Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rejected by Their Own

"The value of a trial will be to set us apart. Evil must come to reject us, to despise us, to hate us, to persecute us, and then shall we define our loyalties, affirm our fidelities and state on whose side we stand. Our quantity will indeed decrease, but our quality will increase. Then shall be verified the words of our Master: ‘He that gathers not with me scatters.’” (Matthew 12:30)

“Ecce Homo!” Pilate said to the crowd. That is, “Behold the man!” Behold the man, the Christ who stands alone and rejected by his people.

The most effective way we can become one with Our Lord- the greatest form of participating in his Passion -is to be rejected by our own. Out of the Fourteen Stations of the Cross, the first one had to be the most painful one of all for Jesus Christ. To have raised up a people of a nation from the time of Moses, to have favored them above all the families of the world and to have been one with them as a fellow Jew in blood and spirit only to be condemned as a criminal had to hurt him more than the very nails splitting open his wrists and feet.

To be an outsider and misunderstood is the lot of God’s closest friends. As far as I know, there is not a single canonized Saint who was not rejected and felt alone at some critical juncture in their life. Jesus warned us as much when he said he came to bring, not peace, but the sword. The Lord’s chosen instrument of pruning and purification is quite often the painful experience of being excluded by those closest to us. By far, the worst pain is to be endured during spiritual desolation, when the soul feels totally abandoned by God himself. The soul can be so deprived of the “sense” of grace that it deems itself to be denied God’s mercy. Not a few Saints were tempted with despair; the feeling of being totally left behind by their Best Friend.

Consider the patriarch Joseph, one of Jacob’s twelve sons. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers. For twenty long years it seemed as if God abandoned him. As for Moses, the great legislator of God’s law, he was driven out of Egypt by Ramesses II for forty years. And then we come to King David. Before his anointing as King of Israel, he did not fit in with the rest of brothers and as a result would shepherd sheep by himself. Soon to follow was the prophet Elijah. He was not welcomed in band of the so-called prophets. The only real companion he had was his disciple Elisha. What about the the prophet Hosea? He was instructed by God to marry a prostitute named Gomer (she was to symbolize the infidelity of Israel) only to be rejected by her later on. Indeed, the character and greatness of these patriarchs, kings and prophets of the Old Testament were born from tasting the bitter medicine of being rejected by their own.

Rejection and banishment was no less the chosen instrument used by Christ in fashioning his Saints. "He said, 'The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.'Then he said to all, 'If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily 11 and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.'" (Luke 9:22-24)

Just to name only a few who followed in his own footsteps, there was his own family- the Holy Family. They had to flee Israel to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. And centuries later there was St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas More, and St. John Fisher who were rejected and martyred by their English countrymen. Pope St. Gregory VII, a champion of reform and who got the State off of the Church’s back, was driven out of Rome by the emperor Henry IV only to die in exile. About seven hundred years later, St. Alphonsus Liguori was kicked out of the Redemptorist order, the religious order he founded.

In modern times the Lord continued to set men and women apart for his work through the bitter trials of rejection. St. Edith Stein, for instance, was a convert from Judaism to Catholicism. As such, she was estranged from her own people because of her faith in Christ. St. Padre Pio was forbidden by the Vatican to publicly exercise his ministry for ten years. Unable to minister to his people, he became a prisoner of his friary. And there is Bishop Fulton Sheen, arguably the most gifted evangelist of the twentieth century. According to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Bishop Sheen was an outsider with regard to his brother bishops. He never quite belonged.

But our Lord too, never quite belonged! On the Cross, Jesus uttered the memorable words of Psalm 22: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” When feeling abandoned, believers have prayed these very words with our Lord in Spirit. It was as if to say, “God, I know you to be good. You have helped me time and time again. All of my life I have believed in your divine providence. But now, I pray and you do not answer. I seek, but I do not find. I knock, but you do not open the door. Dear God, I am at the end of rope. Who will help me if you do not?”

From the book, The Spirituality of the Old Testament, it captures the plight of the soul when it has felt abandoned by God:

“[S]ouls cease to understand the reason for the trials that afflict them and believe they are separated from God forever.” "[D]ivine conduct," it continues, "seems utterly incomprehensible, even extremely arbitrary and unjust. Everything bewilders them, causing uneasiness, anguish, obscurity. They more they seek God, the more deeply hidden He remains; the more they desire Him, the more he rejects them...they experience a reversal of God’s relationship to them. They seem to be permanently abandoned or even rejected, though divine favor and friendship had been theirs before.”

On Good Friday our Lord stood alone before his people as a rejected King. From the Thursday night to three o’clock Friday afternoon God the Father, in addition to the crowd, had seemed to reject his only begotten Son. Alone our Lord Jesus stood before Pilate and his people. A true outsider! He was born outside of Bethlehem in a cave and he would die outside of the walls of Jerusalem. In the Heart of Jesus, there is a special place for the ostracized and abandoned. They have not been forgotten by the Person who knows what it feels to be forgotten.

Have you been forgotten or excluded from those closest to you? Well then, you have a friend in Christ. Better yet, you are being fashioned in his likeness.