When All Earthly Hopes Fade, That Old-Time Religion Can Be A Lifeline

Christ of saint john of the cross

I’m sure I’m not the only person who can be aggravated by what is often described, not wrongly, as the pietism, quietism and even masochism of some versions of pre-Vatican II Catholicism and spirituality.

Against a spirituality that looks at suffering as something to be accepted and borne quietly, I find myself kicking and screaming about the Biblical message that God’s purpose is not to allow a select few to escape from this “vale of tears” to a place called Heaven, but rather of a good creation, beset by sin and death, where Christians are called not (just) to suffer, but to renew the face of the Earth and combat the powers and principalities. There can be a whiff of heresy there: sin and evil and death is no longer simultaneously an enormity and a great nothing from which God saves us, but rather tools that a strong-predestinarian God, a beyond-good-and-evil God, metes out to us according to His whim, and don’t you dare dislike it, because mystery and anyway Jesus went through worse. That old prayer, “Grant that I may love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt” used to give me shivers of indignation.

But, see, here’s the thing. Conqueror-spirituality, put-all-powers-under-your-feet spirituality, that stuff is great when you have options.

But the thing is, sometimes you don’t have options. Sometimes you’re not just up to your neck in sh*t, sometimes you’re positively drowning in it. Sometimes there really is nothing you can do. Sometimes the walls of the house just crumble around you, and you are just stuck under the debris. Sometimes the cancer really eats you up and there is nothing you can do, and no miracle is forthcoming. Sometimes you really are Job.

When that day comes, all this hoopla about the Kingdom in the here-and-now really won’t help you. In fact, it will make you feel worse. Because God is calling you to battle, and you’re lying here in your gurney, bleeding to death.

When that day comes, you will find incredible succor in that old-timey religion. When that day comes, when all earthly hope is gone, when everything is stripped from you, all you will have left is the hope that never dies, the hope on the other side of the veil. When that day comes, you might find yourself prostrated in front of an altar, tears streaming down your face, mouthing: “Grant that I may love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt.”

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