From Soul of Christ
The eighth petition of the Soul of Christ is worded negatively but brings us back to the prayer’s overall theme, expressing the goal of our entire spiritual lives: union with Christ.
Permit Me Not to be Separated From You
I used to think this poetically phrased petition had been put in the wrong place, coming way too late in the prayer. We’ve already prayed to be sanctified, saved, cleansed, and strengthened. Doesn’t all of that presume that we are already united with Christ?
But the placing of this petition so late in the prayer reminds us that spiritual vigilance and continual commitment to conversion are crucial to discipleship – no matter where we are on our spiritual journey. It prompts us to ask important questions, such as: What do we allow to come between Jesus and us? What “separates” us from a deeper union with Christ?
The only thing that can truly separate us from God is sin, as many of the saints have shown us.
Blessed Zdenka Schelingová was a Sister of Charity of the Holy Cross serving as a nurse when the Communist regime took control in Slovakia in 1948. As the regime started persecuting the Roman Catholic Church, Sister Zdenka courageously sought to ease the sufferings of the persecuted priests who came under her care, even helping them escape. But she was finally caught for such an attempt in 1952. Accused of treason, she was interrogated and brutally tortured by the police. She was finally sentenced to prison with no civil rights. The severe beatings and torture that mutilated her body, along with the inhumane conditions of her imprisonment, destroyed her health. In one cell, she used her shoes for a pillow. In another, she faced starvation. Another prison was so bleak and dark that a visitor described it as “terrifying.”
Finally after three years Sister Zdenka was released, so that the government would not be blamed for her death. She died three months later, thirty-eight years old, after receiving the immense comfort of Holy Communion.
Despite tremendous physical sufferings during her imprisonment – often in solitary confinement – Blessed Zdenka suffered most from being deprived of the sacraments. Yet those who met her, even when she was in prison, testify to her peace of spirit. On her deathbed, her prayer was for God’s mercy. Beatified by Saint John Paul II in 2003, she is considered a martyr; not even death could separate her from God’s loving mercy.
Sin As Separation From God
When we sin, we jeopardize our relationship with God. Spiritually, we turn our hearts away from God. In the case of venial – that is, less serious – sin, we weaken our relationship with God. Repeated and deliberate venial sins make it easier for us to commit more sins.
In the case of mortal sin, where our sinful choice is deliberate, free, and of a serious nature, we choose to break off our relationship with God, turning completely away from him. Mortal sin is a fundamental disconnect from ourselves, from others, and from God; we no longer share in God’s life. Our life and relationship with God can be restored by a deep sorrow for sin and the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Although sin violates our very nature as persons, revulsion for sin is no longer intuitive today. We have lost a sense of the consequences of sin, perhaps because we live in a culture which hoists narcissism onto a pedestal and crushes faith into near-invisibility. Created for love, goodness, and beauty, we allow sin to substitute illusions for reality. Ultimately, sin is a betrayal of who we are: it corrupts our God-given nature and purpose to love, misdirecting us away from our God-given destiny of eternal happiness.
The sacraments are the ordinary way that Jesus gives us to overcome the power of sin in our lives. Receiving the sacrament of Penance not only restores our relationship with God if we have sinned mortally, but, when received frequently, can heal us and help us form a healthy conscience, resist our tendency to sin, and grow in grace. However, it is receiving the Eucharist worthily – after the sacrament of Penance if we have committed mortal sin – that most deeply nurtures our union with God. In receiving Holy Communion, we receive Jesus, himself, whose gift as love himself revivifies our own love and strengthens us against sin with the gift of his friendship.
A Spiritual Perspective On the Struggle With Sin
As followers of Christ, we seek to overcome our sinful tendencies and, as much as possible, to avoid sin and temptation. Because of this fervent desire, we can put undue emphasis on the number of times we overcome temptation, or the sins that we do not commit, rather than on God’s unrelenting desire – and action – to save us.
Instead, the word of God reminds us to nurture a genuine spiritual perspective when it comes to our own struggle with sin. First, it is beneficial to focus more on our attitudes and disposition than on results. Grand gestures are less impressive to God than an attitude of conversion: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart,” (Psalm 51:17). One of the dangers for those who seek to live spiritually is a tendency toward proving our holiness, or counting our victories over temptation. Our need for reassurance that we are on the right path can be an ego trip that is more about pride or achievement than about deepening our life in Christ.
Second, in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus reminds us to rely more on God’s mercy than on our own efforts or accomplishments, (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee counts his achievements over sin as blessings from God – at first glance a praiseworthy attitude – but in reality, he is focusing on himself and his own achievements, on being “better than.” The tax collector, instead, is aware of his sinfulness and prays to God for mercy. The Pharisee has closed himself off from further growth, in contrast to the tax collector who begs God to step into his life.
Humble awareness of our need for God makes us receptive to God’s grace. In the broken bread of the Eucharist, Jesus delights in offering us grace in surprising places – even in our struggles with our sinfulness.
Bread for the hungry
Although we don’t always acknowledge it, we come to every Eucharistic celebration soul-hungry. We hunger for inner peace, meaning, connection, unconditional love, freedom from the slavery of sin. In the Eucharist, Jesus is the ultimate source of peace, meaning, unity, love, and happiness. Jesus strengthens our individual identity and nurtures our feeble efforts at good works into virtue. As we become more of who we are – our best selves – we share ourselves and our love with others.
Bread for the broken
One of the gifts of the Eucharist that is often overlooked is healing. Just as a wholesome life of healthy food, rest, and exercise can heal us physically, the healing love of Jesus can quite literally make us whole from the bitterness of sufferings, injury, or grief. Sins of grave and cruel injustice such as persecution, abuse, enslavement, and torture haunt not only the sinner but also the persons sinned against. For those wounded by this kind of horror, the healing love of Jesus in the Eucharist can become a sanctuary. As the memorial of his unjust persecution and death, the broken Bread of Life has a special power to heal those who have suffered so unjustly. As the actual presence of Jesus Risen among us, the Eucharist is especially effective in overcoming the lingering effects of any injustice or wounds that we have suffered, so that they no longer hold destructive power over us.
Bread for the fragmented
Gathered around the gift of the Eucharist, we share in the one bread and the one chalice that have become Christ. At the Last Supper, Jesus could have chosen many elements from the Passover meal. He chose the simple, almost universal symbols of bread and wine. Sharing a meal shapes our understanding of the Eucharist as the sacrament of unity.
At a family meal, everyone gathers around the table with a certain equality. Everyone has a place, shares the same food, comes at the same time to receive nourishment together. At a meal, we let down our guard and share our vulnerabilities as human beings: our need for food, companionship, and family.
The Eucharist makes the church what it is: we share not just the sacred banquet where Christ becomes present in the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist, but also the memorial of the sacrifice of his life for us. Our shared memorial becomes a time of shared purpose: of thanksgiving, adoration, self-offering. Each Eucharistic encounter is an invitation for us individually and communally to grow in union with God and in love for one another, especially the poorest among us.