As we continue through the desert experience of Lent with prayer, penance, and fasting in hopeful anticipation of the Resurrection on Easter, I share a second word and thought that came to mind during the past few months. A universal attribute mankind shares is each of us carry a burden or burdens whether we want to admit this or not. Each of us struggles with various burdens that weigh and grind us downward towards the very ground we traverse. Some of our burdens exist or continue to exist regardless of circumstance, faith, effort, and desire. Other burdens we keep yoked upon our shoulders that no longer need carrying but for a variety of reasons we keep those burdens boring down. Other burdens are placed upon us by others that are outside our jurisdiction yet the weight bears down.
Jesus Christ warned in the Gospel of the attitude of the Pharisees, “They tie up heavy burdens* [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:4) In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus repeats a variation of this warning, “And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.” (Luke 11:46) Jesus articulates the plight of his weary, worn flock burdened beyond what was theirs to carry.
Where suffering exists not far behind is additional, unnecessary burdens stacking up heavier and heavier. An unique and insidious phenomena exists where the weightier and darker the suffering, it attracts the attention of those who intend to add to the person’s suffering. Instead of offering help, support, compassion, or encouragement during the dark, difficult, confusing, messy, and uncomfortable moments or periods of life, they add to the problem, the weight, and the burden whether intentionally or not. Sometimes we participate beyond our personal awareness in hurting others. Whatever the intention behind the devastating contribution, the burden becomes heftier or a new burden arises. Another block added.
When reading St. Faustina’s Divine Mercy Diary, the reader realizes religious community life shares many of the same issues, sins, and grievances as other vocations. The Polish Saint experienced a plethora of sufferings at the hands of her religious community and sisters in Christ. Faustina’s extraordinary spiritual life and mystical relationship with Christ, which could be greatly misunderstood, approached with jealousy, and feared at times, opened her up to derision and abuses from her religious community. For a soul filled to the brim with suffering, one drop too many causes the cup to overflow with potential disastrous consequences for the suffering soul and the soul who added the one drop too many.
If we recognize that our time here on Earth is spent amid a great and turbulent Spiritual battle for souls, then any thought, word or deed can contribute to one side of that battle or the other. Amid this battle for souls live us humans surrounded not only the true, good, and beautiful of God but the opposite being sin and evil too. Though we shouldn’t give Satan our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical energy (those we turn towards knowing, loving and serving God), we should recognize that 1.) Satan and his evil spirits exist. 2.) They don’t want souls to know, love, & serve God in this life. 3.) They don’t want souls to be happy with God in this life or eternal life. 4.) They don’t want souls to be with God for eternity. Since Satan is the “Father of Lies,” his power of persuasion lies in deception. Sadly, we can become compliant, complacent, or complicit in the works of Satan in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Sometimes we are more conscious or aware of our involvement than others. Developing one’s conscience is the best way to combat our spiritual and moral blind spots.
One effective way to drag virtuous or unvirtuous person alike down to the breaking point or the implosion point is to burden the already burdened. Similar to St. Faustina’s sisters in Christ within her religious community who added to her already burdened and suffering soul, we too can add heavy burdens to our brother and sisters in Christ (which is everyone) that either doesn’t belong on the recipient’s shoulders to begin with or we place a burden that we have no intention or desire of helping that person carry or remove. The weight of that extra droplet when the cup is teetering about to overflow can feel unbearable. These moments in my life brought such pain and confusion.
If you’re faced with a situation where either in thought, word, or deed you may add another unnecessary burden onto another person or add more to a burden already present, pray and reflect before proceeding. Spend a moment or many moments in silence maybe even before Our Lord in the tabernacle or monstrance. Invite God into the moment. Consider the source and your intent. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and direct your steps. Ask Mother Mary and St. Joseph to help you build up the dignity of the human person and the human family not degrade it. Consider the tenants of fraternal correction outlined in the New Testament. If in doubt, abstain. Sometimes in the heat of a moment, our emotions and feelings increase and become the driving force behind our actions or words. In these moments, even pausing for 5-15 seconds can make a monumental difference between building up the Kingdom of God or not. I can think of an infinite amount of times in my life where waiting 5-15 seconds would have preserved myself and others the sting and pain of sin and the hurt sin inflicts. Sin isn’t just personal; sin is also communal. Every sin I commit degrades all of humanity and vice versa.
During this Holy season of Lent, Holy Family, please teach me to love and show compassion in thought, word, and deed. Holy Spirit inspire and develop my immature and weak conscience. Replace the darkness with light and illuminate the areas of my life whether thoughts, words, or deeds that remain in darkness or I fear may come into the light. Grant me a greater trust and reliance on your love and mercy which is life itself.