He entered into the battle for his own soul
Once there was a young man who was on the road to hell. I am not judging him – those were his own words! He said it was not always that way. He grew up in a Catholic home and went to Catholic school. He learned to pray when he was young and did pray on occasion. He went to Mass and even confession in his younger years. But then a wave of worldliness washed against him as he entered adult life. He began giving himself to that worldliness. He made one selfish choice after another, and slowly the worldliness washed him in an unholy baptism. He was using people to gain what he wanted in life, and did not care what happened to them. With every selfish choice he could feel the goodness of heaven leaving him. He became more and more used to the new emptiness and restlessness that had entered his soul. His soul was dying and he knew it. The emptiness gnawed at him. It is the experience of the damned, where “their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:48)
At night when he was by himself, he let in the distressing thought that his life was headed toward hell. He had read the Scriptures and listened to the words of Jesus. His parents and grandparents and other family members had given him a good example. He knew his choices were destroying him and others. Why wouldn’t he change? He tried to pray, but when he did, he was assaulted with thoughts of worldliness and other distractions that kept his heart far from God. He was trapped in the darkness of a self-made tomb, and was feeling despair. It was the worst time in his life. He wanted to give up.
That would have been the worst thing he could have done. Despair leads a person to believe they are beyond God’s help. That is not true.
All through sacred Scripture God shows us what is impossible for us is not impossible for God. God gave Abraham a child in his old age when it seemed impossible. God led the people out of slavery from Egypt when it seemed impossible. In the Gospel Jesus healed lifelong blindness and palsied and paralyzed limbs. He restored speech and hearing and fed thousands with just a few loaves and fish. Jesus gave hope to those who had none.
One of the greatest Gospel stories of this is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. This was the ultimate of impossible situations. Surly despair would have been lingering around licking its chops for a victim. When Martha approached Jesus and told Him that if He only would have been there, her brother Lazarus would not have died, Jesus said to her, “ Your brother will rise.” Martha assumed that He meant on the last day when all the dead will rise, but Jesus wanted Martha and wants all of us to believe that He can do the impossible. He raises the dead to life for “I am the resurrection and life,” says the Lord! Jesus went on to have the stone rolled back – even when there would have been a stench – and called Lazarus out of the tomb. He does the same for you and me.
We all struggle with darkness in our lives. We all can feel damned and, in honesty, have freely chosen the path of darkness. Yet God wants us all to experience very deeply the gift of His love that saves us. He wants us to remember that we are saved and are being saved!
At Easter, we celebrate the truth that God loves us even in our darkness. Jesus took upon Himself our sin and darkness and entered the tomb of despair and death. He cried out Psalm 22 from the cross which begins: “My God, my God, why have thou forsaken me ... far from my prayer, far from my cry.” Those are the words of someone struggling with despair. They are the words our own souls utter to God when we are in darkness. Yet the Psalm ends with great hope, “You who fear the Lord, give Him praise; all sons of Jacob, give Him glory. Revere Him, Israel’s sons for God has never despised nor scorned the poverty of the poor. From the poor God has not hidden His face, but has heard the poor man when he cried ... They shall praise the Lord, those who seek Him. May their hearts live forever and ever!”
Hope springs eternal in Christ!
Jesus suffered and died to take on Himself the punishment of our sins. He entered into the tomb, but on the third day rose from the dead. He revealed to us our future full of hope as adopted sons and daughters of God.
The above story of the young man struggling with sin and despair had a good ending. The young man did not give up. He was helped to go to Church by some people who loved him and eventually made his way to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He had enough faith and hope to recognize it as the hand of God! He entered into the battle for his own soul and cooperated with the grace of Jesus. This young man experienced the return of hope to His soul. It is the experience of “being saved!” as our Protestant brothers and sisters name it.
In the struggle of light and darkness within the soul, it is very helpful to name the darkness so that it can be brought into the light. Name it as well as you can. Here is a prayer that can help.
Spiritual Exercise of the Month:
Jesus, I am struggling with the darkness of ________________ (name the sin or darkness). Lord, call me out of this tomb. In my unbelief, grant me faith. In my despair, grant me hope. In my selfishness, grant me love for others. In my anger, grant me a heart softened by your mercy. In my anxieties, be my rock. In my fears, may I see your face, and hear your voice so that I may never lose heart. Amen. Pray every day during the month of April.