A brilliant gift for my forty eighth birthday

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On Wednesday 26 August 2020 I had the joy of celebrating my forty eighth birthday! In every birthday that I celebrate Our Merciful Lord gives me the grace of celebrating it with a beautiful surprise.A quote that I came across during my birthday of this year is the following one: Because of you, I laugh a little harder, cry a little less, and smile a lot more. When people, who mean well in my life, level at me such a comment I am always filled with happiness and courage to move on. Who of us does not want to make other people’s lives a little bit easier than they actually are? Deep down in our hearts all of us surely want to do something good for others. And even the most egocentric person that exits on our planet he and she will have moments where, at least for a millisecond, can subscribe to the powerful healing words we find in the prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy”. And if that person finds it extremely difficult to pray, for myriad of reasons, in his and her heart of hearts, direly wants to sow love, pardon, faith, hope, light and joy! Can we live aloof of these foundational values? Can our life really be authentically human when devoid of such essential ways of being and acting? Certainly not!

However, and rightly so, we tend to avoid being hated, injured, condemned and so forth. We feel duty-bound to preserve ourselves from every harm that can come our way. First and foremost, because such an awful experience makes us meet directly and confrontedly with the excruciating pain of not being loved! Therefore, if loving for us is important the existential equation has to be completed by the other decisive half: we need to be loved! To love and be loved has always been the bread and butter of being fully human and, for that matter, spiritual too. The Bible knew this from the beginning. In the Old Testament we encounter with the heart of the law which, the Biblical text, wisely abridged it in the subsequent commandment: but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord (Lev 19:18).

Hence, loving myself becomes the bedrock from where I can truly love others. As the commandment reads, the Lord wants me to love myself. And the reason is so obvious! If I do not love myself how can I love others in return? If I do not put myself in their shoes who can then I act with that much-needed compassion that is undoubtedly asked for to act humanly and spiritually? Let us never forget that, irrespective of how much vociferous we are or may be for being independent, we cannot really live on our own! We are inticately connected with one another!

How smart is the thought of the Pastoral Constituition of the Second Vatican Council on the Church, Lumen Gentium, when it says in its very first number: “Christ is the Light of nations. Because this is so, this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church. Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires now to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission.”

The Constitution speaks of the Church as sacrament, sign and instrument of this double closely knit union with God and the human race. All of us feel that urgent need to have this double union, which comprises the horizontal and the veritcal aspect of reality, restored. The transcendent cannot live without the visible whereas the visible is simply null and void without the trascendental that gives it its very life. Unfortunately, deep wounds can hamper severly this horizontal-vertical union. They may jeopardise and put it into disarray. We feel shocked, frustrated, astonished, and angry when we are hurt. Most of all when we tried to do our best to bring this basic unity in front of everyone.

It has been told to me thousands of times that, before a wound, I always stand at a crossroad in my life. Either to open myself up for healing or to close myself in that senseless guilt and shame. In that famous hope-filled and profoundly simple book which talks directly to those men and women who want to be of service in their church or community, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen reminds us that “Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love.” The reason being that although he was wounded to the point of being killed Jesus kept forgiving. Thus, in forgiving he was liberated from the terrible slavery of anger and the avidity for revenge. His prayer to the Father on the Cross was: Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). Jesus was the first one to live fully and faithfully Paul’s advice in his letter to the Romans when he said: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).

If we invite Jesus to enter into our pyshical, psychological and spiritual wounds, and ask him to bind them up, pour on his oil and wine on them and keep taking care of them (see Luke 10:34), we shall be experiencing personally what St John of the Cross writes in the second reading of the Office of Readings of the feast of St Teresa of Jesus’ Transverberation, which is also celebrated on August 26:

“O happy wound, wrought by one who knows only how to heal! O fortunate and choicest wound; you were made only for delight, and the quality of your affliction is delight and gratification for the wounded soul! You are great, O delightful wound, because he who caused you is great! And your delight is great, because the fire of love is infinite and makes you delightful according to your capacity and greatness. O, then, delightful wound, so much more sublimely delightful the more the cautery touched the intimate center of the substance of the soul, burning all that was burnable in order to give delight to all that could be delighted!”

Henri Nouwen observes: “As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.” When my wounds are visited by Jesus and let Him transform them into his resurrected wounds then I too, by His unfathomable grace, become a wounded healer! In realising this liberating, joyous and hope-filled reality today, I can easily say that my forty eighty birthday has been a brilliant gift of God not simply for me but also for you as well, dear reader, who are humbly reading these simple reflections and letting them speak to you, to befriend you and accompany you in whatever life situation you are presently and will be struggling in.

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

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