Suffering: A Means to Glory
This has been a message that has been stirring in my heart and it is my hope that it will compel you and motivate you to see and confront the battle that is laid out before you—the battle of your life and of your vocation. During our last session we discussed the idea that God allows suffering in our lives as a means of disciplining us, that is, discipling us so that we can obtain the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but most important, so that we can have the assurance and knowledge that we are true Sons of God. Why is this important? Because we cannot give what we do not have. God grants us through suffering the gift of trust, sonship, and virtue that we may transmit these gifts to our children. This is the transitive property of fatherhood. God has endowed fathers with the right and duty to transmit the grace of the Holy Spirit to our children. God desires to form true disciples through our suffering. However, there is another reason for suffering. Recently I went to confession and related the chaos and implosion that has taken place in my life over the last three months, and the priest responded, “God is not allowing this to discipline you as much as to glorify you.” The point is that God allows trials, tribulations, crises, tests that we may become manifestations of His glory—that He may glorify us. Consider that when Jesus and his disciples came upon a blind man, Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (see John 9:2). In other words, the suffering existed for the purpose of God’s glory being manifest in the blind man. God does not cause suffering. Sin causes suffering. There are two categories of sin: general sin and personal sin. Personal sin causes damage and suffering to ourselves and the people around us. General sin, which is the cause of Adam’s fall, is shared by each and every one of us. Before original sin the world was in perfect harmony, peace and paradise. Nature was in harmony, our human nature and the relationship between our bodies and souls were in perfect harmony. The consequence of Adam’s sin applied generally to mankind is the sentence of working among thorns and thistles, eating bread while wiping the sweat off our brow, and labor pains during childbirth. Nature became disordered. As sin and population have increased throughout the ages, nature both in the world and in our bodies has become increasingly disordered; hence we have famines, tsunamis, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other illnesses and sicknesses. Sin causes suffering. God does not cause suffering. However, God is a master at allocating and appropriating suffering in our lives to bring about the most good—to bring about our glory.
The Great Temptation—Rejecting Our True Identity
Now, in this pursuit of glory we will encounter many battles and challenges. One of the more intense and personal is the battle to know ourselves, to understand who we really are—this is the battle for our identity. If you don’t think this is the biggest challenge in your life, consider that since you were a little child, what was the question people asked you? “What are you going to do when you grow up?” Will you be a lawyer, a doctor, a fireman, a policeman, a software developer? But no one ever asked you, “Who are you going to be?” But that’s the real question. When we meet people, we ask them, “What do you do?” But the question that we really want to ask is, “Who are you?” Consider that when we make purchases, we are often influenced to buy the product—whether it is a shirt, a car, or shoes—that has a particular logo on it. We try to affiliate ourselves with and derive value from a brand. We attempt to find our identity in something that we believe will grant us value and meaning—although the attempt always falls short. We are all searching for the true self and identity that God has created us and destined us to be. Why do so many men experience a midlife crisis? They wake up to the reality that they are not who they desire to be and believe that they need to do something to determine and discover their own identity. I believe that this may be the deepest, most fundamental challenge for every man: to know who he really is. Your identity leads to your destiny. Who you are determines who you will become. As St. Catherine of Siena once said, “Become who you are [really are] and you will set the world ablaze.”
Christ’s Battle to Maintain His Identity
For those of us who doubt the proposal that discovering, embracing, and living from one’s God-given identity is one of man’s biggest battles, consider Jesus Christ. After His baptism, Jesus was promptly driven by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the evil one. What was core content of Jesus’ temptation? “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself off the parapet of the temple. If you are the Son of God worship me and I will give you the nations.” The evil one is questioning Jesus’ identity. “Who are you really, Jesus? What is your identity?” It is as if the evil one were saying, “Prove yourself.” If Jesus fell prey to the temptation to prove that He is the Son of God, He would have betrayed His very identity, because God doesn’t have to prove anything—He simply is God. Thus, by overcoming the temptation to prove His identity, He proves that He is God the Son—the one who overcomes all temptation. This narrative is threaded throughout the short history of Jesus’ earthly life to the foot of the cross, where the Pharisees, priests, and elders goad Jesus: “If you are the Son of God come down from that cross.” Like the devil, they are saying, “Prove your identity—show us who you really are.” In fact, during Jesus’ Passion, He is questioned three times regarding his identity. First in the garden, the cohort, led by the betrayer, Judas, ask, “Which one of you is Jesus the Nazarene?” Jesus responds, “I Am.” Jesus, in the face of imminent death, in the face of great opposition and intimidation, witnesses and testifies to His human identity: I am fully man—I am Jesus of Nazareth. Again, Caiaphas interrogated Jesus, asking Him, “Are you the Son of the Living God?” To which Jesus responded, “I AM.” Jesus confessed His divine identity, that He is fully God, God the Son—fully divine. And again, Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you a king?” Jesus responded, “It is you who say, I AM . . . My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus admits to His sovereign identity as king and Lord of mankind. In the face of great intimidation, Jesus did not deny His identity as fully man, fully God, and the Lord and king of all. Jesus did not acquiesce, but rather stood His ground and fought tooth and nail to confess and maintain the truth of His identity. Jesus’ temptation is our temptation. We are constantly being intimidated by the forces and powers of this world to hide, diminish, or reject our personal and our fatherly identity. The human father is being persecuted and suppressed from expressing his true identity.
The Secret Path
There is a secret path between our identity and our destiny that enables us to become men of greatness. The reason that it is a secret path is because the world does not have true knowledge of this path. The secret is that your identification is discovered by means of your vocation, which leads to your destination, which is your glorification—your deification—to be a partaker in the divine nature. Your vocation is not simply something you do; it is something you are. You may be a Web programmer, software developer, lawyer, garbageman, author, financial advisor, etc. Each of these are transitory, they are occupations that will fade away, but you will always be a son, a father, and a husband. This is the indelible mark of your vocation; this is your identity; and this is your path to greatness. People are remembered more for who they lived for rather than what they did for a living.
The Vox in the Vocation
God the Word is always speaking. From the moment of our conception throughout our human life the Word whispers His voice into our being. The context in which we hear the Word is our vocation. It is in our vocation that we receive the message of our mission. Amidst this path of your vocation, the evil one is standing, capitalizing on all of his malicious diabolical strength to drive you from this path: to keep you from hearing the Vox, the Word, and thus to keep you from discovering your identity. Why? Because the evil one knows that you are called to be a manifestation, a revelation of God’s fatherly glory. If he takes you out, the many people to whom you would have revealed God’s glory may never encounter him and may be eternally lost. And so would the others that they would have touched down through the decades and centuries. The evil one stands precisely upon your vocational path to drive you from becoming a manifestation of God’s glory to your wife and your children. He will do anything to keep you from hearing the Vox, the voice of God. He will do anything to stop you from praying your daily meditation, from having ten minutes of silent time each day in prayer. He knows that if you cannot hear the orders from your divine captain, you certainly cannot fulfill them. If you cannot hear the Word regarding your identity, you cannot lead your family to their destiny.
The Evil One’s Four Tactics
The evil one has many strategies and tactics. If we were to simmer them down into a methodology, that methodology would have four aspects or stages. The first stage is temptation. If the evil one cannot trap us or keep us in mortal or ongoing venial sin, he will use intimidation to drive us from our vocational path. If he cannot intimidate us he will use the tactic of distraction. And if he cannot distract us from our vocation he will lure us into isolation. The core of this truth is disclosed by Jesus in the parable of the Sower and the Seed. We all have heard this parable numerous times. The sower sows seed on the wayside, but the birds of the air snatch the seed before it can take root. Some seed falls on rocky ground and begins to spring up but because its roots are shallow the sun scorches it and it withers and dies. Some seed falls on fertile soil, but as it grows the thorns and the thistles choke it out. And some seed falls on fertile soil bearing thirty-, sixty-, and hundredfold yield. Jesus interprets the birds that steal the seed sowed on the wayside as the devil who robs us of the seed of the Word, the voice of God which speaks of our identity and our destiny. The evil one robs us of this seed before it can take root by means of temptation, luring us away from the Vox by using adultery, fornication, pornification, self-worship and idolization, greed, jealousy, envy, vain ambitions and the like. When we are bound by such temptations we cannot hear the Word speaking of our mission, nor share that Word authentically and powerfully with our wives and children. If the devil cannot lead you into temptation he will use the tactic of intimidation. Jesus said that the seed that fell on rocky soil but was scorched by the sun because it had no roots symbolizes those who initially believe, but when they are persecuted or experience suffering because of their belief in Jesus fall away. Many of us do not have deep enough roots in Christ. We are not praying daily and asking what He wants. We attend our children’s soccer tournaments on Sundays, and because the other dads aren’t going to Mass, we don’t. When we eat with our fellow workers or friends we don’t pray before our meal because it feels too awkward and uncomfortable. We become intimidated. We don’t discuss Jesus at work and therefore we don’t discuss Jesus at home. We don’t share the Scripture with our family because we are afraid we will fail. We don’t pray with our wives because we think it’s weird. Many of us believe that we are doing fairly well, but if we were to really examine ourselves, we would discover that many of us, rather than exercising great courage on behalf of our God, are hiding behind the cloak of intimidation. If the evil one cannot tempt us, intimidate us, he will distract us. Jesus said the seed that began to spring up was choked by the thorns and thistles, which symbolize the pursuit of pleasures, riches and the cares of the world. What do you spend the majority of your free time on? That’s where your heart lies. Hobbies, sports, movies, friends, investing and flipping homes are all good, but if they consume your time and rob your family of your presence, they are idols. The evil one derives great pleasure in giving us something good to keep us from that which is greatest. So he’ll give you return on your investments and a great golf game for the purpose of keeping you from your family. If he cannot lure you with temptation, intimidation or distraction, he will use the tactic of isolation. Sometimes, when we venture on the road of perfection and we grow closer to God, we can being to see ourselves through the lens of perfection, through God’s vision of justice, and begin to despair and remove ourselves from the men around us because we don’t want them to discover who we “really are.” If this occurs to you, you will no longer have anyone to guide you, encourage you and lead you aright, and therefore you may lose your strength to encourage, guide and lead your own family. On the flip side, you might begin to believe that you are more righteous and better than others, like the Pharisee who believed himself to be superior to the tax collector because he fasted twice a week and tithed on all his goods; or the Pharisees and priests who condemned Jesus for eating with Levi, the tax collector, referring to our Lord as a glutton and a drunkard. We become like Pharisees when we avoid conversing or spending time with those who we believe are “less than us,” or don’t “get the Christian walk,” or believe that by being with such people we will catch an evil spirit. That is a lie from Hell. Speaking of Hell: Isolation is pure hell. Hell is a reoccurrence of cosmic, spiritual rape, where evil beings invade the condemned and leave them alone to wail hopelessly in bitter torment.
Where the Word Leads
Heaven, however, is bliss, joy, peace, rapture, ecstasy, and full harmonious life-giving communion and union with God and His saints. This is what we truly desire for our families and this is precisely why the devil is driving us from our vocational path: to keep us from leading our family to their destination, which is their glorification and their deification. If we remain on our vocation path, we will encounter great suffering, but suffering is the proof of love. The Word leads us on the path to heaven.
Rediscovering Your Identity
Consider St. Joseph. When he discovered his wife, Mary, pregnant without his cooperation, he withdrew from his vocational path and decided to separate himself from Mary quietly. Joseph does everything quietly. Joseph was intimidated. Perhaps he was intimidated by the divine presence in Mary and felt unworthy of his vocation. But Joseph did something that Adam did not do. Adam was intimidated by the ancient nahash, the beast, and caved in to Eve’s temptation because he did not pray and trust in God. Joseph, however, took his situation to God, in the silence, and prayed. It was in the silence that Joseph received the Vox, the Word, the voice that communicated his identity and mission: “Joseph son of David [this is your identity, Joseph—your are a son of David and a Son of Mine], do not fear to take Mary your wife [do not fear to be a great husband], for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. [You’re are called to be a father of the Son of God. This is your calling. This is your vocation. This is your identity, which will lead your family and the world to its destiny—heaven. Yes, you will encounter suffering, but don’t let the evil one drive you from this path.].” That’s the message for each of us. Your vocation is your path to greatness. This path is where you will discover your true identity. Do not let the devil drive you from that path. By following St. Joseph’s example and relying on his intercession, we can overcome temptation, intimidation, distraction, and isolation, and become great fathers who by means of discovering their identity in their vocation will lead their families to their destination, which is their glorification and their deification.