08 April 2010

Eating the Fruits of Paradise with Joy

The apostle Philip is instructed by an angel to take ‘the desert route’ (Acts 8:26). There is an Ethiopian man, an authoritative man who has charge over the queen’s treasures. He comes to Jerusalem to adore. The Spirit instructs Philip to go to that man. This man of Ethiopia is reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He was reading aloud what is proclaimed on Good Friday: ‘As a sheep He was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb without a voice before his shearer, He was silent and opened not His Mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7).

‘The desert route’, in the sense of a time of prayer in silence and solitude can be dry, bring unwanted distractions and temptations, but it can also produce many fruits. At the time that Saint Bruno wrote a letter to his friend Raoul le Verd, he was living in the wilderness of Calabria, and as Saint Bruno describes, it was ‘far removed from habitation’. The holy Founder of the Carthusian Order continued with words which perhaps describe all things undesirable about the desert spiritual life: ‘I stand as a beggar before the mercy of God, praying that He will heal all the infirmities of my soul’. Indeed our weaknesses can be a bit daunting in the spiritual life. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak; thus, the desert journey begins by watching and praying that one enters not into temptation (cf. Saint Matthew 26:41).

Ah, it is the willing spirit of Saint Bruno which wrote in that same letter: ‘What benefits and divine exaltation the silence and solitude of the desert hold in store for those who love it, only those who have experienced it can know. For here men of strong will can enter into themselves and remain there as much as they like, diligently cultivating the seeds of virtue and eating the fruits of Paradise with joy. Here they can acquire the eye that wounds the Bridegroom with love’.

To wound Jesus with the eye of love, that eye must be fixed on our Saviour’s Wounds of love – His Passion – which became the words that entered into the apostle Philip’s ears on his desert route. Saint Bruno, in Calabria, was not without his share of the external beauties of God’s creation. In his letter to Raoul he describes mild temperatures, healthy air, mountains, fragrant meadows, flowery fields, an abundance of refreshing springs, brooks and streams, verdant gardens and all sorts of fruit-bearing trees. In our human weakness, such beauty could easily distract one from the pursuit of our Lord. But Saint Bruno writes: ‘Why dwell on such things as these? The man of true insight has other delights, far more useful and attractive, because divine’.

Saint Bruno sought not the fruits of trees but the fruits of Paradise. Are we prepared to describe ourselves as a people of true insight having other delights? Forming an opinion based on today’s culture, the answer would have to be – no. But change begins with us, with the force of the Spirit leading the way.

The Ethiopian man had the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ explained to him by Philip and was baptized, and he left there rejoicing. From a human perspective, it sounds macabre to rejoice in the brutal beating and crucifixion of a Man, but ‘not as man sees does God see’ (1 Samuel 16:7). That is certainly evident in the fact that the second day of the Sacred Triduum is called Good Friday. In one Man’s Passion and death is both the judgment and mercy of God, that very same mercy which Saint Bruno stood as a beggar. The Carthusian Order has produced many writings over the centuries on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a wounded Heart, a Heart that was pierced for love of humanity.

If the Lord looks into the human heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7), then grace-filled hearts in the spiritual desert come to the Cross and keep their gazed riveted on the crucified Lord, entering into the Sanctuary of His most Sacred Heart, free from all danger, for evil dares not to enter into this Heart. In this Heart man can truly have a heart-to-Heart!