Oh, but then comes the hard part! He breaks us.
What matters most to you?
Before you answer, consider this. Recently, I sent a friend a link to a news story about political unrest in a country he knows very well. I asked him, “Is this significant?” His reply shook me, but it did not surprise me: “No, it is not significant. The only thing that matters is death — and resurrection.”
A thoughtful Christian immersed in an honest Lent could only reply to my friend with a simple, “Yes, of course.” Death is inevitable, and the fact of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of our own transform the meaning of all human life and the world we live in. Death, stemming from Original Sin, marks as a tragedy human life, which was meant to be the crown of creation. The resurrection of Jesus proves that death is not the final word to be spoken over human life. There can be a glorious and eternal final chapter for each and every human life — on the condition that we die many times.
Let me explain. The whole arc of Christian life can be expressed through the “Four Verbs of the Eucharist”; that is, taking, blessing, breaking and giving. These are described in the Synoptic Gospels’ account of Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19). Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it. What Jesus did at the Last Supper was suffered by him on Good Friday. And if we are faithful disciples who would be fruitful ones, we will allow the Lord to do the same to us: that is, take us, bless us, break us and give us. If we live a full Christian life, the Lord will perform these actions in our lives more than once.
The Lord takes us; that is, he calls us by name into his love and service, many times. He first takes us by calling us into existence at our conception. He takes us by calling us into discipleship, vocation and friendship. He blesses us again and again — beginning with baptism and then with the other sacraments. He blesses us with natural and supernatural gifts, as well as with vocations or professions.
Oh, but then comes the hard part! He breaks us. I do not mean that he destroys us. Nor do I mean that he delights in seeing us suffer. I mean that the Lord in his sovereignty, wisdom and providence can, if we allow him, break us open. If we are broken open, the blessings and gifts with which he has endowed us can be more readily given. Jesus explains: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24).
Not much talk here about “self-esteem” or “becoming your best self.” Not at all. Discipleship that is fruitful according to the Lord’s measure will require that we die many times. These deaths can come to us in various forms: repeated acts of self-denial to overcome selfishness or simply to meet the demands of duty; the raw courage to face another day while wrapped in the damp gloom of disappointment and deprivation; the bitter but dignified suffering of injustices one is powerless to overcome.