Thursday, May 1, 2014

the Way

"All the way to heaven is heaven because Jesus said, 'I am the Way.'" - St. Catherine of Siena

Scrolling through my Facebook feed last night, I noticed that Fr. James Martin, SJ, had posted the above quote as an evening meditation. I think it's beautiful.

I also realize that it doesn't mesh well with the way we think about life most of the time. It's good to think about quotes like this, and see what we can learn from them - even if it may turn our perspective on its head, so to speak.

If we acknowledge that Jesus is indeed the Way, and we are truly committed to following him - then yes, all the way to heaven is heaven.

But it's not, we say. This is no bed of roses. Life is hard. It can be painful. There's nothing heavenly about that.

Or is there?

I think it goes without saying that the difficulties and pain we experience in life are not a reflection of what we believe heaven will be like when we (God willing!) get there someday. Given this, how can the difficulties and pain we endure in life in any way be the "heaven" of which St. Catherine speaks?

Perhaps because the difficulties and pains - all the suffering that is associated with our human condition - are supposed to help us get to heaven. If that is the case, then we can begin to see the wisdom in the words of this great saint.

To some extent, it comes down to whether or not we believe our suffering has meaning, whether or not we believe our suffering is worth something. And when you get right down to it, it has even less to do with whether or not we believe our suffering is worth something, and more to do with how much it is worth to GOD. In other words, is our suffering redemptive? Can God effect the work of salvation in our souls when we suffer?

If we got into a discussion of why suffering exists, and why, as children of a good God, we still suffer, we'd be here for a long time. I don't claim to have those answers. I often find myself grieving for loved ones who are suffering in some way.

I do believe that our suffering can be redemptive, though. There's a Catholic saying as old as the hills: "Offer it up!"  The idea being, when you encounter some kind of suffering - whether it's a toothache or a heartache or anything in between - that you offer it to God, for an intention you hold close to your heart, or for yourself (that "refiner's fire," purifying your soul), or someone in your life... And God, who is loving and good, can bring about good through that suffering. We already know that God can bring good out of incredible suffering - all we need do is consider Christ's death and resurrection to remind ourselves.

It doesn't mean it's easy, and it's not. But I think this is part of what St. Catherine was getting at - we know Christ suffered; if he is the Way, that means we will suffer, too, on our way to him. When we know our ultimate goal is heaven, everything we go through to get there is part of heaven - because bit by bit, it's helping us get there. It hearkens back to the words of St. Therese of Lisieux, as she suffered with tuberculosis: "Everything is a grace because everything is God's gift."


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