I purchased it several years ago, but this Lent I decided to start reading Hinds’ Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard. While I don’t want to give too much away for those who may be interested in reading it, I do want to focus on one point that has struck me repeatedly throughout the book.
Several times, Much-Afraid, the character followed in the story, is called to sacrifice her will for the Shepherd’s will. This story is an allegory of the Christian life, but the repeated need to make altars upon which to lay one’s own will, is rather striking. Each time, she assembles an altar from whatever materials lie close at hand and then she places her own will on the altar. A fire alights from somewhere and consumes the sacrifice, making a burnt offering of her very will.
There Much-Afraid built her first altar on the mountains, a little pile of broken rocks, and then, with the Shepherd standing close beside her, she laid down on the altar her trembling, rebelling will. A little spurt of flame came from somewhere, and in an instant nothing but a heap of ashes was laying on the altar.Hinds’ Feet on High Places, pp. 71-72
In the midst of reading this book, the coronavirus has swept the nation and world. It felt very real when my bishop suspended all Masses. Suddenly, I was in a similar position to the people I ministered in Honduras, who go without Mass for undetermined periods of time. It was something I never considered happening here. During the season of Lent, I suddenly felt like a tremendous sacrifice was being asked of me. Yet the end probably won’t come at Easter, with the beautiful Triduum marking the end of the wandering in the desert. Who knows how long we will be left to wander in this sacramental desert.
The Lord asked us to place our wills upon the altar and to accept them being made into a burnt offering, a living sacrifice for the Lord. Arguments about what ought to be done aside, I am confident the Lord can use this time to shape us, to pull us out of the normal and help us see the miraculous in what we mistook for ordinary.
Whatever we chose to do for Lent, we find ourselves in a situation where we are asked to sacrifice even more. I am reminded of little St. Jacinta Marto, one of the Fatima visionaries. She made many sacrifices throughout her short life, but when it was revealed to her that she would die alone in a hospital in Lisbon, she accepted that reality albeit with some fear. As she was suffering, she would say, “O Jesus! Now You can convert many sinners, because this is a really big sacrifice!” This isn’t what she expected for her life, but she was willing to embrace it because Jesus could do so much with her loving sacrifice. Perhaps the same can be true for us in this current sacrifice as well as the inevitable sacrifices to come.
From this repeated death to our own wills, we shall come to share more deeply in the life Christ offers. As Much-Afraid’s character shows, continually dying to self enables her to live more fully the freedom found in a life rooted in Christ. It is painful in the moment, but a new joy emerges from the ashes of our burnt offering, the offering of our very wills.
Then he answered very quietly, “Much-Afraid, do you love me enough to accept the postponement and the apparent contradiction of the promise, and to go down there with me into the desert?”Hinds’ Feet On High Places, pg. 71