatureliness? To admit my desires are disordered and I am in need of help? I truly don’t think so. It is a pill much too large to swallow that no one wants but we all desperately need. It is the nail through the foot reminding me I am crippled. I need help.

“To reverse original sin, God must deal above all with deeply ingrained idolatry. Idolatry, worshipping the creature over the Creator or imagining the Creator in creaturely terms (as if the Creator were a creature, as if God were “on our level” competing with us for resources), is the fundamental injustice, the fundamental disorder, from which all other manifestations of disorder and violence flow.” [Holy People, Holy Land]

“Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.” [Milton Paradise Lost]

“In Milton’s poetic depiction, the devil imagines God as “over against” creatures, dominating them by power and force; and likewise the devil imagines freedom to be simply having power and dominion. As the poet knew, this perversion—which is so often our perversion as well—completely inverts the reality of God. Blinded by pride and the violence it begets, human beings so often create “gods” in our own image…Freed from such idolatry by God’s covenantal love as revealed in the Bible, we realize that the true God is he whose power is wisdom and whose freedom is self-giving love. God freely creates us out of love and invites us, with wondrous mercy, to share eternally in the unfathomable dance of his wisdom and love. This is the true picture of reality; all others are painfully drab, meaningless, boring, and egotistical in comparison. When one discovers oneself to be a creature created by God, it is cause for rejoicing. To be a creature means that there is some purpose, some meaning of life. Otherwise, why would God have bothered to create? He either created for a goal, or else nothing would have moved him to create. We are caught up into this plan, and surely it must be an exciting and significant one. God creates, or gives being, and we depend continually upon this ongoing gift of being.” [Holy People, Holy Land]

I need help to love more truly and genuinely. I can barely limp along the Way of love that “goes further and crucifies itself with Jesus and for Jesus.”

This, then, is the measure of love. This is the kind of love I ask to fill my heart. To feel for Jesus because this is the love by which He loves me. This is the Love the Father has for the Son. This is the Love the Father has for me. This is the Love St. Joseph wishes me to know and lead me to. In my pride, I thought it would be a cake walk. I thought I could run along the way and arrive in no time. But as the example of God Himself lived, loving is climbing the hill of Calvary. Of suffering and death so my fallen soul may be redeemed. I am His beloved. I belong to Him. I am His.

Now this is what the LORD says—He who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine! [Isaiah 43:1]

God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart…He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna…that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. [Deuteronomy 8:2-5]

“Let Me ask you this, My daughter, is it better to die a slave or limp along the Way of freedom?”

“Father, let me limp all my days, that by Your grace alone, I might dare to reach the heart of Your Son, my Lord Jesus Christ.”

I love you dad,

Lauren

larry_saj6Author

"Surely man at his best is a mere breath." -King David I am a mere breath God has graciously gifted to be His daughter first, a daughter and sister, a friend, an athlete, a writer, a coach. I hope to be a full-time professional soccer player, write a book or two, be a lifelong learner, work for a sports and faith ministry, coach college soccer, have a family and maybe even pick up the guitar. My dad died when I was a sophomore in college. Writing became especially important to me after his death, helping me grieve and heal. I find writing letters to him has helped me process deep emotions and pain I didn't really know what to do with. My hope is the letters will share experiences that speak to and shine a light into the lives and stories of others in some way.

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