Grace In Every Sliver

During Holy Week, I came across a sermon that connected a number of dots for me and really brought my Lent into focus, especially because of the very different character of what we all experienced this Lent. We continue to make many of those sacrifices out of caution and care for the most vulnerable among us. I had watched the new movie “Onward” from Disney and Pixar with my family, and as so often I do, I received some insight that applies to my walk of faith. Though in this case, that insight didn’t mature in my understanding, until I heard the sermon I mentioned.

Without spoiling any of the movie’s plot, there was a line spoken: “There’s magic in every fiber.” I’ll spare the context in case you haven’t seen it yet but hope to.

In the sermon I heard, Fr. Mike Schmitz offered a reflection on the cross and the sufferings we bear. For us, as Catholics, we are called to recognize the value, the worth, and indeed the saving power contained in suffering. In fact, our salvation was enacted by the generous suffering of Christ—not so much that God needed someone to pay for our sin, but that he put forth the life of Jesus as the medium by which to teach us his love. So, it isn’t that we must suffer to earn or merit divine grace, but it is in suffering that a very particular kind of grace is available to us, as we work through our sufferings in profound kinship with the Lord Jesus.

Just as Jesus bore the cross of our sins to death, we bear a cross of suffering, and in every pang of that suffering, every prick of the harsh wood of the cross, the grace of God is made available to us, either for ourselves or for another in a mystical way. In Fr. Schmitz’s words, there’s grace in every splinter.

The tragedy is that we have the opportunity also to waste the grace. Either we can accept our sufferings with gratitude for the good to be gained, to grow in humility, to experience the shunning Jesus himself did, even from his own Apostles, or we can waste it, losing that blessed moment to be beside the Lord mystically under the weight of the cross.

This is the purpose of suffering, then, to share our part of the sufferings of the cross, which brings us near to the heart of Jesus, much like Simon, who was under the arm of Jesus even as Jesus himself was under the arms of the cross.

However, there are many, many ways in which we shirk that weight and lose that intimacy with the suffering Lord, wasting the opportunity. 

Let us consider how we might take advantage of each sliver of the cross we experience. For example, our current ordeal forces us to miss many of the things we enjoy most in life and, even more so, the things we need in life: human contact, connectedness, and interaction. In a Church-sense, the thing we miss most is the Blessed Sacrament in Holy Communion.

We can still, and should, pursue every chance to experience communion with the Lord spiritually through prayer, even remotely in the Mass or Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. However, we are learning the hard lesson of what it is to really hunger for the Eucharist.

I would propose, however, that to become cynical or to lose patience with this process is to waste the suffering of going without. In general, when we give way to complaining or grousing about this or that hardship, we forfeit the chance to grow from it. This is perhaps the curse of the relative acceptance of religious freedom in America.

Many might counter that this is different—it is the life of the Church, the source and summit of our faith; but I think that argument lacks the perspective of fellow brothers and sisters in the Church in other parts of the world and historical precedent. In many places, the Eucharist is simply not available to the faithful, and Church history is full of the example of saints who chose to abstain from Holy Communion periodically.

Pope St. Pius X wrote that if angels could envy, they would envy our reception of Holy Communion. Communion is always an undeserved gift, and we receive it only at the Lord’s invitation. To receive the Lord bodily, even once, is a privilege beyond description or fathom. Just as there’s grace in every sliver of the metaphorical cross we carry, there’s grace and fullness of salvation in even just a particle of the Sacred Host.

Do not resent this season, nor those who make the decisions that hold us in it. Instead, pray to practice the grace of the enduring, suffering Son of God in which grace we are called to be changed from glory into glory.

David Dunst
Director of Music and Liturgy


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