I am not sure if I have ever mentioned Q to you. Q is a homeless woman I met on campus when I was at TCU. I think I talked to her the first time in undergrad. She would come and go. Sometimes staying on campus for weeks or months and then disappearing. Often, she was asleep on the bench outside of Jimmy Johns, but when she was awake, man she loved to talk. Once I caught her awake outside of Barnes and Noble, so we sat and chatted for a while. Q was so wise. An old grandma willow. We talked about health and wholeness, her drawings and the magazine she hoped to feature in, her story, God and the meaning of life. She was a very faithful woman in her own way. A close friend to God. She always encouraged me when we talked, telling me I was beautiful, inside and out. I never left our conversations without a smile on my face. Q would always show up when I needed her. Needed her soft smile and motherly love. Needed her encouragement and reminders of who God is and who I am. This is why I am convinced Q was an angel.
Continue in brotherly love. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angles without knowing it. [Hebrews 13:1-2]
How often I dismiss people because of their outward appearance. Or because I conclude there probably isn’t anything I can gain from them. How can this relationship benefit me? This is the question on my mind rather than how can I be a friend to this person? Or how can I love them and show them the dignity of a creature beloved by the Creator of the universe? Why do I see a human being like myself homeless, asking for help on the street, and turn my face away? How can I be so selfish and superficial? I turn my face away from the people God promises to be near to. The vulnerable. The broken-hearted. The poor. These are the chosen ones who hold up the world. These are the victim souls who carry a cross I could never bear. These are the friends of God who have an intimate relationship with Him. Who see Him more clearly than I see Him because their hearts are pure.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8]
Thursday afternoon I watched online Mass from St. Andrew’s in Fort Worth. Father Dan celebrated the Mass, and in his homily, he talked about his friend Fred, who recently passed away. Fred had a debilitating muscle disease. It sounded so similar to what you suffered from, dad, which was honestly so crazy because your disease was rare. Fred suffered from his disease since he was 12 years old. It moved slowly, like yours, and increasingly took away all of his muscle function. He died when his lungs could no longer breathe in and out. Father Dan mentioned how unattractive Fred looked from the outside. How the withered muscles in his face gave him a droopy look, often slouched over in his wheelchair. Though his mind was sharp, his physical appearance didn’t reflect it. Father Dan suggested these are the types of people we tend to keep our distance from because the world is full of powerful people we see as appealing. People who command the attention of others and take control over the people around them. These are those we often look to and even envy. They impress us. Why though? Why are we so enthralled by control? Why do we grasp for things as if they can be our own when all is given to us?
Father Dan continued Fred’s story at his funeral. May God bless his soul. He said that Fred’s mother and sister were weeping and so grieved by the loss of Fred. Father Dan suggests some would wonder why Fred’s mother and sister were so grieved, for it must have been so much work and energy for them to take care of him. Wouldn’t there be a sense of relief for them now? Wouldn’t they be looking forward to all the time they could have for themselves now? No. Mom relates this same sentiment. She told me that when you were diagnosed with your disease, people actually asked her if she would leave you. And after your death, if she felt relief for no longer having to care for you. Woe is us is all I can say. Woe is the human condition. I cannot condemn these people because I was there too. I have expressed this to you before, to my disgust, that there were more than a few days I wished you were not my dad, that it would be easier if you weren’t around. But after you died, there was no sense of relief. No looking forward to more “me time.” Ughhh. When did life become more about convenience and comfort than living.
Charity does not insist on its own way. [1 Corinthians 13:5]
Father Dan called Fred a victim soul. Th pastor who did Fred’s funeral told his mother and sister that the Lord tailor makes our crosses for our backs, and Fred’s cross was one they, or many, could not bear themselves. Fred was a chosen one. Chosen to hold up the world through his suffering. Chosen to bear his cross to fill in what’s lacking in the suffering of Jesus on the cross. To fill in the gap for all those who refuse to take up their own cross, suffer and follow Jesus. Refuse to be a friend of God. Refuse His invitation to life for comfort and convenience. Have mercy, Father. Spit out our tepidity.
You were a victim soul, too, dad. Mom tells me so often how she couldn’t understand how you bore your suffering so well. How she could never have done it. I feel the same. I didn’t know it, then, but you held our family up by your suffering. You held me up when I scorned you for not being the father I wanted and expected. You held me up when I refused to be your daughter. I idolized independence and health and ability like it could save me. Like these things could give me life if I could only control how fit I was, how smart I was, how self-sufficient. I was so wrong. All it did was lead me astray from who I was and who you were.
Now I see more clearly, though still only partially, how blessed I was and am to be your daughter. You were one of the hidden friends of God filling in the gap for those who refuse to be who they were created to be. You were one chosen to hold up the world when the rest of us are more concerned about how we can control it for the sake of our comfort and convenience.
So the LORD replied, “If I find fifty righteous ones within the city of Sodom, on their account I will spare the whole place.” Then Abraham answered, “Now that I have ventured to speak to the LORD—though I am but dust and ashes—suppose the fifty righteous ones lack five. Will You destroy the whole city for the lack of five?” He replied, “If I find forty-five there, I will not destroy it.” Once again Abraham spoke to the LORD, “Suppose forty are found there?” He answered, “On account of the forty, I will not do it.” Then Abraham said, “May the LORD not be angry, but let me speak further. Suppose thirty are found there?” He replied, “If I find thirty there, I will not do it.” And Abraham said, “Now that I have ventured to speak to the Lord, suppose twenty are found there?” He answered, “On account of the twenty, I will not destroy it.” Finally, Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak once more. Suppose ten are found there? And He answered, “On account of the ten, I will not destroy it.” When the LORD has finished speaking with Abraham, He departed, and Abraham returned home. [Genesis 18:24-33]
This dialogue takes place right after the LORD reveals Himself to Abraham in three men and promises him and Sarah a son in their old age. God chose Abraham to command his household and descendants to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has promised [Gen 18: 19]. Oh, how great the mercy and faithfulness of God is. He so wishes to bestow His blessings and promises on us if we only follow His ways, which means receiving His life and will, which is love and mercy itself, and not grasping for our own expectations and ideas of what we think our lives should be. Take, for instance, infant baptism. We think, why baptize an infant when they can’t really choose faith for themselves. Of course they cannot because that’s what parents are for. Parents love their children and ought to bear the responsibility of doing what is best for them, especially when we are young and helpless, but then also when we are older, not in the way of making choices for us but rather in showing the best way. It just makes sense that as a child grows from a baby to an adult, the way parents take care of him or her changes. Anyway, why should a parent who believes in the life of faith not baptize their infant? It would be like not naming him or her until they are old enough to choose for themselves (just consider, for a moment, your five- year-old-self choosing a name your teenage self would have to answer to). A faithful parent knows the life of faith is the most loving and fulfilling life, so it only follows to baptize them into this life from the beginning. Then, as the child grows, it becomes more and more his choice to embrace a life of faith and grow in holiness. I give this example just to express how God knows better than we do, and we can trust Him to name us and give us the best life possible.
How can suffering from a debilitating disease and dying before your kids get married be the best life possible? Well, the truth is God’s ways are not entirely known to us. His ways are mysterious, but we do know He is good and does not leave us to suffer just to suffer. He brings good from any situation, while giving us freedom in love. And, again, He knows us better than we know ourselves. As the pastor from Fred’s funeral said, God tailor makes the crosses to our backs because he knows what we can bear with the help of others. Jesus did not carry His cross alone. God does not ask us to carry our crosses and bear our suffering alone. He gives us people in our own lives to help and also examples of people who hold up the world through their suffering. Like Abraham. Abraham was an old man with no descendants but a promise from God he would “when the time comes alive.” Was he not suffering waiting for this promise to be fulfilled? Or when God then asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, his promised son, the thing he loved most? Of course Abraham endured tremendous suffering and what did this prompt him to do? Stand in the gap for the town of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great. Because their sin is so grievous, I will go down to see if their actions fully justify the outcry that has reached Me. If not, I will find out.” [Genesis 18:20-21]
Enter Abraham. Standing in the gap. Holding up Sodom and Gomorrah. Fulfilling what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. The people in Sodom and Gomorrah, “because their sin is so grievous,” were not sharing in the suffering of Christ. Not taking up their crosses or choosing friendship with God. Abraham, chosen by God to be the father of the nations, in his leap of faith asking God the Almighty to spare these people, acts maybe more so as a father here than when he actually has his physical son in Isaac. For it is Abraham doing what is right and just, which prepares him for the blessing and promise of his son and future descendants.
We see the faithfulness of hidden lives in so many saints as well. Tremendous suffering completely and utterly unknown to the world but at the same time holding it up. Standing in the gap for all who have turned their face from God. From the poor and vulnerable. Who have turned a blind eye to those who are unattractive, crippled, dependent, and cannot offer any form of repayment for help. Inconvenient, like Fred and my dad.
Praise God, then, for the victim souls. Praise Him for the hidden suffering and littleness of lives who do not grasp for power or control. Praise God for those whom He chooses to bear a cross so many of us cannot and choose not. Bless the friends of God who trust His goodness and receive whatever God’s will, which is love and mercy, looks like for them.
“I think it is important to speak of the cross often and lovingly.”[Sr. Teresa Benedicta]
“When we are going through our own suffering, truly the Lord consoles our hearts from the cross. He has been there first.”[Tara Lauderdale]
“And this also makes me think of the saints. They never downplay sin or despair of hope in God’s mercy. They have the strongest sense of the damage sin causes in their own lives but this causes them to reach out ever more quickly to God for his mercy and to trust entirely in him. I need to continually remind myself that sin and suffering are temporary, and God’s mercy is never ending.”[Aaron Althoff]
Sr. Teresa, Tara, and Aaron are fellow classmates from my theology master’s program at the Augustine Institute. I asked for their permission to quote their thoughts because they struck me personally. Who will ever hear of their names? Will they ever be on the world stage? Probably not but their lives of faith and their willingness to suffer on behalf of those who choose self, power, and control over friendship with God will endure long after any world stage even exists.
“True and subsistent life consists in this: the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, pouring out his heavenly gifts on all things without exception. Thanks to his mercy, we too, men that we are, have received the inalienable promise of eternal life.”[St. Cyril of Jerusalem]
“How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God,…to delight in the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God’s friends.”[St. Cyprian]
“My earthy desire has been crucified;…there is living water in me, water that murmurs and says within me: Come to the Father.”[St. Ignatius of Antioch]
“I want to see God and, in order to see Him, I must die.”[St. Teresa of Avila]
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Cyprian, St. Ignatius, and St. Teresa of Avila may be more well known than Sr. Teresa, Tara and Aaron, but the truth shows forth in them all. The pursuit of friendship with God and willingness to give up their earthly lives, desires, and expectations emerges from all of their words. They are all the hidden lives of faithful men and women holding up our world.
I feel like Elizabeth when Mary visits her after being visited herself by the angel Gabriel with the good news that she will bear a Son, Who will be great indeed, truly the Savior of the world.
In a loud voice she (Elizabeth) exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For as soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord’s word to her will be fulfilled.” [Luke 1:42-45]
Dad, why am I so honored, that the chosen of my Lord should be my father? Blessed are you in your victim soul. Blessed are you in your suffering to hold up our family. Blessed are you for bearing your cross to hold up your daughter, Lauren Elizabeth. The living water in my soul runs down my cheeks, crying “You are my Father.”
I love you dad,
PS- the following is from a poem called “The Hound of Heaven.” For no matter where you are in your life, friend of God or foe, He is pursuing you.
“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’…
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
‘And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing non but I makes much of naught’ (He said),
‘And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’”
[“The Hound of Heaven,” verses 1-15, 155-182, Francis Thompson]
“The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and unperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.” [Fr JFX. O’Conor, S.J]