In her memoirs, Ways of Divine Love, Sister Josefa Menendez (1890-1923) describes one of her visions in words that challenge the way that we look at our miseries in life. Jesus had said to her, “Thy misery draws me to thee… The void and misery in thee are as magnets that attract my love to thee. Yield not to discouragement, for my mercy is honored in thy infirmity.” This saint responded to Jesus with a complete and confident surrender of her misery to the Savior.
St. Maria Faustina Kowalska received a similar message from Jesus. In making her thanksgiving for the many graces that she had received, she had said to Jesus, “Through the (religious) vows, I have given myself entirely to you; I have then nothing more that I can offer you.” Jesus replied, “My daughter, you have not offered me that which is really yours.” She did not know what He meant. She begged Jesus to reveal this to her and Jesus responded, “My daughter, give me your misery, because it is your exclusive property.” (Diary #1318)The saint recognized her misery and surrendered it to Jesus with great confidence, knowing that she will never be rejected by Him.
What? Jesus wants my miseries? Is that possible? Isn’t He repulsed by my sins, imperfections, infidelities, moral failures, and weaknesses? Before we dismiss these hopeful words of Jesus to these mystics as mere pious musings, let us recall His words to us, “I will never reject whoever comes to me for I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.” (Jn 6:37-38) Even St. Paul saw his own nagging weakness as a channel for God’s grace in his life, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”(2 Cor 12:9). Our miseries do not drive Jesus away but they are indeed like magnets that attract Him to us. The ongoing Incarnation, the Perfect One taking on and retaining the nature of His imperfect creatures, becoming like them in all things except sin, is the greatest testimony of God’s incessant attraction to our miseries.
In the Gospel, we see a Savior who has every good reason to reject the crowd that followed Him. He had just been rejected from His native place of Nazareth. He had just heard that Herod had beheaded His (Jesus’) beloved precursor, John the Baptist. He was trying in vain to find a place to rest when this crowd came searching for Him. But Jesus “looked at them with pity.” He noticed their deepest misery, a misery that He alone could alleviate. He could not resist the misery that He saw in them. Out of pity for them, without their even asking Him, and surely not because they were of a faithful stock, Jesus first of all “cured their sick.” He then instructed the disciples what to do, “Bring me the loaves and the fish… Tell them to sit down.” And then He fed them with bread and fish. Once they had experienced this compassionate love of Jesus for them, once their sick had been cured, and they had listened to His words and received His nourishment, we are told that “they all ate and were satisfied.”
It is this compassionate love of God offered to us in Christ Jesus, this love that incessantly wants to heal us, teach us, and feed us, that alone satisfies us here on earth. When we find our satisfaction in this love, there is nothing in this world that we cannot overcome. This is St. Paul’s message to the Romans in the Second Reading that nothing created can separate us from the (compassionate) love of God for us in Christ Jesus. We conquer all things – anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, death, angels, etc – “because nothing can separate us from this (compassionate) love of Christ.” In truth, “No creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” only because Jesus always looks at us and acts towards us with pity. He sees and knows all our miseries and lovingly condescends to
redeem and alleviate it at any cost as only He can because He knows what we are going through.
The First Reading depicts the Prophet Isaiah speaking to the Israelites returning to Jerusalem from exile. The invitation is addressed to those who are bold and humble enough to face and own up their misery, “All you who are thirsty…You who have no money.” They are invited to be nourished, “Come, receive grain, drink wine and milk.” They are invited to learn from God’s words to them, “Come to me heedfully, and listen that you may have life.”Lastly, they are restored and reconciled with God, “I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.” God fulfills this covenant in the compassionate heart of our Savior who is never repulsed by our own miseries but who bends over them to redeem it.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how do we react to our miseries? What do we do when our good resolutions do not last an hour before our weaknesses get the better of us? Do we pretend that they do not exist? Do we behave like the Israelites in the time of Isaiah who “spend their money on what is not bread and their wages on what fails to satisfy?” Do we let our miseries separate us from our life of worship and service to God? Are we seeking other things to take these miseries away from us and fill the void? Or rather are we constantly seeking for the healing, teaching and nourishment of Christ despite our miseries? We will find deep satisfaction when we choose to meet His compassionate gaze with an intense desire to be healed and transformed, a readiness to embrace a new life in Christ lived for God and for others and desire to be nourished by Him.
I am reminded of a statement that my dad made during my last visit back home in Nigeria. We gathered as a family everyday for Mass in our home during my stay there. After the first Mass, my dad said to me, “That was my best Mass ever.” I asked him why he said so and he jokingly answered, “It is my best Mass because there was no homily, no Offertory, and no Announcements after Holy Communion.” We did not have any of these at the Mass. I still get a kick out of my father’s statement.
What makes the Mass the most beautiful and powerful prayer we have here on earth? It surely is not about the homilies though it is important to have good homilies and liturgy. It surely is not about the amount of money given at the offertory or the good works and outreach that are announced after Holy Communion. The Mass remains a powerful and efficacious prayer because it affords us a unique access to the compassionate love of God that constantly looks at us with pity, with a great desire to heal, teach and feed us. Out of pity for us, our compassionate God heals us as we beg for forgiveness as members of a community in the Penitential rite. Out of pity for us, He teaches and moves us to give all that we have and all we are as we hear His words in the Readings and Gospel. Lastly, out of pity for us, He feeds us with His own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist. There is no greater expression of God’s compassionate love for us than the Eucharist and nothing more potent to move us to conquer all things.
Let us approach the sacrament of the Eucharist like the crowd in Sunday’s Gospel. Having prepared for Mass by the healing through proper sacramental confession, let us also bring the temporal and spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters to Christ as the crowd brought their own sick to Jesus. Let us be ready to make sacrifices to be at Mass as the crowd was ready to “follow Jesus on foot from their towns.” Let us come to Him heedfully, ready to learn from Him how to offer all to God through and with Christ for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. If we do not let our miseries keep us away from Him, we will receive His healing, teaching and nourishment and become really satisfied.
During the Passion of Jesus Christ, St. Peter looked into Jesus’ eyes after betraying Jesus three times and he saw only pity and compassion. He fled out into the night to cry because he did not think that he deserved that look of pity and compassion after all his boasting that he would never desert Jesus. We too do not deserve this look and we will never deserve it. But in every Eucharist, we have a privileged opportunity to enter into His compassionate heart again and become aware of His constant gaze at us even in our misery. Let us remain and look at our miseries only through the eyes of Jesus. If we continuously let Him heal us, teach us, and feed us, we will be satisfied and we will surely overcome all things in this world simply because He always looks at us and acts towards us with nothing but pity.
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Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations’ Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.