An Evangelical Protestant Encounters Catholic Spirituality: Part 3. Experiencing the Gospel of Love

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This is the third of a four part series chronicling my experience in an Ignatian retreat.

The night before I had asked the Lord for the grace to help me experience living in this abiding presence of the Father. There had been a strong sense in my heart that I should immerse myself in the experience of Jesus on the cross and to listen to him make the seven statements from the cross. That feeling was still strong in me so I entered into the scene in my imagination. It became the most emotional experience I have had in a long time. I felt the Holy Spirit wanting me to be with Jesus on the cross. So I imagined myself there on the cross with Christ. I imagined myself feeling his pain and sorrow and grief. He would be feeling the pain physically and emotionally and I imagined myself feeling that pain, sorrow and grief. it was horrendous! I began to journey with Jesus through the seven statements.

  • “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.”                                  

I saw Jesus looking around. He saw the soldiers, members of the Sanhedrin, and the crowd who wanted him crucified. He was experiencing so much pain because of what these people did. I was hard for me to look at the faces of the soldiers, Sanhedrin and the crowd. I felt anger and bitterness. It was my flesh feeling the injustice and the situation. Surely God will judge these people!

Then I heard a voice say “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.” I couldn’t comprehend how Jesus could pray that. I looked at Jesus and saw that look of love and compassion. I could see his heart. There was no bitterness at all just love. “Father forgive them” he prays with tears rolling down his cheeks.

There I am on the cross with Jesus holding on to resentment and bitterness towards people who put Jesus on the cross. In my imagination I caught a glimpse of my heart and I saw that it was a storehouse of bitterness, resentment, anger, hurts. I get annoyed, frustrated and hurt and I keep these emotions in my heart. I felt Jesus look at me and say “let them go”. Jesus was wanting me to forgive those who have hurt me, rejected me, and caused me anger and bitterness. I realized I needed the grace of compassion and forgiveness that Jesus had. Lord give me your heart of love. Give me your eyes of compassion. Give me your will to forgive. Give me the grace to forgive.

  • “Truly I say to you, today you will be in paradise.”                                    

Looking at Jesus I saw the pain he was feeling on his face. I could feel that pain. More than that his heart was aching for people to experience the love of the Father. This was demonstrated in the way he looked with love to the convict and assured him of his place in paradise. Jesus, in pain still chooses to show love to those needing love, to give hope to those needing to receive hope. With painful gasps he looks at the convict with eyes of love. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

I imagined myself in moments of pain and weariness. How do I respond to people when I am worn out, in pain or burdened by the situations I find myself in? Often I just want to retreat and think of myself and the burdens I am carrying. I just want people to go away. With Jesus on the cross I felt the heart of Jesus. He talked about loving our neighbour. Here Jesus was practicing what he taught. I fall short when it comes to loving my neighbour. I don’t love people the way Jesus loves. I felt Jesus loving eyes on me as he calls me to examine how I love others. Lord forgive me, Give me your heart that puts people before me. Give me your compassion where you are wanting to bless another human being, even at the point of death. What love! I want to love like you Lord. Give me the grace to love my neighbour, people whom I work with, people whom I come across having needs, people who need hope and grace in their lives.

  • “Woman this is your son. This is your mother.”                                                

In the midst of ministry, Jesus never stopped loving his family. As I imagined myself on the cross of Jesus and looking at his mother through his eyes, I could feel the pain he felt leaving his earthly mother. He took care of her needs even at the point of death. Mary, whose heart must have been broken many times and who did not fully understand Jesus yet kept all these things in her heart, pondering over them time and time again, was being cared for by her Son. In the midst of his own pain, Jesus felt the pain of his mother.

As I experienced the way Jesus loved his mother and ensured that she was looked after, I wondered if I loved my family the way Jesus loved his. His was an unconditional sacrificial love that put his family’s needs over his own. Even in the midst of his own distress, Jesus took on board the distress of his mother. As I felt the gaze of Jesus on me, I realize my call is to love my family unconditionally, even willing to carry their distress above my own. Once again I realize I fall short of Jesus’ love and how much I need his grace of love and compassion. Lord give me your heart to love my family the way you did. Even in the midst of my pain and suffering, help me not to stop loving them.

The first three statements pointed to me how much I fall short in the way Jesus loved unconditionally. I need the grace to love like Jesus did. But the Holy Spirit did not stop there. I then entered into the fourth statement of Jesus.

  • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”                                        

This was the beginning of the darkest moments before his death. I heard the loud painful cry of anguish as Jesus felt forsaken by the Father. Then Jesus turned and looked at me. That was an awkward moment in my imagination where I felt deeply that this rejection and abandonment Jesus was experiencing was because of me. I knew in my head that Jesus took my sins upon himself. But this is a heart experience of anguish. My sin, my rebellion, my wickedness has turned God’s face away from my Saviour. This is the God who at the start of Jesus’ ministry said this was the Son he loved and was pleased with him. What changed? He did nothing wrong. He was innocent.

It was my being there with Jesus on the cross that turned the Fathers face away from his Son whom he loved. A question rose in my spirit. Why is Jesus remaining there with me? Why didn’t he leave me to face the penalty of my sin? There was an overwhelming awareness that Jesus would remain with me on the cross and carry my sins even to the point where he faced rejection from the Father because he loved me so deeply. I felt that deep love of Jesus, which broke my heart. Jesus chose to be with me on the cross. I am crucified with Christ because he chose to be there with me. He could have left me to be there on my own, paying the price for my sins. And I deserved it. He didn’t deserve it. Yet he chose to remain with me because HE LOVED ME! You did not desert me Jesus. You did not leave me to face the wrath of God on my own. You took it upon yourself so that I did not have to suffer. You faced rejection from the Father so that I do not need to face the rejection. You took the “bullet” for me. My heart was shattered as I experienced this sense of amazing love. The grace I now needed was a heart of gratitude for what Jesus did for me because he loved me so deeply.

  • “I thirst.”                                                                                                            

It is really hard being on the cross, being all alone. Feeling separated from the Father who is the source of all life. As I was reflecting on the deep love of Jesus to me, and the gratitude I felt, I heard Jesus say that he was thirsty. What was he thirsting for? He had lost a lot of blood and he had been sweating profusely because of the pain and distress he was in. Was he thirsting for a drink? Jesus was separated from the Father. Was he thirsting for the Father’s presence? I am there with Christ on the cross. He is looking at me with loving eyes. Was he thirsting for me? For me to let go of my life? Is he waiting for me to give up control? Is he thirsting for more of me so that he can bring more of God in my life?

I felt the deep sense in my imagination that Jesus was waiting for me to let go and yield myself to him so that his life could flow through me. Lord you stood by me when you felt separated from the Father. You did not leave me all alone on the cross facing the penalty of my sin. You look to me with pleading eyes. “I thirst.” “I thirst for you to let go and enter with me into my Father’s Kingdom. I thirst for you to be blessed with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. I thirst for your life so that you can experience mine.” Jesus is thirsting for me. He loves me so much that he is on the cross thirsting for me to experience the abiding love of the Father! “Lord I hear your voice, thirsting for me to let go, to stop living my life the way I want, to turn around and live your life in me, the Kingdom life.” I hear you say “how can I give you up?” You long for me to let go. “Lord you stood by me on the cross and did not desert me even when you felt forsaken by your Father. I cannot desert you after what you have done. I yield my life afresh to you. Just as you thirst for me, I thirst for you. I long to be one with you. Give me grace to leave my life in your hands.”

  • “It is finished.”                                                                                                

The work of the cross is finished. It is accomplished. It is knowing in my heart that Jesus did not leave me to face my sins but that he took it upon himself so that I am not on the cross alone. He did not desert me. Jesus did not desert me. What a lovely deep feeling of joy knowing that Jesus did not desert me. He stood by me like he stood with the adulterous woman who had broken the Father’s Law. He is faithful to the very end. And knowing what he did, I respond to Jesus’ thirst by giving my life to him. He and I are one. He abides in me and I abide in him. Apart from him I can do nothing. The work on the cross is finished in my life. God give me the grace to celebrate the accomplished work of the cross in my life.

  • “Father into your hand I commit my spirit.” .                                                  

There I am on the cross with Jesus. My sins are forgiven. I feel clean and new. I feel the deep love of Jesus for me. I feel that oneness with Christ. Jesus now turns to me and he says, “Come. meet my Father and yours”. He takes me by the hand and leads me into the Father’s embrace as he prays “Father into your hand I commit my spirit”. Jesus led me into the Father’s hands. I see the Father’s hands. My name is inscribed deeply in his hands. Welcome home good and faithful son! Welcome home good and faithful son! It dawned on me as I heard the voice of the Father. My faithfulness rested not on what I have done but what Christ has done. I had known that in my head but now my heart is bursting at experiencing the voice of the Father welcoming me into his presence. I experienced what the prodigal son would have experienced when his father rushed to welcome him home. Like the prodigal son being embraced by a father who was waiting for him, I am now being embraced by a Heavenly Father who loves me and is proud of me. “Father give me the grace to live in your embrace and presence daily. Give me the grace to abide in your light daily and not daily stumble in the dark.”

The hymn on my lips as I experienced the gospel afresh is “And can it be”. The words spoke deeply to me as I listened to the hymn. Click the link if you would like to listen to the song.

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood?

Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—

Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:

’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;

Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,

Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

For me this was the climax of the whole retreat. The Spirit prepared me to come to this place to experience the gospel afresh in my life again. This time it wasn’t a head response but an experience of what the gospel can do to bring me in and keep me in the Lord’s presence.

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