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It is impossible not to be struck by the epistle from today’s Mass:

Brothers and sisters:

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
must be removed from you, along with all malice.
And be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us
as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.

Ephesians 4:30-5:2

St. Paul gives us quite a tall order, and he frames it in our relationship with the Holy Trinity: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit,” “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.” We are all children of God, and naturally, how we treat each other is an integral part of how we relate to God–and vice versa. For if you love God and have a strong and true relationship with Him, you will be much more cognizant of how you treat other people, and all other things that He has created.

Probably the most difficult thing in the above scripture is to “[forgive] one another as God has forgiven you.” This is not a new idea, for it is part of the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  It is also in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.”  And in other places in scripture, the point is made very clear: mercy comes to the merciful, and those who receive mercy are obliged to show mercy.  No Christian can claim ignorance of this teaching.

And yet, to forgive and to show mercy… I find it extremely difficult sometimes!  Even though I know how merciful God has been to me, and how merciful other people have been to me many times, and even though I know my obligation to forgive others… I often find it much easier said than done.  Fortunately, the priest spoke to this difficulty during his homily.  He said that forgiveness will almost always be willed long, perhaps very long, before it is felt–but that the will to forgive is the more important of the two, and that God will always accept and work with a willingness to forgive.  It might take a long time before the heart catches up with the mind–but that is often true.

So, we should not worry nor fear nor be anxious if we don’t immediately “feel like” forgiving somebody, or even feel like we can forgive them.  God in His wisdom has made a point of drilling it into our minds that we need to forgive others, and that forgiving others is the best thing for us.  Even if we feel a great aversion to forgiving, we should offer it up to God, saying, “Lord, you know how greatly I am suffering from what so-and-so did to me, and that I’m having a very hard time forgiving them.  But I want to forgive them.  Please help me do so, and to heal from the sufferings they’ve caused me.”  I pray this way often.  And gradually, I do find healing and find that I am able to move beyond whatever injury I’ve suffered.

It’s not easy, but it’s far better than allowing “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling … along with all malice” to dwell within us and fester.  Those things are the raptor claws of the devil that inject poison into us and seek to tear us from God’s side forever.  It’s far better to just try your best to forgive–no matter how feeble you may think your efforts are.  God will not let them go to waste.

The seasons have changed once again–both physically and spiritually.  Summer is my least favorite season; I know that in some places it’s lovely, but I don’t live in one of those places.  It is uncomfortable, often oppressive.  The sun is hot, the wind is hot.  Cicadas fill the air with a drone that dampens other sounds, creating a kind of strange quietness.  Most of the delicate things of Spring cannot withstand the heat.  Clouds and rain become rare, unless a big tropical storm or hurricane spins them up this way–but I don’t want them at that cost.

I know it could also be worse; I don’t exactly live in a desert.  Spiritually, however, I feel like I’m in the middle of a desert.  It’s like a completely different world.  In the Spring, I was grateful that my life had changed with the seasons, but I should have known that Summer would take over.  Somber, oppressive, tiring Summer, and spending it alone in the desert.

The rosy new relationship that had brought so much new happiness and hope has wilted away, its soothing blooms replaced with wounding thorns.  I thought I might be able to hold on to it and maybe revive it.  But it’s proven too difficult and painful.

And I already have other difficulties and pains that I have no choice but to bear.  My loss and grief for my father’s death have increased, along with my yearning for his strong and dependable support and warmth and counsel and reassurance.  April brought the anniversary of his passing; June brings Father’s Day and his birthday, which are now and always will be commemorated in a cemetery.

I know I’m not really alone.  I know.  But I feel alone.  And I am lacking the sense of my own worth that my dad, more than anybody else, gave and reinforced for me.  Again, I know I have worth, and that nobody can take it from me–but I don’t feel it.  My heart is parched and thirsting.  It feels barren.  Everything feels barren.

In the same way, I know that God exists and that He loves me and provides for me.  But the feeling and the certainty are nowhere to be found.

The desert is where faith, hope, and love become acts of sheer will.  It’s a test, a training drill.  I’ve been here many times, in many circumstances, and have come through it with varying degrees of success–but always better than I was.  I understand what it is, and I see the purpose and the ultimate reward–but that doesn’t make it easier.  It’s a place where one must face death.  People and relationships die.  Sometimes, they disintegrate quickly and completely, as with my romance.  Sometimes, they just change so radically and earth-shakingly that your entire life must become re-oriented and re-built, as with my father’s death.

It’s also a “Memento mori” place where you must face your own death that is coming, be it in a very near or still-faraway moment.  While we hope in the afterlife, death is still death, and we will experience it as such–a moment where everything and everybody we’ve ever known falls away from us, we lose every feeling and sense of joy and love, and we are alone.  Whatever eternity lies beyond it, we will experience death as death, even if for a brief instance.  That is part of what it means to be human.  Even Christ, in His humanity, had to experience this, hence his cry, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?”

Likewise, Christ spent time in the desert–both physical and spritual desert–in preparation for His life’s work and for His death.  And so, I am hardly alone in this season and this place–all Christians must follow Christ, and the desert is part of this.  I know it’s not supposed to be easy.  But please, in your charity, offer up a little prayer for me to be steadfast of will and keep my eyes on the prize!

(Photo source: Chris Schenk, U.S. Geological Survey)

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