Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Refuse God Nothing

If there was ever a week to meditate on the Cross of our Lord and Savior, and in turn reflect on our own crosses and how we carry them, with Christ as our Model and our Goal, this week is it. The Carthusian Dom Augustin Guillerand wrote:

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We are not fond of suffering, and, in one sense, we are right. We are made for happiness, and it should be the dream of our hearts, the aim of our existence. We are not wrong to seek happiness, but we are wrong to seek it along wrong paths.

Where are we to find it? In God alone! He is that mysterious Reality for Whom we long in all that we desire, in all that we do. He hides Himself in the depth of all created things, from which we ask happiness, and which cannot give it to us. They are the veil which hides the infinite beauty of His Face, and we suffer because we stop at that veil, instead of passing beyond it. When we pass beyond the veil and meet the Reality which is behind it all, then we are consoled, and our joy is full.

All love is born of the love of the Father and of the Son. With Jesus, charity and peace met again on earth, and their first-born, joy, flourished anew in souls rejuvenated and consoled.

May all our hours of sacrifice find their fulfillment in union with the Sacrifice of our Leader, and draw from that union the secret and rapturous joy of the gift of self. No trial is too heavy to be borne, once we possess the hope of eventual union with infinite Joy. All sorrow lit up by the divine sorrow takes on an aspect of joy, and the greatest suffering then becomes the greatest happiness.

You have done well to expose your difficulties. By doing so, you have freed your soul, and that is already something. Often that is all we can do in this life, and we must be content with that. It is good to know how to do so from time to time.

Do not be too distressed over your short-comings, nor with the difficulty you experience in overcoming them. I have a feeling that the imperfections you speak of are nothing more than those miseries of which someone has said that if we had none to begin with, we should lose no time in ‘buying’ them. . . Since we are living in hard times, here at least is something you can purchase over the counter!

Examine yourself from time to time, but quietly and with liberty of spirit, to whether there is not some special point on which God is asking you to make an effort which so far you have refused Him. If there is, try to connect yourself on that point; if there is not, remain at peace and continue to accept not being today what you will have to be tomorrow. Life is a growth, slow and imperceptible. We will not hurry matters by constantly watching the progress we are making. You have within you and interior Master, Who will tell you what to do and what not to do. Be guided by Him. Be as faithful as you can to the indications He gives you, and wait with confidence and calm the realization of a design of love which He will bring about, if you do not hinder Him, and which He wants to bring to a happy consummation even more than you.

Defects are never a danger, provided we are aware of them, and take them in hand. The danger is rather in not facing them, or in wanting to pass them over without bothering about them. It is a delusion to want to press forward to new conquests, before we have overcome the enemies behind us.

God asks of us all that we have, nothing more. That is why we must look at what we give God, because often we have nothing to give Him, or practically nothing. Sometimes we have only our misery to offer Him; but He does not mind, so long as we refuse Him nothing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Annunciation

At the Carthusian hour of Matins for the Solemnity of the Annunciation, eight Lessons are reflected on from Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus. Here’s what the monks heard from the saint of Neocæsarea who is sometimes referred to as Gregory the Wonderworker.
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It is our duty to present to God, like sacrifices, all the festivals and first of all, the Annunciation to the holy Mother of God, when the angel called her ‘full of grace’! First of all wisdom and saving doctrine in the New Testament was this salutation, ‘Hail, full of grace’ (Lk 1:28) conveyed to us from the Father of lights. And this address, ‘Hail, full of grace’, God embraces the whole of human nature. ‘Hail, full of grace’ in the holy conception and in the glorious pregnancy, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. See, then, dearly beloved, how the Lord has conferred upon us everywhere, and indivisibly, the joy which transcends all human thought.

While on earth, Mary was in possession of the incorruptible citizenship, and walked as such in all manner of virtues, and lived a life more excellent than the common human standard. The Word of the Eternal Father wanted to assume the flesh, and endue the perfect Man from her. Through the flesh sin entered into the world and death by sin. But the Incarnation condemns sin in the burying of the holy body of Mary; thus the tempter of sin is overcome. With the Incarnation, therewith also the beginning of the resurrection might be exhibited, and life eternal instituted in the world, and fellowship established for men with God the Father. Who will be able to explain the incomprehensible mystery? What shall we state and what shall be left in silence?

Gabriel was sent to the holy Virgin; the incorporeal was dispatched to her who in the body pursued the incorruptible conversation, and lived in purity and in virtues. And when he came to her, he first addressed her with the salutation, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee’. For you do what is worthy of joy indeed, since you have put on the vesture of purity, and are girt with the cincture of prudence. ‘Hail, full of grace’, for to your lot it has fallen to be the vehicle of celestial joy. ‘Hail, full of grace’, for through you joy is decreed for the whole creation, and the human race receives again by you its pristine dignity. ‘Hail, full of grace’, for in your arms the Creator of all things shall be carried. Mary was perplexed by these words; for she was inexperienced in all the addresses of men, and welcomed quiet, as the Mother of prudence and purity. And since she is a pure and Immaculate and stainless image herself, she shrank not in terror from the angelic apparition, like most of the prophets, as indeed true virginity has a kind of affinity and equality with the angels.

Then again the archangel addressed her with the announcement of a joy: ‘Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God’ (Lk 1:30). These words not only give you understanding that there is nothing to fear, but shows you the very key to the absence of all cause for fear. For through me all the heavenly powers hail you, the holy Virgin: rather, He Himself, Who is Lord of all the heavenly powers and of all creation, has selected you because you are holy and adorned with grace. Through your holy, chaste, pure, and undefiled womb the enlightening Pearl comes forth for the salvation of all the world. You are the most honorable, the purest, and the most pious of all human creatures. You have a mind whiter than the snow, and a body of pure gold refined in the crucible. Ezekiel saw you, which he has described in these terms: ‘And the likeness of the throne above them was as the appearance of a sapphire-stone: and above the throne it was as the likeness of a human, and as the appearance of amber; and within it there was, as it were, the likeness of fire round about’ (Ez 1:26-27). Clearly, then, did the prophet behold in type Him Who was born of the holy virgin, whom you, O holy Virgin, would have had no strength to bear, had you not beamed forth for that time with all that is glorious and virtuous.

And with what words of praise, then, shall we describe her Virgin-dignity? With what indications and proclamations of praise shall we celebrate her stainless figure? With what spiritual song or word shall we honor her who is most glorious among the angels? She is planted in the house of God like a fruitful olive that the Holy Spirit overshadowed; and by her means are we called sons and heirs of the Kingdom of Christ. She is the ever-blooming paradise of incorruptibility, wherein is planted the tree that gives life, and that furnishes to all the fruits of immortality. Mary is the boast and glory of virgins, and the exultation of mothers. She is the sure support of the believing, and the helper of the pious. She is the vesture of light, and the domicile of virtue. She is the ever-flowing fountain, wherein the water of life sprang and produced the Lord's Incarnate manifestation. Mary is the monument of righteousness; and all who become lovers of her, and set their affections on virgin-like ingenuousness and purity, shall enjoy the grace of angels.

All who worthily observe the festival of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, acquire as their recompense the fuller interest in the message, ‘Hail, full of grace’! It is our duty, therefore, to keep this feast, seeing that it has filled the whole world with joy and gladness. And let us keep it with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. The Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, full of grace, has become for us the principle of all good, the admirable plan of salvation, the divine and excellent teaching of the Savior. Thence rise the rays of the light of understanding upon us. Thence spring for us the fruits of wisdom and immortality, sending forth the clear pure streams of piety. Thence come to us the brilliant splendors of the treasures of divine knowledge. ‘For this is life eternal, that we may know the true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent’ (Jn 17:3).

God in His goodness, when He saw the creature He Himself had formed now held by the power of death, did not turn away finally from him whom He had made in His own Image, but visited him in each generation. Manifesting Himself first of all among the patriarchs, and then proclaiming Himself in the law, and presenting the likeness of Himself in the prophets, He announced His plan of salvation. When the fullness of time had come for His glorious appearing, He sent beforehand the archangel Gabriel to bear the glad tidings to the Virgin Mary. And he came down from the ineffable powers above to the holy Virgin, and addressed her first of all with the salutation, ‘Hail, full of grace’. And when this word reached her, in the very moment of her hearing it, the Holy Spirit entered into the undefiled temple of the Virgin, and her spirit and her body were sanctified together. And nature stood opposite, and natural intercourse at a distance, beholding with amazement the Lord of nature, in a manner contrary to nature, or rather above nature, doing a miraculous work in the body. By the very weapons which the devil strove against us, Christ also saved us, taking to Himself our body, subject to suffering, in order that He might impart the greater grace to the being who was deficient in it. ‘And where sin abounded, grace did much more abound’ (Rom 5:20).

Your praise, O most holy Virgin, surpasses all praise, because God took Flesh and was born Man of you. To you every creature, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, gives you the offering of honor. You are indeed worthy of the throne of the cherubim and you shine as the very brightness of light in the high places of the kingdoms of intelligence. The Father, Who is without beginning, and Whose power you had overshadowing you, is glorified. The Son is worshipped, Whom you bore according to the flesh; and where the Holy Spirit is praised, Who effected in your womb the generation of the mighty King. Through you, O full of grace, is the holy and consubstantial Trinity known throughout the world. Together with yourself, deem us also worthy to be made partakers of your perfect grace in Jesus Christ our Lord, with Whom, and with the Holy Spirit, be glory to the Father, now and ever, and unto the ages of the ages. Amen.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion - March 29, 2015

First Reading Commentary
Certainly Isaiah and all the true prophets of God had well-trained tongues because they were taught by their Creator.  Later, their Teacher would clothe Himself in flesh and become Man to speak the infallible words of everlasting life. 

Prayer in the morning is vital so that we can put on the armor of Christ before we venture off to another day on the battlefield.  Through prayer, ears are opened and prepared to hear the Voice of the Master.  A life without prayer is a life that rebels; a life that turns back.  Pious souls, however, are not exempt from stumbling.  Sin leads to humbling experiences for the devout Christian.  It shows us that we're not always a top-notch player for the team.  Sometimes we are in dire need of other team players to stop us from turning back.  This is the work of the various body parts going to bat for the sake of the entire mystical body. 

Our enemy is a tempter and knows exactly what can take our focus away from God.  Our shame, failures and disappointments, however, can be visualized on a willing Victim in the form of a scourged Back, a Face of spittle, a Head wearing a crown of thorns, Feet and Hands with nails driven through them, and finally death.  And yet "finally" is a bad word choice because, fortunately for our undeserving souls, death is not where it ends – actually, it doesn’t end at all.   

The final verse expresses the suffering Servant's inalterable confidence in God.  That confidence is something that every disciple of Christ strives for. 

Saint Paul teaches us about our different callings and the gifts we possess as individuals (cf. Ephesians 4:11).  Having a "well-trained tongue" does not necessarily mean the tongue as a physical body part.  Certainly for liturgical readers and homilists it could mean the physical tongue; but as Saint Francis of Assisi said to use words if necessary, then certainly tongues can be metaphoric and points to the old adage: Actions speak louder than words.  And for many of us our gifts of service are displayed by our actions and not necessarily our words.  Gifts used in service help to build up the body of Christ.

Second Reading Commentary
The Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts that by attributing to Jesus the divine title "Lord", the first confessions of the Church's faith affirm from the beginning that the power, honor, and glory due to God the Father are due also to Jesus, because He was in the form of God, and the Father manifested the sovereignty of Jesus by raising Him from the dead and exalting Him into His glory (cf. CCC 449)

Our hearts would implode if we fully understood the love that compels Christ's actions described here in this letter from Saint Paul.  First, consider God as the Creator.  Look all around and see His created beauty.  At night, look at the sky and know that out there is an infinite universe full of countless stars, galaxies and planets.  And yet, the Creator of all that is known and unknown joined the ranks of humanity, mere specs of dust in this vast universe, subjecting Himself to our lower nature and becoming a willing Victim for that fallen nature because He loves us far beyond any love that any human being is capable of expressing.  His Sacrifice for us because of His love for us is summarized here in this Reading; but also contemplate how close our Savior must surely keep us to His own Sacred Heart by reflecting on the fallen angels.  They are often referred to as demons.  Their arrogant ambition to be gods rendered them fallen from grace with an eternity to think about their actions.  In other words, God never became one of them to redeem them.  Unfortunately, our lack of comprehension of God's love for us will for this lifespan make us fall short in expressing our gratitude to God for saving us.  What we can do is strive to follow the example Jesus gives us in the Gospels and remain in a state of grace to partake of His precious Body and Blood which He commands us to do in memory of Him.  And like the example of Jesus depicted in this Reading, follow the exhortations of Saint Paul by placing the interests of others before our own (cf. Philippians 2:3-4)

Gospel Commentary
If approaching this Gospel strictly from a human perspective, then the events of this story are very disturbing.  The man looking in the mirror will see the reflection of the atrocities he is capable of.  But not as man sees does God see (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).  The horrific things man is capable of were an overwhelmingly incomprehensible spiritual weight added to the physical weight of the Cross carried by Jesus.  The suffering that man receives, the burdens he inflicts, were placed on the shoulders of Jesus Christ.  The wandering sheep were carried by the Shepherd. 

As we begin, spikenard was poured on the Head of Jesus.  Spikenard is a perfume extracted from a plant known as nard.  It was most often used as it is used in this Gospel: it was poured on the head of honorable guests.  Interiorly, how do we make preparations to receive the Paschal Lamb?  The spikenard poured on the Head by the woman is an intense personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  Notice the contrast: the woman who desires this encounter, versus the objections of others, a vivid depiction of our own desire to be close to Jesus, but being weakened by the war within.  Our Lord’s handling of this with the words: “Let her alone” demonstrates Jesus’ dominion over all obstacles when a soul has completely surrendered to Him, our Savior’s desire for us to be intimately close to Him.  This is prayer, this is how we prepare to eat the Paschal Lamb; this is how we furnish and make ready our upper room, that is, our soul. 

There are a couple of things we can reflect on in the betrayal of Judas: First it is our own betrayal, our own sinfulness; and we can extend that to the liturgy when we receive Holy Communion but are not in a state of grace.  Secondly, Judas is among the ordained priesthood; therefore, we must ask ourselves why Jesus, who knows the hearts of all, would call Judas to the priesthood.  Everything that God calls us to is subject to our fallen nature.  Thus Jesus may have presented Judas to us to show us that not every priest would be faithful.  But Judas is only one of Twelve, and while our secular media would like to escalate the Church’s scandals, the truth is it is a minority; the majority of our ordained are very faithful. 

The words, “Surely it is not I?” delineates man’s desire to avoid an examination of conscience which has helped lead our culture to a New Age notion that there is no such thing as sin; or moral relativity which suggests that truth is not absolute, that what is true for one may not be true for another -- we get to be our own god, our own pope.  Jesus proclaimed Himself as the Truth; therefore truth is absolute. 

Next comes that moment we hear at every Mass: “This is My Body” – “This is My Blood.”  What do these words mean?  They are perhaps the most mysterious words in the universe, not necessarily by definition but more so by how it is possible.  Officially, these words define the Eucharist, one of the seven Sacraments of the Church and perhaps the most crucial Sacrament to Christocentric living.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the Eucharist as the "Sacrament of sacraments" (cf. CCC 1211).  Jeremiah prophesied about a new covenant: "Behold the days shall come, says the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Jeremiah 31:31).  The Eucharist frees us from bondage because the Eucharist is the Bondsman.  Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a contemporary of some of the apostles, defined the Eucharist as the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death, by which we always live in Christ. 

In the encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" Saint John Paul II wrote the following words about the Eucharist: "It unites heaven and earth.  It embraces and permeates all creation.  The Son of God became Man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One Who made it from nothing.  He, the Eternal High Priest Who by the Blood of His Cross entered the eternal sanctuary, thus gives back to the Creator and Father, all creation redeemed.  He does so through the priestly ministry of the Church, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.  Truly this is the mysterium fidei [mystery of faith] which is accomplished in the Eucharist: the world which came forth from the Hands of God the Creator, now returns to Him redeemed by Christ.  The Eucharist, as Christ's saving Presence in the community of the faithful and its spiritual Food, is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history." 

The Church celebrates the mystery of her Lord until He comes when God will be everything to everyone.  The liturgy thus shares in Jesus’ desire: ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you’ until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God (cf. CCC 1130).  Jesus is following the Jewish custom of the Passover whereby the father or leader at the table pours wine into a glass or cup, blesses the wine and passes it around the table for the family and guests.  Jesus said: “I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God”; whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist she remembers this promise and turns her gaze to Him Who is to come (cf. CCC 1403).

Sadly, not everyone believes what we Catholics believe about the Eucharist.  For scholarly unbelievers, the one verse in scripture that is usually avoided like the plague is found in Saint John's Gospel when Jesus says: "My Flesh is real Food and My Blood is real Drink" (John 6:55).  The word "real" is translated from the Greek word "alethos" which means, "truly" or "in reality" or "most certainly" or "literally".  There's just no convincing means to explain away, water down, or bend and twist "alethos" to make our Lord's Body and Blood appear to have a symbolic application.  The Council of Trent stated: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly His Body that He was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of His Blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called ‘transubstantiation’.” 

The Eucharist that Jesus institutes at this moment is the memorial of His Sacrifice which will very shortly occur.  Jesus includes the apostles in His own offering and with the words we hear in the liturgy, “do this in memory of Me” instructs them to continue this as a perpetual memorial thus instituting them as priests of the New and Everlasting Covenant.  Saint Cyril strengthens our faith in the Eucharist with these words: “Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since He is the Truth, He cannot lie.” 

When Jesus went to a place called Gethsemane, He prayed to His heavenly Father and concluded His prayer with the words: "Not what I will, but what You will."  As Christians, surely we all want to follow Christ's example and pray these very same words, but these words can be frightening.  There's something inside of us that needs to call our own shots.  Trusting God above ourselves is very difficult. 

Oddly enough, the saints may very well have something to do with that feeling of uneasiness.  Undoubtedly we honor them and applaud them for their holy example; but even if you've never read the life of any saint, you're still likely to be familiar with the "high profile" saints.  A common thread which seems to run through the lives of a great deal of the saints are the sufferings they've endured.  There's Sait Pio of Pietrelcina and the stigmata he bore for fifty years; there's Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and her holy acceptance of tuberculosis; and then there's the legends of the bible like Saint Paul and the sufferings which he never seemed to be without.  And, of course Moses, who made this plea to God, as translated from Hebrew: "I am not able to bear all these people alone because it is too burdensome for me.  And if You deal thus with me, kill me, I pray You, out of hand, if I have found favor in Your Eyes; and let me not see my evil" (Numbers 11:14-15).  Perhaps the inability of Moses "to bear all these people alone" points towards the Messiah Who would alone bear the burdens of everyone. 

There's a fear factor in letting go and letting God take over.  In fact, it was Saint Teresa of Avila who said, "Dear Lord, if this is how You treat Your friends, it is no wonder You have so few!" 

While suffering uniquely and very intimately unites us to Christ, in many cases, and understandably so, suffering actually flickers the flames of faith.  When suffering arrives, hear the Voice of Christ: “All of you will have your faith shaken.”  While that might not be the most comforting words to ever come from our Savior, they do teach us that He is with us and thus we're never alone.  The psalmist writes: "Where can I go, then, to take refuge from Your Spirit, to hide from Your view?  If I should climb up to heaven, You are there; if I sink down to the world beneath, You are present still.  If I could wing my way eastwards, or find a dwelling beyond the western sea, still would I find You beckoning to me, Your right Hand upholding me" (Psalm [138] 139:7-10)

Jesus said to Peter, James and John: “Remain here and keep watch.”  The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “In Jesus the Kingdom of God is at hand.  He calls His hearers to conversion and faith, but also to watchfulness.  In prayer the disciple keeps watch, attentive to Him Who Is and Him Who Comes, in memory of His first coming in the lowliness of the flesh, and in the hope of His second coming in glory.  In communion with their Master, the disciples’ prayer is a battle; only by keeping watch in prayer can one avoid falling into temptation” (CCC 2612)

It is not possible to fully understand the interior life of Jesus.  Taking into consideration the assumed complexities of this dual-natured God-Man, even with all the covenants and prophecies foretold throughout salvation history leading up to this moment of agony, one would have to wonder if the redemption of humankind was somehow hanging in the balance in the Garden of Gethsemane.  With the exception of committing sin, God fully embraced our way of life when He clothed Himself in flesh.  It’s a certainty that fear and apprehension is very much a part of our existence.  Since Divine Providence has not fully revealed it nor has anyone else ever possessed both a divine and human nature, it’s impossible to know for sure what was going on in Jesus’ Heart when He said, “Take this cup away from Me.”  It’s also interesting that in this scene of Jesus’ agony some of the ancient transcribers of the earlier texts purposely left out the portion of the text which tells of an angel appearing to Jesus to strengthen Him as well as the part about His Sweat becoming like drops of Blood falling to the ground.  They left it out because they felt it was not consistent with the dignity of Jesus. 

Our mixed bag of being human contains life experiences of both Jesus and Judas.  We have been betrayed -- we have betrayed.  Pride, however, is that one unpredictable ingredient which wreaks havoc.  Pride makes it equally difficult to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. 

As our Lord's captors led Him away, Peter followed at a distance.  In the spiritual life there are several ways to follow Jesus at a distance.  Perhaps the most common example is to go to Mass every Sunday, then leave the Lord alone all week and not give Him another thought until the following Sunday.  But a way that is more closely related to Peter's distance is when Mass is attended weekly or even daily, there's a daily devotional life as well; but when that faith is challenged, and suddenly there's a risk of mockery or friendships are jeopardized, one backs off a little from being a living witness and defending the faith just to avoid being the talk of the town, so to speak.  One may still attend Mass and continue with the daily prayers but have abandoned the evangelistic example and thus faith becomes a very private matter.  This also is very much likened to Peter's denial of Jesus.  Peter knew Who Jesus was and had faith in his Teacher but when he felt threatened by others because of his relationship with his Lord, he was suddenly out of his comfort zone and wanted quickly to avoid what could be a tense situation. 

During the initial interrogation Jesus tells the high priest that he will see the Son of man seated at the right Hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.  In the Book of Daniel are the prophetic words: "I beheld therefore in the vision of the night, and lo, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven" (Daniel 7:13)

As many gave false witness of Jesus, can you see your opponent prowling around like a roaring lion (cf. 1 Peter 5:8)?  Can you see the devil offering those mysterious whispers of evil, suggesting thoughts of temptation -- that shouts of falsehood should overpower truth?  

When Jesus was questioned by Pontius Pilate and accused by the chief priests, much to Pilate's amazement, our Lord remained silent.  Silence is such a tremendous gift but is a foreign notion in today's world.  Silence speaks a trust in God louder than any words.  A Carthusian monk, Augustin Guillerand (1877-1945) wrote: "There are times when we do not need any words of prayer, neither our own nor anyone else's, and then we pray in perfect silence.  This perfect silence is the ideal prayer."

Barabbas is released from prison and is granted his freedom.  To fulfill the will of the Father, Jesus came to take our place and we see evidence of this here with Jesus taking the place of Barabbas, a murderer and therefore the most hardened of sinners. 

As this Gospel tells us, Simon a Cyrenian was pressed into service to carry the Cross of Jesus. He was a “passer-by” which says something about not only a reluctance to carry our own Cross, but as a passer-by pressed into carrying the cross of another, draws even stronger emotions of avoidance.  Our Lord, however, does not ask us to seek out a cross in which to bear, but only to accept it with faith and trust in Him when it comes. 

When Jesus is crucified and His garments divided, there is the fulfillment of what is written in the Psalms: "They parted My garments amongst them; and upon My vesture they cast lots" (Psalm [21] 22:19).  On the Cross was placed the written charge against our Savior: “The King of the Jews". A better English translation is: "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews".  The Latin words are: "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudæorum" which explains the "INRI" inscription found on most Crucifixes. 

Jesus being reviled is something we have to humbly accept as representing ourselves.  As we kneel in the shadow of the Cross during the words of consecration in the most unfathomable, holy event to ever occur in human history, our human weakness has seeds of doubt planted within and thus questions whether we are really at Calvary, or that the Real Presence is true.  We really can’t dwell on these doubts because they are a product of concupiscence.  What we can do is believe Jesus at His word. 

This Gospel informs us that Jesus was crucified between two revolutionaries.  Isaiah prophesied about a servant who would be counted among the wicked (cf. Isaiah 53:12).   Jesus cried out in a loud Voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"  These are the opening words to Psalm [21] 22.  Most likely Jesus finished the remainder of the psalm in the silence of His Heart. 

Those who were Christ's followers must have been amazed to hear that even He could bellow out such words.  Most scholars believe that these words are our Savior's way of placing His Human Nature into our human circumstances and showing us that He understands our occasional feelings of abandonment.  Nevertheless while He is hanging from that Cross, He also shows us that He is willing to be with us even through the most hellish experiences.  There are some, however, who have theorized that during this torturous crucifixion, Christ's Human Nature blocked out His Divine Nature and He actually felt abandoned by His heavenly Father.  Once again, one can only speculate on the mystery of the interior life of a Divine Person Who possesses both a Divine and Human Nature. 

This reflection would be incomplete if it didn’t share something about the Blessed Virgin Mary.   At Mass when the priest elevates the Host and elevates the Cup and our eyes move upward to behold our Eucharistic Lord as we're kneeling in the shadow of the Cross, this brief glimpse into eternity allows us to look at Him from the same vantage point as His Blessed Mother saw Him when He said to her: "Behold your Son" (John 19:26).  What a marvelous opportunity to contemplate Jesus Christ through the eyes of the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her to reveal that which Scripture says she keeps in her heart (cf. Luke 2:19 & Luke 2:51)

“Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed His last.” During Mass at the proclamation of this Gospel we will kneel and pause in a moment of silence after these words have been proclaimed.  Take this period of silence and prayerfully enter into the silence of Jesus. 

The veil of the sanctuary being torn in two from top to bottom signifies God's call to end all sacrifices according to the law of Moses because our heavenly Father has accepted Christ's One and Eternal Sacrifice for the redemption of humanity. 

Logically it would have been somewhere around four o'clock when Joseph of Arimathea approached Pilate for the Body of Jesus.  By Jewish law Jesus would have to be placed in the tomb before sundown which begins the preparation for the Sabbath. 

In the eyes of the chief priests and Pharisees, Christ's claim to be the Messiah makes Him an impostor.  His Crucifixion, however, effectively supports our Savior's claim and fulfills what has been foretold by the prophets. 

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is a love story, the love that God has for His people.  Our Lord's Passion is the most loving, charitable act in human history.  And now it's our turn to follow in His Footsteps and love Him by our selfless acts of charity towards one another.  The hymn, "Where Charity and Love Prevail" says it well with these lyrics: "With grateful joy and holy fear God's charity we learn; let us with heart and mind and soul, now love God in return.  Forgive we now each other's faults, as we our faults confess; and let us love each other well in Christian holiness." 

How sad and abandoned the followers of Jesus must have felt when these events occurred in a moment of time.  We, however, who get a glimpse into eternity at Mass have the luxury of knowing that it doesn’t end here.  We have also been given an incredible gift because of these events, namely the Eucharist.  The Catechism reminds us that in the Eucharist Christ gives us the very Body which He gave up for us on the Cross and the very Blood which He poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (cf: CCC 1365).  The Mass re-presents the Sacrifice on the Cross.  Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, perhaps more affectionately known as Padre Pio, once said: “It would be easier for the earth to carry on without the sun than without the Holy Mass.”

Friday, March 20, 2015

Come to the Mountain

Undecim discipuli abierunt in Galilæam, in montem ubi constituerat illis Iesus, et videntes eum adoraverunt – The eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed them, and seeing Him they adored’ (Mt 28, 16-17).

Quite often a mountain is symbolic of problems, obstacles to overcome: ‘If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain move from here to there, and it shall move’ (Mt 17, 20).

But throughout Sacred Scripture a mountain is also where man encounters Almighty God. It was at a mountain that Abraham built an altar and called upon the Name of the Lord (cf Gen 12, 8). Interiorly, for a people of prayer, the altar of sacrifice has already been built – it is the human heart – its stoniness has been removed and replaced with a natural heart, infused with the Holy Spirit (cf Ez 36, 26-27).

When the king of Sodom and the king Gomorrah were overthrown, those that remained fled to the mountain (cf Gen 14, 10). Thus the mountain is a place of refuge. A place of refuge can be a church building or chapel where Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament waits for those seeking divine intimacy. But Jesus tells us that our room is also a place where we can go and pray to our Father in secret (cf Mt 6, 6). There’s really no distinction as to what room one can use: the Latin word used is cubiculum which can mean bedroom, living room – any room. Wherever one chooses exteriorly to seek the Lord, one hopes to enter into that inner refuge, that interior sanctuary, where God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are hidden, are in secret. In fact, a fifteenth-century reflection from a Carthusian monk at Nuremberg refers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the City of Refuge, an ‘inexhaustible fountain of love and grace’.

Lot was told to flee to the mountain, that he may be spared from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf Gen 19, 17). Again, the mountain is depicted as a place of safety, security, a place of refuge. Interiorly it is where heart enters into Heart.

On the mountain, the inner Tabernacle, where one encounters the living God, one also listens in silence for gentle whispers, movements which only the heart can translate. Whispers which have answers, whispers that encourage, whispers that teach. Moses encounters God on the mountain. Moses received instructions from God on the mountain. Moses received the Law on the mountain. Jesus taught on the Mount of Beatitudes. Three apostles prostrated themselves on the Mountain of Transfiguration, where there appeared to them the Law and the Prophets, and He Who is Lord of the Law and the fulfilment of prophecy. And let us not forget that Jesus Himself would go to the mountain to pray, delineating that very great mystery of the perpetual communion of the Most Holy Trinity.

Scripture asks: ‘Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord’ (Ps 23 [24], 3). Great is the Lord and exceedingly to be praised in His holy mountain (cf Ps 47 [48], 2).

‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord. . . and He will teach us His ways and we will walk in His paths’ (Is 2, 3). May our Blessed Lady, our Lord’s chosen dwelling-place before entering into the world, teach us to keep the Word in our hearts, pondering Him always (cf Lc 2, 19).

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Saint Joseph: A Life in Adoration

It’s fair to say that at the time they walked on planet earth, no human being spent as much time in the adoration of Jesus as His most holy Mother and Saint Joseph. How could they not! Jesus is the mysterious indissolubility of Divinity and Humanity.

Today we understand more clearly Mary as the human Tabernacle during her pregnancy, and post partum, the human Monstrance as she held the visible Jesus in her arms. For Saint Joseph, taking into account his devout religious upbringing, perhaps saw his wife as the Ark of the New and Everlasting Covenant; for within Mary was not «urna aurea habens manna» -- ‘a golden pot that had manna’ (Heb 9, 4), nor was «virga Aaron» -- ‘the rod of Aaron’(ibidem) contained within her, nor were there tablets of stone containing the Commandments of God (cf 1 Reg 8, 9). Instead, what our blessed Lady carried within her was the True Manna, the True High Priest, and the Lawmaker Himself, Whose Finger had written the stone tables of testimony given to Moses (cf Ex 31, 18).

But beloved Saint Joseph did not learn this on his own: it came to him via divine revelation: «Ioseph, fili David, noli timere accipere Mariam coniugem tuam, quod enim in ea natum est, de Spiritu Sancto est» -- ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take unto you Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 1, 20). Joseph’s original intent was not to publicly expose Mary for conceiving a Child which is not of him, but to quietly send her away (cf Mt 1, 19). And quiet he was – there is no verbal complaint by Saint Joseph recorded in Sacred Scripture. This kind of love and concern for another is entangled in a great mystery involving the Holy Family which man is unable to fully untangle: that is the mystery of the God-Child already possessing this kind of love, and even more love than that, reaching to the unfathomable, for «Deus Caritas est» (1 Io 4, 8); and then trying to have at least some miniscule comprehension of God’s Human Nature, most especially as a Baby and through the childhood years and how much of this exceptional love was taught Him by Saint Joseph and His holy Mother. Since Joseph receives divine revelation about the Child in Mary’s womb without ever beforehand verbally complaining, seems to fulfil what is written by the psalmist: «Omnes vias meas prævidisti, quia non est sermo in lingua mea» -- You have foreseen all my ways, for there is no speech in my tongue’ (Ps 138 [139], 4).

Initially thinking that Mary conceived a child from another man was not the only thing Joseph could have complained about. Once it was divinely revealed to him Who the Child in Mary’s womb is, Joseph’s ‘yes’ to God led to a series of great sufferings for him and his Holy Family. Jesus had to be laid in a manger because there was no room for the Holy Family at the inn (cf Lc 2, 7). Certainly not the ideal circumstance to give birth! Joseph, Mary and Jesus had to flee into Egypt because Herod was killing all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years of age or younger (cf Mt 2, 13-18). Once Herod had died, it was back to the land of Israel for the Holy Family, but Joseph had to deal with more mental anguish: Archelaus, Herod’s son, now reigned in Judea; thus Joseph was once again instructed by a heavenly visitor to take Mary and Jesus to Nazareth (cf Mt 2, 19-23). When Jesus is presented to Simeon in the temple, Simeon prophesies that Jesus was set for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, a sign which shall be contradicted. And for His beloved Mother, a sword would pierce her soul (cf Lc 2, 21-35). And also when Jesus was twelve, He was missing for three days (cf Lc 2, 41-50).

But through it all, not a single word is recorded in Sacred Scripture that was spoken by Saint Joseph. Could it be that his silence was influenced by a deeper, interior silence? From the moment he learned how Mary’s pregnancy came to be, surely he was graced with a sense of wonderment. When Mary visited Elizabeth while carrying Jesus in her womb, and John the Baptist leaped with joy in the womb of Elizabeth (cf Lc 1, 40-44), surely our blessed Lady shared that story with Saint Joseph. How could he not be awestruck? This Child is«Emmanuel» – ‘God with us’ (Mt 1, 23).

How many times did Joseph sit there in silent meditation and contemplation as Mary fed Jesus? How many times, as Joseph was teaching Jesus his trade, step back to watch the Son of God do the work, only to be astounded and overwhelmed by Who He is? After Jesus was found in the temple when He was twelve years of age, what followed is what is termed as ‘the hidden years’. What were those years like for the Holy Family, a life hidden in God, a life hidden with God-made-Man?

Our Holy Father of loving memory, Saint John Paul II, wrote: ‘The silence of Joseph has its own special eloquence, for thanks to that silence we can understand the truth of the Gospel's judgment that he was a just man (cf Mt 1, 19). The total sacrifice, whereby Joseph surrendered his whole existence to the demands of the Messiah’s coming into his home, becomes understandable only in the light of his profound interior life. In Joseph, the apparent tension between the active and the contemplative life finds an ideal harmony that is only possible for those who possess the perfection of charity. We can say that Joseph experienced both love of the truth - that pure contemplative love of the divine Truth which radiated from the Humanity of Christ -- and the demands of love -- that equally pure and selfless love required for his vocation to safeguard and develop the Humanity of Jesus, which was inseparably linked to His divinity’(Redemptoris Custos).

All of us can learn from Saint Joseph and most especially through his intercession that our daily duties can still be accomplished without ever having to sacrifice our adoration of Jesus, Who is present sacramentally in the Tabernacles of our parishes and is also present within each of us.

Monday, March 16, 2015

5th Sunday of Lent - March 22, 2015

First Reading Commentary
“The days are coming, says the Lord” immediately turns the heart and mind towards prophecy.  The Finger of God points us to the future.  A new covenant is being made with God’s people which is unlike the covenant made in the days of the Exodus from Egypt.  The ways of the Almighty will be placed within the hearts of His people.  This intimates the Sacrament of Baptism.  In Baptism, one becomes a child of God and the soul becomes His temple where He can reside and write His law on the heart of the baptized. 

Friends, relatives and those who have the gifts to teach the faith are used as God’s instruments; therefore, when this Reading suggests that no longer will individuals be needed to teach, the understanding is that they are used as instruments of God but the faith and conversion experience is the sole work of the Holy Spirit.  Remember that even the great Saint Paul needed the intercession of Ananias; and Philip was used as God’s instrument for the eunuch. 

The Lord remembering our sin no more points to the Sacrament of Baptism as baptism washes away original sin.  It also points to the Sacrament of Confession which absolves the sins which follow after one has been baptized.          

Second Reading Commentary
What the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is trying to portray about Jesus in the Flesh is the time when God humbled Himself and willingly took on a mortal and suffering condition. 

Offering “prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the One Who is able to save . . .  from death” are actions of mortal man.  And the understanding of mortal man that God saves from death delineates man’s dependency on Him.  Jesus taught us through His suffering, that human nature can and should surrender to the divine will.  Every prayer which Jesus made that was heard by man, was heard for reverential regard.  That is, Jesus was heard in order that we might grasp reverential fear, respectful submission and piety.  Thus Jesus, was perfected as Man by possessing all the virtues, and because He is also true God, He is the Source of our salvation.   

Gospel Commentary
Saint John’s Gospel more so than the Synoptic Gospels is mystical.  When reading his Gospel, one has to read it in the light of how it applies to the heart, soul, and inner life of man.  All Christians serious about their spiritual life collectively groan within the same words spoken to Philip: “We would like to see Jesus.”  The spiritual life is a lifelong search for the Face of Jesus.  In Jesus Christ, Almighty God has been given a human Face. 

For us today, within the boundaries of time, “the hour has” already “come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  But for the interior man, the battle of good versus evil wages within us and it is a lifelong struggle to work for the greater glory of the Indwelling of the Son of Man.  In an ideal situation, the behavior: actions, thoughts and deeds for every Christian should radiate the God within us.  But we are a fallen nature, and while it may never be our intention to stray from God, the reality is that we do. 

There’s a twofold meaning for the grain of wheat example given by Jesus.  First, it was the death of our Lord that produced much fruit – fruit that would never have ripened if Jesus hadn’t died on the Cross.  Saint Augustine was very clear about this as being one interpretation.  We would still be sentenced to eternal death if not for the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God.  Thus the death of Christ brought forth the fruit of faith.  Second, Jesus tells us that we must hate our life in this world.  That sounds very harsh.  But Jesus is calling us to walk in His Footsteps in faith which should naturally lead to good works including works of mercy for His sake heading towards the perfect act of charity, offering our lives for our brothers and sisters.  For most of us this will not mean a literal sacrifice of natural life, but it could.  Generally, this is about serving Jesus by serving our brothers and sisters.  We do this mostly by not seeking our own desires but learning from the example of Jesus and His service to His brethren. 

We see a little of the struggle of the interior life in Jesus the Man by the words: “I am troubled now.”  Our Savior, because He had a human nature, was no stranger to the battle within.  But it is through His divine nature that He was able to win this battle and say: “Father, glorify Your Name.”  What that teaches us is that we cannot win these battles without divine intervention.  So often we try to, though.  If this weren’t true, stress would never be a silent killer.  Unfortunately we can’t snap our fingers and make it all happen.  Laying down our lives at this level and entrusting the war within to Jesus requires deep, intense prayer.  This will lead to a closer, intimate union with our Lord.  Love for Him will grow and when love grows so does trust.  This ultimately glorifies the Lord and benefits our brothers and sisters. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Adolescens, tibi dico, surge

In the Gospel is the story of Jesus raising from death to life a man in the city of Naim (cf. Luke 7, 11-16). We are told that the man was carried out of the city in a loculum (coffin or bier). Saint Ambrose reflects:

"This dead man was carried to the grave on a bier made from the four elements. But he had the hope of rising again, because he was borne on wood. For though it had before been a source of loss to us, yet, after Christ had touched it, it began to help us to Life; that it might be a sign that salvation was to overflow to the Church through the yoke of the Cross. For we lie lifeless upon a bier, when either the fire of unrestrained desires consumes us, or when coldness overflows in us, or the power of our soul is weakened by slothful habit of body."

The Church comes to the aid of the death of the soul, as symbolized by the death of this man from Naim, the weeping of his mother who is also a widow, and the great multitude. Saint Ambrose continues:

"If there is a grave sin which you cannot wipe away by the tears of your repentance, let the Church, your Mother, weep for you, while the multitude stands by. Soon you will rise from death and begin to speak the words of life, and fear will come upon them all; for by the example of one, all are converted. They also shall glorify God, Who has given us such remedies to escape death."

Jesus waits for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation!

Monday, March 9, 2015

4th Sunday of Lent - March 15, 2015

First Reading Commentary
Our Lord had compassion on His people then, and He has compassion on His people now.  During Lent the Church guides us in her liturgy to hear that call from God – a call to a more intimate union with Him -- to acknowledge that our fidelity to Him has been less than perfect.  His compassion and mercy are exercised most especially in the Sacrament of Confession.  One cannot really return to the Lord wholeheartedly unless one embraces that sacrament.  God has given us great saints from both genders and from all sorts of nations, races, levels of education, body shapes and personalities; but the diversity vanishes when it comes to Confession.  The one thing that the saints all had in common was their faithfulness to that sacrament.

We cannot allow ourselves to be influenced or brainwashed by the pictures the enemy tries to paint after the Church has been attacked.  As the story begins in this Reading even priests “added infidelity to infidelity”.  We all know about the headlining news concerning the infidelity and apparent lack of faithfulness on the part of some Catholic clergymen.  When priests falter publicly, then it could very well inflict damage on the faith of the Church’s members.  The public sins of the Church’s ordained could leave images that make the Sacrament of Confession appear less credible and make the belief in the Real Presence less believable. 

The enemy works on the human intellect making it logical to ask why God would absolve the sins of a penitent through a man whose behavior is far worse than the one confessing sins; or why God would change the substance of bread and wine into His sinless Body and Blood through a man who is not in a state of grace.  Rest assured that is not usually the case as most priests are faithful but surely it has happened.  It’s quite possible that our Lord placed Judas before us to show us that not every priest would be faithful.  What we have to remember is that the power of the sacraments is greater than anyone’s sins – greater than everyone’s sins.  Jesus instituted them, Jesus works in them and He is stronger than death.    

Second Reading Commentary
God has given to us His grace, the gift of faith, and the sacraments, which can be considered pledges of our eventual resurrection and eternal life.  Each little step we make in the ongoing process of conversion is like a mini-resurrection, one tiny step closer to a new, full life in Christ. 

Reflecting on being “dead in our transgressions,” Saint Augustine said: “The time is come, when the dead shall hear the Voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live.”  Faith is the foundation of all virtues because without faith one cannot please our Lord and Savior.  Good works are a result of faith but they are not what save us; it is the grace of God that saves us.  Being God’s “handiwork” does not only refer to our body and soul but also the new creation we’ve become through Jesus Christ. 

Saint Paul seems to compare our conversion with creation to show that we have been called to this greatness.  It is nothing that we did to earn it.  Just as we had nothing to do with our own created selves, likewise we had nothing to do with the new creation we’ve become in Christ.  We have no bragging rights except only to boast about God.          

Gospel Commentary
Jesus uses the example of the serpent lifted up in the desert in that whoever looked at it was cured from the bite of serpents.  This is a figure of Jesus lifted up on the Cross.  Because Jesus uses the term “Son of Man” being “lifted up,” and the end result being “eternal life,” we have to understand lifting up to really mean “exalted” showing that the Cross is not an instrument of disgrace but of glory.  In fact, the Latin Vulgate uses the word exaltari.  Saint John Chrysostom writes: “As the Israelites, bitten by the fiery serpents, were cured by looking upon the brazen serpent, so are Christians cured by looking up with an active faith, replete with love and confidence, on Jesus Christ crucified.” 

Jesus is the Son of God not only as the result of the Incarnation.  Jesus is God’s Son even before He was sent into the world.  He is the Son from the beginning, the Word of God from all eternity.  Creation itself proclaims the glory of God.  The light of day exposes everything while the darkness of night makes things more difficult to see.   But even in the darkness of night the moon and the stars are radiant enough to remind us of hope.

Anyone who is old enough to remember when Confession was always in a booth could probably relate well to our Lord’s explanation of darkness and light.  In the Confession booth you were kneeling in darkness, and when the priest slid open the little door so you could confess your sins, you could see that the priest was sitting in a lighted booth.  Thus your sins are hidden in that dark booth until you confess them to the priest seated in the lighted booth.  After Confession, sins are thus exposed to the light; and through absolution the light overcomes the darkness.

The closing of this Gospel account prods us to consider our own dispositions about the Sacrament of Confession: “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.  But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”