27 March 2010

A week with the Lord

Dear Readers of Secret Harbour ~ Portus Secretioris,

In all likelihood this will be the final post until after Easter. It is my hope to spend Holy Week in added prayer, adoration and quiet reflection; I hope you have the opportunity to do the same.

One thought I would like to convey which is not talked about often is that this coming Saturday is not only Holy Saturday but it is also the feast of Our Lady of Solitude. This feast recalls our Blessed Lady’s solitude and contemplation as she waited in faith for the glorious Resurrection of her Son and our Saviour. According to the visions of Blessed Anna Katharina Emmerick, ‘the prayer of the Blessed Virgin was unceasing. She ever kept her eyes fixed interiorly on Jesus, and was perfectly consumed by her ardent desire of once more beholding Him Whom she loved with such inexpressible love’ (The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ). Perhaps in your own devotions for Holy Week you might consider spending some time with our Blessed Mother in anticipation of Easter.

Below is a reflection for Passion Sunday based on Saint Luke’s account. I hope you have an intensely prayerful Holy Week. Happy Easter!

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). ‘He took a cup, gave thanks, and said, Take this and share it among yourselves’. It’s important to note that at this point the cup contains wine only; not the Blood of Jesus. 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 says: ‘I tell you that from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes’; whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist she remembers this promise and turns her gaze to Him Who is to come (cf. CCC 1403). ‘He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying: This is My Body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of Me. And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying: This cup is the new covenant in My Blood, which will be shed for you’. Now Passover customs are finished and this is the real deal. Jesus consecrates the bread and wine and changes it into His own Precious Body and Blood.

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, ‘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 Saviour in faith, for since He is the Truth, He cannot lie’.

Jesus next tells the apostles that He will be betrayed by one of them. His ability to know this in advance shows His Divinity. The apostles’ apparent concern as to who would do such a thing immediately shifts to an argument as to which of them is the greatest. Jesus teaches them a lesson in greatness which is somewhat foreign to a worldly definition of greatness; the one who serves is the greatest, not the one who is served. Greatness in a worldly sense is often measured by ways such as political office held, financial status, athletic ability or even having a genius IQ; and most of these examples, if not all, lead others to be envious of such gifts, therefore, giving the illusion of greatness. When employed by Jesus, however, our capacity for love would seem to be the key. It takes love to serve willingly; it takes love to care for those who cannot care for themselves; it takes love to attempt to save innocent and defenceless life; it takes love to labour tirelessly for righteousness; and it takes love to pray for those who spit in the face of morality.

‘It is you who have stood by Me in My trials; and I confer a Kingdom on you, just as My Father has conferred one on Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My Kingdom’. These words express the fellowship of the Church with Jesus. Jesus associates His disciples with His own life, reveals the mystery of the Kingdom to them and gives them a share in His mission, joy and sufferings (cf. CCC 787).

Jesus tells His apostles that they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. From the beginning of His own Ministry Jesus chose these twelve men to share in His Ministry and now they are the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem and it is through them that Jesus guides and governs the Church.

‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers’. Simon Peter here is singled out as the leader of the apostles and is called upon to strengthen his brothers; and in these words is found not only what Satan desired but also what God permitted because it is through perseverance in trials that faith is strengthened. It should also be a source of great comfort to know that Christ prays for us in the midst of our trials. Saint Cyril has some interesting thoughts on these words to Peter as he shares: ‘Admire the superabundance of the Divine patience. That the disciple might not lose courage, Jesus promises him pardon before he has committed the crime, and restores him again to his apostolic dignity’.

Although Peter believes he is prepared to go to prison and die with Jesus, Jesus foretells that he will deny Him three times. Jesus forewarns His apostles of the coming persecution by expressing that the one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one. Jesus was not speaking literally about a sword although the apostles mistakenly thought so which is why Jesus said, ‘It is enough’, when they pointed out that they have two swords. The Saviour’s words, ‘It is enough’ is just another way of saying, ‘Forget it, you don’t understand’!

At the Mount of Olives Jesus instructs His disciples to pray that they may not undergo the test. 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).

Jesus, in His agony, consents to the Father’s will by saying: ‘Not My will but Yours be done’. To do the will of the Father is why Jesus came. There seems to be, however, a glimpse of His Human Nature when He says: ‘Take this cup away from Me’. Internal struggles must have surely existed in a Person possessing both a Human and a Divine nature. 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, you 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.

Once Jesus is apprehended beginning with the kiss of Judas, the apostles knew what was about to occur but still did not fully understand that it must happen, and therefore, one of them, in an attempt to defend Jesus took a sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Christ taught us to love our enemies and now we see the Teacher showing the students that He indeed practices what He preaches by healing the servant’s ear.

Why did Jesus choose Judas to be an apostle? Why would He purposely choose someone that He knew would betray Him? It’s a given that our Lord knew He would have to be crucified to save humanity but it doesn’t seem feasible that the enemies of Jesus needed Judas in order to procure the capture of our Saviour. If Jesus’ enemies wanted Him that badly it seems logical they would have caught up with Him eventually and seized Him. The answer to the Judas mystery might be found at the Last Supper. Jesus instituted the ministerial priesthood at the Last Supper and since Judas was one of the chosen twelve and present at the Last Supper he would have to be considered a valid priest. Maybe, just maybe the memory of Judas lingers on because Jesus put him forth as a reminder to His Church that not every priest will be holy, not every priest will be faithful, and occasionally there will be some wolves among the sheepfold. If this is the reason, then it would certainly be significant today when considering the current wounds that have been inflicted upon the Church.

Jesus’ captors led Him away and took Him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance and is accused three times of being one who followed Jesus and knew Him. Peter denies it all three times and then the cock crowed thus making Jesus’ prediction come true: ‘I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know Me’. This scene is a reminder of something that perhaps we’ve all been guilty of at least one time in our life: ‘The Family Room verses the Locker Room’ -- behaving piously around pious people but afraid to express our love for Jesus when placed in a setting with people who might ridicule us for it. The Lord turned and looked at Peter and he began to weep bitterly. The Catechism refers to this look as a look of infinite mercy which drew tears of repentance from Peter (cf. CCC 1429).

Jesus is sent to Pontius Pilate who listens to the people’s false accusations against Jesus but Pilate believing that Jesus falls under Herod’s jurisdiction sends Jesus to him. Pilate was actually obeying a Roman law which forbade a governor to condemn anyone who did not fall under his jurisdiction. Herod was longing to see Jesus and wanted to see some sort of miracle performed by Him. Herod and his soldiers mocked Jesus which would make one conclude that Herod had no fears, suspicions or beliefs that Jesus was of divine origin. Herod sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate finds nothing in Jesus that is worthy of death plus he knew that if there was any crime committed, Herod would have seen to it that Jesus was punished. Pilate sees no evidence of a capital crime and so would rather have Jesus flogged and returned to His people. It was a customary Jewish practice to scourge those whose crimes were not worthy of death. The law in the Old Testament indicates that the number of lashes is not to exceed forty (cf. Deuteronomy 25:3). It should be noted, however, that the Latin Vulgate at this stage in this Gospel doesn’t explicitly make any reference to having Jesus flogged or scourged. The Latin translates Pilate’s words to mean: ‘I will chastise Him, therefore, and release Him’. Chastisement may imply flogging but it could possibly be another form of punishment permissible by Roman law. Regardless of the form of punishment, let us not forget that Jesus has done nothing wrong thus making any form of punishment unwarranted.

Pilate is attempting to take the middle road by neither completely sparing an innocent Victim nor seeing to it that justice is served at least as far as Christ’s accusers are concerned. Pilate, probably fearing some sort of a revolt, finally surrenders to the demands of the accusers and hands Jesus over to them. Notice that the text reads that Pilate handed Jesus over to His accusers for them to deal with Him as they wished; this political move spares Pilate of ever being accused of breaking Roman law. Barabbas is released from prison and is granted his freedom. To fulfil the will of the Father, Jesus came to take our place and we see indisputable evidence of this here with Jesus taking the place of Barabbas, a murderer and therefore the most hardened of sinners.

One of the themes that Saint Luke felt was important when writing his Gospel was the need to follow in Jesus’ footsteps as he expressed in this portion of the Gospel by writing that Simon, a Cyrenian, carried the Cross behind Jesus and then following it up with the words: ‘A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented Him’. Jesus’ words to the lamenting women can be confusing; He is warning them that even though His death is necessary for the salvation of humanity, many evils will still invade the world to the point that barren women will be called blessed because they won’t have to subject their children to these evils; and those who are subjected to it will plead to the mountains to fall on them and the hills to cover them. There’s some symbolism here but it is meant to show that our true joy and happiness cannot be supplied by the world because anything of the world is temporary and perhaps even deceiving. The ‘green wood’ is symbolic of virtuous and holy people of whom Jesus is the Emblem; and the ‘dry wood’ represents evil and the condemned since it is dry wood that can be cast into the fire. These are not easy words to listen to or accept, but they come from One Who not only speaks the truth but is the Truth.

Jesus is led to a place called Calvary or the Skull which is located a short distance from Jerusalem. It is called the Skull because it is where criminals were often beheaded. Legend has it that it is also where the remains of Adam are buried. Jesus came to take the place of fallen humanity and now on the Cross we see Him centre stage, surrounded by fallen humanity: two criminals crucified with Him, one on His left and one on His right, as well as all the onlookers who were sneering at Him and tempting Him to save Himself if He is the Christ. Next we see the unfathomable ocean of mercy that knows no depths when our Lord says: ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’. This not only instructs us to forgive others but also reveals the need for intercessory prayer, not only for those who ask for our prayers but also for those who have harmed us. On the Cross Jesus is not only interceding for those who demanded and carried out His Crucifixion, but also for all of humanity -- past, present and future.

Saint Augustine summarizes that there are three dimensions to Jesus’ prayer on the Cross: ‘He prays for us as our Priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God’. On His Cross is the inscription, ‘This is the King of the Jews’. The true meaning of His Kingship is revealed only when He is raised high on the Cross because on the tree is the Son of Man Who came not to be served but to serve, and to give His Life as a ransom for many (cf. CCC 440).

Jesus promises Paradise to the one traditionally known as the good thief. He promises entry into Paradise on the very same day as the Crucifixion. It took Jesus three days to rise from the dead and then, according to the Acts of the Apostles (1:3), forty days later to ascend into heaven. This apparent inconsistency has led some of the saints to theologize about it like Saint Augustine who says that the soul of the good thief entered into heaven where Jesus was always present by His Divinity; Saint Cyril of Jerusalem says that the good thief was granted entrance even before the patriarchs and prophets; and Saint John Chrysostom believes that the good thief was actually the first person in all of humanity to enter into Paradise. Something else to consider is that when Jesus spoke the words ‘this day’ He was possibly referring to eternity where the element of time doesn’t exist.

With all the trials and struggles of this life, we are constantly coming to the cross -- but which thief are you? Do you complain about your cross and tell God to get you out of your predicament; or do you faithfully accept whatever comes, trusting that at the end of it all, Paradise awaits you? For most of us, the characteristics of both thieves have been exhibited from time-to-time. There are good days and bad days! The goal, of course, is to always be like the good thief, accepting the cross and trusting that our Lord shares it with us and He will ultimately give us eternal joy and peace.

Just before Jesus breathes His last He cries out: ‘Father into Your Hands I commend My Spirit’. The Church prays these very words in her ‘Night Prayer’ (Compline) just before retiring to bed. As the centurion witnessed what happened to Jesus he said: ‘Vere hic Homo iustus erat -- Indeed this was a just Man’. It’s difficult to speculate exactly what was on the centurion’s heart at this moment but the text does read that he glorified God. Now, this could mean that he believed in God but it could also mean that he didn’t believe in God but his words nevertheless were spoken under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, therefore glorifying God as well as exposing his words to God’s children until the end of time. Did the centurion believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Probably not -- it’s difficult to know for certain but not even the apostles at that time fully grasped the meaning of Jesus’ death; and so, it would be a stretch to suggest that the centurion comprehended this occurrence of such theological depth; plus it’s not likely that any bystander could ever believe that the Son of God could be killed. Almost certainly though, the centurion was extremely impressed with what he witnessed, watching a crucified Man asking His Father to forgive them because they know not what they do. Since Jesus did not return any insults or curse His executioners and blasphemers, the centurion must have seen Jesus minimally as a remarkably innocent and just Man.

How sad and abandoned the followers of Jesus must have felt when these events occurred. We 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, a stigmatist, and 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’.

26 March 2010

Dolorosa et lacrimabilis es, Virgo Maria

A Carthusian writer wrote: ‘Mary is rich enough to repay us a thousand-fold for our patience in persevering in. . . devotions that have been arranged in her honour’.

Today is the Commemoration of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In ‘The Liturgical Year’ by Abbot Guéranger are these words:

On the mountain of the Sacrifice, as Mother she gave her Son, as Bride she offered herself together with Him; by her sufferings both as Bride and as Mother, she was the co-redemptress of the human race. This teaching and these recollections were deeply engraved on our hearts on that. . . feast of our Lady’s dolours which immediately preceded Holy Week.

Christ dieth now no more: and our Lady’s sufferings are over. Nevertheless the Passion of Christ is continued in His elect, in His Church. . . To this Passion of Christ’s Mystical Body, of which she is also Mother, Mary still contributes her compassion; how often her venerated images attested the fact, by miraculously shedding tears!

25 March 2010

Ave, gratia plena!

At the Carthusian hour of Matins for the Solemnity of the Annunciation, twelve Readings are proclaimed. Eight of those twelve Readings are from Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus. Here’s what the monks heard from the saint of Neocæsarea who is sometimes referred to as Gregory the Wonderworker.

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’ (Luke 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 favour with God’ (Luke 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 honourable, 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’ (Ezekiel 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 honour 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 Saviour. 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 splendours 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’ (John 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’ (Romans 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 honour. 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.

24 March 2010

Ecce Ancilla Domini

Blessed Anna Katharina Emmerick, a visionary, who for years was nourished alone by the Eucharist, and whose visions of the Annunciation, the solemnity we celebrate tomorrow, are in the book, ‘The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary’. Today on the Traditional Calendar is the Commemoration of Saint Gabriel the Archangel, our Blessed Lady’s messenger from God. Anna Katharina Emmerick was beatified by Pope John Paul II in the year 2004. Here’s what she saw at the Annunciation:

I was brought into this room by the shining youth who always accompanies me, and I will relate what I saw as well as such a poor miserable creature is able.

The Blessed Virgin came in and went behind the screen before her bed, where she put on a long white-woollen praying-robe with a broad girdle, and covered her head with a yellowish white veil. Meanwhile the maid came in with a little lamp, lit a many-branched lamp hanging from the ceiling, and went away again. The Blessed Virgin then took a little low table which was leaning folded up against the wall and placed it in the middle of the room. As it leaned against the wall it was just a movable table-leaf hanging straight down in front of two supports. Mary lifted up this leaf and pulled forward half of one of the supports, which was divided, so that the little table now stood on three legs. The table-leaf supported by this third leg was rounded. This little table was covered with a blue and red cloth, finished with a hanging fringe along the straight edge of the table. In the middle of the cloth there was a design, embroidered or quilted; I cannot remember whether it was a letter or an ornament. On the round side of the table was a white cloth rolled up, and a scroll of writing also lay on the table.

The Blessed Virgin put up this little table in the middle of the room, between her sleeping place and the door, rather to the left, in a place where the floor was covered by a carpet. Then she put in front of it a little round cushion and knelt down with both hands resting on the table. The door of the room was facing her on the right, and she had her back to her sleeping place.

Mary let the veil fall over her face and crossed her hands but, not her fingers, before her breast. I saw her fervently praying thus for a long time, with her face raised to heaven. She was imploring God for redemption, for the promised King, and beseeching Him that her prayer might have some share in sending Him. She knelt long in an ecstasy of prayer; then she bowed her head onto her breast.

But now at her right hand there poured down such a mass of light in a slanting line from the ceiling of the room that I felt myself pressed back by it against the wall near the door. I saw in this light a shining white youth, with flowing yellow hair, floating down before her. It was the Angel Gabriel. He gently moved his arms away from his body as he spoke to her. I saw the words issuing from his mouth like shining letters; I read them and I heard them. Mary turned her veiled head slightly towards the right, but she was shy and did not look up. But the angel went on speaking, and as if at his command Mary turned her face a little towards him, raised her veil slightly, and answered. The angel again spoke, and Mary lifted her veil, looked at him, and answered with the holy words: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word’.

The Blessed Virgin was wrapped in ecstasy. The room was filled with light; I no longer saw the glimmer of the burning lamp, I no longer saw the ceiling of the room. Heaven seemed to open, a path of light made me look up above the angel, and at the source of this stream of light I saw a figure of the Holy Trinity in the form of a triangular radiance streaming in upon itself. In this I recognized -- what can only be adored and never expressed -- Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- and yet only God Almighty.

As soon as the Blessed Virgin had spoken the words, ‘Be it done to me according to your word’, I saw the Holy Spirit in the appearance of a winged Figure, but not in the form of a Dove as usually represented. The Head was like the face of a man, and light was spread like wings beside the Figure, from Whose Breast and Hands I saw three streams of light pouring down towards the right side of the Blessed Virgin and meeting as they reached her. This light streaming in upon her right side caused the Blessed Virgin to become completely transfused with radiance and as though transparent; all that was opaque seemed to vanish like darkness before this light. In this moment she was so penetrated with light that nothing dark or concealing remained in her; her whole form was shining and transfused with light. After this penetrating radiance I saw the angel disappear, with the path of light out of which he had come. It was as if the stream of light had been drawn back into heaven, and I saw how there fell from it onto the Blessed Virgin, as it was drawn back, a shower of white rosebuds each with its little green leaf.

23 March 2010

Transfiguration: Becoming Jesus

‘If in My Name you ask Me for anything, I will do it’ (Saint John 14:14). Jesus wants us to ask Him for all we need, which, in the end, is the Holy Spirit. But He wants us to do His will, too. . . Jesus is the Way, that is, prayer and observance of God’s Commandments.

When I am united to Jesus through faith and love, every prayer I make is in the Name of Jesus – the Father sees Jesus in Me.

Just calling on His Name materially is not enough. The Father see His Son in the one who does His will. Otherwise it is a prayer devoid of power.

To begin with, Anthony, one of the first Christian hermits, was the friend of God. At the end of his life, he was transfigured; he had, as it were, become Jesus. And ‘he who sees Me sees the Father’ (Saint John 14:9).

Jesus, have mercy on me. Come, Lord Jesus, so that, united to You, I can pray for others. Lord, have mercy on us.

~ A Carthusian novice ~

22 March 2010

Heart Attracts heart

I will draw them with the cords of Adam, with bands of love. (Hosea 11:4)

Videte manus meas et pedes (Saint Luke 24:39) . . . et latus (cf. Saint John 19:34) -- See My Hands and Feet. . . and Side’, adds Saint John the Apostle. But why speak of this Wound in His Side, since our Lord did not receive it until after His death, and consequently suffered no pain there from?

In answer to this question, I should observe, in the first place, that the Blessed Virgin and Saint John were deeply afflicted by this act of useless cruelty. This accounts for that Apostle alone making mention of this Wound, and for his being the only one to mention the fact that from the Side of Jesus, there came out Blood and Water (cf. Saint John 19:34).

Secondly, I should say that there was good reason for this Wound, for from the Side of Jesus the Sacraments receive their efficacy; and from the Side of Jesus, sleeping in death on the Cross, the Church was formed, as Eve had been formed from Adam’s rib while he was sunk in a mysterious sleep.

Thirdly, I would observe that, before His death, Jesus knew that, after death, He would receive this Wound, and that this knowledge made Him suffer as keenly in anticipation as if His Side had already been pierced. Did not the thought alone of the sufferings of His Passion cause Him such bitter grief in the Garden of Olives, that He shed a Sweat of Blood?

See My Hands, My Feet and My Side, that is to say, see the deep Wounds to be found there. This invitation contains an important lesson. Here is what we may learn from it:

Has our love for our Lord Jesus Christ grown cold? Let us look at His Side, pierced and open for us, and suddenly the fire of love will be kindled again in our soul, for this opened Heart must inflame with love the soul that contemplates It. Should courage fail us when we have some work to do, let us look at the wounded Hands of Jesus. Should we feel weak when we have afflictions to bear, let us contemplate the Feet of Jesus, pierced with nails and bathed in Blood. Yes, let us look at those Feet which support the weight of the whole Body.

For this reason the Holy Spirit says to us in the Canticle: ‘Come, O my dove, into the clefts of the rock’ (Canticle of Canticles 2:13, 14), come into the Wounds of Jesus Christ. There you can repose without fear, for no enemy will dare to pursue you into this Retreat. Let us take refuge with the same motive in the Wounds of Jesus Christ at the hour of our death. Nothing could be more beneficial for us. Let the Wounds of Jesus be our dwelling-place. Let us mark the threshold and the posts of the door with the Blood of the true Paschal Lamb, and the destroying angel, seeing this Divine Blood, will not strike us.

Dom James of Clusa
Mitred Abbot of the Cistercian Order,
afterwards a Carthusian at Erfurt.
He died in the year 1466.

20 March 2010

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Ordinary Form)

First Reading, Isaiah 43:16-21
One can easily marvel at the miracle that God worked for His people by bringing them out of the slavery of Egypt. In fact, most parishes will proclaim that miraculous event in one of the Readings at the Easter Vigil; and of course, virtually everyone looks forward to the annual showing of ‘The Ten Commandments’ with its all-star cast. But as great as that event in salvation history was, we are not eyewitnesses. Thus our Lord would have us turn our focus to 'something new'.

The miraculous crossing of the Israelites occurred in a moment of time. Christ's salvific act, although it occurred in a moment of time, has eternal consequences. The Sacrifice of the Lamb of God is witnessed at each and every Mass and the fruits of this Supreme Sacrifice are received at Mass in the Eucharist and ultimately in eternal life – if one can actually say that something eternal is ultimate. Thus God desires us to be eyewitnesses of something that is not only new, but forever new.

Second Reading, Philippians 3:8-14
For many Christians, sadly, ‘the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus’ is an abstract thought. There are many reasons for this which include the highly secularized society we live in, and the failure to pursue Christ beyond the Sunday obligation. Any relationship that doesn't bond in some way will fail.

How heart wrenching it can be to know that many see Jesus rightly as the Saviour, but the veil which blocks their spiritual vision suggests that He is out there somewhere and not really lovingly involved in the lives of humanity; while at the other end of the relational spectrum, Saint Paul considers ‘everything as a loss’ because he knows his Lord and Saviour so intimately. In fact, Saint Paul even goes so far as to refer to all things as ‘rubbish’ which is a very good rendering of the Greek text.

Admittedly, it seems harsh to call all other relationships and moral joys rubbish, but what Saint Paul is likely doing is hoisting the greatness of Christ to an unfathomable level rather than actually degrading everything else. Saint Paul does, after all, define his knowledge of Christ as a ‘supreme good’ which undoubtedly puts his relationship with Jesus at a level that few can comprehend.

Paul acknowledges that any righteousness he possesses was dealt to him by the gift of faith. Our Lord already knows what we can do with the gift of faith but desires that we surrender to His will in order to show us what He can do with our gift of faith. A human being is not capable by his/her own merits of joyfully sharing in the life of Christ and knowing ‘the power of His Resurrection’. We can't conform ourselves to Jesus without His help.

This intimate level that Saint Paul already enjoys still longs for an even higher level of maturity; but Paul divulges the secret: ‘I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus’. And this possession is not caused by any kind of obtrusiveness on our Lord's part, for that would be contrary to Divine Love; but rather, it is a surrendering of the human will to the Divine will. Paul seeks a maturity in his relationship with Jesus that is perfect which echoes the words of our Saviour: ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48).

When our Lord commands us to ‘be’, it intimates cooperation with grace. In other words, Christ can do the work through us but for us to ‘be’ also requires action on our part. This compliant cooperation with grace is what leads to ‘the prize of God’s upward calling’.

Gospel, Saint John 8:1-11
It's a bit humorous, while at the same time very sad to read that the scribes and Pharisees were telling Jesus what the Law of Moses commanded; but their blindness hides from them the absurdity of what they’re doing.

What did Jesus ‘write on the ground with His Finger’? No one knows for certain but the Old Testament may provide a clue. First of all, Scripture tells us that the two stone tablets containing the Commandments that were given to Moses were written with the Finger of God (cf. Exodus 31:18). Thus this Gospel scene reminds us that the Finger which wrote the Commandments is the same Finger which here writes on the ground. Secondly, these words are also found in the Old Testament: ‘O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake You shall be confounded; they that depart from You shall be written in the earth’ (Jeremiah 17:13). Jesus may very well have been writing the names of the scribes and Pharisees, which would have been a bit shocking when considering that it was the scribes and Pharisees who brought forth a woman that they considered to be the one who departed from the Lord. Another possibility is that Jesus was reminding everyone of that verse in Scripture by writing it with His Finger. No one knows for certain what He was writing. Virtually everyone has the power to stoop down and erase anything that is written on the ground; but our sins are inscribed on our heart and soul and can only be erased by Jesus.

A very ancient practice, which sort of fell through the ecclesial cracks somewhere, was re-introduced by Pope John Paul II. It’s the practice of contemplating the Face of Christ. While many can be negligent when it comes to going to Confession, the season of Lent is a great opportunity to turn things around. Most parishes even create more opportunities to take advantage of that Sacrament during this penitential season. Waiting in line for Confession can be a humbling experience because it speaks quite clearly that none of us are in a position to cast the first stone.

After receiving this Sacrament of mercy and love, efforts can be made to offer thanksgiving by contemplating the Face of Christ. How does He look at you when He says: ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.’? See that Face of Love Who alone can make such a bold statement to you.

19 March 2010

Saint Joseph the Adorer

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’ (Hebrews 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. 3 Kings [1 Kings] 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. Exodus 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’ (Saint Matthew 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. Saint Matthew 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 Saint John 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’ (Psalm 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. Saint Luke 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. Saint Matthew 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. Saint Matthew 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. Saint Luke 2:21-35). And also when Jesus was twelve, He was missing for three days (cf. Saint Luke 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. Saint Luke 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’ (Saint Matthew 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, Pope 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 (Saint Matthew 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.

18 March 2010

What the Heart of Jesus Contains

The writer of this reflection on the Sacred Heart of Jesus is unknown. It was translated in the year 1552 from old German into Latin by Lawrence Surius, a Carthusian monk in Cologne. The original manuscript is dated from the first years of the fifteenth century. Its theme conforms very well to the many writings on the Sacred Heart that have been penned by Carthusian monks.

‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31:3).

In order that your soul may be inflamed with the fire of divine love, I will give you three burning coals which will kindle in you this very desirable flame. They are three meditations that you should make:

The first is on what Jesus Christ is to you as God and man, namely, supremely worthy of your love. The second is on what Jesus Christ is to you if you consider what He has done for your sake; for in all His acts we find proofs of an incomprehensible love. The third is on what the Heart of Jesus feels for you; and that is a love which is transcendent and infinite.

We have not in any way deserved the love that Jesus our most affectionate friend gives us so freely. This love is incomprehensibly great. It is altogether boundless. That your soul may be more and more filled with the fire of divine love, know that the Sacred Heart, the tender Heart of Jesus, is filled for you with so immense, so excessive, so incomprehensible a love, both human and Divine, that it greatly surpasses all that men and angels could wish for or even imagine; for, I repeat it, this love is truly immense, being without limit and without end. The love of all mothers for an only son, compared to that of the Heart of Jesus, is but a little spark by the side of a vast conflagration. If all the love arising from natural attraction, relationship, or divine grace, which is to be found in the hearts of all men upon earth and of all angels and saints in Heaven were gathered together and put into the heart of one mother for her only son, it would not bear any comparison to the love of our God for us.

It is quite certain that nothing in Heaven and on earth is better, more perfect, more desirable, sweeter and more amiable than the very faithful love of Jesus Christ. Is it not then surprising and enough to make one weep bitterly, to see how seldom and in how small a degree the love of our Lord Jesus Christ is found even in the hearts of many Christians? Perhaps you, dear reader, may be suffering from this unfortunate and dangerous error, and may not know the happiness and sweet joy that the friends of God experience even in this world. I therefore conclude by begging you to recall to mind the numerous and wonderful proofs your Creator and Redeemer has given you of His love. I ask you to observe that this most loving and most tender Heart burned for you with a love so free and so generous that truly one can say with Saint John Chrysostom: ‘Plus quam amore tui ebrius et amens’. Jesus is inebriated with love. He is foolish, if I may so speak, and more than foolish with love of souls! Ah, if it were possible that during this life, your heart could contain for Jesus a mere nothing of the love with which His Heart burns for you, it could not hold it; but kindled suddenly by so ardent a heat, your heart would be in flames; it would be torn and would break. I earnestly invite you to meditate very often and very attentively on what I have been saying.

17 March 2010

Healed by Divine Grace and Light

In today’s Gospel from the Extraordinary Form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (Saint John 9:1-38), Jesus heals a man who has been blind from birth and is sent to the Pool of Siloam.

When Jesus healed the paralytic He told him: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ (cf. Saint Mark 2:1-12). Because of this the disciples must have concluded that his infirmity was sent to him in punishment for his previous sins. Therefore, when they saw the blind man, they asked Jesus: ‘Rabbi, who has sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind’? Jesus explained that ‘neither has this man sinned nor his parents’. A belief that affliction was punishment for sins committed was quite common in Christ’s day. When Jesus explains that the blind man did not sin, this of course is not to be understood to mean that the blind man was not a sinner. For both he and his parents were sinners; but the meaning is that his blindness was not inflicted as punishment for any sin that he or his parents had committed, but as we see by Christ's healing, this man's blindness was given for the manifestation of the glory of God.

Jesus says: ‘I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day’. This is not really a reference to the time of day; He's actually referring to the time lived in this life as a mortal. This is a marvellous example of how Scripture gives us the True Reality as opposed to the perceived reality we tend to live out. Perceived reality might, for example, ignore someone in need because our precious schedule dictates that we have to be someplace else or there simply isn’t enough time in the day for an inconvenience while at the same time trying to get all these other things done. But Jesus says, no, ‘I must work the works of Him that sent Me’. Not, ‘I should’ but ‘I must’; and if you’re curious about the ancient text, the Greek translates as ‘it is binding’. That's pretty strong language!

Jesus follows this up with, ‘The night is coming, when no man can work’, meaning that in death we can no longer do the works of the Lord in mortal life; but only be rewarded for our labours in this life.

Jesus used clay and saliva to heal the blind man not because clay and saliva were necessary to make the miracle work but instead to make the miracle more visible. The Church follows this example when administering the sacraments. Jesus is present in all the sacraments even though we can’t see Him or the works He performs in them. For this reason, the Church, for visibility, administers the sacraments in religious ceremonies. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts forth a very comforting reminder that in the sacraments Christ continues to touch us in order to heal us (cf. CCC 1504).

The Pool of Siloam was at the foot of the walls of Jerusalem where its waters were collected in a reservoir for the benefit of the city. The word ‘Siloam’, which means ‘Sent’, was a figure of Christ, Who was sent by His eternal Father into the world to enlighten God’s people. The Pool of Siloam is a representation of the Sacrament of Baptism, by which we are sanctified. Its waters signify divine grace and light which is given to us through Jesus Christ, Who was sent by the Father.

When the blind man was questioned about Who Jesus was, the man replied by saying, ‘He is a prophet’. The title of ‘prophet’ was given to anyone who seemed to possess one or more extraordinary gifts. The blind man honoured Jesus when he thought Him to be a prophet; but when it was revealed to him that Jesus was the Son of God, the man worshipped Jesus. Worship is an act reserved for God alone. The Catechism teaches: ‘If any one is a worshipper of God and does His will, God listens to him. Such is the power of the Church’s prayer in the Name of her Lord, above all in the Eucharist. Her prayer is also a communion of intercession with the all-holy Mother of God and all the saints who have been pleasing to the Lord because they willed His will alone’ (CCC 2827).

Those questioning the blind man proclaimed, ‘We know that God does not hear sinners’. We are all sinners, and so, this statement does not mean that God doesn’t listen to our prayers; it pretty much is singling out those who have no intention of repenting.

The Pharisees said, ‘This Man is not of God, Who keeps not the Sabbath’. This seems to be a popular complaint about Jesus throughout the Gospels. In Saint Mark’s Gospel, Jesus answers this complaint with a question: ‘Is it lawful to do good on Sabbath days, or to do evil: to save life or to destroy it’? After this question the complainers were silent (cf. Saint Mark 3:4).

Being reduced to silence by Jesus demonstrates the evil that can come from mere words. When God silences man, he will either take a step back for a moment and consider the splendour of God, but decide to keep living by his own destructive will; or, when man takes that step backwards, he will surrender himself to the Lord and over time be led to a greater interior silence.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

16 March 2010

The Eternal Reward of the Friends of the Heart of Jesus

They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Your house (Psalm 35:9).

All that is in You, all that can be ascribed to You, O Lord, should be ascribed to You in the full extent of its perfection, excellence, and infinite pre-eminence.

As then You possess all wealth and bounty, we know that Your riches are inexhaustible, and that Your desire to impart them in Your generosity is without limit and immeasurable. If You reward, it is a liberality beyond our imagination; if You give, it is with unlimited bounty. Your rewards are always far greater than our merits. For a passing virtue You bestow a happiness which will never pass away. For a very slight service rendered You, You give so great a recompense that Your servants will be perfectly satisfied, and all their desires will be fully realised. You give so amply that the greatness and depth of Your rewards will be equal to their duration. Hence the hearts of Your elect -- those human hearts which out of You cannot find their rest -- will become, in Heaven, like unto Your Heart. There they will enjoy an unchangeable and endless security. They will repose in You.

O Lord Almighty, You are truly the infinitely loving and amiable guest of the virtuous soul, which, after having served You faithfully and generously during the long exile, the painful journey, the hard bondage of this life, returns to You, the Father, the King and the Judge of the living and the dead. Oh how lovingly and kindly, with what readiness and fatherly goodness You receive the souls who, notwithstanding temptations, trials and persecutions, have always served You faithfully and have persevered to the end in Your service! Then You pour into their bosom the measure of which the Gospel speaks, ‘good measure and pressed down and shaken together and running over’ (Saint Luke 6:38). They have esteemed and loved You above all things; and in return You give Yourself to them, You reveal Yourself clearly, You shot them Your great beauty and all the riches of Your glory; You bring them to Your Heart, and cast them into the centre thereof, into the Bosom of Your love, into the unfathomable depth of Your mercy. There, in Your Heart, You make known clearly how tenderly You have loved them from all eternity, and how great has been Your mercy in choosing them to enjoy unspeakable blessedness, in having predestined them to see, to praise, and to love You forever.

~ Denys the Carthusian ~

15 March 2010

In a Family's Bosom (Nel seno di una Famiglia)

The son of Bruno doesn’t fulfil on his own this interior pilgrimage.
His home’s in the bosom of a real family: a little community
Received from God’s Heart,
where charity reigns, under the shadow of Mary, the Virgin Mother.
To join in harmony solitary and community life,
this is the grace of the Carthusian monks.
The Spirit makes of the solitaries a communion in charity,
in the likeness of the Church.
In the community the prior is the first in the service of his brothers;
as a sacrament of our Lord, listens with them the Voice of the Holy Spirit,
he discerns the desire for Love on them,
manifests the kindness with which the Father loves them.
Kernel of community life, its noblest part: liturgy.
Thrice a day assembles in the church the sons of Bruno.
There they are: only one heart for loving! One voice for praising!
The heart and the voice of the Church before the Father. . .
At midnight they are over there, side by side, for a long watch,
that celebrates the expectation of the Lord, his Resurrection.
In the morning, You, Christ, gather them again around You,
as done with friends,
so as to share Your given Body, Your shed Blood,
centre and high point of their existence,
manna of the desert where they attain Your life.
At last the evening laud, creatures’ thanksgiving.
Remaining always united, they offer to the Father the other Hours,
in the hermitages’ solitude.
On Sundays and solemnities the sons of Bruno
gather themselves more frequently.
Together, joyfully, they sing all the Hours in the church.
Together, the fraternal meal.
Together a vivid and familiar recreation.
Together again, once a week, a long walk.
Contemplating the beauty of the Beloved in the splendour of nature,
there they are, walking two by two, as brothers.
Times of meeting, simple and deep.
Partaking joys and difficulties.
Spiritual support.
Hearts’ union.
Of all, only one soul. . .

~ I Colori del Silenzio ~

13 March 2010

Mother of the Redeemed

Here's another writing from the Carthusian treasure chest.

The reverence shown by a subject for his queen and the loving and eager devotion which the members of her household bring to their service, is nothing compared to the devotion and tenderness of a child for its mother. The memory of a mother is the sweetest and strongest of human sentiments; it returns in even greater strength, and is the last to fade. Even when it is hidden, and seems completely suppressed in the depths of the most unmindful and perverse of hearts, it is often the only force which has power to soften and to bring peace.

As the eternal Father sought among all human qualities those which could lead back to Him His own handiwork, could He pass over the one quality – motherhood – which moves the child so powerfully towards her to whom he owes his very existence? Would it be possible for so sacred a tie not to find a place in a religion so clearly founded on human nature and human affection? In the Christian religion the whole of humanity forms in Jesus Christ one united family. We all have a Father Who is in heaven; we surely need, therefore, a Mother, if our heart is not a thing made by chance, and if the religion which so draws our affections comes from our Maker.

This Mother God has given to us: it is our Blessed Lady. The Mother of God’s only-begotten Son has become the Mother of the children of His adoption. When Jesus was about to die and so repair the outrage done to His father and to pay our ransom, He said, speaking to Mary and turning to the beloved disciple: Woman, behold thy Son. Then, addressing Saint John, He said: Behold thy Mother. In these words we have the express declaration of Mary’s spiritual maternity, uttered at the very moment of the birth pangs of the Christian family. From Mary’s sword-pierced heart, we were brought forth to a life of grace, and Mary’s consent to the Passion of our Saviour became, freely given as it was, the cause of our birth to grace through the death of the crucified Christ.

But long before this, our Lady had already begun her work as a Mother. Before giving birth to us, so to speak, she had conceived us and had carried us in her heart. When, through the ministry of an angelic envoy, the Word had solicited her consent to the Incarnation, He did so as the Redeemer of men. As a consequence of the fatal fall of our first parents, all members of the human race, with the one exception of our Lady, came into this world deprived of supernatural life. By coming amongst us the Word of God wished to graft upon His own Person all the souls of men, and in this way to infuse into them the grace of which they had been deprived and which He possessed in all its fullness. But in the designs of the Father, this mysterious engrafting could only be effected by the Blood-stained Flesh of the God-Man. Hence, the Divine Son came down to earth to climb Calvary’s hill, and it was as the Victim of sin that He asked Mary to receive Him.

In response to the angelic salutation, the Maid of Nazareth gave an unconditional Fiat and it was at this solemn moment that she conceived us in her heart. Mother, according to His human nature, of our Divine Saviour, she became the true spiritual Mother of all Christ’s members. And in the Blessed among women whom He destined to be our Mother, God united all the gifts capable of calling forth and holding our filial love. Her beauty will ravish for eternity the souls of the blessed in heaven; while her goodness, second only to that of her Divine Son, will be beyond anything we can conceive here below. She has said so herself. Between the love of the most ardent of her servants and the love she gives in return to the least of her children, there will ever be a vast difference, as vast as that between earth and heaven.

O incomprehensible condescension of divine mercy to give us such a Mother! O tremendous desire for our salvation! The least we can do is to respond with a sincere and practical love. ‘If I love Mary’, Saint John Berchmans used to say, ‘I am certain of my salvation’. And Saint Aloysius, summing up the tradition of the early Fathers, formulated the well-known saying: ‘Servus Mariæ nunquam peribit – the servant of Mary will never be lost’. Now ‘the true servant of Mary’, as one of our founder’s own companions used to say, ‘is the Christian who has recourse to that beloved Mother as often as he should, whether it be to persevere in the grace and friendship of God, or to recover those blessings by a sincere repentance’.

12 March 2010

Aquam Vivam

In today’s Gospel from the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is the familiar story of the Samaritan woman speaking with Jesus near Jacob’s well.

Saint Augustine preached that the woman of Samaria symbolizes the Church which was not yet justified, but was about to be justified. Saint Augustine continues: ‘She comes in ignorance, she finds Him, and He converses with her. We must see what this woman of Samaria was and why she had come to draw water. The Samaritans did not belong to the Jewish nation, but were foreigners. It is part of the symbolism that this woman, who is a type of the Church, came from a foreign nation, because the Church was to come from the Gentiles and so be of a different race. Because she provided a symbol, she became the reality too. For she came to believe in Jesus Who was putting her before us as a symbol. She was surprised that a Jew was quite uncharacteristically requesting a drink from her. Although Jesus asked for a drink, His real thirst was for this woman’s faith’.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church shares something beautiful about Jesus’ thirst: ‘The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is He Who first seeks us and asks for a drink. Jesus thirsts; His asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for Him’ (CCC 2560).

Continuing with Saint Augustine's homily, he says: ‘Jesus asks her for a drink. He is in need as One Who will accept, He abounds as One Who will satisfy. Jesus said, If you knew the gift of God. God’s gift is the Holy Spirit but He still speaks to her in a veiled language, and gradually He enters into her heart. The water which He was about to give to her is surely the water referred to in the words, With You is the fountain of life. Jesus was promising her plentiful nourishment and the abundant fullness of the Holy Spirit. The woman said to Him, Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst nor come here to draw. Need drove her to this labour, while her frailty recoiled from it. How wonderful if she heard the invitation, Come to Me, all you that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you. That was what Jesus’ words to her meant -- an end to her labour; but she did not yet understand their meaning’.

The Samaritan woman uses the term, ‘patre nostro Iacob -- our father Jacob’ because the Samaritans claimed lineage from Abraham, therefore, they called Jacob their father because he was Abraham's grandson. The Venerable Bede explains that they also called Jacob their father because they lived under the Law of Moses and were in possession of the land that Jacob had bequeathed to his son Joseph.

When Jesus tells her to go call her husband, He begins to show her that He knows all about her life. The Samaritan woman says: ‘Patres nostri in monte hoc adoraverunt -- Our fathers adored on this mountain’, meaning Jacob and the ancient patriarchs, whom the Samaritans called their fathers. The mountain is Gerizim, where the Samaritans had built a temple; and it was there that the Samaritans would come to worship instead of at Jerusalem. The Samaritans believed that the patriarchs had exercised their religious rituals on this mountain.

Jesus tells the woman that salvation is of the Jews. Saint John Chrysostom explains the meaning of our Saviour’s words: ‘The Israelites, on account of their innumerable sins, had been delivered by the Almighty into the hands of the king of Assyria, who led them all away as captives into Babylon and sent other nations whom He had collected from different parts, to inhabit Samaria. But the Almighty, to show to all nations that He delivered up His people solely on account of their transgressions, sent lions [aggressive men] into the land to persecute these strangers. The Assyrian king upon hearing this, sent them a priest to teach them the Law of God; but they did not depart wholly from their impiety, for many of them returned again to their idols, while at the same time worshipping the true God. It was on this account that Christ preferred the Jews before them saying, Salvation is of the Jews, whom it was the chief principle to acknowledge the true God and hold every denomination of idols in detestation. The Samaritans, by mixing the worship of one with the other, plainly showed that they held the God of the universe in no greater esteem than their idols’.

Jesus tells her: ‘Venit hora, et nunc est, quando veri adoratores adorabunt Patrem in spiritu et veritate -- The hour is coming, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in Spirit and in truth’. The Catechism explains that worship in spirit and truth of the New Covenant is not tied exclusively to any one place. What matters above all is that, when the faithful assemble in the same place, they are the living stones gathered to be built into a spiritual house. For the Body of the risen Christ is the spiritual Temple from which the source of living water springs forth: incorporated into Christ by the Holy Spirit, we are the temple of the living God (cf. CCC 1179). Jesus was not in any way suggesting that Christian worship should have no use of external signs towards God, for that would take away all sacrifice, sacraments and prayers.

The Samaritan woman tells Jesus: ‘Scio, quia Messias venit, qui dicitur Christus; cum ergo venerit ille, nobis annuntiabit omnia -- I know that the Messiah is coming, Who is called Christ; therefore when He comes, He will tell us all things’. Even the Samaritans, at that time, expected the coming of the Messiah. Jesus said to her, ‘Ego sum -- I am He’, which He proclaimed to the Samaritan woman, first by His words, but perhaps even more by His grace, which would have convinced her heart that He was indeed the Messiah.

The disciples were amazed that He was talking to her, and experiencing this may have taught them something about the humility of Jesus. The Samaritans looked for the Messiah because they had the books of Moses, in which Jacob foretold of the world's Redeemer: ‘Non auferetur sceptrum de Juda, et dux de femore ejus, donec veniat qui mittendus est -- The sceptre shall not be taken away from Judah, nor a ruler from his thigh, till He comes that is to be sent’ (Genesis 49:10).

Jesus tells His disciples to look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The harvest of souls was approaching when Christ came to teach the way of salvation and to send His apostles to convert all nations. ‘Ego misi vos metere quod vos non laborastis -- I have sent you to reap that in which you did not labour’; by these words Jesus testifies to His apostles that the prophets had sown the seed in order to bring all to believe in Christ. This was the end of the Law, the fruit which the prophets looked for to reward their labours. Jesus, likewise, shows them that as it is He Himself Who sends the apostles; it is also He Who sent the prophets before them, and that the Old and New Testament are of the same Origin. Finally, through the grace of God, we see that many of the Samaritans came to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Saviour sent to redeem the world.

11 March 2010

An Adoring Silence

Saint Konrad of Parzham, a Capuchin Franciscan, was born at Parzham, Bavaria, Germany. He wrote down a plan for his life which came under eleven different headings. Two of those headings were:

~ I will observe silence exactly and perpetually as far as is possible. I will be very sparse in speech, and this in order to avoid many faults and that I may be able to converse with God so much the better.
~ I will always strive to have a truly intense devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and will truly strive to imitate her virtues.

One might hypothesize that the first resolution would be impossible without the second. Saint Konrad also offered to God very profound words while making a Spiritual Communion:

‘I have come to spend a few moments with You, O Jesus, and in spirit I prostrate myself in the dust before Your Holy Tabernacle to adore You, my Lord and God, in deepest humility. Once more a day has come to its close, dear Jesus, another day which brings me nearer to the grave and my beloved heavenly home. Once more, O Jesus, my heart longs for You, the true Bread of Life, which contains all sweetness and relish. O my Jesus, mercifully grant me pardon for the faults and ingratitutde of this day, and come to me to refresh my poor heart which longs for You. As the heart pants for the waters, as the parched earth longs for the dew of heaven, even so does my poor heart long for You, Fount of Life. I love You, O Jesus, I hope in You, I love You, and out of love for You I regret sincerely all my sins. May Your peace and Your benediction be mine now and always and for all eternity. Amen’.

Spiritual Communions, adoration of the Divine Indwelling, many saints made them every hour on the hour. In the Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen, Pope John Paul II wrote that ‘the more man grows in the knowledge of God, the more he perceives him as an inaccessible Mystery, Whose essence cannot be grasped’. He continued by expressing that ‘one draws close to this Presence. . . by letting oneself be taught an adoring silence’. And we can learn this adoring silence ‘through the prayerful assimilation of Scripture and the liturgy’. And of this adoring silence the Holy Father wrote: ‘We must confess that we all have need of this silence, filled with the Presence of Him Who is adored. . . that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to cover it with a veil (cf. Exodus 34:33). All. . . need to learn a silence that allows the Other to speak when and how He wishes, and allows us to understand His words’.

Saint Elizabeth of Trinity taught that a soul’s degree of glory in heaven would depend on the degree of Union with the Divine Indwelling, at the time of death. Is there anyone who ever walked on planet earth that had more intimacy with the Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity than our Blessed Mother? There’s a story of a series of messages from our Blessed Lady to Sister Mildred Mary Ephrem Neuzil of the Sisters of the Precious Blood in Dayton, Ohio. In one of the messages, the Mother of God spoke saying: ‘I am Our Lady of the Divine Indwelling, handmaid of Him Who dwells within’. This September will mark the 54th anniversary of our Lady’s first alleged appearance to Sister Mildred. These messages and apparitions have not reached full official canonical approval as yet and are awaiting the final stage which is a formal written statement from the bishop of the diocese of Toledo, Ohio.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, in agreement with Pope John Paul’s assessment that we can learn silence from the liturgy, and which may also explain His Holiness’ call to restore a sense of the sacred in liturgy, wrote in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy: ‘We are realizing more and more clearly that silence is part of the liturgy. We respond, by singing and praying, to the God Who addresses us, but the greater mystery, surpassing all words, summons us to silence. It must, of course, be a silence with content, not just the absence of speech and action. We should expect the liturgy to give us a positive stillness that will restore us. Such stillness will not be just a pause, in which a thousand thoughts and desires assault us, but a time of recollection, giving us an inward peace, allowing us to draw breath and rediscover the one thing necessary, which we have forgotten. That is why silence cannot be simply made, organized as if it were one activity among many. It is no accident that on all sides people are seeking techniques of meditation, a spirituality for emptying the mind. One of man’s deepest needs is making its presence felt, a need that is manifestly not being met in our present form of the liturgy. For silence to be fruitful, as we have already said, it must not be just a pause in the action of the liturgy. No, it must be an integral part of the liturgical event’.

May we all discover that adoring silence in this season of Lent and forevermore!

10 March 2010

The Alliance Way (Il Cammino dell'Alleanza)

The fire of the love of God doesn’t blaze in a sole day,
the singing of time is required for the opening of the flowers,
for the Alliance way, some stages, until the eternal ‘yes’.
A first meeting with You, O Lord, in the solitude and silence
in one or more retreats in the monastery.
Some months of postulancy in the bosom of the community,
in the abandonment of the world and of self,
for the contemplation of Your Face.
Till the clothing of compunction and the wanting of You,
with the widen of the self liberty in Your infinite liberty,
discovering in the years of novitiate Your sweetness
in love’s docility.
The first gift of the whole being to Your goodness,
with the clothing of a habit of laud:
the temporary profession,
an oblation of love in the most humble things;
Easter of the dead to themselves, who revive in You, O Beloved.
The time of fullness comes,
the long way of desire reaches to the door of your heart. . .
Behold the ‘yes’ of the total union: the monastic solemn profession,
behold the Amen that trails the soul in this great Mystery:
Your eternal Alliance with the Church, O Christ.
Life may be engulfed in this heart and flutter in him:
The Spirit, in the desert, has stripped him of everything,
now he’s free so as to be Yours.
The Alliance is settled,
But our way to be more Yours didn’t finish:
to leave always behind ourselves the appearances of things
and the deceit of the ephemeral desires
so as to refuge in the Heart of the Eternal
in an Easter without end,
to become the Son, entirely turn towards the Father
in the incessant exchange of the Spirit,
praise of glory in the Uni-Trinity.

~ I Colori del Silenzio ~

09 March 2010

Oratio, Misericordia, Ieiunium

In today’s Officium Lectionis -- Office of Readings, Moses ‘moram faceret descendendi de monte – delayed to descend from the mount’ (Exodus 32:1). Moses, who prefigures Jesus as a deliverer of God’s people, is on the mountain communing with God. This represents the pinnacle of intimacy with our Lord, a heightened intensity. Moses in on the top of the mountain, and for us this represents the top of the spiritual mountain, where anyone who is serious about the spiritual life longs to be.

At the bottom of that mountain is Joshua, who represents those who are indeed serious about their relationship with God, but struggle to advance up the spiritual mountain. ‘Reversus est Moyses de monte – Moses returned from the mount’ (Exodus 32:15); and there, waiting for him was Joshua. The spiritual life is a gruelling battle: trying to grow closer to God while at the same time being subjected to the often ungodly happenings which occur in our world. Moses descending from the mountain and meeting up with Joshua offers us a beautiful image: even though it is an immense struggle to ascend the spiritual mountain, Jesus, in the figure of Moses, does come down from the mountain to meet us right where we are. He does not abandon us!

Saint Peter Chrysologus tells us that oratio, misericordia, ieiunium – prayer, mercy, fasting are a unit (cf. Sermo XLIII). Joshua, representing us as a people of God is at the bottom of that mountain at prayer. He has been there since Moses went up the mountain, thus he surely has not satisfied himself corporeally, but instead is trying to fill up his soul with God, listening for His gentle whispers, knowing that man lives ‘in omni verbo quod egreditur de ore Domini – according to every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord’ (Deuteronomy 8:3).

When Moses and Joshua meet at the bottom of the mountain, Joshua said to him: ‘Ululatus pugnæ auditor in castris – The shouts of battle is heard in the camp’ (Exodus 32:17). The ‘shouts of battle’, in other words, the hustle and bustle, the ways of the world are a distraction. While Moses was on that mountain, God heard His people as they were fashioning an idol, a molten calf. God said to Moses: ‘Vade, descende – Go, descend’ (Exodus 32:7). There’s an intimation here of the Incarnation: God the Father, sending His Son to His people. And for what reason? Misericordia – Mercy!

What’s interesting about God’s mercy in this biblical account is that our Lord’s wrath was intent on destroying His people. Certainly that was to be our sentence until God’s mercy was showered upon the world by means of the Incarnation. While it may appear that the perfection of God doesn’t seem so perfect because the pleas of Moses are able to change God’s Mind about destroying His people, what we are actually experiencing from this account is that Moses, a figure of Jesus, communing with His Father, understanding the will of His Father, as they are One with the Holy Spirit, surely is not bent on destroying His people, those He created in His Image, which He found to be ‘valde bona – very good’ (Genesis 1:31). In Moses, also, we learn something about what should be a part of our prayer life. Saint Peter Chrysologus told us: prayer, mercy, and fasting are a unit. God does not change His Mind with Moses, but instead is prompting him to pray for the mercy of those who are making an idol for themselves, giving Moses the opportunity to seek the mercy of the Lord; in other words, our Lord is prompting us to ora pro nobis peccatoribus – pray for us sinners, that is, all the people of God, for indeed we all are sinners. This is not only in word but in deed. For we cannot expect God’s mercy, if we do not dimittimus debitoribus nostris – forgive our debtors.

That same homily from Saint Peter Chrysologus continues by proclaiming that if we do not close our ear to others, then God will open His ear to us. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the definitive answer about mercy. Our Saviour explains that we must forgive seventy times seven times (cf. Matthew 18:22), in other words – always! Offering mercy becomes easier when we ourselves experience its beauty frequently through the sacrament of mercy. It also becomes easier through unceasing prayer (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17), growing ever closer to our Lord, being surrounded by His unfathomable love. Mercy also comes easier through fasting: our own bodily needs will bring comprehension to our need to show mercy, to be forgiving, to rely completely on God.

08 March 2010

One Lamp, Two Flames (Una Lampada, Due Fiamme)

To seek always, in everything, the union with the Beloved.
How rich is this vocation!
But such richness, can it run in only one riverbed?
Two are the paths that bring to the same end,
different, but complementary, on account of the graces they carry.
Developing the charism entrusted by the Spirit to Saint Bruno,
They enable him to attain its fullness.
In this way two flames burn on the same lamp.
How great is its splendour!
By joining with Jesus, solitary in the Judah desert,
the cloister monks remain in the quietness of the hermitages,
called to devote themselves, in the silence of the heart,
to the adoration of the Inmost.
Clothed with priesthood’s grace, in a Eucharist
celebrated in solitude with him,
they offer each day their lives, in Christ’s, the Redeemer,
for the Father’s glory and the salvation of the world.
By joining with Jesus, Son of the carpenter of Nazareth,
the lay brothers perform in the monastery the daily duties of life,
called to devote themselves, with labour’s joy, to the inwardness
of their contemplation.
Clothed with the grace of service, in the fatigue offered in solitude with Him,
They participate in the whole man, all creatures in Christ,
the Redeemer,
for the Father’s glory and the salvation of the world.
In both of them, the same love, ardent of His Love!
It joins them tightly. . .
In both of them, the same fervour for prayer and solitude!
In spite of the differences. . .
But even though they are two, they remain one.

~ I Colori del Silenzio ~

06 March 2010

Third Sunday of Lent (Ordinary Form)

First Reading, Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15
Moses, who prefigures Jesus as a deliverer of God's people, is not out for a Sunday stroll across the desert to the slopes of Horeb with Jethro's flock; he is headed to higher ground to find some grass which in the plain had died and vanished. Horeb is called here "the mountain of God" in anticipation of God's manifestation of Himself.

There is something here for the spiritual life: In the desert, that is, alone at prayer, souls long for the higher ground – the spiritual mountain of God – to experience that closeness to God, that intimacy, which is incomprehensible. This is a very deep immersion in prayer where God's language of silence speaks that which only the heart can understand. Those who are granted this higher gift of prayer are able to sort of get out of the way of themselves by emptying all the thoughts and concerns, good or bad, which occupy the human mind and heart. This emptying of oneself allows the fully surrendering soul to be filled up with the Holy Spirit Who prays in and through the soul because we human beings do not know how to pray as we ought (cf. Romans 8:26).

The name I AM WHO AM which is a translation of the Hebrew aeie ashr aeie, is as mysterious as Almighty God Himself. These mysterious words portray God as "Being Itself" and are linked to the name of Yahweh. The Tetragramatton, a Greek term meaning, "word with four letters" is a reference to the Hebrew name for God which identifies the Hebrew letters as: heh, vav, heh and yodh. Reading that as Hebrew is read, from right to left, what is revealed are the letters Y-H-V-H. You've probably already deciphered the name of "Yahweh" in those letters. It has been translated as: I Am Who Am – I Am What I Am – I Am Because I Am – I Am The Being, as well as other titles; and the scholarly arguments as to what it literally means have been going on for centuries but most can at least agree that it reveals God as Eternal.

There's a Jewish tradition which states that the four letters are a representation and that God's proper name, which was only known to the high priest, actually consisted of seventy-two letters. The name YHVH was considered so holy by the people of Israel that it could not be read aloud except by the high priest in the temple for fear of taking God's name in vain and thus was usually replaced with either Adonai (Lord) or Elohim (God). Its true pronunciation is also a mystery. Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian, who belonged to a distinguished priestly family, knew the correct pronunciation but wrote that it would be unlawful for him to reveal its proper pronunciation because it was considered too holy to say out loud. With the destruction of the second temple in 70 A.D. the use of the name slowly passed out of existence and its proper pronunciation would soon become a mystery.

Moses sees God in the appearance of a burning bush and after his life had passed would see Jesus Transfigured on the mountain as proclaimed in last weekend's Gospel. While it can be said that these are remarkable gifts to receive, one has to wonder if Moses would have passed on both in order to have one chance to consume the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Norma McCorvey, the former Jane Roe of Roe vs. Wade had a conversion experience and is now a pro-life Catholic. She wrote in her book, Won by Love: "I started getting cold chills right before I went up for my first Holy Communion."

It's a good idea for us to reflect on our own preparation and frame of mind as we step up to the Blessed Sacrament. Consider that God has a proper name which is too holy to be uttered, a mountain with a burning bush that is so holy that sandals must be removed and on this same mountain Moses needs to hide his face; and during the Transfiguration the three apostles are also overcome with fear. These are encounters with and reactions to holiness; and yet the holiest gift that we have in the Eucharist is sometimes, sadly, received lackadaisically. We are indeed standing on holy ground at Mass and the gift of the Eucharist is indeed the holiest and greatest gift this life will ever know.

Our Lord sees our afflictions and hears our cries and strengthens us by nourishing us with His very Self. There can be no greater encounter with holiness than that.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
If you remove the tactfulness that Saint Paul uses in this Reading, then the brusque message here is that Paul does not feel secure in his own salvation -- and neither should we. As harsh as that may sound, recall God's words: "Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments and turn to the Lord your God" (Joel 2:12-13). Certainly those words are banner words for the season of Lent but returning to the Lord is not a one time process – it is ongoing.

Lent's arrival on the liturgical calendar every year is a strong reminder of how ongoing conversion is. Penance is a lifelong endeavor; a simple belief in God is not enough. A mere belief in God without conforming to His will suggests a desire to do it "my way" and many of those ways could very well be, as Saint Paul points out, evil.

The Sacrament of Penance not only offers the opportunity to turn to God but should also instill in the penitent a certain sense of humility because in all likelihood the turning away from God, that is, sin, will occur again. Thus the Sacrament does not encourage an arrogant "standing secure" attitude but rather a humble, ever-growing love and trust for God as well as gratitude for His ever-flowing, endless ocean of mercy.

Gospel, Luke 13:1-9
History is a little hazy about the Galileans that were killed by Pilate. There was, however, a sect of Galileans who considered it unlawful to pay taxes to foreigners, namely the Romans; they also taught that no other man should be addressed as "lord" which would have been an insult to the Romans because of Caesar. Many scholars have concluded that this particular group of Galileans is the sect that is referenced here in this Gospel.

Our Lord's explanation of these Galileans not being "greater sinners than all other Galileans" intimates something about Almighty God's allowance of suffering as a means of purification in order to prepare souls to receive the crown of incorruptibility; and perhaps those who inflict such punishment as well as those who were slaughtered without ever repenting could be represented here as witnesses of their own future final judgment.

How sad it must be for our Lord when He Who is Love cannot exercise His mercy because of obstinate hearts to the bitter end. Consider what God said through His prophet: "My indignation shall rest in you and My jealousy shall depart from you; and I will cease and be angry no more" (Ezekiel 16:42). But even in at least some of those cases God does pull out all the stops, so to speak, by means of victim souls. There have been and continue to be souls who willingly and intensely suffer on behalf of other souls.

When something of the physical body is wounded, miraculously other parts of the body try to compensate. The same is true for the mystical Body of Christ. The wounds of obstinate souls can be compensated for by victim souls. Victim souls, because of their deep commitment to the spiritual life, have learned to conform to Christ's example of self-sacrifice. Some examples of victim souls are Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Saint Rose of Lima, and Saint Gemma Galgani.

All cooperators of God's mysterious plan of salvation are co-workers in the work of redemption but victim souls are involved to a more acute degree. Of course, only God knows which troubled souls are the beneficiaries of such acts of self-sacrifice and labors of love. When dealing with matters of eternity anyone who is currently living, or souls in purgatory or even those who are yet to be born could be the recipients of such a merciful gift.

Saint Gregory explains the parable of the fig tree: "Each one, inasmuch as he holds a place in life, if he produces not the fruit of good works, like a barren tree encumbers the ground; because the place he holds, were it occupied by others, might be a place of fertility."

Take notice in Scripture of the multiple opportunities that God offers for repentance – and who knows when every possible chance has been exhausted. On the Cross, for example, Jesus embraces the repentant thief; but what is perhaps even more consoling and full of hope is that Jesus doesn't condemn the other thief (cf. Saint Luke 23:39-43). In this case, our Savior's silence or lack of condemnation should speak to our hearts and convey the message that the other thief's opportunities for repentance had not been exhausted.