Photo Credit: Michelangelo Buonarroti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Dear readers: As I was sifting through some old files working on updates, I found this story I wrote during the season of Advent in 2012, prior to my reception of Orders in August of 2013. Perhaps many of you have not yet read it. With that, I have republished it today. Of course, we’re far from the sacred season of Advent, but I hope you find it meaningful. God bless you all. Deacon Frederick Bartels.
By F. K. Bartels
18 December 2012
If we want to experience the desires of our hearts, fully and forever, it is Christ who provides the promise, hope and sure path of fulfillment by reconciling us with God, our origin and end.
Have you ever wanted to become a new person, and live out a new, exciting and fulfilling life? Has the universal human experience of dissatisfaction and emptiness in earthly life given rise to a thirst for change within you? Do you sense, however subtlety or perhaps subconsciously, the existence of a new and wondrous “horizon” seemingly just beyond your reach? Do you desire to belong and to be “connected,” not superficially but deeply, inseparably and permanently? Do you long to drink from the well of infinite love?
Is true healing, completeness and wholeness what you seek? Do you crave forgiveness? Do you want to be made new? Do you thirst to belong to God, partake of his burning love, share his own supernatural life, and one day live forever in blissful peace and perfect happiness? These are some of the irrepressible desires of the human heart. Yet we have no power within ourselves to attain them. Every single one is entirely beyond our reach.
Imagine, for a moment, you live in a frigid, harsh land in which an icy wind blows unceasingly out of the North. Your shelter is but a mud hut. Famine is a constant companion, since the ground often yields little but thorns and thistles during the meager growing season in the summer. Peace is unknown due to the unceasing threat of ruffians and nomadic tribes whose sole existence consists of searching for vulnerable people who can easily be conquered. While you occasionally find some bit of pleasure, it is shallow and fleeting. The cold cannot be driven from your bones.
One day you learn of your people’s history. Long ago, your ancestors lived with a great King of immense benevolence, compassion, wisdom and almighty power, and therefore enjoyed many privileges of the royal household: the choicest foods, comfortable protection, security and shelter were daily provided. Peace and joy were constant companions. The castle grounds were a place of warmth and beauty, filled with all the delights of a richly fertile garden. But one day something devastating happened.
Your ancestors committed a frightening offense of such grave magnitude against the King, they were cast out from the royal household. Peace and security, the delights of the garden, all these things were tragically lost. So willful, destructive and severe was their offense, the surrounding environment was affected: the ground itself was cursed. The harmony of past was broken. While the King lovingly clothed these former members of his household in order to afford them some protection from the now harsh elements, there was little else he could do, given their choice to reject his wise sovereignty. As they walked away, tears fell from the eyes of the King. An unrelenting, cold North wind began to blow.
The previous benefits your ancestors enjoyed within the royal household were lost—not only for themselves, but for their posterity as well. For many generations, your people have lived under the frightening consequences of the rejection of the King, residing outside of the royal household, in a foreign and harsh and unforgiving land where survival is a daily struggle. Sadly, you realize it is entirely beyond the power of your people to restore their former privileges: they cannot walk in the castle’s garden, nor is it possible for them to pass beyond the threshold of the household of the King. You nor anyone else has any right to these royal benefits.
Longing fills your heart and the hearts of your people. If only you cold be warm again. If only you could enjoy the delights of the household of the King.
There is only one Person who could work such a miracle of restoration, truly healing, elevating and perfecting your people and the land in which you live. Only the King possesses the almighty power to do such a thing.
One day you hear of a great promise of hope. You receive news of the King’s plan to send his only Son into the harsh land in order to reconcile you and your people to himself. Joy fills your heart as you imagine living within the royal household. When the Son of the King arrives, however, he is not well received. While he gives nothing but love, he receives little but hate. One night, he tells you he must willingly suffer and die. It is the King’s plan.
“Why?” you ask.
“The offenses you and your people have committed are infinitely grave, for you have rejected my Father, who is himself infinitely good,” said the Son. “I have come as the Innocent One who will reconcile you and your people to the King.”
“But must you die?”
“My plans are not your plans and my ways are not your ways. I have not come to simply restore your former privileges, but to elevate you and your people to the status of membership within my Father’s royal family. I have come to give life in abundance, so that everyone who believes in me should not perish, but have eternal life.”
“Is there not some other way?”
“This is the way of infinite love. It is my way,” said the Son.
God desires to remake you into a new person. The reality of such a change is beyond anything you could imagine—unless, of course, you have experienced it. While it involves a journey from an all-too-familiar yet foreign land, into an unknown homeland in which things are astonishingly different from what they are presently, you need not travel any distance, therefore there is little use in speaking about time. Since you have not yet visited this new land, you cannot possibly know what is ahead nor foresee the difficulties you will encounter on the journey. Nor are you aware of the vast beauty and untold joy flourishing all along the way. In any case, you must decide whether or not you are ready for the adventure. Are you?
I will assume you are. Now, there are some things you must know. You can no longer procrastinate as so many often do, and perhaps as you have done in the past. Now is the time, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). Today is the day to set off for the new world. You need take up the path of desire leading from shadows and often stifling darkness into other-worldly light, from finitude to eternity. This desire must be extreme, rising above any want of worldly things and other creatures, including the desires of self, in order to develop a real and true thirst for God.
Read the above story again (adapted from Genesis chapter 3 and other places in Scripture). Is there anything you would refuse to give up in order to leave behind a land of unhappiness and enter permanently into the promised land of joyous warmth, become a member of the royal family, and dwell forever in the household of God? What love the Holy Trinity has poured out for you! The only thing you have to give to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, whose love surpasses all human understanding, is your own self and your own love.
Progress cannot be made without a profound interior change—known as authentic conversion, which is the foundation of the spiritual life. The old life and the old self must be put to death. Sin must be hated, eradicated, cast off and away. While this will initially involve perhaps a great deal of pain, just as does pulling a deeply set sliver from your hand, remember you are not alone, for it is God who will see you through to the end. Pray unceasingly, then, for without God’s grace you can accomplish nothing. Nevertheless, while God will do everything for you, you need also do everything within your power. Put your whole self entirely into this journey. If you do not, then the only conclusion to be drawn is that you lacked the necessary desire in the first place.
Cultivate and then attain a love for God above all things. Such a concept can be an extremely difficult one to grasp given the circumstances of earthly life, with its temptations and distractions and illusions and deceptions. Further, such a state is impossible to attain without the transforming and healing power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it is crucial to frequently avail oneself of the divine liturgy and the sacraments of the Church, especially Reconciliation and Eucharist, beg God to put an end to any disordered love for created things he may find rooted in your heart, and firmly choose to live a life of purity, simplicity and holiness. Above all, you must convince yourself of your need for God. You are dependent on God. It is God who saves, heals, recreates and fulfills.
“You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth and summoned from its far-off places, To whom I have said, You are my servant; I chose you, I have not rejected you—Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. For I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, Do not fear, I will help you” (Isaiah 41:9-10, 13).
The journey ahead is the road of perfection and love; it is the joyful path of the spiritual life leading to the ineffable light and warmth of God, an existence and reality made possible only by Christ. It is for the humble, patient, persistent and dedicated. While the journey is not easy, the rewards are beyond all measure. No one can adequately describe what awaits you as a new person; you will understand only as a result of experience. Commend yourself to God, for it is God who takes you into his hands and transforms you through the power of his Spirit into a member of the divine family. For your part, say “yes,” fully and completely with your entire self, as did the sweet Virgin Mary who gave birth to the Savior of the world, the Son of God made man who has come, is coming, and will come again. An imperative of the journey is, then, to love God for his own sake, above all else.
The will of God is to become your will: therein lies your happiness and fulfillment.
Enter fully into Advent by opening your heart to the Son of God. Gaze upon Christ who came into the harsh world, one where survival is a real battle, as a little, humble Child born in a cave at Bethlehem. There you will find the true, fullest and complete meaning of love. There you will find the meaning of life. There you will find the new life of faith in Christ who reconciles and saves, redeems and restores, heals and perfects and elevates. Do you want to become a new person? It is the Person of Jesus the Christ, “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), who makes “all things new” (Rev 21:5), who will indeed make it so.
Please consider helping to spread the message of Christ and his Church with a donation.