Finding joy and faithfulness in the despondency
1992 seems like only yesterday. And so it is, in the light of eternity. Now, as then, we might be tempted to despondency, for similar fears and uncertainties beset us. Nonetheless, a dozen years of fidelity have taught us much. The Spirit of consolation, discernment and fortitude has been with us, and therein is our confidence for the days ahead. We remain unashamedly rooted and grounded in Revelation, Scripture and Tradition, the Faith of the Undivided Church, and on this we bank our future.
Here at the Convent in Rempstone, prayer, both liturgical and personal, has the priority. Insight is sometimes given, prophetic discernment. This was noticeably the case in November 1992 and its aftermath. The following paragraphs were written then and can be repeated now:
Whenever there is division and disunity in the Church, there is pain, confusion and hurt on both sides. But there are times when there is no escape from suffering except by remaining in it. Seeking to be elsewhere, or make things other than they are, serves only to increase pain. The seemingly inevitable remains, and the deadlock mysteriously deepens, in face of stubborn resistance.
Jesus at Calvary can alone make it possible for us to continue in such a situation. For the joy that lay ahead of him he endured everything, and there are times when he calls us to join him in this. In his strength and with his enabling, we are to remain with him in his trials, and make up what is still lacking in his sufferings for the sake of his body, the Church.
However gravely we might seem to err, in our own eyes, Jesus remains Lord of his Church, for it is his; the gates of the underworld will not prevail. There will be no final defeat, for victory is already achieved. The Church, in fact, has no meaning or purpose outside the predetermined purposes of God, and if we remain faithful, while human things are shaken, then so much the sooner will the unshakeable Kingdom come.
At times we may feel utterly alone in all this. Companions, if there are any, or well-meant clichés even from the words of Scripture or pious exhortation, are meaningless, or indeed an insult. We are like Job in the face of his comforters. Again, there is no escape, except that of acceptance. This is the rock-bottom of faith, the faith that can understand and see nothing, but which persists. It is God’s gift and the ultimate safety-net which holds us into life.
Hope begins to glimmer through. And it is there that we find our companions again. We know of a surety that the Church is the company of all the redeemed in the Communion of Saints, and that nothing can come between us and one another in the love which is God himself. However, there is always the immediate, practical moment. What is to be done? What might our Lord require of us? What, in fact, might he be offering us to do?
St Paul suggests an answer. ‘This is what God in Christ wills for you’, he says (1 Thess 5: 18). ‘Be always joyful; pray continually; give thanks whatever happens.’ Joy may well seem furthest of all things from heart and feeling. Yes, if we mean a facile, all’s-well-with-God’s-world kind of joy. Rather, let us return to an earlier thought: Jesus at Calvary, making it possible for us to endure, because he endured the full cost of the Cross for the joy that lay ahead of him.
A similar message is coming through again in 2005: joy. Our scheduled readings for matins one recent morning here, when the brokenness and disarray of the current situation were weighing heavily, pointed us to an extract from Irenaeus in the treatise Against Heresies, where he stresses the inestimable privilege of our Christian sacrifice in the Eucharist. We can never give up on it:
God regards the Church’s oblation, which the Lord said was to be offered all over the world, as a pure and acceptable sacrifice...We have a duty then...not to come empty-handed into the presence of the Lord our God...The offering of sacrifice has not been brought to an end. In former ages, sacrifice was offered by the people of Israel; it is still offered in the Church...We are bound then to offer sacrifice to him and always to show our gratitude to the God who created us...with pure intention, genuine faith, firm hope, and heartfelt love.
Such then is our practical way forward. In faith we affirm that the God who requires us to ‘show forth his death until he comes’ will not deny us our rightful place in his Church, so that we may indeed accomplish his purposes by continually offering sacrifice – with the help of his grace, all together and with much joyfulness, for as long as he shall appoint.
A sister of Rempstone Convent
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