Friday, November 28, 2014

Under me are the everlasting arms

12-Jesus-Dies-on-Cross

Death, for many of us, is the Absolute Master.  It haunts us and our desperate attempts to hold it at bay or distract ourselves from its inevitable approach only makes it more fearsome.  And as it takes its grip upon us we cling more tenaciously to familiar things and long for the comforting touch of the hands of those we have loved.  Daughters . . . God would seem so distant except for one great mercy: "that Christ has given us His own heart to love Him with, His own mind to know Him with, His own will to surrender ourselves to Him with and with which to put those whom we love into His hands, His hands of infinite mercy."  Your Beloved has taken all our loneliness, all our fear, all our anxiety - our death - upon Himself, and transformed it.  In our death, "it is Christ in us who surrenders to God. It is not with our own heart and our own will that we can long for God, but with Christ’s. And Christ has given His heart and will to us. In this is the supreme mercy that comes to us in the hour of death."

It is Christ in us who can say with absolute trust in the hour of death: “Under me are the everlasting arms."

“There are people who are haunted all through their lives by the fear of death, and when it comes close—when it is no longer something far away which they cannot even imagine happening to themselves—it is a hard thing to accept, let alone to welcome or want.
Most of us are too weak, too sinful, and too much unaware of the other world to long for God as some of the saints do. We are far too rooted in earthly things, too dependent for the flicker of courage that we have upon creatures and creature comforts. We do not, we cannot, realize that we are going into the light and warmth, that in God we shall find again everyone and everything that we loved here—and more than that, because the most lovable of His creatures is only the very dimmest reflection of Himself.

We not only cannot realize the light and warmth that we are going to, but as we feel ourselves slipping into silence and darkness, we want to cling to people, to hear their voices, to see their familiar faces, to feel the comforting touch of their hands. We want to cling forever to the here and now that we know, and suddenly the here and now is slipping away from us, and we can no longer hold on to it.

After all, it seems, now that death is near, that we do not know God the Father at all. Of course, long ago we made countless acts of love, but really we are too earthly, too limited; we just have not got the capacity to love and trust ourselves to God who, as we learned in our childhood, “is the Supreme Spirit who alone exists of Himself and is infinite in all perfection”: God, whom we cannot visualize, cannot touch, cannot imagine, cannot know with our senses or with our tiny minds; God whom we could not love but for one thing, one supreme mercy, this: that Christ has given us His own heart to love Him with, His own mind to know Him with, His own will to surrender ourselves to Him with and with which to put those whom we love into His hands, His hands of infinite mercy.

It is Christ in us who can say with absolute trust in the hour of death: “Under me are the everlasting arms."

It is Christ in us, Christ whose death we are dying, who can say with absolute faith, both for ourselves and for those whom we love: “Into Your hands, O Lord….”

That is why Christ would not, could not, come down from the cross. On the cross He carried us all through the darkness of death to the light, through the chill of death to the warmth, through the fear of death to the love of God. It is with His heart that we love the Father in the hour of death, because He has given His heart. He has given us our Heaven.

We are not alone in the hour of death; we have nothing to fear in the hour of death: because when the time comes Christ identifies Himself with us so closely that fear gives way to trust and anguish to peace. He has lived all of our lives, died all of our deaths; to all of us He has given His peace. It is in the hour of death that our fear, our anxiety, our loneliness, will end and we shall understand Christ’s words: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27).
As Christ died on the cross He drew all those to Himself who would die His death and enter with Him into the mysterious glory of it, all those whose lives seem to be failures, to be cut off before they have come to their flowering; those people who could have had brilliant careers, who could have benefitted their fellows immeasurably, but are cut off at the very beginning of adulthood, or who die in childhood; deaths that seem to be nothing else but waste to which we cannot reconcile our hearts.

He identifies Himself with all the young men who would die in battle, all the men and women who would fall in the squander of destruction that is war, all those children who would die in innocence with the burning splendor of His purity still radiant in their souls, with His passion of love still whole and not frittered away.

He identifies Himself with the old people who, when death comes, will think their lives were wasted, who will think that they have done nothing for God’s glory, taken no part in the world’s redemption, but who in reality are dying His death and saving the world in the power of His love.
Christ on the cross is God and man, He is wholly human; He knows the utter desolation and loneliness of death as no other human being will ever know it. He knows the grief of leaving those whom He loves—His Mother, His friends, Mary Magdalene who seems utterly dependent on Him.

He feels abandoned by His Father.

He is dying all our deaths. Death is too big a thing for any one of us to face alone. It separates us, for a time, from those we love on earth. It is difficult for us earthbound, rooted creatures to want Heaven; it is impossible for us to realize what the glory of God will be to us. It is loving God, and that only, that can make Heaven, Heaven. Here imagination does not help us: we cannot really imagine ourselves loving the “Supreme Spirit”—we even want to cling to our human frailties and comforts, to our human weakness.

It is now that Christ takes over. He has died all our deaths on the cross; now we are going to die His; it is Christ in us who surrenders to God. It is not with our own heart and our own will that we can long for God, but with Christ’s. And Christ has given His heart and will to us. In this is the supreme mercy that comes to us in the hour of death.

“Father, into Your hands….” We can say it with Christ’s love and trust in the Father. “Father, into Your hands not only my spirit, my body and soul, but those people whom I love, and whom You love infinitely more than I do.”

Now I love God with Christ’s will, with Christ’s heart, with Christ’s trust; and because He has taken whole possession of me, in the hour of my death I shall at last love my friends too with His love.

Not only will my suffering of mind and body, molten into His in the fire of His love, be the beginning of my blessed purgatory purifying me; it will also be Christ’s sacrifice on the cross offered for those whom I love.

Of each one surrendered wholly to Christ in the hour of death, we can say: “Greater love than this no man has, that he lays down his life for his friends.”

Excerpt From: Caryll Houselander. “Way of the Cross.”