Category Archives: Cross

Purification

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – My God, illumine my way, that I may not go astray in the midst of the darkness of tribulation.

MEDITATION

Although it is possible for us to enter the night of the spirit by a generous practice of total renunciation and an intense exercise of the theological virtues, we will never be able to penetrate into its deepest part if God Himself does not place us there. Only He can deepen the darkness which envelops us in this night, so that we may be reduced to nothingness in all, to the point attaining the purity and poverty of spirit which are required for union. Far from taking the initiative, our task is then reduced to accepting with love, to enduring with patience and humility all that God disposes for us.

In order not to resist the divine action, we should remember that God generally purifies souls through the ordinary circumstances of life. In the life of every Christian, every apostle, every religious, there is always a measure of suffering sufficient to effect the purification of the spirit. These are the sufferings which God Himself chooses and disposes in the way best suited to the different needs of souls; but, unfortunately, few profit by them because few know how to recognize in the sorrows of life the hand of God who wishes to purify them. Illness, bereavement, estrangement, separation from dear ones, misunderstandings, struggles, difficulties proceeding sometimes from the very ones who should have been able to give help and support, failure of works that were cherished and sustained at the price of great labor, abandonment by friends, physical and spiritual solitude—these are some of the sufferings which are met with more or less in the life of every man, and which, we will find in ours. We must understand that all such things are positively willed or at least permitted by God precisely to purify us even to the very inmost fibers of our being. In the face of these trials, we must never blame the malice of men, or stop to examine whether or not they are just; we must see only the blessed hand of God who offers us these bitter remedies to bring perfect health to our soul. St. John of the Cross writes: “It greatly behooves the soul, then, to have patience and constancy in all the tribulations and trials which God sends it, whether they come from without or from within, and are spiritual or corporal, great or small. It must take them all as from His hand for its healing and its good, and not flee from them, since they are health to it” (Living Flame of Love 2,30).

COLLOQUY

“Teach me, my God, to suffer in peace the afflictions which You send me that my soul may emerge from the crucible like gold, both brighter and purer, to find You within me. Trials like these, which at present seem unbearable, will eventually become light, and I shall be anxious to suffer again, if by so doing I can render You greater service. And however numerous may be my troubles and persecutions … they will all work together for my greater gain though I do not myself bear them as they should be borne, but in a way which is most imperfect” (Teresa of Jesus Life, 30).

“O grandeur of my God! All the temptations and tribulations which You permit to come upon us, absolutely all, are ordered for our good, and if we have no other thought, when we are tried here below, than that of Your goodness, this will suffice for us to overcome every temptation.

“O Word of God, my sweet and loving Spouse, all power in heaven and on earth is Yours. You confound and put to flight every enemy. As for me, I am extremely weak; I cannot see, being filled with misery and sins; but by Your slightest glance, O Word, You put all these enemies to flight, like bits of straw in the wind; first, however, You permit them to give battle to Your servants, to make these, Your servants, more glorious. And the greater the grace and light You want to give Your servants, that they may love and know You better, the more do You try them by fire and purify their hearts like gold, so that their virtues may shine like precious stones.

“By Your power, O divine Word, You confer strength for the combat, and he who wishes to fight manfully for Your glory must first descend into the most profound knowledge of self, yet all the while raising his heart to You, that he may not be confounded” (St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).”

Love,
Matthew

What I wish people knew about depression

“I AM sorrowful, even unto death.” -cf Mt 26:38


-excerpts from Therese Borchard

“I wish people knew that depression is complex, that it is a physiological condition with psychological and spiritual components, and therefore can’t be forced into any neat and tidy box, that healing needs to come from lots of kinds of sources and that every person’s recovery is different…

I wish people knew that medications don’t provide all the answers…(Ed. They only treat the symptoms, sometimes don’t work that well, have side effects which are depressing themselves and take joy out of life, and wane in effectiveness with age and use, and age aggravates EVERYTHING. It just wears, and wears, and wears you down until nothing, and everything is another reason to take action not to go on.  You just want the pain to stop and that becomes the overriding purpose of everything.)

I wish people knew that millions of people don’t respond to medications, and that, while brain stimulation technologies (electro-shock like my father deceived my mother into receiving after he found her wandering around in the clothes closet of their condo) offer hope for treatment-resistant depression, these persons are dealing with a different kind of beast altogether and should not be blamed for their chronic illness.

I wish people knew that a depressed person is capable of fake laughing for two hours through a dinner only to go home and Google “how to kill yourself”, that most depressed persons deserve Academy Awards for outstanding acting, and that it can be practically impossible to pick up on the desperation and sadness in a person who wants so badly to die because chances are she is the one cracking jokes in a crowd…

I wish people knew that the endorphins from exercise are as close as a depressive will get to an anesthesia for pain but that it’s possible to swim 5,000 yards a day or run seven miles a day and still be suicidal, that a sad swimmer can fill up her goggles with tears.

I wish people knew that while yoga is helpful for some, a person can walk out of the studio just as depressed as she was before Namaste.

I wish people knew that the worst part about depression is the sheer loneliness, the inability to express the anguish that rages within, and that the smiley-face culture we live in worsens that loneliness because depressed persons are so scared to tell the truth.

I wish people knew that persons who struggle with depression aren’t lazy, uncommitted, and weak, that they are not trying to get attention.

I wish people knew that depressed brains looked different on high resolution X-rays, that when experts scanned the brains of depressed people, they discovered that the front lobes of the brain displayed lower activity levels than those in non-depressed patients, that there are breakdowns in normal patterns of emotional processing, that depression can be associated with the loss of volume in parts of the brain and can inhibit the birth of new brain cells, which is why renown psychiatrist Peter Kramer believes it is the “most devastating disease known to mankind.”

I wish people knew that taking one’s life can feel like sneezing to a severely depressed person, that it can be a mere reaction to the body’s strong message, that after fighting a sneeze for years and years, some people simply can’t not sneeze anymore, that they should not be condemned or demonized for sneezing.

I wish people knew that the hardest thing some persons will ever do in this lifetime is to stay alive, that just because staying alive comes easily to some, it doesn’t mean arriving at a natural death is any less of a triumph for those who have to work so very hard to keep breathing…”

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

Sep 14 – St Theodore the Studite (759-826 AD) – “Oratio in adorationem crucis”

“How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! In the cross there is no mingling of good and evil, as in the tree of paradise: it is wholly beautiful to behold and good to taste. The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness but light. This tree does not cast us out of paradise but opens the way for our return.

This was the tree on which Christ, like a king on a chariot, destroyed the devil, the lord of death, and freed the human race from his tyranny. This was the tree upon which the Lord, like a brave warrior wounded in his hands, feet, and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature. A tree once caused our death, but now a tree brings life. Once deceived by a tree, we have now repelled the cunning serpent by a tree. What an astonishing transformation! That death should become life, that decay should become immortality, that shame should become glory! Well might the holy Apostle exclaim: Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world! [cf Galatians 6:14] The supreme wisdom that flowered on the cross has shown the folly of worldly wisdom’s pride. The knowledge of all good, which is the fruit of the cross, has cut away the shoots of wickedness.

The wonders accomplished through this tree were foreshadowed clearly even by the mere types and figures that existed in the past. Meditate on these, if you are eager to learn. Was it not the wood of a tree that enabled Noah, at God’s command, to escape the destruction of the flood together with his sons, his wife, his sons’ wives and every kind of animal? And surely the rod of Moses prefigured the cross when it changed water into blood, swallowed up the false serpents of Pharaoh’s magicians, divided the sea at one stroke and then restored the waters to their normal course, drowning the enemy and saving God’s own people? Aaron’s rod, which blossomed in one day in proof of his true priesthood, was another figure of the cross, and did not Abraham foreshadow the cross when he bound his son Isaac and placed him on the pile of wood?

By the cross, death was slain and Adam was restored to life. The cross is the glory of all the apostles, the crown of the martyrs, the sanctification of the saints. By the cross, we put on Christ and cast aside our former self. By the cross, we, the sheep of Christ, have been gathered into one flock, destined for the sheepfolds of heaven.”

Love,
Matthew

Divine Praises


-by Br Anthony VanBerkum, OP

“I pray the Divine Praises when I’m in pain.”

I’ve been visiting hospital patients this Summer (Ed: as do I visit the “actively dying” in hospice, or those suffering alzheimer’s or dementia), and I have had the privilege of hearing many beautiful expressions of faith. This one particularly struck me; it’s such a jarring image. Praise is not my first reaction to pain, but as soon as I heard this I couldn’t help but see that it could be, and perhaps even should be. We can combat the evil that afflicts us by praising the goodness of God right in the midst of its attack.

Often when we are seriously in pain, a prayer recited hastily from memory is all that we can manage. And in that moment, such a prayer is enough. Now, though, we are at liberty to begin to reflect on this prayer more deeply. In so doing, we can prepare ourselves to confront pain by glorifying God’s everlasting goodness.

Blessed be God.

We praise, O Lord, Your goodness and Your love, which endure forever. Help us in our times of suffering to remember and even to feel your love, Lord, that we might not fall away from You.

Blessed be His Holy Name.

Lord God, we know that all too often Your children respond to pain by blaspheming Your Name. Help us to offer our suffering for them, that together with our brothers and sisters we may always grow in love of You.

Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. Blessed be the Name of Jesus. Blessed be His Most Sacred Heart.

Almighty God, we know that in the midst of suffering You can seem far away. And yet You are always close to us, so close that You sent Your Son to become man, to suffer, and to die for our sake. Lord Jesus, keep us close to Your Heart, that we may learn to suffer in union with You.

Blessed be His Most Precious Blood. Blessed be Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Lord Jesus, we praise You in the Holy Eucharist, the great sacrament of Your closeness to us. By Your union with us in our bodies, grant us the strength we need to persevere through illness.

Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.

Holy Spirit, You Who grant wisdom, we pray now that You bring gifts of wisdom and healing skill to all those who care for the sick, whether medical staff or loving family and friends. Comfort them in their work, and help them to see the Lord Jesus in every suffering face.

Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most Holy. Blessed be her Holy and Immaculate Conception. Blessed be her Glorious Assumption. Blessed be the Name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.

Jesus, we praise You for Your gift to us of Your most holy mother. Holy Mary, be with the sick with your maternal care and compassion. Care for our wounds in body, mind, and soul that we may some day stand with you, praising your Son forever.

Blessed be St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse.

Great Saint Joseph, be with all suffering parents. We know that their children’s pain hurts them even more than their own. Give them strength to persevere in love of God, even when His will is hidden or obscure.

Blessed be God in His Angels and in His Saints.

All you holy ones of God, praise God on our behalf when we are unable or unwilling. Pray for us, that He may grant us the grace to praise Him always, joining our chorus on earth to yours in heaven.”

Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Surviving depression w/the saints – St Jean-Marie Vianney

-from the above

Jesus is in the darkness. Help me, Lord.

St. John Vianney, the famous Cure of the tiny French village of Ars, is most popularly known as the holy and humble priest who spent sixteen to eighteen hours a day hearing confessions and giving advice to long processions of people. He practiced extraordinary penances and fasts for the conversion of sinners and was subject to diabolic persecution all his priestly life. It is said that the devil revealed once that if there were but three priests in the world like the Cure of Ars, the devil would lose his kingdom.

What is less known is the overwhelming depression that weighed upon John Vianney’s soul without relief his entire life. Though he was the most sought-after man in all of France, he seemed incapable of seeing the immense amount of good he was doing. Despite the tens of thousands of pilgrims who traveled to Ars each year in the hope of receiving the sacraments or a word of advice from him, he believed himself useless. The priest who had reawakened the faith of a village and set all France aflame through his preaching and holiness felt God so far from him that he was afraid he had no more faith. He believed himself to have no intelligence or gift of discernment. It is as if God drew a veil over his eyes so that he could see nothing of what God was doing through him for others. The Cure feared he was ruining everything and had become an obstacle in God’s way.

The root of John Vianney’s severe depression was his fear of doing badly at every turn, and the thousands who traveled to Ars increased his terror. It never occurred to him that he might have a special grace. Instead, he feared that the long line of penitents to his village church were a sign that he was a hypocrite. He feared facing the judgment with the responsibility for all these people on his conscience. There was not a moment when he felt that God was satisfied with him. A great and profound sadness possessed his soul so powerfully that he eventually could not even imagine relief.

Whenever the tempests of depression seemed to have enough power to drown him in the vision of his own miseries, the Cure would bow his head, throw himself before God like “a dog at the feet of his master,” and allow the storm to pass without changing his resolve to love and serve God if he could. Yet he kept this pain so private that except for a few confidantes, most people saw only tranquility and gentleness in his bearing.

Jesus Is in the Darkness with You

You may discover that the shadows and tempests of depression alter the way you look at God and the way you believe God looks at you. When you pray you may be unable to sit still or to keep your mind focused for more than a few moments. Everything may appear to be a huge gaping hole of silence, all so useless. God may seem to be mocking your attempts to pray. I know people who have gone three, five, ten years without “praying,” though they were faithful to setting time aside for prayer regardless of its seeming uselessness. In the haunting darkness where all communication had gone silent, they found loneliness, boredom, frustration, anger. Nothing. Only pain. Were they praying? Yes.

Recognizing agony in a void that is filled only with darkness and absence calls a depressed person to be present to the Now, even if the Now is darkness. There is a God in that void, the God of Jesus. To be present to this God, to know that Jesus is in the darkness with you and for you as prayer, even were no words or act of love to pass through your heart. God’s abiding love is deep within, never forsaking you in darkness. You are alone in the void with the Son of God-both of you keeping silent. Suffering with you is Jesus, the abandoned Son on the cross. When it is impossible to hold on to a thought or to pray, Jesus is praying and contemplating within the one who is suffering from depression. Day by day, moment by moment, groping in the darkness, you are not alone. Jesus is struggling with you. He is there feeling it all. Nothing goes unnoticed by Him or His Father. Through Jesus’ Spirit Who is in you, you can hope for peace.

St. Gregory Nazianzus wrote these words during a time when he found anxiety and depression crowding out any space for prayer in his soul:
“The breath of life, O Lord, seems spent. My body is tense, my mind filled with anxiety, yet I have no zest, no energy. I am helpless to allay my fears. I am incapable of relaxing my limbs. Dark thoughts constantly invade my head ….Lord, raise up my soul, revive my body.”

Love & His Joy, alone, can save us,
Matthew

May 15 – St Dymphna, 7th century, depression & the saints

(n.b. in the 2004 Martyrologium Romanum, St Dymphna’s feast day was moved to May 30.)

Dymphna was the only child of a pagan king who is believed to have ruled a section of Ireland in the 7th century. She was the very picture of her attractive young Christian mother.

When the queen died at a very young age, the royal widower’s heart remained beyond reach of comfort. His moody silences pushed him on the verge of mental collapse. His courtiers suggested he consider a second marriage. The king agreed on condition that his new bride should look exactly like his former one.

His envoys went far a field in search of the woman he desired. The quest proved fruitless. Then one of them had a brilliant idea: Why shouldn’t the king marry his daughter, the living likeness of her mother?

Repelled at first, the king then agreed. He broached the topic to his daughter. Dymphna, appalled, stood firm as a rock. “Definitely not.” By the advice of St. Gerebern, her confessor, she eventually fled from home to avoid the danger of her refusal.

A group of four set out across the sea – Father Gerebern, Dymphna, the court jester and his wife. On landing at Antwerp, on the coast of Belgium, they looked around for a residence. In the little village of Gheel, they settled near a shrine dedicated to St. Martin of Tours.

Then spies from her native land arrived in Gheel and paid their inn fees with coins similar to those Dymphna had often handed to the innkeeper. Unaware that the men were spies, he innocently revealed to them where she lived.

The king came at once to Gheel for the final, tragic encounter. Despite his inner fury, he managed to control his anger. Again he coaxed, pleased, made glowing promises of money and prestige. When this approach failed, he tried threats and insults; but these too left Dymphna unmoved. She would rather die than break the vow of virginity she had made with her confessor’s approval.

In his fury, the king ordered his men to kill Father Gerebern and Dymphna. They killed the priest but could not harm the young princess.

The king then leaped from his seat and with his own weapon cut off his daughter’s head. Dymphna fell at his feet. Thus Dymphna, barely aged fifteen, died. Her name appears in the Roman Martyrology, together with St. Gerebern’s on May 15.

In the town of Gheel, in the Flemish-speaking region of Belgium, great honor is paid to St. Dymphna, whose body is preserved in a silver reliquary in the church which bears her name. Gheel has long been known as a place of pilgrimage for persons seeking relief of nervous or emotional distresses. In our century, the name of St. Dymphna as the heavenly intercessor for such benefits is increasingly venerated in America.


-“The Beheading of St Dymphna”, by Godfried Maes, 1688, oil on canvas, Height: 337 cm (132.7 in). Width: 225.5 cm (88.8 in), Saint Dymphna Church, Geel, Belgium


-from an article by Michael J. Lichens, a convert from Evangelical Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, featured in the Catholic Gentleman

The Catholic Church has dealt with mental illness for quite some time. Long before our modern system of mental health, the hospital at Geel, Belgium was established under the patronage of Saint Dymphna, the patron saint of those suffering from mental illness. A good seven centuries before psychiatrists opened offices, the good nuns in Geel introduced a system to take care of the mentally ill, and some of these patients even found healing through treatment and prayer.

As a convert, this information was quite helpful. While my Evangelical church denied mental illness and only told me to pray against it, I found that medieval nuns had the foresight to start treating those tortured by the mind. Our Catholic Church is still learning, and she offers many great resources.

Some of our finest saints, such as Venerable Francis Mary Paul Libermann and Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, suffered great bouts of depression. While they would be struck to the heart with grief, they still found comfort in their faith. Ven Francis Libermann once wrote,

“I never cross a bridge without the thought of throwing myself over the parapet, to put an end to these afflictions. But the sight of my Jesus sustains me and gives me patience.”

The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote moving words about his afflictions in the “Terrible Sonnets,” and was especially heartbroken by what seemed like the silence of God in the face of his suffering. One cannot read his poetry and not be moved to compassion for him.

I bring these figures up to show that you are not abnormal; you have intercessors in heaven and on Earth who do know that the mind has many mountains and cliffs. Perhaps it is not always enough, but I know that the loneliness can be the worst part of depression. Knowing that I am indeed among friends in my suffering has been enough for me to keep going and to find hope.

MEDITATE ON CHRIST, ASK HIS SAINTS FOR HELP

I find great comfort in the Incarnation. We as Catholics believe in a God whose love for us is so powerful that he took on our lowly nature in order to redeem it. Christ didn’t become human just to teach us some new lessons; He shows us a whole new way to be human and, ultimately, how to share in His divinity.

In my darkest moments, when I truly was giving in to despair, I found that saying the Jesus Prayer and meditating on the Nativity of Our Lord was enough to let me go on another day and pursue help. In those moments, knowing that Christ was and is among us enabled me to find just enough light and comfort to believe that life was sweeter than death.

Prayer is very hard when you are depressed. I, for one, have nagging doubts when I go through my black dog days. God seems silent and I wonder where He is and what He’s doing. All the same, I do pray, and peace eventually comes. In one case, it took me two years of praying, but peace did come. Mother Teresa’s dark night of the soul lasted several years, but she endured. You can find strength in the same faith.

If you are praying and meditating and the words do not come, then sit in silence. Find an icon or an adoration chapel and utter the words, “You are God, I am not. Please help.” If nothing else, your mind will slow down and will shift its focus to God, who sustains all life and is the source of our strength.

I know this is hard, and sometimes you will want to give up. If you can do nothing else, try to take comfort in knowing that Christ didn’t die and rise again just to leave you alone. Find the saints who did suffer from grief and depression and ask them for help. They, more than any other, are eager to come to your aid.

SEEK TO TURN YOUR MIND TO THE GOOD

My MDD is a lifetime condition that is not likely to be cured except by a miracle. While there may be some forces contributing to your depression that are beyond your control, such as growing up in a troubled home or experiencing a difficult period of your life, there are other things that you can control, and it can be helpful to focus on them.

It’s perfectly normal to want to find an outlet for your depression. In my own and my family history, that has included a cocktail of food, sex and booze. I don’t need to tell you why those are bad ideas.

Instead of harmful behavior, seek to find constructive outlets for depression. I know that a walk can be helpful, and exercise has a profound effect on your mood. It not only takes your mind off of things outside of your control, but it elevates your mood and gives you something to work towards. I personally love reading and writing. Perhaps you have a passion and your depression has made you lose interest in it. But I assure you, you will find the fire of passion coming back if you work at it for even an hour. Even if you do something as simple as clean your house or, if your depression quite sever, get up and dress yourself well, it’s a small accomplishment you can take pride in.

As you probably know, your situation has the ability to give you understanding and greater empathy. Reach out to folks to talk about it, especially if they seem to be going through similar frustrations. You will relieve loneliness, a great problem of our isolated age, and also help to build a support network for you and others.

The point of all my suggestions is to not let your grief and depression rule over all your life but to find the small things you can control and do good with them. Believe me, it’s much harder than I’m making it sound, but it can be done.

To go back to prayer, I do firmly believe that offering up your sufferings for the conversion of the world and the souls in purgatory can do great things. You are turning your mind to charity, and doing so will teach your heart to love people in the midst of grief. Christ will use your prayers and tears to bring more souls to Him.

SEEK HELP, IF YOU NEED IT

While mental illness has a stigma in our society, there is no shame in seeking help. Not everyone needs medicine or therapy, but it is there for those who do. In many cases, your priest is not unfamiliar with mental illness and can be a great help. Not all priests can give you full counseling, but they can be men who you can talk to and pray with and who can offer resources for further help. Likewise, I have met many fine nuns whose wisdom has helped through many trials, and there are few weapons as powerful as a nun’s intercession.

In all things, your victory is in perseverance. As I said above, I often can’t even leave my house on particularly bad days and I have no doubt some of you are right there with me. But if we can claim small victories like seeking help and taking steps to finding comfort, then we are on the path to a greater victory.

Finally, let’s pray to the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and the Joy of all Who Sorrow. Ask her to help you and all who are plagued by grief and depression.

Love & Heaven’s Joy!!!! BEAR YOUR CROSSES!!!! Lk 9:23-24 It is HIS will!! And we do not need to know why, in this life! His will be done!!! PRAY!!! How else will you survive anything??
Matthew

How does His dying save me?


-“Christ Crucified”, (c. 1632) by Diego Velázquez. Museo del Prado, Madrid


-by Nick Chui

“Why did God create creatures capable of sinning?

I guess we can flip this question around. Why did God create creatures capable of loving? To love means to have free will. Could God create creatures without free will? Yes He could. In fact He already has, by creating the plants and animals. Human beings (and angels) on the other hand, are creatures with free will, capable of choosing love. On the flip side, they are also capable of choosing selfishness. Choosing to be selfish is sin.

Did God know that His creatures would sin?

He would surely know. When He created creatures with free will, the possibility of disobedience/selfishness was in-built into the equation. Does He will that we sin? No He does not. But can God foresee the possibility? Yes He could. Take for instance the relationship between parent and child. After giving their child a good education for instance, can they foresee that it is possible for them to abuse it? Indeed they could. Nevertheless, they can also foresee them making use of this gift to serve society. And if they freely choose the loving act, it is a wonderful thing, it’s not something “forced.”

If His creatures were to sin, was the death of His son the only way to rescue/save them?

St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, two giants in Catholic theology, answer “No”. God is sovereign; He could choose other ways. He could simply forgiving them. In fact, He already did so as described in the book of Genesis. He banished Adam and Eve to be sure, because they seemed not to have been aware of the gravity of their actions, i.e. wanting to be like God (on their own terms), knowing (determining) good and evil. However, He showed that he cared for them by “making them garments of skins and clothing them.” (Gen 3:21)

In fact, in the entire Old Testament, God teaches Israel how to obtain forgiveness, through very precisely prescribed sin offerings via worship in the temple. The Psalms, especially Psalm 51, are full of episodes of the human person recognizing his fault and being confident that he is forgiven.

If that is the case, then why must He send His Son to earth, if not on a rescue mission?

Blessed Duns Scotus, another giant in Catholic theology, answers in the following manner: “The incarnation was the greatest and most beautiful” of God’s works and is not “conditioned by any contingent facts.” God has always planned to “unite the whole of creation with Himself in the person and flesh of the Son.”

In other words, His Son coming to earth was not “plan B” but always part of God’s intention from the beginning. If our first parents did not sin, nor subsequent human beings, then the incarnation would be like a courtesy call, something like the prince visiting the dwellings of his subjects to have tea with them. It would be something very happy and most pleasant. In fact, C.S. Lewis tries to imagine such a scenario in his space trilogy.

Even if our first parents sin, and so did subsequent human beings, the Son of God will nevertheless keep His appointment. Hence in the fullness of time, the incarnation, in a situation of dysfunction. One of the things that the Son of God needs to do is precisely to heal the dysfunction.

Why must the rescue mission involve the crucifixion?

We must be very clear on this. God is not appeased when He sees blood. As you mention so correctly, it is ludicrous for someone convicted of murder to escape scot-free because the judge agrees that his own innocent son can take his place and die instead. This is not mercy. This is perversion. This is not Catholic teaching. Perhaps certain Protestant groups hold to this. It’s called penal substitution.

The crucifixion is not necessary, in the strict sense, for salvation. Why then did the Son willingly subject Himself to this?

Perhaps Plato might help. Plato wonders what would happen to a perfectly righteous man if he steps into a society full of people who are dysfunctional and tries to help them. Plato concludes that these people would mostly likely crucify him.

What Plato highlights is the stark but terrible reality of human beings. We are often comfortable with our wrongdoing/selfishness and dysfunction. We don’t believe we need rescuing. If somebody who is righteous comes along and shows us a better way, we may well be resentful and feel it best that he gets lost. Maybe we want to put him to death in our hearts.

In the time of Jesus, crucifixion was Rome’s way of telling the enemies of Rome to conform. If you try rebellion, this is what will happen to you. When Jesus preached the kingdom of God, love, brotherhood, and worked His miracles among poor people, and later made gradual claims about His divinity, it was too much for both the Jewish people and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. What Jesus seems to be preaching is a rival kingdom. Of course He has to die. And Jesus was willing to pay the price for the kingdom.

But how does His willingness to pay the price “save” me?

Catholics have divided the effects of Jesus’ death into two categories. His death as example, and His death as expiatory (making up for what we cannot).

Let’s deal with the example first.

The question for me, and perhaps for humankind, is “are we really that bad?” Surely, I am not personally responsible for the death of Jesus? A popular hymn we sing at good Friday is “Were you there where they crucified my Lord?” Of course we were not there. But what if we were? Will we join in the crowd and shout “crucify him” due to cowardice? Or turn away and say “I prefer to mind my own business?” Or if we stand in solidarity with His Mother, do we not also feel the great sorrow at a man Who did no wrong and yet suffered in that manner? And what if this was no ordinary righteous man, killed by evil men (an often too familiar action). What if this righteous man was God incarnate? Does this mean that in our free will, we are capable of killing God? And if we are capable of killing God, do we even deserve to be forgiven?

Applying it to our contemporary context, do we dare say we do not turn a blind eye to the evil around us? Are we also not complicit?

The answer from the cross is Yes. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And if we are “cut to the heart” and realize that we are indeed capable of crucifying the Son of God, we may well cry out like Peter in a paradoxical way “leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8) while at the same time clinging on to Him tightly.

Hence His death saves us in an exemplary sense, because we may well be “cut to the heart”. We are indeed sinners; we have nothing to boast about. We need a Savior. And God, from the cross, has already given the verdict. If you recognize your need for a Savior, you will indeed be forgiven, for we know not what we do.

How is Jesus’ death “expiatory” i.e. making right what we cannot?

Perhaps in comfortable modern society, we can make the case “saying sorry is enough and relationships can be restored.” We don’t encounter horrific evil that often. At least not personally. But think of the Japanese Occupation. Is “saying sorry” enough for a Japanese soldier who may have tortured and brutally murdered the husband of an innocent woman?

No matter how sincere, even if the Japanese soldier were to commit seppuku in atonement, can we say that he has successfully “made up” for the evil he has done? Could we describe his death as “expiatory”?

While it is possible that his asking for forgiveness is sincere, and his sacrifice wholehearted, can he actually “make things right” for the woman after he has tortured and killed her husband? It is not possible.

This is where only the intervention of someone Who holds the power of life and death and can make things right in a more than earthly sense becomes perhaps fitting.

Jesus is that someone. He is a man: He can be our true representative. He is God: His life given up willingly can actually make things right again. Why? Not because God the Father demands blood (He does not) but because the order of justice can actually be restored only through Someone Who is of cosmic importance.

For the Japanese soldier, in Christ, his attempt at expiation is made possible. For the victim, in Christ, the expiation (making right) not possible through the death of the Japanese soldier, becomes possible, since Christ holds the power of life and death.

In the Old Testament, the temple sacrifices of animals in atonement for sins is a constant pedagogical reminder to the people. Making things right is important. And yet the sacrifice of lambs can only be symbolic. For very serious breaches, forgiveness is always possible. Making things right, “expiation”, however, is beyond your capability because in the final analysis, via a sacrificial animal , it can only be symbolic. You need YHWH Himself to provide the solution through His Messiah.

Hence the book of Hebrews has a very prescient observation (Hebrews 10:11-14):

“Day after day every the priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins [referring to atonement not so much forgiveness]. But when this Priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool. For by one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.“”

Love, Blessed Good Friday,
Matthew

Jesus fears…


-Giovanni Bellini, “The Agony in the Garden”, NG726, National Gallery, London, ~1465.

We all worry. We all experience stress. When disease comes, we even face physical suffering. So did the Lord. “For we do not have a high priest Who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…”, -Heb 4:15a. “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” -Lk 22:44. “If you would be My disciples, take up your cross, and follow Me!” -cf Mt 16:24


-by Br Ignatius Weiss, OP

“Anxiety develops in three ways: the tidal waves of sudden tragedy, the rising flood of compounded stresses, and that heavy, salty air of ambient anxiety caused by constant tension or worry.

“Save me, O God,
for the waters have risen to my neck.
I have sunk into the mud of the deep
and there is no foothold.
I have entered the waters of the deep
and the waves overwhelm me.” (-Ps 69:2–3)

Anxiety is the fear that builds up when we sense an evil closing in around us. This mental awareness gives rise to a fear that reverberates through the body. We feel a tension, a weight, a darkness, an ache. It begins to hang from our shoulders or coil around our chests. Our thoughts are mottled, and we compulsively tap our feet or drum our fingers to vent our nervous energy; the wringing of our hands embodies the knotting of our heart. Even when we are focused on something else, this trembling sensation lurks just beneath the surface, stirring the waters.

Fear is our natural and appropriate reaction against bad things, but the devil likes to contort it for his own use. Into our healthy caution the adversary plants lies and deceptions to make us feel weak, uncertain, and alone. The tensions persist or form over unimportant matters (the “10,000 little things” of life). He turns fear into worry and worry into despair. Jesus, with complete abandonment to the will of the Father, himself began to experience the torment of anxiety more and more as his hour drew near.

The Gospels describe Jesus before his arrest as being “deeply distressed and troubled,” or literally, “weighed down” (Mk 14:33), and “very sorrowful,” or surrounded by grief, “even unto death” (Mt 26:38). But this fear began well before the garden. “Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me’” (Jn 13:21). Something similar is found when he earlier prophesied his own suffering, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour” (Jn 12:27). Going beyond the biblical data, one could make reference to the tradition behind the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, that the child Jesus saw angels bearing the instruments of the Passion; frightened, he darted to the security of his mother’s embrace, even breaking a sandal in his retreat.

It can be easy to imagine Jesus as some unflinching superhero—He is God after all! Yet He chose the emotional pains of fear and anxiety that come with assuming human nature and its weakness. “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Is 53:4). What is most astonishing, however, is that the Almighty chose to save us through suffering. The same pangs and wounds that we receive were accepted by the incarnate God Who alone could bear them perfectly. Without affecting His sublime divinity, the many pains were really endured in his humanity. He took up not only the cross, but our worries and our frustrations in order to transform these, too, into sources of grace. He takes them up, but not away. He elevates them, lightens their load, and blesses those who bear them; to take them away would be to take away our unique path to holiness and our way to Heaven.

“For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” (-Heb 12:2)

We will suffer. Jesus has promised us this much. But what we do with these sufferings is what really matters in the end. God uses our suffering for His glory. Patience, which itself means “suffering,” is the virtue whereby we endure pains, and longanimity or longsuffering is the virtue of enduring expected pains. God graciously pours these virtues into his children and works with us to strengthen our souls to better imitate Jesus, to remain in the state of grace and grow toward perfection. The Son dwells in the baptized by grace in order to take to himself through us the many stings of life, bearing them in us, and giving us strength enough to face them with Him.

“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and He delivered them from their distress;
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and He brought them to their desired haven.” (-Ps 107:28–30)

“It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. (Jn 6:16–21)”

Love, Blessed Holy Week,
Matthew

Human dignity: silent suffering – homosexuality


-“The Creation of Adam – Creazione di Adamo”, Michelangelo, ceiling of Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome, c. 1512, Fresco, 280 cm × 570 cm (9 ft 2 in × 18 ft 8 in). Please click on the image for greater detail.

Every person has an inherent dignity because he or she is created in God’s image. A deep respect for the total person leads the Church to hold and teach that sexuality is a gift from God. Being created a male or female person is an essential part of the divine plan, for it is their sexuality—a mysterious blend of spirit and body—that allows human beings to share in God’s own creative love and life…

…Respect for the God-given dignity of all persons means the recognition of human rights and responsibilities. The teachings of the Church make it clear that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them (cf. The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, no. 10).

It is not sufficient only to avoid unjust discrimination. Homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358). They, as is true of every human being, need to be nourished at many different levels simultaneously. This includes friendship, which is a way of loving and is essential to healthy human development. It is one of the richest possible human experiences…

The Christian community should offer its homosexual sisters and brothers understanding and pastoral care. More than twenty years ago we bishops stated that “Homosexuals . . . should have an active role in the Christian community” (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Live in Christ Jesus: A Pastoral Reflection on the Moral Life, 1976, p. 19). What does this mean in practice? It means that all homosexual persons have a right to be welcomed into the community, to hear the word of God, and to receive pastoral care. Homosexual persons living chaste lives should have opportunities to lead and serve the community. However, the Church has the right to deny public roles of service and leadership to persons, whether homosexual or heterosexual, whose public behavior openly violates its teachings…

…Nothing in the Bible or in Catholic teaching can be used to justify prejudicial or discriminatory attitudes and behaviors.2 We reiterate here what we said in an earlier statement:

We call on all Christians and citizens of good will to confront their own fears about homosexuality and to curb the humor and discrimination that offend homosexual persons. We understand that having a homosexual orientation brings with it enough anxiety, pain and issues related to self-acceptance without society bringing additional prejudicial treatment. (Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, 1991, p. 55)…”
http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/homosexuality/always-our-children.cfm

http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/gay-loneliness/

http://www.cnsnews.com/commentary/john-stonestreet/unspoken-epidemic-silent-suffering-gay-men

https://illinoisfamily.org/homosexuality/national-affirmation-cannot-change-natures-renunciation/

Love,
Matthew

Value of Suffering

Catholics are often thought of, even by some Catholics, as some kind of Christian masochists.  Untrue. And, it is especially exquisite when done by fellow Christians, Psalm 41:9. YOU STUPID GALATIANS!!! -Gal 3:1 But, where unavoidable, and you know it is, Catholicism can give value and meaning to suffering like no other religion I have ever heard of.

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Jesus Crucified, teach me the Science of the Cross; make me understand the value of suffering.

MEDITATION

The Passion of Jesus teaches us in a concrete way that in the Christian life we must be able to accept suffering for the love of God. This is a hard, repugnant lesson for our nature, which prefers pleasure and happiness; however, it comes from Jesus, the Teacher of truth and of life, the loving Teacher of our souls, Who desires only our real good. If He commends suffering to us, it is because suffering contains a great treasure.

Suffering in itself is an evil and cannot be agreeable; if Jesus willed to embrace it in all its plenitude and if He offers it to us, inviting us to esteem and love it, it is only in view of a superior good which cannot be attained by any other means–the sublime good of the redemption and the sanctification of our souls.

Although man, by his twofold nature, is subject to suffering, God willed to exempt our first parents from it by their preternatural gifts; but through sin, these gifts were lost forever, and suffering inevitably entered our life. The gamut of sufferings which has harassed humanity is the direct outcome of the disorder caused by sin, not only by original sin, but also by actual sins. Yet the Church chants: O happy fault! Why? The answer lies in the infinite love of God which transforms everything and draws from the double evil of sin and suffering the great good of the redemption of the human race. When Jesus took upon Himself the sins of mankind, He also assumed their consequences, that is, suffering and death; and this suffering, embraced by Him during His whole life, and especially in His Passion, became the instrument of our redemption. Pain, the result of sin, becomes in Jesus and with Jesus, the means of destroying sin itself. Thus a Christian may not consider pain only as an undesirable burden from which he must necessarily recoil, but he must see in it much more–a means of redemption and sanctification.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord, You do not like to make us suffer, but You know it is the only way to prepare us to know You as You know Yourself, to prepare us to become like You. You know well that if You sent me but a shadow of earthly happiness, I should cling to it with all the intense ardor of my heart, and so You refuse me even this shadow … because You wish that my heart be wholly Yours.”

“Life passes so quickly that it is obviously better to have a most splendid crown and a little suffering, than an ordinary crown and no suffering. When I think that, for a sorrow borne with joy, I shall be able to love You more for all eternity, I understand clearly that if You gave me the entire universe, with all its treasures, it would be nothing in comparison to the slightest suffering. Each new suffering, each pang of the heart, is a gentle wind to bear to You, O Jesus, the perfume of the soul that loves You; then You smile lovingly, and immediately make ready a new grief, and fill the cup to the brim, thinking the more the soul grows in love, the more it must grow in suffering too.”

“What a favor, my Jesus, and how You must love me to send me suffering! Eternity itself will not be long enough to bless You for it. Why this predilection? It is a secret which You will reveal to me in our heavenly home on the day when You will wipe away all our tears.”

“Lord, You ask me for this suffering, this sorrow…. You need it for souls, for my soul. O Jesus, since You have made me understand that You would give me souls through the Cross, the more crosses I meet, the more ardent my thirst for suffering becomes.”

“I am happy not to be free from suffering here; suffering united with love is the only thing that seems desirable to me in this vale of tears”

-(Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Letters, 32,50,23,40,58,224 – Story of a Soul).

Love & comfort,
Matthew