30 April 2011

Divine Mercy Sunday

First Reading, Acts 2:42-47
In this Reading are the beginnings of what is now called a community of the faithful. It is also a model for belonging to a community of a Religious Order. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: "The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it. Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation" (CCC 1816). Although Jesus no longer walks the earth in His physical Body preaching, teaching and working miracles, the Church, an extension of Him on earth continues on with His mission under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and our Saviour's Eucharistic Presence. What is evidenced here is simplicity because Christ is first and foremost in the lives of these early Christians. They discovered that detachment from possessions is not difficult when Christ is truly number One. The opening verse describes the Eucharistic Sacrifice. If you think about it, throughout the Church's two-thousand year history she has experienced wars, scandals, persecutions and many other obstacles which should have destroyed her very existence long ago. But Christ promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her (cf Mt 16, 18). If you're familiar with the history of the Church and the darkness she has faced, then you know that Jesus has remained faithful to that promise. The gates of hell have tried to scale the walls of the Church many times but our Lord has always come to the rescue. As Saint John Chrysostom put it: "Sooner shall the sun be extinguished, than the Church be obscured."

Second Reading, 1 Peter 1:3-9
God has given us through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ a new life of hope. And our hope is an inheritance that is imperishable and has already been prepared for us. As temples of the Holy Spirit, the Source of our faith dwells within us. Our love for Jesus gives us a foretaste of eternal glory. Our love's genuineness will be revealed by how we treat each other and handle the various trials that Divine Providence allows in the lives of each of us. To search for a model on how to deal with suffering in our modern day, one need only look as far as our current Holy Father's Predecessor, Pope John Paul II. The mystical body of Christ truly came through to lift up John Paul II in prayer. How many times was he thought to be down for the count only to bounce back continuing to serve the Lord and His Church, fighting for souls as the Vicar of Christ? Through his suffering he heroically evangelized his love for God and was living proof of the power that is within us as the mystical body of Christ. As Christians we love and praise our Lord and await His promised reward for our genuine faith -- the salvation of our souls. We've just celebrated our Lord's glorious Triumph over suffering, sin and death – and now here we are talking about suffering again. It's not a glutton for punishment mentality, but rather an awareness of how we are called to follow in our Saviour's Footsteps. He has invited us in a very loving way to have a role in the work of redemption. It is our human weakness which fuels our hesitant and skeptical approach to suffering, thus veiling the fullness of love behind each and every invitation to be like Jesus and enter into His divine life.

Gospel, John 20:19-31
It is only the life of prayer that can help us hear Jesus speak the words, "Peace be with you," when the turmoil of our lives has us hiding within ourselves. Only Jesus can penetrate the locked doors of our hearts but like the disciples, it requires us to have knowledge of Him which comes by means of spending time with Him. Our own wounds and scars are reminders of our Saviour's Hands and Side; but trying to have some understanding as to why it is necessary to have these emotional and physical imprints of life's struggles arrives at the doors of our hearts with the loving invitation: "As the Father has sent Me, so I send you." More precisely, the Greek text translates as: "According as the Father has commissioned Me, also I am sending you." That translation with the use of "commissioned" perhaps gives a clearer understanding of authorization, or that power has been conferred to go and do the work of the Lord. Saint Gregory tells us: "And so, He [Jesus] says 'as the Father has sent Me,' etc; that is, when I send you amid the scandals of the world, I love you with the same love with which the Father loved Me upon Whom He imposed this burden of suffering." Saint Augustine adds: "We know that the Son is equal to the Father but here we recognize the words of the Mediator. He shows Himself as standing in between by saying, 'He sends Me and so I send you.'" No matter how old in age we become or how much more we advance in maturity, we are still "children" of God; and very few passages in Scripture depict that better than this Gospel. Do you have any recollections of your own childhood when you would run and hide for fear of the repercussions of some mischievous act you had committed? Here the apostles are hiding out for fear of the Jews because of their association with Jesus Christ. Just before this Gospel story, Mary Magdalene had seen the risen Lord and went to tell the others. If you recall on Palm Sunday, when Jesus was arrested the apostles fled. Because of this, you can imagine their initial fear when Jesus, through locked doors, appears to them. Jesus says to them: "Peace be with you." They must've thought they were seeing a ghost which may be the reason why Jesus shows them His Hands and His Side. Once they realized it really was Him, before they rejoiced, one can imagine that what went through their minds was a big Aramaic, "UH-OH!" It's human nature to assume that once we've betrayed someone, they will come back with a vengeance. But Jesus returns offering His peace. This not only teaches us something about our God but also is a blueprint for us as to how we should deal with each other. We've all had experiences of being hurt as well as hurting others. But we can't hide from each other forever. When our paths cross again, the label of "Christian" should dictate that we receive one another with the peace and forgiveness of Jesus. We all have the same enemy who tries to corrupt our relationships; and is very good at it since we're more apt to blame flesh and blood. When Jesus breathes on the apostles and gives them the power to forgive or retain sins, the Council of Trent defined this as the moment that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Penance. Most certainly it was no accident that Thomas was not present. Divine Providence was at work here because future disciples would need his doubts to combat their own skepticism. When Thomas is given the opportunity to touch Christ's Wounds, he doesn't merely say, "Okay, now I believe." Rather, Providence saw fit for Thomas to make a divine proclamation which would echo for an eternity: "My Lord and my God!" These words remove all misconceptions. This is Jesus Christ and He has risen from the dead and He is our Lord and our God. Tertullian, an early Church writer, in his work titled: "De Carni Christi" defends the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by suggesting that the apostles would not have bought into it if they had not seen our Lord with their own eyes. He wrote in Latin: "Natus est Dei Filius; non pudet, quia pudendum est. Et mortuus est Dei Filius; prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est. Et sepultus, resurrexit; certum est, quia impossibile." This translates as: "The Son of God was born; there is no shame, because it is shameful. And the Son of God died; it is wholly credible, because it is ridiculous. And buried, He rose again, it is certain, because impossible." Tertullian defended the true faith against the heresy of Docetism which touted that Jesus was pure Spirit; and the story of the Incarnation had only a symbolic meaning, while the Crucifixion and Resurrection were illusions.

28 April 2011

Raising Our Voices in Song

'Sing to the Lord a new canticle; let His praise be in the Church of the Saints', says Saint Augustine. He also preached these words: 'Canticum res est hilaritatis, et, si diligentius consideremus, res est amoris' – 'A song is a thing of cheerfulness, and, if carefully examined, it is a thing of love'.

Thus if we’re joyful and in love, we should be singing. Oh how the Church takes care of her children! The liturgy invites us in the Mass and the Divine Office to express our joy, express our love in song. In the liturgy our voices soar towards our Lord, like burning incense.

The Apostle Saint John writes: 'Nos diligimus, quoniam ipse prior dilexit nos' – 'We love, because He loved us first' (1 Io 4, 19).

Saint Augustine continues his homily by reiterating what Saint Paul wrote: 'Quia caritas Dei diffusa est in cordibus nostris per Spiritum Sanctum, qui datus est nobis' – 'Because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Who is given to us' (Rom 5, 5). And so, it is God’s gift of love which has been given to us that enables us to love God in return.

And since His love has been poured into our hearts, it is not only our voices that we raise to God, but also as the liturgy commands us and hopefully we are compelled to do, 'Sorsum corda' – 'Lift up your hearts'. What greater expression of love is there than our Lord’s own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity which He gives to us. If we are truly in love with Him, then receiving Him unworthily should never be considered.Saint Augustine continues by saying that our Lord calls out: 'Amate me, et habebitis me, quia nec potestis amare me, nisi habueritis me' – 'Love Me, and you will have Me, because you would be unable to love Me, unless you possess Me'. We possess Him by living lives which embrace the call to holiness, remaining in a state of grace, receiving His Most Precious Body and Blood, and by daily conversation with Him.

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has been a great teacher on liturgy, and the importance of beauty in the liturgy. The tradition of the Church, as we are reminded by our Holy Father, is that angels of God chant rather than speak. This is heightened conversation as everything in worship should be heightened.

In his [Cardinal Ratzinger] book, 'The Spirit of the Liturgy' he writes: 'When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough. Areas of his existence are awakened that spontaneously turn into song. The singing of the Church comes ultimately out of love. It is the utter depth of love that produces the singing. The Holy Spirit is love, and it is He Who produces the singing. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit Who draws us into love for Christ and so leads to the Father. In liturgical music, based as it is on biblical faith, there is, therefore, a clear dominance of the Word; this music is a higher form of proclamation. Ultimately, it rises up out of the love that responds to God's love made flesh in Christ, the love that for us went unto death. After the Resurrection, the Cross is by no means a thing of the past, and so this love is always marked by pain at the hiddenness of God, by the cry that rises up from the depths of anguish, Kyrie eleison, by hope and by supplication. But it also has the privilege, by anticipation, of experiencing the reality of the Resurrection, and so it brings with it the joy of being loved, that gladness of heart that Haydn said came upon him when he set liturgical texts to music. In the West, in the form of Gregorian chant, the inherited tradition of psalm-singing was developed to a new sublimity and purity, which set a permanent standard for sacred music, music for the liturgy of the Church. Polyphony developed in the late Middle Ages, and then instruments came back into divine worship -- quite rightly, too, because, as we have seen, the Church not only continues the synagogue, but also takes up, in the light of Christ's Pasch, the reality represented by the Temple'.

In the liturgy, then, whether it’s the Mass or the Divine Office, bring your voice, bring your heart, and bring your whole self, body and soul, and lift it up to God in worship and angelic conversation.

26 April 2011

To Breathe the Pure Air of the Light of Truth and Eternal Love

Our Lord tells us that the Kingdom of God is within us (cf Lc 17, 21); and not just within us, but in the very depths of our being. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him; and We will come to him and make Our home with him ~ Io 14, 23.

We, unfortunately, too often forget these truths. There are, of course, many faithful souls who endeavour to lead honest lives, and strive to attain to a certain ideal of moral virtue. But few know how to live a life of real faith, sustained by hope and aflame with the love of God, in order to participate fully in the life that Jesus longs to communicate. We are surrounded and enfolded by divine love; we have all that is required to begin immediately a life of sublime intimacy with God, but we lack the will to live the supernatural life. We know the principles: the way lies open before us. It would be a failure on our part not to commit to it.

We should admit that the children of this world are more astute in their generation than the children of light ~ Lc 16, 8. We have, indeed, received an infinite treasure, but we do not appreciate its true worth; and the very fact of our ignorance of its value does not allow us to make the good use of it that we should. Was it not our unmindfulness that Our Lord had in mind when He spoke of the parable of the wasted talent, which the foolish servant hid in the ground unnecessarily (cf Mt 25, 18)?

Yet Jesus, rather than offer us the treasure of His intimate love, He instead solicits us so insistently that He almost forces us to accept it. He acts towards us in much the same way as we read in the Gospel of the poor wretches who had no choice but to accept the invitation to the royal banquet: Compel them to come in ~ Lc 14, 23. We hear the same call, and from this point forward our prayer will be that of the Church: Increase in us, O Lord, faith, hope and charity ~ Collect for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost.

But we must not be satisfied with a few acts of piety at the beginning and in the course of the day: these practices do not constitute a life. The word life denotes a persevering, constant activity: and Our Lord wants to be our life. I am the Life ~ Io 11, 25. And so we must adhere to God incessantly. Jesus not only asks us to do those acts or formulas of piety and devotion, but also He asks us at every moment, with all our strength and our whole soul, to begin here on earth our eternal life. We must respond to the call of Christ, to breathe the pure air of the light of truth and eternal love.

Dom Jean-Baptiste Porion

25 April 2011

In Fractione Panis

Luke 24, 13-35
It's not clear if these two men on the road to Emmaus were prevented from recognising Jesus because our Lord purposely made Himself appear different or if it is because His glorified Body has vastly different features. But since our Lord is not recognised until the breaking of the bread, it would seem that our Redeemer has something to say to all of us.

‘Jesus Himself, also drawing near, went with them.’ This is not all that different from our own experiences in life. If Christ dwells within us, then He is close to us in every person we meet; but like these two men, we often fail to recognize Him in that person -- and in ourselves.

No one knows for certain who Cleopas is; Saint Jerome thought him to be a citizen of Emmaus who invited Jesus to stay with him at his house. Saint Jerome also testified that during his day there was a church that existed that was originally thought to be the house of Cleopas. Origen thought Cleopas to be Simon Peter. Other speculations include: the brother of Saint Joseph, or Saint Luke the writer of this Gospel account, or the father of Saint James the Less.

Jesus interpreted to them all that was in the Scriptures concerning Him. This must've taken a great deal of time but what a tremendous blessing for these two men to have been given a bible lesson by Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus, however, does say to them beforehand: ‘Oh foolish, and slow of heart to believe in all things which the prophets have spoken!’ The lesson for us in that statement is to familiarise ourselves with Sacred Scripture and learn what the prophets say of the Messiah and how those prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus in the New Testament. Understanding the Old Testament really makes the New Testament come to life. Through the comprehension of Scripture we are able to welcome Jesus Christ into our lives based on what is preordained by divine decree and not by something our imaginations conjure up.

With Christ's unrecognisable appearance along with His mentioning of Moses and the prophets, this story sounds similar to the Transfiguration (cf Lc 9, 28-36).

This meal that Jesus shares with them may have been an ordinary meal, but made extraordinary by Jesus; or it is possible that this was a planned Eucharistic celebration by these two disciples of Christ because ‘fractione panis’ or ‘breaking of bread’ as used in this Gospel account, was a popular term for the Eucharist during the apostolic times. What makes that theory questionable, however, is that if these two men did not recognise Jesus as anyone they knew, it's improbable they would have let Him preside over a planned Eucharistic meal. Still, it cannot be ignored that our Lord is demonstrating something that is strikingly similar to the liturgy: First, there is the breaking open of the Scriptures – the Liturgy of the Word – an explanation of the Scriptures follows – the homily – and then the breaking of the bread – the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

This Gospel should be an eye opening experience for Catholic Christians who, sadly, only acknowledge Jesus in their lives for one hour a week. If there is no daily prayer life of any kind, id est, the Divine Office, meditation, reflection, spiritual reading or the daily reading of Scripture, then Jesus will pass by every day and probably will not be recognised. It is only during the breaking of bread at Sunday Mass that He will be recognised, albeit with a struggling faith. Jesus shows up in our lives every day and takes on many different forms: Sometimes He is the cause of our ability to be in the right place at the right time; sometimes He is the delay that takes us off our schedule because being on schedule would place us right in the middle of an unfortunate circumstance; other times He is found in others who lend a helping hand; and at other times He is even that person who plucks your last nerve especially when having a tendency to be overly impatient.

On Sundays we're all standing in line to receive the Eucharist because it is there at Mass that we most recognise our Lord, and it is there that we receive Food for our souls. But Jesus speaks to us daily and He calls us to reflect daily where He works and moves in our lives. If we can identify our Lord under the guise of ordinary bread and wine, then through daily prayer, sacred reading, meditation and other forms of authentic prayer, certainly His Holy Spirit can be detected in other persons, places or things that are a part of our everyday experience, as well as seeing Him within ourselves.

23 April 2011

Holy Saturday: Our Lady of Solitude

Today is not only Holy Saturday but it is also a day in which we honour our Blessed Mother under the title 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, Jesus Christ. 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).

Today at Matins during the First Nocturn the Church chanted from the Lamentations of Jeremiah: ‘Bonum est præstolari cum silentio salutari Dei’ – ‘It is good to wait with silence for the salvation of God’ (Lam 3, 26). Perhaps in your own prayers and devotions for Holy Saturday you might consider spending some time with our Blessed Lady in anticipation of our Lord’s Resurrection.

Dear readers of Secret Harbour – Portus Secretioris: A Joyous and Blessed Easter to you all! Here are the Carthusians chanting the Salve Regina:

21 April 2011

The Tenebræ

It’s not often I find inspiration in 1960’s pop songs but ‘There’s a Kind of Hush’ comes to mind after I chanted (recto tono) Matins and Lauds for Holy Thursday from the 1962 Roman Breviary. There is an almost eerie, but at the same time beautiful, interior silence that accompanies one after the conclusion of these Offices. Eerie perhaps because the Light of the Lord appears to have been dimmed; beautiful because one can’t help but sit silently with our Blessed Lady in anticipation when on Easter there will be no doubt that Jesus is indeed the Light of the world, when the Conqueror of death will rise.

Matins and Lauds for Holy Thursday and indeed for the entire Sacred Triduum are quite often referred to as ‘Tenebræ’, a Latin word meaning ‘darkness’. There is a sense of spiritual darkness with these Offices – no hymns, no Te Deum, no Gloria Patri. There are three Nocturns, with Lessons for the First Nocturn being from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. The Tenebræ has at times been described as a funeral service, because of the atmosphere of gloom that envelops these Offices.

While I was alone this morning with my breviary, if you have the opportunity to experience the Tenebræ service in your diocese, don’t miss the chance – or chants. Here is a video with different parts of the Tenebræ.

The Excellent Good

Jesus said, I give unto you a new Commandment, the compendium of all My teachings; that you love one another as I have loved you.

As I lay down My life for you, so also you should love one another unto death. As I love him who betrayed Me, and have prayed for them who brought Me to the Cross, so also you should love your enemies, and do good to them, by lending loving help to all who persecute you, and bring evil upon you.

This new Commandment of love our Lord Jesus taught not only by word, but also by deed. He desired to make known to us that we were His true sons, and that out of His eternal love He bore us in His Bosom, and that from everlasting we had been in Him.

No earthly father had ever embraced us as with such exceeding love as that which He had embraced us. It was that, as a most faithful Father, He left us His most incomparable testament, and bequeathed to us that excellent good, which is nobler and better than heaven and earth, His most sacred Body for food, and for our drink His most precious Blood.

Behold, I am near unto death, for I have turned away from You, the Medicine of my soul, the Bread of Life. My heart has withered within me, so that I am forced to beg my bread upon the earth, that is to say, to go after earthly and temporal consolation, for I have gone away from You, the food and nourishment of heaven.

I now come to You, Father of mercy, the well of loving kindness. With lowly prayer I knock at the door of Your divine grace and mercy, and at Your Fatherly Heart. Hear my prayer! Grant unto me the desire of my heart, fill the hungry one with good things, refresh the thirsty one, quicken my languor, heal my sickness, for You alone can heal me.

~ Johannes Tauler ~

20 April 2011

Refuse God Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 April 2011

Jesus Taught Us the Benefits of Solitude

The following is from the Statutes of the Carthusian Order in the section of Guiges' Praise of Life in Solitude. Guiges was the fifth Prior of La Grande Chartreuse. His name often appears as Guigo.

Jesus Himself, God and Lord, Whose virtue was above both the assistance of solitude and the hindrance of social contact, wished, nevertheless, to teach us by His example; so, before beginning to preach or work miracles, He was, as it were, proved by a period of fasting and temptation in the solitude of the desert; similarly, Scripture speaks of Him leaving His disciples and ascending the mountain alone to pray. Then there was that striking example of the value of solitude as a help to prayer, when Christ, just as His Passion was approaching, left even His Apostles to pray alone — a clear indication that solitude is to be preferred for prayer even to the company of Apostles.

We cannot here pass over in silence a mystery that merits our deepest consideration; the fact that this same Lord and Saviour of mankind deigned to live as the first exemplar of our Carthusian life, when he retired alone to the desert and gave Himself to prayer and the interior life; treating His Body hard with fasting, vigils and other penances; and conquering the devil and His temptations with spiritual arms.

And now, dear reader, ponder and reflect on the great spiritual benefits derived from solitude by the holy and venerable Fathers: Paul, Anthony, Hilarion, Benedict, and others beyond number, and you will readily agree that for tasting the spiritual savour of psalmody; for penetrating the message of the written page; for kindling the fire of fervent prayer; for engaging in profound meditation; for losing oneself in mystic contemplation; for obtaining the heavenly dew of purifying tears — nothing is more helpful than solitude.

18 April 2011

Salve, Sancta Parens

Here is more on the subject of our Blessed Lady from the writings of the Carthusian Order:

The introduction into our liturgy of the Mass Salve, Sancta Parens -- the Proper of which is said after the Office of Prime of our Lady -- is the memorial of the help given by Mary at a critical hour of Carthusian history. This is how our chronicler Peter Dorland relates the incident:

"At the instigation doubtless of the devil, certain Houses of the Order were once assailed with such numerous temptations that the religious discipline became burdensome to the monks. The Divine Office, prayer, meditation, the observance of fasting and abstinence, awakened in them nothing but repugnance. From every heart there arose to almighty God a loud cry, together with pleadings and tears, begging Him to free them from their persecutor. Whereupon God sent an angel who addressed these words to a Father of exemplary piety: 'The Virgin Mary, Mother of mercy, will take pity on you, if in addtion to the Hours you recite daily in her honour, you are willing to say between Prime and Terce of the Office of the Blessed Virgin, the dry Mass Salve, Sancta Parens, and to celebrate each day a Mass to her glory.' As soon as this was known, everyone was delighted to accept the condition; and from that day the Carthusian Order has always been helped by the prayers of the Mother of God" (Le Couteulx: Annales, Vol. IV, p.52).

16 April 2011

Dominica in Palmis de Passione Domini

First Reading, Isaiah 50:4-7
Certainly Isaiah and all the true prophets of God had well-trained tongues because they were taught by their Creator. Later, their Teacher would clothe Himself in flesh and become Man to speak the infallible words of everlasting life. Prayer in the morning is vital so that we can put on the armor of Christ before we venture off to another day on the battlefield. Through prayer, ears are opened and prepared to hear the Voice of the Master. A life without prayer is a life that rebels; a life that turns back. Pious souls, however, are not exempt from stumbling. Sin leads to humbling experiences for the devout Christian. It shows us that we're not always a top-notch player for the team. Sometimes we are in dire need of other team players to stop us from turning back. This is the work of the various body parts going to bat for the sake of the entire mystical body. Our enemy is a tempter and knows exactly what can take our focus away from God. Our shame, failures and disappointments, however, can be visualized on a willing Victim in the form of a scourged Back, a Face of spittle, a Head wearing a crown of thorns, Feet and Hands with nails driven through them, and finally death. And yet "finally" is a bad word choice because, fortunately for our undeserving souls, death is not where it ends. The final verse expresses the suffering Servant's inalterable confidence in God. That confidence is something that every disciple of Christ strives for. Saint Paul teaches us about our different callings and the gifts we possess as individuals (cf. Ephesians 4:11). Having a "well-trained tongue" does not necessarily mean the tongue as a physical body part. Certainly for liturgical readers and homilists it could mean the physical tongue; but as Saint Francis of Assisi said to use words if necessary, then certainly tongues can be metaphoric and points to the old adage: Actions speak louder than words. And for many of us our gifts of service are displayed by our actions and not necessarily our words. Gifts used in service help to build up the body of Christ.

Second Reading, Philippians 2:6-11
The Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts that by attributing to Jesus the divine title "Lord", the first confessions of the Church's faith affirm from the beginning that the power, honor, and glory due to God the Father are due also to Jesus, because He was in the form of God, and the Father manifested the sovereignty of Jesus by raising Him from the dead and exalting Him into His glory (cf. CCC 449). Our hearts would implode if we fully understood the love that compels Christ's actions described here in this letter from Saint Paul. First, consider God as the Creator. Look all around and see His created beauty. At night, look at the sky and know that out there is an infinite universe full of countless stars, galaxies and planets. And yet, the Creator of all that is known and unknown joined the ranks of humanity, mere specs of dust in this vast universe, subjecting Himself to our lower nature and becoming a willing Victim for that fallen nature because He loves us far beyond any love that any human being is capable of expressing. His Sacrifice for us because of His love for us is summarized here in this Reading; but also contemplate how close our Savior must surely keep us to His own Sacred Heart by reflecting on the fallen angels. They are often referred to as demons. Their arrogant ambition to be gods rendered them fallen from grace with an eternity to think about their actions. In other words, God never became one of them to redeem them. Unfortunately, our lack of comprehension of God's love for us will for this lifespan make us fall short in expressing our gratitude to God for saving us. What we can do is strive to follow the example Jesus gives us in the Gospels and remain in a state of grace to partake of His precious Body and Blood which He commands us to do in memory of Him. And like the example of Jesus depicted in this Reading, follow the exhortations of Saint Paul by placing the interests of others before our own (cf. Philippians 2:3-4).

Gospel, Matthew 26:14---27:66
Without question the Church has been scarred by the priestly abuse scandal. Most likely you've overheard or perhaps even have been engaged in conversations that go something like this: "I'm never going to Confession again! Why should I confess my sins to a priest when they're doing things far worse?" Yes, some heinous acts have been committed by men wearing clerical collars but we're not in the business of reading hearts. Jesus Christ, however, can read hearts and He knew what He was getting when He made Judas Iscariot an apostle. Because of this, the only conclusion than can possibly be reached is that Christ elevated Judas to the office of apostle as a reminder to all of us that the flock will not find faith in every shepherd. Let us not forget, though, that Holy Orders and Confession are both Sacraments which mean that they were not only instituted by Christ, but Christ also is present in the Sacrament. When a priest absolves you of your sins, Christ absolves you of your sins regardless of the current spiritual state of the priest. Sin, not even mortal sin, can compete with Christ's mercy. As Catholics, we know the risks of walking around with wounds punctured into our souls caused by our own doing. Is avoiding Reconciliation really worth the risk of potential danger to our souls simply because of the actions of a small percentage of priests? "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8:37). Our Holy Father of blessed memory, Pope John Paul II, defined Lent as a season for intense prayer. In the spiritual life, what is more intense than meditating on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ? Saint Matthew's version begins with Judas being paid off to betray Jesus. The scene then shifts to the apostles preparing for the Passover. Something worth reflecting on here is how we prepare ourselves for Mass. Compare the two scenes: Eleven apostles are preparing in the way that Christ would have them prepare. Judas, on the other hand, is concerned with conducting his business, albeit a rather shady form of business. Prayer at home and at church before Mass should be part of the routine to prepare ourselves for the holiest hour of the day. When the time draws near our hearts and minds need to be eased from all those concerns that weigh them down all week. It's very difficult for a cluttered house to properly receive our Lord in Word and Sacrament. While they were at table eating, Jesus revealed to the apostles that one of them will betray Him. Certainly sin is a form of betrayal. Lent is a time for renewal, a time for recommitment to our Lord, a time to let go of the pride that would have us say: "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" Not a good question! If we could audibly hear Christ's Voice, He would undoubtedly respond by saying: "You have said so." Sadly, it is I, Lord. But hear the Lord's words: "Return to Me, for I have redeemed you" (Isaiah 44:22). "This is My Body -- This is My Blood." What do these words mean? They are perhaps the most mysterious words in the universe, not necessarily by definition but more so by how it is possible. Officially, these words define the Eucharist, one of the seven Sacraments of the Church and perhaps the most crucial Sacrament to Christocentric living. The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the Eucharist as the "Sacrament of sacraments" (cf. CCC 1211). Jeremiah prophesied about a new covenant: "Behold the days shall come, says the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Jeremiah 31:31). The Eucharist frees us from bondage because the Eucharist is the Bondsman. Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a contemporary of some of the apostles, defined the Eucharist as the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death, by which we always live in Christ. In the encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" Pope John Paul II wrote the following words about the Eucharist: "It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. The Son of God became Man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One Who made it from nothing. He, the Eternal High Priest Who by the Blood of His Cross entered the eternal sanctuary, thus gives back to the Creator and Father, all creation redeemed. He does so through the priestly ministry of the Church, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity. Truly this is the mysterium fidei [mystery of faith] which is accomplished in the Eucharist: the world which came forth from the Hands of God the Creator, now returns to Him redeemed by Christ. The Eucharist, as Christ's saving Presence in the community of the faithful and its spiritual Food, is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history." Sadly, not everyone believes what we Catholics believe about the Eucharist. For scholarly unbelievers, the one verse in scripture that is usually avoided like the plague is found in Saint John's Gospel when Jesus says: "My Flesh is real Food and My Blood is real Drink" (John 6:55). The word "real" is translated from the Greek word "alethos" which means, "truly" or "in reality" or "most certainly" or "literally". There's just no convincing means to explain away, water down, or bend and twist "alethos" to make our Lord's Body and Blood appear to have a symbolic application. When Jesus went to a place called Gethsemane, He prayed to His heavenly Father and concluded His prayer with the words: "Not as I will, but as You will." As Christians, surely we all want to follow Christ's example and pray these very same words, but these words can be frightening. There's something inside of us that needs to call our own shots. Trusting God above ourselves is very difficult. Oddly enough, the saints may very well have something to do with that feeling of uneasiness. Undoubtedly we honor them and applaud them for their holy example; but even if you've never read the life of any saint, you're still likely to be familiar with the "high profile" saints. A common thread which seems to run through the lives of a great deal of the saints are the sufferings they've endured. There's Padre Pio and the stigmata he bore for fifty years; there's Thérèse of Lisieux and her holy acceptance of tuberculosis; and then there's the legends of the bible like Saint Paul and the sufferings which he never seemed to be without. And, of course Moses, who made this plea to God, as translated from the Hebrew: "I am not able to bear all these people alone because it is too burdensome for me. And if You deal thus with me, kill me, I pray You, out of hand, if I have found favor in Your Eyes; and let me not see my evil" (Numbers 11:14-15). Perhaps the inability of Moses "to bear all these people alone" points towards the Messiah Who would alone bear the burdens of everyone. There's a fear factor in letting go and letting God take over. In fact, it was Saint Teresa of Avila who said, "Dear Lord, if this is how You treat Your friends, it is no wonder You have so few!" While suffering uniquely and very intimately unites us to Christ, in many cases, and understandably so, suffering actually flickers the flames of faith. When suffering arrives, hear the Voice of Christ: "You will have your faith in Me shaken." While that might not be the most comforting words to ever come from our Saviour, they do teach us that He is with us and thus we're never alone. The psalmist writes: "Where can I go, then, to take refuge from Your Spirit, to hide from Your view? If I should climb up to heaven, You are there; if I sink down to the world beneath, You are present still. If I could wing my way eastwards, or find a dwelling beyond the western sea, still would I find You beckoning to me, Your right Hand upholding me" (Psalm [138] 139:7-10). Shortly after the tragic tsunami of 2004, a Mass was offered in Rome for the tsunami victims. The Celebrant and Homilist was at that time the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. During the homily Cardinal Sodano proclaimed in his native Italian: "Dio è sempre vicino a noi! -- God is always close to us!" Cardinal Sodano then went on to tell a story in which a wayfarer falls in the mud; and as he is sinking into the mire he cries out: "Where are you, O my God?" Immediately he hears a mysterious Voice from on High responding: "I am with you in the mud!" A comforting thought but admittedly there are times when God seems so far away. To assure us of His closeness, though, our Savior taught us something when He was only twelve years old when He said to His Blessed Mother: "Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?" (Luke 2:49). Jesus waits for us at His Father's house in the Tabernacles of every Catholic Church in the world, longing for us to visit Him and pour out our hearts to Him. Our Lord was betrayed by Judas and arrested. Our mixed bag of being human contains life experiences of both Jesus and Judas. We have been betrayed -- we have betrayed. Pride, however, is that one ungodly ingredient which wreaks havoc. Pride makes it equally difficult to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. Knowing how difficult it is to ask for forgiveness might make the process of forgiving simpler. When Jesus is apprehended, violence breaks out when one of His disciples severs the ear of the high priest's servant. Jesus says to His disciple: "Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon My Father and He will not provide Me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?" Consider the sword to be the reluctance to forgive. If we cannot forgive, it would be bold to think we are forgiven. What Jesus says about the legions of angels could help soothe the whirlwind of emotions caused by suffering. When suffering occurs, do you believe that Christ could stop it? Why, then, are there times when He doesn't stop it? The saints had such a pious acceptance of suffering. They trusted that a greater good would come from it because God permitted the suffering to take place. One thing that is seldom, if ever thought about is the amount of times that suffering has its sights set on us but our Lord stops it in its tracks. Of course there's no way of knowing how many times this happens but no doubt "the devil, who is your enemy, goes about roaring like a lion, to find his prey" (1 Peter 5:8). As our Lord's captors led Him away, Peter followed at a distance. In the spiritual life there are several ways to follow Jesus at a distance. Perhaps the most common example is to go to Mass every Sunday, then leave the Lord alone all week and not give Him another thought until the following Sunday. But a way that is more closely related to Peter's distance is when Mass is attended weekly or even daily, there's a daily devotional life as well; but when that faith is challenged, and suddenly there's a risk of mockery or friendships are jeopardized, you back off a little from being a living witness and defending your faith just to avoid being the talk of the town, so to speak. You may still attend Mass and continue with the daily prayers but you've abandoned your evangelistic example and thus your faith becomes a very private matter. This also is very much likened to Peter's thrice denial of Jesus. Peter knew Who Jesus was and had faith in his Teacher but when he felt threatened by others because of his relationship with his Lord, he was suddenly out of his comfort zone and wanted quickly to avoid what could be a tense situation. During the initial interrogation Jesus tells the high priest Caiaphas that he will see the Son of man seated at the right Hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven. In the Book of Daniel are the prophetic words: "I beheld therefore in the vision of the night, and lo, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven" (Daniel 7:13). Judas regretted betraying Jesus but his anguish lacked true repentance and thus can be defined more as despair. He seemingly denied himself the opportunity to plunge into God's ocean of mercy and therefore saw no hope for himself, thus taking his own life. Jesus said: "Woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed. It would be better for him if that man had not been born" (Mark 14:21). Our Lord does not say this because Judas betrayed Him. After all, our Savior did teach that whoever speaks a word against the Son of man shall be forgiven (cf. Matthew 12:32). It would seem to the naked eye, however, that Judas diverts himself from God's mercy which is a sin against the Holy Spirit; and in that same passage from Matthew Jesus says that speaking against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. In the Book of Psalms are found the words: "An ill master let him have, and an accuser ready at his side; let him leave the court of judgment a doomed man, pleading with heaven in vain. Swiftly let his days come to an end, and his office be entrusted to another" (Psalm [108] 109:6-8). Are these the words of prophecy concerning Judas? Maybe -- maybe not. But who can possibly determine if Judas was mentally stable when he took his own life or if he perhaps repented at the last breath of life and embraced the mercy of God? Through the process leading up to beatification, the Church makes the determination that a soul is in heaven. God's saving grace can never be underestimated and for that reason the Church will never determine that any soul has been eternally condemned. When Jesus was questioned by Pontius Pilate and accused by the chief priests, much to Pilate's amazement, our Lord remained silent. Silence is such a tremendous gift but is a foreign notion in today's world. Silence speaks a trust in God louder than any words. A Carthusian monk, Augustin Guillerand (1877-1945) wrote: "There are times when we do not need any words of prayer, neither our own nor anyone else's, and then we pray in perfect silence. This perfect silence is the ideal prayer." Shouting, on the other hand, can be used to try to deaden the truth as evidenced in this Gospel when the crowd shouted to have Jesus crucified. Pilate knew the truth that Jesus did nothing wrong but the crowd shouted even louder: "Let Him be crucified!" Shouting is forceful vocalization and thus can be used to brainwash the other party into believing that their lie is the truth; or be intimidated into accepting what they know to be untrue. Pontius Pilate was intimidated into accepting a lie when he said: "I am innocent of this Man's Blood. Look to it yourselves." In the release of Barabbas is seen our own release from bondage and Christ's willingness to serve our sentence. In Simon of Cyrene is found a very literal response to Christ's command to take up our cross and follow Him (cf. Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, & Luke 9:23). But since Simon was pressed into this service, what is also seen is a very human hesitancy to accept the cross. Our Lord does not ask us to seek out a cross in which to bear, but only to accept it when it comes. When Jesus is crucified and His garments divided, there is the fulfillment of what is written in the Psalms: "They parted My garments amongst them; and upon My vesture they cast lots" (Psalm [21] 22:19). On the Cross was placed the written charge against our Savior: "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews". A better English translation is: "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews". The Latin words are: "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudæorum" which explains the "INRI" inscription found on most Crucifixes. Isaiah prophesied about a servant who would be counted among the wicked (cf. Isaiah 53:12). Christ fulfills this by being crucified with two revolutionaries, one on His right and the other on His left. The two revolutionaries on the cross could easily be you and I. It matters not if we're on the left or right, but the comforting thought we can take with us is that Jesus comes to meet us on our cross. The psalmist writes: "They stare at me and gloat" (Psalm [21] 22:19). Those who reviled Jesus and the mockery He received from the chief priests, scribes and elders is the fulfillment of this passage. Little did our Savior's enemies know that as they tempt Him and try to force Him to show His Divine Power by coming down from the Cross, in reality His love for them is what kept Him on that Cross. We hear those same voices in our lives as we look for a way out when a cross has entered into our lives. "About three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" These are the opening words to Psalm [21] 22. Most likely Jesus finished the remainder of the psalm in the silence of His Heart. Those who were Christ's followers must have been amazed to hear that even He could bellow out such words. Most scholars believe that these words are our Savior's way of placing His Human Nature into our human circumstances and showing us that He understands our occasional feelings of abandonment. Nevertheless while He is hanging from that Cross, He also shows us that He is willing to be with us even through the most hellish experiences. There are some, however, who have theorized that during this torturous crucifixion, Christ's Human Nature blocked out His Divine Nature and He actually felt abandoned by His heavenly Father. One can only speculate on the mystery of the interior life of a Divine Person Who possesses both a Divine and Human Nature. At Mass when the priest elevates the Host and elevates the Cup and our eyes move upward to behold our Eucharistic Lord as we're kneeling in the shadow of the Cross, this brief glimpse into eternity allows us to look at Him from the same vantage point as His Blessed Mother saw Him when He said to her: "Behold your Son" (John 19:26). What a marvelous opportunity to contemplate Jesus Christ through the eyes of the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her to reveal that which scripture says she keeps in her heart (cf. Luke 2:19 & Luke 2:51). "Jesus cried out again in a loud Voice, and gave up His Spirit." During Mass we will kneel and pause in a moment of silence after these words have been proclaimed. The veil of the sanctuary being torn in two from top to bottom signifies God's call to end all sacrifices according to the law of Moses because our heavenly Father has accepted Christ's one and eternal Sacrifice for the redemption of humanity. Saint Matthew tells us that the earth quaked and the bodies of the saints were raised. The rising of the saints probably did not occur until after Christ's Resurrection. Most likely it is mentioned here to point out that the earthquake was the alarm to prepare the saints to depart from death forever. "The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, 'Truly, this was the Son of God!'" It is doubtful that these men truly understood the magnitude of the words "Son of God" but their brief lapse from their Roman paganish ideals was enough time for the Holy Spirit to enter into the depths of their being and cause them to speak the words that would be heard for an eternity. Logically it would have been somewhere around four o'clock when Joseph of Arimathea approached Pilate for the Body of Jesus. By Jewish law Jesus would have to be placed in the tomb before sundown which begins the preparation for the Sabbath. In the eyes of the chief priests and Pharisees, Christ's claim to be the Messiah makes Him an impostor. His Crucifixion, however, effectively supports our Savior's claim and fulfills what has been foretold by the prophets. If His Body were to be missing from the tomb after three days, it would be difficult for the chief priests and Pharisees to falsify our Lord's prediction that the Temple would rise in three days. Therefore, they ask Pilate to have a guard placed at the tomb. Pilate's tone seems to be one that has grown weary of the whole Jesus saga and thus grants their request as if to say: "Yeah, whatever!" The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is a love story, the love that God has for His people. Our Lord's Passion is the most loving, charitable act in human history. And now it's our turn to follow in His Footsteps and love Him by our selfless acts of charity towards one another. The hymn, "Where Charity and Love Prevail" says it well with these lyrics: "With grateful joy and holy fear God's charity we learn; let us with heart and mind and soul, now love God in return. Forgive we now each other's faults, as we our faults confess; and let us love each other well in Christian holiness."

15 April 2011

Peace and Confidence Comes from Reciting Our Lady's Office

Here is a writing from the treasure chest of the Carthusian Order:

It is in adversity that loved is proved. The depth of a mother’s love is never so apparent as when the lives of her children are in danger. “I beseech thee, my lord” – thus did a mother appeal before the judgment of king Solomon – “I beseech thee, give her the child alive, and do not kill it” (1 Reg 3, 26). It was a cry born of a mother’s love, which was precisely what the wisdom of the judge expected. Let us borrow again from the Carthusian life of our founder the account of the trial which moved the heart of our heavenly Mother to come to the assistance of our Order, when it was grievously tried – a trial which, but for her intercession, would have dealt a mortal wound to the first hermits of Chartreuse.

Bruno had been summoned to Rome by his former pupil Eudes de Châtillon, now Pope Urban II, who desired the assistance of his counsel in the government of the Church. The recently born community, with exception of a few of its members who had returned to the world, had followed their Master who was their light and consolation. But after staying some time in the Eternal City, most of them agreed to return to their solitude. It was the moment for which the tempter had been waiting. Let us leave the recital of what followed to Bruno’s biographer.

“After their return to the Grande Chartreuse, the first companions of Saint Bruno had ardently taken up once more their austere and devoted form of life, under the direction of Landuin their Prior. Once more the desert became a Paradise, but the infernal serpent found the secret of how to enter and disturb the peace of the little flock of the servants of God. As instruments of his malice, he made use of some so-called hermits established at a place called Currière not far from the monastery. These lawless men, who merited all too well the sadly significant title of roving monks, while giving themselves up to idleness and detraction, held all discipline and obedience in abhorrence. They went so far as to circulate calumnies against the Carthusian monks whose well-known virtue they could not endure. What charges did they bring against them? According to one author, Surius, they alleged that their austerities were beyond human endurance, and that these were a danger to their lives.

“The repetition of these accusations finally disturbed the poor Carthusians, who wondered whether they ought not to bow before the storm, and again leave their desert. Doubtless their Prior made every effort to reassure them, but without success; it needed the intervention of heaven to restore their peace. While they were trying to decide their course of action without being able to come to any definite decision, a venerable old man, believed to be Saint Peter, appeared to them and said to them: ‘You are greatly perplexed, my brothers, and do not know whether to stay or leave this place. Listen to what I have to tell you in the Name of Almighty God. The Blessed Mother of God will keep you safe forever in this desert, if you will recite every day the Office composed in her honour.’ At once the apparition vanished, but peace and confidence had returned to the souls of the monks, comforted by their heavenly visitor. From that time on, the Office of Our Blessed Lady has been recited daily by the Carthusians, who still follow faithfully this holy practice, to which they owe the special protection of their Immaculate Mother, whose power they have so often experienced in the course of centuries.” (Life of Saint Bruno, by a monk of the Grande Chartreuse).

13 April 2011

The Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 April 2011

Tu Quis Es?

In today’s Gospel from Saint John, the Pharisees ask Jesus: “Who are You?” (Io 8, 25). It’s a question that never seems to go away. Books have been written, documentaries have been made, and motion pictures have all tackled that question. Jesus has been defined by the various forms of media as the Messiah, the Son of God, the Second Person in the Most Holy Trinity, a Prophet, a mystic, an exceptionally good Person, a crackpot, a magician, a myth, and certainly other descriptions both positive and negative have defined Who Jesus is.

In the Old Testament on the mountain of Horeb, God told Moses His Name: “Ego Sum Qui Sum” – “I Am Who Am” (Ex 3, 14); id est, the unfathomable Ego Sum – I Am.

Jesus expounded on that many times in the Gospels: I Am meek and humble of Heart (Mt 11, 29).
I Am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Mt 22, 32).
I Am with you all days (Mt 28, 20).
I Am – and you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right Hand of the power of God, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mc 14, 62).
I Am come to cast fire on the earth (Lc 12, 49).
I Am in the midst of you as he that serves (Lc 22, 27).
I Am He, Who is speaking with you (Io 4, 26).
I Am come in the Name of My Father (Io 5, 43).
I Am the Bread of Life; he that comes to Me shall not hunger; and he that believes in Me shall never thirst (Io 6, 35).
I Am the living Bread which came down from heaven (Io 6, 51).
I Am from Him and He has sent Me (Io 7, 29).
I Am the Light of the world; he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness (Io 8, 12).
I Am One Who gives testimony of Myself; and the Father that sent Me gives testimony of Me (Io 8, 48).
I Am from above; you are of this world – I Am not of this world (Io 8, 23).
I Am – before Abraham was made (cf Io 8, 58).
I Am come into this world that they who do not see may see, and they who see may become blind (Io 9, 39).
I Am the Door of the sheep (Io 10, 7).
I Am come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly (Io 10, 10).
I Am the Good Shepherd (Io 10, 11).
I Am the Son of God (Io 10, 36). I Am the Resurrection and the Life (Io 11, 25).
I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (Io 14, 6).
I Am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you (Io 14, 20).
I Am the true Vine (Io 15, 1).
I Am not alone because the Father is with Me (Io 16, 32).

It’s not surprising that the bulk of these come from Saint John, a mystic and the beloved disciple. Beyond the Gospels, in the New Testament, there are the words which our Savior spoke to Saul, and upon further examination of our own consciences, He speaks to us as well: “I Am Jesus Who you persecute” (Act 9, 5). And the Apocalypse also has its fair share of verses containing “I Am”.

Our faith is constantly challenged by all these things about Jesus; and He knew it would be, hence the question to each of us: Who do you say that I am?

Jesus continues in today’s Gospel: “If you do not believe that I Am He, you shall die in your sins” (Io 8:24). Jesus then says: “When you shall lift up the Son of Man, then you shall know that I Am He (Io 8, 28). Coming to the Cross is a most difficult thing for us to do; in fact, what we usually do is try to run from it. The fall from grace suggests that we are the creators of that Cross and perhaps that’s why we find it so difficult to face the music. But as love compelled Jesus to do everything He did, love must compel us to come to the Cross. We never have to bear it alone, Jesus is there with us. And when we find that courage, then we will hear those beautiful words in our hearts: “Behold your Mother” (Io 19, 27). And: Mother, behold your son/daughter; that is to say: Behold him/her whose love compels him/her to be with us. That’s what saints are made of!

09 April 2011

Dominica Quinta Quadragesimæ

First Reading, Ezekiel 37:12-14
The graves represent the places where the scattered Israelites lived as strangers in foreign lands. It was their return from exile which brought about a revival for the nation of Israel. Prophetically, this Reading, although very small, contains big news. It is a prophecy about the resurrection. Our destiny is to spend eternal life with our Lord. Exactly what that will be like, no one really knows, as Saint Paul writes, "The things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). There are a couple of important phrases here worth mentioning: "Thus says the Lord God" -- Let us not pass over these words too quickly. We hear many voices in our society but none of them come with unfathomable love behind each and every word. This is our God Who offers us a chance for eternal peace and only He can fulfill what man cannot even perceive. There is much joy that can come from contemplating what eye has not seen and ear has not heard. We have to learn how to become great listeners because many voices in our lives try to overpower the gentle and affectionate whispers of Almighty God. "O My people" -- These words should be of great comfort to us because they show God's immense love for us. Because of Christ's redemptive work, we now can comfortably extend "O My people" to "O My children." God holds the entire universe in the Palm of His Hand; but for reasons beyond our comprehension, singles us out -- the bumbling, sinful creatures we are, to be the recipients of His immense love. Another possible way to interpret this Reading is to see it as a prefigurement of baptism. "Graves" are often a symbol for imprisonment. Through baptism we are freed from the shackles of original sin and rise to a new life in Christ which is bestowed upon us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Second Reading, Romans 8:8-11
"Those who are in the flesh" are those who relish only carnal pleasures, and therefore, "cannot please God." Those who "are in the spirit," mind the things which are of the spirit, and fix their hearts on the things that belong to God and His service. Certainly our world today is caught up in a desire to live in the flesh. The temptation to accept a mentality of "the more the merrier" can be a heavy burden on those who genuinely wish to live in the spirit. While immorality may have reached a point of desensitization in humanity, the reality is what is true and worthy of acceptance and imitation is that which comes from God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What we see being lived out today is an illusion and a false sense of joy and security. To live in the spirit is to experience much greater pleasure; and this choice also leads to eternal life. "If Christ," or "the Spirit of Christ," which Saint Paul also calls "the Spirit of God," as being One and the same, "dwells in you … the body" indeed "is dead because of sin"; that is to say, the body is mortal and liable to death; but the spirit and the soul lives by the life of grace because the spirit and soul have been justified and sanctified by the merits of Christ. And "the Spirit of God… Who raised Jesus from the dead," will also raise to a glorious resurrection all who remain sanctified by the grace of Christ. Unfortunately, even the Church's members have been infected with a lackadaisical attitude when it comes to being in a state of grace. Many who attend Mass are receiving the Eucharist but so few are going to Confession. Either Holy Mother Church has a myriad of living saints on earth or the sense of sin, penance and humility have fallen by the wayside. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- in 2005 had written the script as well as presided over the Stations of the Cross at il Colosseo Romano, when Pope John Paul II was unable to fulfill his Holy Week public schedule due to his physical health. At the Ninth Station where Jesus falls for a third time, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote and proclaimed: "We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in His own Church? How often is the holy Sacrament of His Presence abused, how often must He enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that He is there! How often is His Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where He waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in His Passion. His betrayal by His disciples, their unworthy reception of His Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces His Heart." May we return to the Lord with all our hearts, that He may pull us out of our pride and away from the often comfortable but deceptive place of being in with the in crowd; and may Saint Paul's words be our constant inspiration and battle cry: "But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you." One final thought on this Reading concerns a verse from Sacred Scripture found in the Old Testament which perhaps makes it unfamiliar to many Christians but is surely relevant to our modern world and our own moral responsibility to avoid doing what may be popular but not necessarily proper. The verse translated from the Latin Vulgate reads as: "You shall not follow the multitude to do evil; nor shall you yield in judgment to the opinion of most, to stray from the truth" (Exodus 23:2).

Gospel, Saint John 11:1-45
"This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God." Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Cyril both say that Lazarus is indeed dead from this sickness but he did not die as others -- continually dead; for Jesus raised him again to the glory of God. "Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." The most accepted interpretation of this is that "day" means the time preceding the Passion of our Lord and "night" means the time of His Passion. By this He encourages His disciples, assuring them that the day of His sojourn on earth was not yet over, therefore, all the hatred that was aimed at Jesus, as His enemies were trying to stone Him, would not come to pass right now. When Jesus says, "Our friend Lazarus is asleep," He was saying that Lazarus is dead although the disciples thought He was referring to ordinary sleep. As far as we mortal human beings are concerned, Lazarus is dead, but to God he is asleep; for our Lord raised him from the dead as easily as we raise ourselves from sleep. Knowing that the disciples misunderstood what He meant, Jesus plainly tells them, "Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe." When Jesus uses the words, "that you may believe," this doesn't mean that the disciples lacked faith but only that their faith may be increased once they witness the raising of Lazarus from the dead. When Thomas said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with Him," he wasn't referring to Lazarus, but he meant that he was ready to go and die with Jesus because he was sure that when Jesus returned there He would be stoned to death. The name Thomas or Didymus means "twins." When Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died," shows that either Martha and Mary were a little weak in faith or they had not as yet fully grasped Who Jesus was because the words, "if You had been here" are not in line with what we know about God; for God is everywhere. In a homily from Saint John Chrysostom he says, "Martha believed in Christ, but not as she ought to have done. She did not yet believe Him to be God, but addresses Him as One Who is remarkable for virtue, and approved of by heaven." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise." Martha didn't know that Jesus was talking about an immediate rising from the dead but she assumed He was referring to the resurrection on the last day. Jesus says, "I am the Resurrection and the Life," meaning that He is God, the Author of both. Since He is God He will raise Lazarus up on the last day but He is also able to raise him up now if He so wishes. The Catechism of Catholic Church teaches that Jesus links faith in the resurrection to His own Person: "I am the Resurrection and the Life." It is Jesus Himself Who on the last day will raise up those who have believed in Him, who have eaten His Body and drunk His Blood. Already now in this present life He gives a sign and pledge of this by restoring some of the dead to life [in this case Lazarus], announcing thereby His own Resurrection, though it was to be of another order (cf. CCC 994). When Jesus asks her if she believes this, her response is, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is coming into the world." At this moment, by the grace of God, Martha breaks free from the bonds of doubt and leaps into an act of perfect faith. When Mary came to where Jesus was, He asks her, "Where have you laid him?" Saint Augustine explains, "He asks what He knows to raise their attention, their faith, and their hope." Jesus wept and in doing so shows His Humanity just before He's about to show His Divinity by raising Lazarus. Jesus raised His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You for hearing Me. I know that You always hear Me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me." He knew without a doubt that even as a Man He would be granted whatever was asked, therefore, the reason that He offers this prayer to the Father was for our instruction. Origen, one of the writers of the early Church, says that Christ was about to pray for the resurrection of Lazarus, but His eternal Father heard His prayer before He presented it. Therefore Christ begins His prayer by giving thanks to His Father for having granted His request. The Catechism adds that thanksgiving precedes the event: "Father, I thank You for hearing Me," which implies that the Father always hears His petitions. Jesus immediately adds: "I know that You always hear Me," which implies that Jesus, on His part, constantly made such petitions. Jesus' prayer, characterized by thanksgiving, reveals to us how to ask: before the gift is given, Jesus commits Himself to the One Who in giving gives Himself. The Giver is more precious than the gift; He is the Treasure; in Him abides His Son's Heart (cf. CCC 2604). Blessed Teresa of Calcutta put this into practice often. Witnesses have told the stories of how she would thank God for answering her petitions even before God granted what she was asking for. When Lazarus is raised from the dead by Jesus, He gives the command to "untie him and let him go." Saint Gregory and Saint Cyril both believe that Jesus gave these instructions to His apostles, and therefore see in this verse a figure of the authority that would be given to priests to loose and absolve sins. The death of Lazarus and his rising are very much symbolic of baptism -- a plunge into the waters and by the power of the Holy Spirit rising from them to a new life in Christ.

07 April 2011

Adolescens, tibi dico, surge

In today’s Gospel at Matins in the Roman Breviary and in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite, is the story of Jesus raising from death to life a man in the city of Naim (cf. Lc 7, 11-16). We are told that the man was carried out of the city in a loculum (coffin or bier). Saint Ambrose reflects:

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

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

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

Jesus waits for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation!

06 April 2011

The Bridegroom and the Bride

Christ destroyed what was diabolical, took upon Himself what was human, and conferred on the Church what was divine. So all that belonged to the Bride was shared by the Bridegroom, and He Who had done no wrong and on Whose Lips was found no deceit could say: Have mercy on Me, O Lord, for I am weak (Ps 6, 3). Thus, sharing as He did in the Bride’s weakness, the Bridegroom made her cries of distress His own, and gave His Bride all that was His. Therefore, the Church too has the prerogative of receiving the confession of sin and the power to forgive sin, which is the reason for the command: Go, show yourself to the priest (Lc 5, 14).

The Church is incapable of forgiving any sin without Christ, and Christ is unwilling to forgive any sin without the Church. The Church cannot forgive the sin of one who has not repented, who has not been touched by Christ; Christ will not forgive the sin of one who despises the Church. What God has joined together, man must not separate. This is a great mystery, but I understand it as referring to Christ and the Church.

Do not destroy the whole Christ by separating Head from Body, for Christ is not complete without the Church, nor is the Church complete without Christ. The whole and complete Christ is Head and Body. This is why He said: No man has ascended into heaven but He that descended from heaven, the Son of Man Who is in heaven (Io 3, 13). He is the only Man Who can forgive sin.

~ Isaac of Stella ~

04 April 2011


From a Homily on the Book of Exodus by Origen:

'The Lord is a Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom' (2 Cor 3, 17). How can we attain freedom, we who serve the world, who serve money, who serve the desires of the flesh? I correct myself; I judge myself; I make known my faults. Let those who hear see what they perceive about themselves.

I, meanwhile, say that as long as I am devoted to any of these things I have not turned to the Lord nor have I followed freedom as long as such affairs and cares bind me. I am a slave of that affair and care to which I am bound. For I know that is written that 'by what each one is conquered, to this also he is delivered as a slave' (cf 2 Petr 2, 19).

Even if love of money does not overcome me, even if the care of possessions and riches does not bind me, nevertheless I desire praise and follow human glory, if I depend on the expressions and words of men, what this man feels about me, how that man regards me, lest I displease this man, if I please that one. As long as I seek those things I am their slave.

But I would want to try at least, if I might be able to be freed from this, if I might be able to be released from the yoke of this foul slavery and attain freedom in accordance with the admonition of the Apostle who says: 'You have been called to freedom; do not become the slaves of men' (Gal 5, 13 & 1 Cor 7, 23). But who will give me this freedom? Who will free me from this most unseemly slavery except Him Who said: 'If the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed' (Io 8, 36).

Let us serve faithfully, and 'let us love the Lord our God with our whole heart and with our whole soul and with our whole strength' (cf Mc 12, 30), that we might deserve to be given freedom by Jesus Christ.

02 April 2011

Dominica Quarta Quadragesimæ

First Reading, 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
The horn was a very common vessel; it was generally used to hold liquor. In this case the horn was used for oil; and since the horn is a larger vessel than the vial that was usually used to hold oil, this may be a clue as to the duration and abundance of what would soon be the kingship of David. "Surely the Lord's anointed is here before Him." Samuel's thoughts were coming from his own spirit as he was judging by appearance only; but God rejects this eldest son. One of God's perfections is His ability to read or look into our hearts and whatever was contained in the hearts of Jesse's other sons apparently was not what the Lord was looking for in a king. At the time that Jesse is presenting his seven sons before Samuel, David is not present. In the estimation of many scripture scholars, David, the youngest, was probably about fifteen years old. It's not likely that Jesse or Samuel had revealed to the other brothers why David was being anointed with the oil; or if they were told, then great precautions would have been taken to keep this a secret for fear of the danger they would be in if Saul, the current king, had found out. After the anointing, "the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David," meaning that the Lord came upon him to make him prosper and gave him all the graces needed to make David a worthy commander and king. The Spirit of the Lord rushes upon us at baptism and gives us the graces necessary to fulfill the will of God. One of the lessons to be learned from this Reading is that while we don't always understand the ways of God, His ways are the only way. If the decision to choose a new king had been left in the hands of mortal human beings, they would have made the decision based on outward appearance only, and then salvation history as we know it may have been quite different, as the promised Messiah of David's lineage may not have come to light. As always, “Thy will be done!” As Christians, the Voice of Christ speaks to us in the opening of this Reading. Jesus fills our vessels, that is, our souls with His Precious Body and Blood, the Food needed to sustain us on our journey; and He says to us: "I have filled you with the Bread of Life, be on your way; I am sending you." The battle is hard but the Real Food and True Drink along with a viable and vibrant relationship with our Lord through prayer can help us to see not as man sees but as God sees. Our Lord has given us the blueprint with Scripture; and His is the Voice to be listened to and not the voice of the serpent who tells us to always believe what our physical senses perceive and to trust in our own inclinations to fulfill the desires of the flesh and to commit sin. Sometimes our own physical senses become tempters because what we can see, hear and feel could deceive us into thinking that this must surely be the will of God because it is right there in front of us; and the seeming obviousness of the physical senses makes it all too convenient to skip the often grueling task of discernment.

Second Reading, Ephesians 5:8-14
The darkness that Saint Paul writes about here is the state of infidelity into which the Ephesians had plunged to worship false gods and idols and the grievous sins they had committed which Saint Paul writes were too "shameful even to mention". Saint Paul instructs us to "live as children of light". It is the Holy Spirit that makes us children of light and that light is received at baptism. Baptism is the bath of enlightenment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that a baptized person has become enlightened and becomes a son/daughter of light. At Baptism sin is buried in the water (cf. CCC 1216). When living as children of light the fruitless works of darkness are exposed, revealing the abomination of these works of darkness. This Reading closes with the words: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light." The exact origin of these words is unknown but it is believed to be a very ancient Christian hymn that was used at baptismal liturgies. It may have been formed from words which are found in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: "Rise up in splendor! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you" (Isaiah 60:1).

Gospel, Saint John 9:1-41
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: "Who sinned, this man or his parents?" Jesus explained that "neither he nor his parents sinned". 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: "We have to do the works of the One Who 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 marvelous 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, "we have to do the works of the One Who sent Me". Not, "we should do" but "we have to do"; 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, "Night is coming when no one 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 labors 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 honored 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 listen to 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 from God, because He does not keep 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 the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" After this question the complainers were silent (cf. Saint Mark 3:4). Jesus says, "I came into this world for judgment" but in this same Gospel (12:47) Jesus says, "I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world." On the surface, these two statements seem contradictory. The meaning, however, is that He has not come to exercise the office of Judge, but He tells them what will be the consequences of His coming, and their refusing to believe in Him and thus remain in their willful blindness. Jesus did not come so that some should remain in darkness while others receive the light of faith. Those who are in darkness or blindness are there under their own free will and not by any acts or words of Christ. The Pharisees ask Jesus, "Surely we are not also blind, are we?" If the Pharisees were blind by reason of never having heard of or about Jesus and His teachings, this kind of blindness might be excused. But they saw Him and knew of the miracles He performed, therefore, it is for this reason that Jesus says to them, "Your sin remains." Thanks be to God for His love and mercy; if we exercise enough humility to acknowledge our blindness and ignorance, and seriously seek a remedy, namely the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we would soon be delivered from our sin. The Pharisees, however, remained in blindness voluntarily. The Catechism makes the point that sin is universal; therefore, those who pretend not to need salvation are blind to themselves (cf. CCC 588). The Pharisees knew the Mosaic Law. In early Christian history, it was said that many of the desert Fathers knew all the words of the Psalms by heart. The similarities end there. While the Pharisees knew the letter of the Law, they failed to grasp the spirit of the Law. The desert Fathers, however, knew the Psalms but those ancient hymns were breathed by them. We need to examine these distinctions in our own lives. First, are we familiar with the words contained in the pages of Scripture; next, and more importantly, is Scripture a very real part of our lives and not just a Book that is filled with great stories?