On Holiness: Subtle Crosses
We have to be careful of how we approach holiness and how we better ourselves in Christ Jesus. Indeed we are to 'pick up our crosses and follow Him,' but how often is it that we chase holiness as if we know what is best? For Paul says that "God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with [that] trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it" (1 Cor 10:13). Indeed James also says "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire" (James 1:14).
What does this mean? Simply this: even our desire for holiness can be a cause of temptation and sin when we dictate it. We often desire glorious crosses/paths to holinesspersecution, evangelization, greater prayerand often neglect the very clear signs God gives us. We tend to ignore the "subtle crosses." For rather than being in fire, earthquakes, and driving winds (i.e., our ideas of glory and faith) God is in a "tiny whispering sound" (1 Kings 19:12). These subtle crosses present themselves every day and often at the heart of our habits and thoughts. Where we may want to prove unbelievers wrong (or whatnot), when you get that urge to pray, read Scripture, pray for a friend/enemy, or acknowledge the poor (if you don't have money), that is God handing you a subtle cross. When you neglect these little whispers of your conscience you prefer a cross of your own choosing to the cross picked out for you so you might grow.
For Origen (d. 253/54 AD)so wanted martyrdom that he was willing to present himself before the Romans who bitterly persecuted the Church. Yet when those same Romans were rounding up men and women in his hometown Origen's mother hid all of his clothes. He would have been too ashamed to go out naked and hid insteadeven though the tortures the Romans inflicted were much worse than the shame of nakedness. In that moment he realized what a fool he had been. He saw how pride infected the noblest intentions. He learned the true meaning of "each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire."
Determining the will of God for us is often confused and muddied by our own desires such that we take every strong feeling of faith to be a godsend, but in reality they can plunge us deeper into darkness and misdirection. This is why, then, prayer, silence, and Scripture are necessary. Equally important, however, is our Tradition that stands as the deposit of human wisdom tried and guided by the Holy Spirit in His Church. For do not "plans fail when there is no council, but they succeed when the counselors are many" (Prv 15:22)?
Indeed, let Scripture be your council, but do not neglect the holy ones of God who came before us who suffered but also earned their crown. The word of God is just that, the word. But in order to hear the word it must be spokenrather it must be 'spirated,' meaning that the Spirit must speak it to us. But how does the spirit speak to us? Breath must come from the body for words to be heard. And who is the body? Christ and the Church. For "he is the head of the body the Church" (Col 1:18). And we must become members of that body. We must "make up for what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church" (Col 2:24). If Christ's body is the Church, of whom he is the head, is not the body something that is seen and visible in this world, persisting through all ages like Christ the head?
Look now at this as well: "The man of wisdom fixes his gaze on wisdom, but the eyes of the fool are on the ends of the earth" (Prv 17:24). I would say, though, that those who say they do not listen to the Church or the wise council of their priests, brothers, and sisters because it is the "wisdom of men" and not "true wisdom" (cf. 1 Cor 2:6-10) are rather the ones whom Proverbs admonishes: "he who rejects admonition despises his soul, but he who heeds reproof gains understanding" (Prv 15:32).
Are we to say that Scripture is the only arbiter, or that it is the only authority? Is it of Scripture or to men of faith that Paul says "we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16b)and not just to any sort of person, but spiritual persons, i.e., those whom we trust and are known to show God's love. Was it Scripture or men who were named the Body of Christ? Reconciling the two is no small difficultyit is not unlike that beautiful mystery of Christ taking the form of a slave and becoming man.
Therefore, my friends, will we really be that blind when we neglect the wisdom of holy men and women, the wisdom of the Apostles, and the wisdom of Tradition which was tried by fire, flowering from the blood of the martyrs, and on the lips of men and women throughout the ages?
No. The path to holiness is in listening and discerningthe humility and courage to listen not only to Scripture but men forged by Scripture, the Spirit, and integrated into the Body of Christ, the Church. God not only gives us the word but all of creation to speak to his glory. Will you listen?