SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
A story involving my husband and daughter is becoming part of our family lore. It brings us great joy to recount and it can be applied to the spiritual life.
Both are accomplished skiers (and in fact certified ski instructors), and were enjoying a father-daughter trip to the mountains of Colorado last winter. One beautiful morning, they had the slope to themselves. They set off in opposite directions, criss-crossing the hill and meeting in the middle. They were peacefully savoring the beauty of the Colorado mountains so unlike the hills they ski at home, when it happened. Someone mis-judged, mis-calculated, mis-skied, and biffed her father, causing them both to tumble down the hill creating what in the ski world is called a yard sale with skis and poles flung across the slope. When they stopped sliding, my daughter was spread eagle on her stomach facing uphill and my husband lay on his back wondering what happened. When he asked her just that, her response, true to her joyful nature, was a laughing, “I don’t know!” Neither of them was hurt and their equipment was fine. They strapped their skis back on and continued down the hill.
It reminds me of the spiritual life. I can be traipsing along through life, enjoying the scenery, happy to be alive, when without warning, I fall. It’s usually a misstep. I do something not quite right, make what in hindsight was an ill-advised decision, and I sin. Again. Sometimes it is something new, often it’s the same sin that has plagued me for years. Regardless, I crash and experience a spiritual yard sale: virtue, love, and holiness strewn about the path. It’s never pretty and while I may laugh and say I don’t know how it happened, if I am honest with myself, I know. I know very well where the icy spots are and which moguls to avoid. And there I land, flopped on the ground, with the items I need to safely continue the journey chucked far away due to my weakness.
There is good news. Good News. I don’t have to remain upside down. When Jesus came to earth, he came to save us. He came to bridge the impassable river that separates heaven and earth. The wide, ferocious river resulting from original sin that we cannot cross by ourselves. We can try and many of us do try, but we are unable to succeed getting across without Jesus and his sacrifice.
Jesus took our sins upon himself so that we may live in eternal happiness with him and his Father. God loves us so much that even though we sin and crash down the mountain, he wants us to get those skis back on, collect our poles, and proceed. Since we cannot do that by ourselves, he humbled himself to become one of us. He knew (because he is God and omniscient) that he would be rejected. He knew he would be misunderstood and that our forgiveness would come at a great price. Out of sheer, boundless love, he was willing to pay that price.
Jesus was willing to endure the torture of scourging. The Bible doesn’t go into much detail about scourging, which is unfortunate because understanding what it is helps us appreciate how much we are loved. Scourging was whipping using strands of leather with small balls attached (to cause deep contusions) and shards of bone (to tear the flesh). The goal was to bring the victim to near death. Blood loss and damage to muscle and bone was extensive. Often the individual was in shock.
After the trauma of being beaten so severely, Jesus was dressed in robes most likely painful on his tender skin and topped with a crown of thorns. These were not thorns from a garden rosebush. These were long, needle sharp thorns that pierced his skin. After the physical torture came the emotional abuse. Jesus was spat on and mocked. Again, the Gospels don’t dwell long on this but we can imagine how it must have felt to be called names and insulted.
Finally, Jesus dragged his massive cross up a hill to where he would die. He was nailed onto it. Nailed. The same way we nail two pieces of wood together, he was nailed to a piece of wood. He hung there, bleeding, slowly dying. When people are crucified, theirs is a long death of asphyxiation. Imagine. Just imagine.
It is horrifying. It is barbarous and we read about it every year, twice, during Holy Week. When we reflect on the gruesome reality of what Jesus went through for us, for you and for me, for our families, our children, our friends, even for the people who aggravate us most, we can only be filled with gratitude and humility. Thanks to this supreme sacrifice, we can be joined to our Heavenly Father forever.
Which brings us back to our own falling down. We sin. We are human. We try to make good decisions and do the right thing, but we are frail and broken, and we mess up. The good news is that we do not have to stay glued to the mountain, lying on the cold snow. Jesus has given us yet one more gift, that of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in order to help us get up and get going again.
The season of Lent is a great time to receive this sacrament, especially if it has been a long time. The Church recommends we go at least once a year. Now is an acceptable time. Drag your sorry self off that mountain, and get cleaned up. Admitting our sins to another is difficult and we get uncomfortable thinking about it but thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice, we are able to be forgiven. We are able to start fresh and continue our run.
Jesus gazes at us with pure love. He is summoning us to him regardless of how holy we are. He calls us because we are imperfect. He calls us because he loves us. This Lent, reflect on the Passion, attend Reconciliation, and bask in the love of the creator of the universe because he wants you — just as you are.