Monday morning, I had a really interesting thought come to my mind. I woke up at one point, and so vividly I could reach out and touch Him, I saw Jesus on the Crucifix. It just dominated my thoughts for several minutes, and left me just laying there contemplating what the Crucifix meant, why it happened, and not just a, 'Oh, look! There's Jesus, He died for me on the Cross because I'm a sinner.' No. There's much, much more to it than that.
I am certain that this came to my mind b/c of something I read Sunday night that had me super emotional (in a good way). It isn't a secret (I mean, you can tell just from the domain name from where you see this), I'm Catholic. As some of my friends would probably tell you: I am UNAPOLOGETICALLY Catholic, and I am not at all ashamed about how excited I get about my Jesus. Some might even say that I'm so excited about Him, I will tell anyone who can't outrun me and will listen. ;)
Some have outright called me to the mats, calling it 'Convert Fever,' making my eye twitch. I assure you, the cause of my joy isn't simply a passing phase, thank you kindly. Jesus, my Jesus, arranged things in such a way over the course of the past 27 years in such a way, that I finally was brought formally into the Church, HIS Church, this year. I cannot get enough of the Gospel. I cannot get enough of the Mass. I cannot get enough of the readings. I cannot get enough of the Bible studies. I cannot get enough of HIM. I cannot get enough. At all.
My Beloved Jesus means more to me now than He did before. Now that I'm starting to understand Him more, each leaf that gets turned over is a new adventure in exploring Him. Exploring Who and What He is. He is more than just the Son of God to me. He is also Someone Who cared THAT MUCH about me, He nailed MY sins, even and especially the ugliest things I have done, to that Cross.
I remember thinking Monday morning, with that image so intensely in my mind, 'My sins are nailed to the Cross, just like everyone else's. He loves me that deeply, too.'
There's a saying, 'No greater love than the Man Who lays His life down for His friends.' I'm not sure if that's in the Bible? I think it is. But, still. Even if it isn't, it's true. Fr Yoda Sunday during the Mass said that when we pray, that is how we embrace our Lord, and how He embraces us in return. Prayer is bringing the real you to the Real Jesus. During the Great Sending Forth (I think that's what it's called?) at the end, he also said (and this is my favourite thing he says, how he ends the Mass), 'Go forth in the blessing of the Father's family!' I always tear up when I hear that, and when I say, 'Thanks be to God!' I mean it with every cell in my body because I am grateful to be part of a family that does love and want me as much as everyone else who's part of that same group of loved ones.
Jesus means more to me than a simple plaque on the wall, a picture, a story. He is so much more than a couple prayers said or even a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart. He is Someone Who loves me with all of His Sacred Heart. He has me enveloped in His Love, and nothing, not even the devil himself, can remove me from that. I mean, what do you do with something like that? What do you do with this knowledge? To say a simple, 'Hey, thanks, Jesus! I really appreciate it!' seems so... small.
To quote a friend, 'There is LITERALLY NOTHING you can do to earn God's love, Rea. It's there for the taking. That's why the Gospel says that it's there "for the Salvation of many." Because not everyone wants it. How do you love God back? You don't sin and you do the best you can to serve Him with what limited ability you have as a human being. You pray. You love others as you love yourself.' I told my friend, 'You say it and it sounds so easy, but we both know that that's not nearly as easy as it sounds. And that's the frustrating part. I just want to make Him happy with me! That's all I want to do.' I was told in reply: 'Then stop trying to earn something that's being freely offered to you, Rea. Stop. It. Just love Him like I told you: don't sin and love others as you love yourself. That is how you make Him happy with you, kiddo.'
My life has had a lot of ups and downs, and I've experienced things that would turn a lot of people I know personally into emotional cripples. My brother once told me, 'Your faith has always kept you from going off the deep end.'
And he isn't wrong.
When I've had nothing and have literally been stripped of everything, and I mean E V E R Y T H I N G, I have had at least Jesus to lean on and had Him reach out to me. On my desk, I have a 5x7 frame with a quote from Romans 5: 'I loved you at your darkest.' I have that because sometimes it's hard for me to see I'm loveable. I find it hard to comprehend that even I, Rea, am a loveable person. When you grow up KNOWING you are resented and KNOWING that you aren't wanted (no matter how much and how vehemently it's a fact that is being vehemently denied), it hurts. So, when you hear all this really cool stuff about this One Person Who does, in fact, love you, and not just love you, but DIED for you so you can be united with Him one day, that's a lot to take in.
Love isn't something that comes easily for me, because it's not something I understand - I wasn't given a healthy example to learn from as a kid. So, hearing that the Creator of the Universe, HIMSELF, loves me, well, that's hard to just say, 'Oh, wow, thank You, Jesus! That's so cool!' because I feel like there's more to it than just that. But there ISN'T. My need to do more stems entirely from the ridiculousness (politely calling it) I was exposed to for so long, and now I'm trying to step back and allow God to adjust things in my head and not hover whilst He's working. That's... not easy.
Because of the terrible example I had, it's hard for me to love someone 'just because.' I tend to weigh things out. There's a lot of factors that go into if I want to love someone or not. There's a lot of things I consider whether I want to call someone more than just acquaintance, but FRIEND, or even more than that: FAMILY. I've had people kind of pseudo-adopt me, but that's backfired badly and it's left me wounded and bleeding in the corner, wondering if I'd ever recover, but then I'd lick my wounds and stand up and build yet another layer around my heart. Jesus has busted through those layers and given me something no one else really could: Love that doesn't play favourites. Love that doesn't make me hate myself anymore and love that makes it possible for me to look myself in the eye and genuinely tell myself, 'Hey, Rea! I don't know who you are, but I'm excited to be on this journey with you and learn about you.'
You know... That Crucifix that was so vivid in my mind... Jesus' gaze at me was something that touched me in the deepest place I didn't think existed. I remember thinking, 'What...?!' But I allowed myself to just lay there and let it happen. I allowed myself to really think about His Sacrifice and what He endured so I wouldn't have to endure it. When I'm sitting in the Sanctuary waiting for Mass, and sometimes I will get brave and look at the Crucifix during Mass (I have a VERY hard time looking at the Crucifix, doesn't matter if it's during Mass or Adoration, or what it is. It's hard to look at it!)... I think a lot about the Crucifixion. I don't know if I'd necessarily call it a 'meditation,' per se, but ... I do think about it. This morning, it hit me in such a way that I'm still unable to talk about my exact feelings about it because I cannot identify quite what I felt when that image came to my mind.
Our Lord died on a Cross after suffering HORRIBLY. I put Him there. We all did. He suffered unspeakably painfully. Because we all tortured Him. He could've, at any time, stood up and said, 'Pfft. No. You guys are really just... no.' But He didn't. He allowed this to happen because He loves us that much. He didn't want us to face eternal fire because of how broken we are. That just... baffles me.
'I loved you at your darkest.' I sit here and read that and think, 'I loved you at your darkest...Rea.' I read stories in the Bible and try to imagine myself in those situations that are being discussed. Not a movie reel in my head, but ACTIVELY A PARTICIPANT. My writer's imagination? Perhaps, like I mentioned earlier, I grew up being resented for something I had zero control over, so to be GENUINELY told that I am GENUINELY wanted and GENUINELY loved, that's hard for me to just accept it and run with it. I've gone to Confession and thought, 'I'm not talking to my Confessor, I am talking to Christ, He is in this room. He is listening to me, and so is my Mama. She is here, too, and she is wrapping me in her mantle and praying her intercessories for me.'
'I loved you at your darkest.' Sit with that for a minute. Sit with it for longer than a minute. Really think about it. Allow it to seep into your deepest being. Wrap your arms around Him because He is doing that to you.
'I loved you at your darkest.'
'Greater love hath not a man than One who layeth His life down for His friends.'
Jesus, I offer You my thank You, even though I feel like it isn't enough...