“Our once great western Christian civilization is dying. If this matters to followers of Jesus Christ, then we must set aside our denominational differences and work together to strengthen the things that remain and reclaim what has been lost. Evangelicals and Catholics must stand together to re-establish that former Christian culture and moral consensus. We have the numbers and the organization but the question is this: Do we have the will to win this present spiritual battle for Jesus Christ against secularism? Will we prayerfully and cooperatively work toward a new Christian spiritual revival ― or will we choose to hunker down in our churches and denominationalisms and watch everything sink into the spiritual and moral abyss of a New Dark Age?” - Mark Davis Pickup

Saturday, January 21, 2017

CHRIST WILL GIVE YOU REST

In the Gospel of Matthew (11.25-30) you will find a much loved passage where Jesus says “Come to me, all you who weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Our Lord was extending an invitation to those who follow Him to be obedient to his words.

From the writings of the saints and testimonies of countless Christians throughout the centuries, we know these words of Jesus are true. Although Jesus was addressing Jews suffering under the weight of unnecessary religious responsibilities of the Pharisees, his invitation was, and remains, open to all.

There is something about resting in the love of Christ that has lightened the burdens that I have encountered in my life. Why? I know He is the hope of mankind, the Alpha and Omega – the consummation all things seen and unseen. And as I just stated, Christ is the truth in whom millions of spiritually burdened people have found rest and peace not only today but ever since  Christ made that promise.

Our Lord’s words carry an echo of the first beatitude found earlier in the book of Matthew: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” People who carry heavy spiritual burdens are often the same people who are poor in spirit.

Why would the poor in spirit be blessed? It flies in the face of worldly thinking; we live in a self-centered time that promotes hollow self-esteem and self-exaltation. Well, I think that people who know they are poor in spirit are usually acutely aware of their utter need for something more than themselves. Their abject internal poverty can make them seek God’s mercy. They understand their need of forgiveness and they dare to imagine they can be right with God. They find the answer to their seeking in the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ, through faith. The Master's blood on the cross can settle their problem of sin. Never underestimate the restorative power found in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Spiritual blindness can fall from the eyes of a darkened human heart burdened by the weight of sin. The first rays of Christ’s light can break through a heart of darkness as a direct response to the first inklings of new faith (however fragile that faith may be).  Christ became poor so that we might become rich. He died that we may live. He conquered death so that we can experience resurrection too.

Those who are poor in spirit are closer than they think to another of the Beatitudes: becoming “clean of heart”.  Christ said “Blessed are clean of heart, for they shall see God.” The kingdom of God (heaven) is where humanity sees God clearly for all eternity. St. Paul said, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.” (1Corinthians 13.12.)

The kingdom of God is not just our possession at some point in the future. It begins here and now as we humbly detach ourselves of earthly interests in favour of an ever closer attachment and devotion to Christ. Earthly things are no longer see solely as objects for self-gratification rather for the pursuit of a perfect charity, furthering the Gospel, and the glory of God.

In reference to “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, the Church teaches that the Beatitudes “reveal an order of happiness and grace, of beauty and peace. Jesus celebrates the joy of the poor, to whom the kingdom already belongs.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2546.)

The rich rely on their own self-sufficiency and abundance.  It is the poor of spirit who look to God for their hope instead of the world. In doing so they are surprised to find true happiness. The Catechism assures us that as the poor in spirit devote themselves to God with complete abandon, they find themselves free from anxieties about tomorrow. Then it says, “Trust in God is a preparation for the blessedness of the poor. They shall see God.”

At a personal level, I have been given opportunities to witness for Christ to other incurably ill people and their families. My wheelchair allows me entrance into their grief, their fears and their sorrows. I tell them how Christ abides with me in the poverty of my physical circumstances. He is leading me home and restores my hope and lessens my earthly burdens. He can do the same for them.


God can reveal himself to us even at our points of deepest anguish – when our burdens seem too heavy to be borne. We can go to Christ. He will give us rest.

[Click image below for "Enter The Rest of God", by Brian Doerksen]


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Friday, January 13, 2017

MY CONSOLATION IN CHRIST

I keep a copy of The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis, beside my Bible on my night table. I read the Bible to begin my days and excerpts of The Imitation of Christ to conclude many of my days.  
If I were to be exiled to a remote island, they are the two books I would take. Recently I was reading Kempis’ words on being thankful for God’s grace: “Prepare yourself for patient suffering rather than for consolation, for bearing the cross rather than rejoicing.” I paused and thought how different my experience has been.
I have been so blessed by God’s consolation and joy even during my thirty-two year journey of suffering with multiple sclerosis, and cancer. I did not expect it during periods of suffering and was always astounded to discover Christ’s nearness at points of greatest anguish and fear.
Kempis continued and spoke of God’s consolation: “Spiritual consolation surpasses all worldly delights and bodily pleasures.”  Yes, disease and disability stripped away my capacity to acquire many worldly pleasures for myself and my family but God has infused His love into my world and that surpasses anything the world can offer.
I have been chronically ill for more than half of my life. I think I can see now why God allowed it. The Bible tells me that all things work for good to those who love God (Romans 8.28). It’s true. I’m not the same man I was. Before sickness and disability, my life was ruled by selfish ambitions, an inflated ego and pride. My relationship with Christ was hobbled and shallow.
There’s a cute saying: “If God is your co-pilot, you need to change seats.” That was me. Although not acknowledged as such, I foolishly believed I was the master of my own destiny and God was coming along for the ride to bless me.  I needed to be humbled and brought to my knees. It took disease and disability to do that. My monumental pride and illusions of self-sufficiency needed to be shattered.
In writing about God’s consolation, Thomas à Kempis said “A false sense of liberty and overconfidence in one’s self are obstacles to such heavenly visitations.”  Earthly gain pales in comparison to the treasures of heaven. Things may give us happiness but God is the source of Joy. Again, Kempis wrote, “The world promises things that are passing and of little value and it is served with great enthusiasm.”  He said that Jesus “promises things that are most excellent and eternal and men’s hearts remain indifferent.” Men’s hearts remain indifferent because their perspective does not include the eternal.
Kempis wrote, “For a pittance men will travel great distance, but for eternal life they will scarcely take a single step. … [N]either do they hesitate to wear themselves out working day and night for some foolish promise or trifling object.”  The best the world has to offer are foolish promises and trifling objects compared to the glory of heaven.  
Jesus said:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Therein rests a blessing of chronic illness in my life. It gave me a new perspective. I began to shift my focus from what is seen to what is unseen. The Apostle Paul exhorted us in this:
“For our light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2Corinthians 4.17-18.)
Three decades of sickness and disability are momentary in light of eternity.  Christ’s presence and grace have been my consolation.  He calls me to new levels relationship with him through faith and trust in His sovereignty.  Ever so slowly I have begun to understand what the great Catholic theologian Fulton Sheen meant when he stated, “Abandonment of self to Truth is a prelude to entering into the joy of the Lord.”

Until I was prepared to empty myself to the Truth of Jesus Christ I could not be filled with his consolation or joy. My pride and ego and overconfidence needed to be broken. That is a gift of suffering. Not everyone needs to suffer catastrophic illness to experiencer God’s consolation. Apparently it was needed for me.
Mark

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

WRITING ABOUT UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS

New York based publication The Human Life Review has just brought a new blog online. I wrote an article about Chinese dissident and human rights advocate Wei Jingsheng, and the universality of human rights See
http://www.humanlifereview.com/9721-2/ 

THIS CHILD HAS SOME THINGS TO SAY: PHYSICAL DISABILITY AWARENESS

Below is a short video I want you to see. An 11 year girl with cerebral palsy talks to us. She has some things to say.




Monday, January 9, 2017

SUFFERING AND THE SUBLIMITY OF GOD'S LOVE

Pope John Paul II once said that the answer to the ‘Why’ of suffering depends on the ability to comprehend the sublimity of divine love. Unfortunately for most of us, it is beyond our ability to comprehend the wonder and perfection of God’s love. Left to my own means, I could not comprehend it; the ‘Why’ of suffering would remain unanswered.

More than thirty years of chronic and incurable disease have often raised the question ‘Why?’  

During my early years with aggressive multiple sclerosis, physical, emotional and spiritual pain scorched like a fire and occupied most of my attention. Internal panic and anguish completely distracted me from being internally still and listening with my heart and not my head, as diseased attacked my body. The ‘Why’ of my suffering was not actually a question – it was part pleading prayer and part desperate demand that seemed to fall into a deaf universe.

The universe may have seemed deaf but the Creator of it is not. God is not some distant, disinterested cosmic entity. He is near, intimate and listening, beckoning humanity to enter His sublime love.  

My natural self-absorbed and prideful state prevents me from receiving God’s perfect love or returning a perfect love to Him. It has simply not been within me to receive or give either. As long as I remained as I was, God’s love would have remained incomprehensible to me.  As long as I was guilty of self-idolatry there was no room for His gigantic love or true worship of Him.

While it is true that God accepts us as we are, it is also true that He does not want us to remain as imperfect and spiritually wretched that we are in our natural state. In his wonderfully insightful book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis put it this way: 

“To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable.”

As years of infirmity have passed; my own anguish has revealed new dimensions of the reality that God truly and intimately loves me and wants me to intimately love Him in return. He could not leave me in my natural state. The purifying fire of affliction was/is needed to shatter my monumental ego and illusion of self-sufficiency that blinded me from all but the most basic and superficial spiritual truths. I needed to relinquish ownership of my physical, emotional and spiritual pain to Christ.

I needed to surrender, surrender and surrender again my life to God’s will. When I did this (after all other options were exhausted) Christ allowed me to unite my suffering and defeat with His suffering and victory over sin and death.  

As Pope John Paul told us in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris,that Christ's suffering
and death and Resurrection can save us from the ultimate suffering which is the loss of eternal life.  At the cross Christ achieved our redemption through his suffering.

If I accept that God is a good God of love (and I do) then I must conclude that my pain is necessary. God would not permit it if it is unnecessary. I think I am finally getting an inkling of why my suffering is necessary. My ego and self-idolatry had to be broken in order for the possibility of self-transcendence. The vehicle for that transcendence toward perfection in Christ is suffering.

A 1996 EWTN commentary about Pope John Paul’s Salvifici Doloris stated, “In the cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed.”  Later the commentary states: 

“Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished.” In doing so, each sufferer is invited to share in the redemptive suffering of Christ.

St. Paul in Prison (1627)
by Rembrandt van Rijn
(1606-1669)
The Apostle Paul commented on this in his own life: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Galatians 2.20) This is done by uniting our suffering with Christ’s suffering through personal surrender to Him and offering our pain as a sacrifice to further Christ’s witness, content with whatever that might mean here on earth. 

In heaven I shall finally comprehend the sublimity of God’s divine love. I will know just as I am known.

Mark