Which hill will you die on?

Which hill will you die on? January 9, 2019
“Elijah’s Sacrifice,” 1863, by Albert Joseph Moore

Priesthood begins on Calvary but ends on Mount Tabor; while instead, marriage begins on Tabor but winds up on Mount Calvary. When my best priest friend shared this insight with me, I laughed knowingly, though I had not yet been to Calvary, so I really understood nothing.

The Last Word

I have since had the honor to witness as two different men, whom I love very much, cared for wives, both of whom suffered through years of debilitating and disfiguring terminal illness. In each case, the diagnoses the women received left no room to hope for a medical cure. These husbands watched as the women they loved melted slowly but inexorably to skeletons; they sat helpless vigil as the flesh they had clung to – once a source of living joy – was eaten away with pain. Throughout these long sicknesses, both husbands changed: each developed capacities I never knew they’d had. They took over the cooking, got up several times per night to attend to their wives’ needs, helped to bathe them, and even learned some nursing skills. And when all possible caregiving tasks had been exhausted, they modeled Mary, who stood at the foot of the Cross and shared the gift of her loving presence.

This experience of Calvary looks very different from what we often think of when we claim that some event or another is “crucifying” us.

A joy can develop, even during the most humiliating affliction, when the gaze of love is exchanged between two people who have shared a history and lived one life between the two of them. Think of how Mary and Jesus must have looked at one another on Calvary: how their faces must have become radiant when their eyes met during those last hours! There is nothing more beautiful than the face of a loved one whose gaze of tenderness tells us: It is good that you exist

Neither of these husbands complained, as they stood beside their dying wives. An atmosphere of gentleness and love permeated all they said or did. And even as the women experienced tremendous pain and compromised dignity, they also, somehow, took care of their husbands: with a weak pat of the hand, as if comforting a baby, or with a grateful smile, or with a glance filled with solicitous attention. To be privileged to see these things can’t help but suggest to us that love is indeed stronger than death.

Calvary, then, is also a place of joy, a joy far greater than that of Mount Tabor, where Peter had wanted to build tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus so that they could all remain together, basking in the glow of beatitude. I’m certain that Mary never had the impulse to set up camp beside the cross so as to prolong the experience of watching her son die. Yet, she must have experienced a kind of fullness when the finality of death laid bare the certain fact that love will always have the last word.

Sweating Blood Is a Thing

What I thought I knew of Calvary when my friend made his remark was actually an experience of the Mount of Olives. We’ve all been there – whether we claim no spirituality at all or whether we’re religious adherents – that place where we sweat blood and and wrestle with the temptation to run away screaming.

In Gethsemane, it’s always night time, and our friends are always fast asleep when we need them most. Among these olive trees, people rarely smile; and if they kiss, it’s usually a betrayal of life and love. We can be completely alone there and betray ourselves, or allow our eyes to deceive us, or listen to voices that want only to annihilate us. Even our own chemistry betrays us by signaling that we have only two choices: to slash out wildly or flee naked into the pathless night.

And yet, thousands of times a day, people say some variation of these words: Not my will, but Thy will be done: when a mother gets up to soothe a wailing child in the middle of the night or when a fire fighter runs into a burning building or when a man cleans vomit out of his mother’s hair, these people deny their own will (to sleep, to remain safe, to avoid terrifying facts) and instead obey the will of Something greater, whether they call that Something “duty” or “affection” or “God.”

The Olivet of marriage consists in the desire and threat of divorce. In very sad cases, to obey the will of Something greater means to abandon the marriage. In other cases, though, to obey the will of Something greater means to stay and face the unspeakable horror of the one, ever-loving, monstrous thing that one cannot stand, does not approve, and will neveraccept  – and then embrace it and drink it to the dregs.

No one reaches the unexpected and enigmatic joy of Calvary without passing through this dark wood.

My Own Place of the Skull

After my surgeryat the beginning of December, 2017, my husband had to administer an impressive schedule of medicines for me, around the clock. Those prescriptions that come in pill form each had to be crushed and mixed with liquid before he could send them through the tube that snaked through my nose, directly to my stomach. He also had to prepare my nutrition, an ivory-colored powder, which smelled cloyingly of a fake vanilla that could not quite mask its chalky bitterness. Once he had measured and added water to it, he had to hold up the pitcher and pour it slowly into the tube – too fast, and my stomach would twist and cramp from the shock. In addition, he had to regularly change the dressing on my arm. He performed all these tasks with quiet kindness while also preparing the family meals, driving our daughter to school and back, and continuing to fulfill all his teaching and scholarly duties at work.

That year, when Christmas was upon us, he realized that he hadn’t lit the Advent wreath, not even once during the whole of December. He said that he felt as though maybe he’d “neglected” Advent, until he had the realization that his preparation that year was to welcome and care for Christ in the flesh of his wife – that is, Christ in my flesh.

Perhaps it’s fair to say that this was our first taste of that ultimate Calvary of marriage. Certainly the wound on my wrist caused me to wonder over Christ’s pierced wrists. At least at the very beginning of the journey, my doctors couldn’t rule out the possibility of death, so we had to look mortality in the face, with all the terror and sense of the unknown that this implies. I saw the same gentleness and patience in my husband that I had also witnessed in those two men I described at the beginning of this essay. What a tremendous sense of certainty this newness generated in both of us!

Dueling Deities

Today my husband and I find ourselves on a new mountain: neither Calvary, nor Tabor, nor even the Mount of Olives; this time we have arrived on Mount Carmel, where Elijah once challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest (1 Kings 18: 21-39):

Elijah then said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one young bull and prepare it first, for there are more of you. Call upon your gods, but do not start the fire.” Taking the young bull that was turned over to them, they prepared it and called upon Baal from morning to noon, saying, “Baal, answer us!” But there was no sound, and no one answering. And they hopped around the altar they had prepared. When it was noon, Elijah taunted them: “Call louder, for he is a god; he may be busy doing his business, or may be on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” They called out louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears according to their ritual until blood gushed over them. Noon passed and they remained in a prophetic state until the time for offering sacrifice. But there was no sound, no one answering, no one listening. (1 Kings 18: 25-29)

Instead of the prophets of Baal, we confront the prophets of Greed, Calumny, Power, and False Witness. Weirdly, these prophets also do a lot of hopping. In our corner, we stand by our God, whose name is Love. His respect for human freedom makes him appear, sometimes, as though he sides with those who are wrong (“I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” – Matthew 5: 45-46). This is because he gambles everything on the strength of attraction to the unarmedbeauty of his own love and mercy made vulnerable flesh. Still, despite the fact that he chooses his own torture and death rather than force anyone to agree with him, he never remains aloof from those who call on his name. His response is to set fire to our sacrifices: each time we fit our person according to the dimensions of his mercy, he ignites our lives with an energy we could have never supplied.

Meanwhile, the prophets of petty gods continue to hop about and slash themselves in their aridity and shame. They will discover, one day, when they call out in their need, “no sound, no one answering, no one listening.”

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  • Reader Yesterday

    So beautiful, and so true.

  • Scott Galletto

    Whatever suffering you think you don’t deserve for your husbands blasphemy is nothing compared to the insult to the Lord against His Mother and the justice exacted against unrepentant sinners. This isn’t like stealing pencils from the university. Saints have talked about the punishments people incur upon themselves for the disrespect of the Mother of God. We all make mistakes, that’s what repentance is for, but to double down as if to say, how dare faithful Catholics dare to defend the Mother of God and question my post modern view point, only shows your lack of sorrow.

  • Daninkansas

    Goodness me, deconstruct that.

  • Richard W Comerford

    Ms. Lewis:

    Other people have gone through what you have gone through without advocating for sexual immorality; or attacking Our Lady.

    Kindly reflect.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  • Dcoach51

    I think you are misconstruing what occurred… sounds like your husband acted like a husband is supposed to act.. that is good form.. but what he allowed under his watch at the University has nothing to do with your admiration for him in taking care of you.. if he made an honest mistake in introducing that porn that debased Our Blessed Mother,perhaps things would have been different.. but thats not the case… i guess he got what he deserved… thats all..nothing more..nothing less…

  • JTLiuzza

    Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.
    Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception.
    Blessed be her glorious Assumption.
    Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.

    And woe be to all who besmirch her and speak filth of her, and do so in an allegedly Catholic school as assignment, mandatory to Catholic students. I wouldn’t let anyone speak that filth about my own earthly mother who was a sinner like I am. How do you think Jesus, the Lord of the Universe, is going to react in defense of His Immaculate Mother?

    The myth of FUS orthodoxy is exposed. And yet, he was defended. He’s still on the payroll, polluting young Catholic minds and souls. Lewis needs to be fired. And Sheridan needs to be shown the door as well. No way otherwise they even come close to recovering from this. One rotten professor is an anomaly. Protecting him and keeping him after he has been exposed is unequivocal evidence of institutional rot.

    Keep your kids away from Franciscan University at Steubenville.

  • John Doe

    So your husband and these other two guys never assisted you or their wives when they were sick during the whole course of their marriage until they were near death? Never got them their medications when they had the flu or make them soup for their colds ,or assisted with injuries they might have incurred over all the years of their marriage? Must be true that they never did because you then describe these actions as “capacities you never knew they had”. Listen sweetie-pie, you are living in fantasy women studies land and these three guys are a trio of magnificent pussies with Gillette razors. Let`s hope they never have to go into combat….or if they do, they join the French army. What you call “capacities” in these men is nothing more than them being real men performing the simple tasks of care giving at the end of someones life and what you seem to view as heroic in these men is nothing more than them being real men performing simple tasks. Leave it to a feminist to also think that a male would identify with the Most Perfect and Highest of all Creatures, The Most Blessed, and Ever Glorious, Ever Virgin, Mother of God, Mary, at the foot of the Cross, instead of St. John; wonderful exposition of your misguided hubris there, babe.
    But this line of yours has to be the topper here:
    copy /paste:
    ***”And even as the women experienced tremendous pain and compromised dignity, they also, somehow, took care of their husbands: with a weak pat of the hand, as if comforting a baby, or with a grateful smile, or with a glance filled with solicitous attention.***”

    I sure hope you changed your husbands diapers today are not raising sons!

    After reading this one sided estrogen fueled rant filled with unrealistic sentimental feel good emotion instead of Catholic faith and reason I find it easier to understand why God punished his people in the book of Isiah by forcing them to be ruled by women and the effeminate and as well why He became Incarnate as a Male!!
    Thanks for the Clarity!

  • John Doe

    Oh ,……………………you are THAT “Lewis” ?!!!!!
    If you and your “porn husband” don`t repent you both better hope that Bergoglio is correct in his heresy about annihilation if a soul doesn`t make it to heaven!

  • Illithid

    Quite a bit of hostility being displayed, on behalf of beings that, were they real, would surely be unimpressed by some “blasphemous” book.

    Stay strong, Ms. Lewis. The jackals will find other targets soon.

  • Richard W Comerford

    Ms. Illithid:

    The question is whether Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is impressed by obscene works that are forced down the throats of innocents.

    Kindly reflect.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  • Illithid

    I’m quite firmly male, but that’s okay, I’m not offended.

    If your alleged friend Jesus is offended, he’s awfully quiet about it, as is his mom. Lots of people say all sorts of things about what gods and saints and such think, and how they react, but the beings themselves are oddly mute. Just as if they were dead, or imaginary.

    I’ll save my concern for real harm done to actual people, rather than insulted figures of myth, or the delicate sensibilities of fainting flowers who got a college reading assignment they didn’t like.

  • Richard W Comerford

    Mr. Illithid

    There are two thousand years of martyrs who have given witness to Christ by their blood.

    And who has died for your pornography?

    Pornography which has ruined the lives of countless young men, destroyed marriages and enslaved the very young actors and actresses which are the objects of lust.

    An expensive college which purports to be Catholic and turns so many of its graduates into life long debt slaves to pay for a dubious education, first has an obligation to inform parents, who often make tremendous sacrifices, and the students themselves before its shoves filth down the throats in the name of academic freedom..

    Otherwise the college bosses acting in a duplicitous manner,clearly with the intent to corrupt and destroy in order to be like all the other cool kids who run our culture.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  • Illithid

    Dying for your beliefs does not make them true. There are plenty of Islamic martyrs, for example, giving witness to the truth of the Prophet Muhammed by their blood. I do not find that persuasive. Do you?

    It’s not “my” pornography; we’re not discussing pornography at all so far as I’m aware. And why would anyone die for it, and why would it matter? This is just nonsensical. I agree that the production of pornographic video often involves exploitation of the actors, but we’re talking about a book. Words on paper.

    All my college classes had all the required books clearly listed in the syllabus. I’d have had plenty of time to change classes if I’d wanted. I don’t know if this was the true in this case, I’ll grant.

    …college bosses acting in a duplicitous manner,clearly with the intent to corrupt and destroy…

    Yes, yes, those sinister “college bosses”, rubbing their hands together with an evil cackle as they contemplate how best to seduce their students to the Dark Side… are you off your meds?

  • Voice of Reason

    Tenured professors cannot be fired. Thank goodness.

  • Emily Yost

    Anyone who’s been paying attention knows who “Guest Contributor” is.