Sermon on the Death of Christ – St Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD)


-Entombment of Christ, Fra Angelico, 1438-40, tempera on panel, 38 × 46 cm, Alte Pinakothek, Bavaria, Germany

Death trampled Our Lord underfoot, but He in His turn treated death as a highroad for His own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means He would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when Our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying His cross; but when, by a loud cry from that cross, He summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.

Death slew Him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying Our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man.

Death could not devour Our Lord unless He possessed a body, neither could hell swallow Him up unless He bore our flesh; and so He came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which He received from the Virgin; in it He invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong room and scattered all its treasures.

At length He came upon Eve, the mother of all the living. She was the vineyard whose enclosure her own hands had enabled death to violate, so that she could taste its fruit; thus the mother of all the living became the source of death for every living creature. But in her stead Mary grew up, a new vine in place of the old. Christ, the new life, dwelt within her. When death, with its customary impudence, came foraging for her mortal fruit, it encountered its own destruction in the hidden life which that fruit contained. All unsuspecting, it swallowed Him up, and in so doing, released life itself and set free a multitude of men.

He Who was also the carpenter’s glorious son set up His cross above death’s all consuming jaws, and led the human race into the dwelling place of life. Since a tree had brought about the downfall of mankind, it was upon a tree that mankind crossed over to the realm of life. Bitter was the branch that had once been grafted upon that ancient tree, but sweet the young shoot that has now been grafted in, the shoot in which we are meant to recognize the Lord Whom no creature can resist.

We give glory to you, Lord, Who raised up Your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge, by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. We give glory to You who put on the body of a single mortal man, and made it the source of immortality for every other mortal man. You are incontestably alive. Your murderers sowed your body in the earth as farmers sow grain, but it sprang up and yielded an abundant harvest of men raised from the dead.

Come then, my brothers and sisters, let us offer Our Lord the great and all-embracing sacrifice of our love, pouring out our treasury of hymns and prayers before Him Who offered His cross in sacrifice to God for the enrichment of us all.”

Love,
Matthew

Sermon on the Passion of the Lord – Pope St Leo the Great


-Crucifixion, Lucas Cranach the Elder, one of his many

Pope Saint Leo the Great’s Sermon LV on the Passion of the Lord*

I. The difference between the penitence and blasphemy of the two robbers is a type of the human race.

… In speaking but lately of the LORD’S Passion, we reached the point in the Gospel story, where Pilate is said to have yielded to the…wicked shouts that Jesus should be crucified. And so when all things had been accomplished, which the Godhead veiled in frail flesh permitted, Jesus Christ the Son of GOD was fixed to the cross which He had also been carrying, two robbers being similarly crucified, one on His right hand, and the other on the left: so that even in the incidents of the cross might be displayed that difference which in His judgment must be made in the case of all men; for the believing robber’s faith was a type of those who are to be saved, and the blasphemer’s wickedness prefigured those who are to be damned.

Christ’s Passion, therefore, contains the mystery of our salvation, and of the instrument which the iniquity of the [people] prepared for His punishment, the Redeemer’s power has made for us the stepping-stone to glory: and that Passion the LORD Jesus so underwent for the salvation of all men that, while hanging there nailed to the wood, He entreated the Father’s mercy for His murderers, and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

II. The chief priests showed utter ignorance of Scripture in their taunts.

But the chief priests, for whom the Saviour sought forgiveness, rendered the torture of the cross yet worse by the barbs of [mockery]; and at Him, on Whom they could vent no more fury with their hands, they hurled the weapons of their tongues, saying, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we believe Him.” From what spring of error, from what pool of hatred…do ye drink such poisonous blasphemies? What master informed you, what teaching convinced you that you ought to believe Him to be King of Israel and Son of GOD, who should either not allow Himself to be crucified, or should shake Himself free from the binding nails. The mysteries of the Law, the sacred observances of the Passover, the mouths of the Prophets never told you this: whereas you did find truly and oft-times written that which applies to your abominable wicked-doing and to the LORD’S voluntary suffering. For He Himself says by Isaiah, “I gave My back to the scourges, My cheeks to the palms of the hand, I turned not My face from the shame of spitting.” He Himself says by David, “They gave Me gall for My food, and in My thirst, they supplied Me with vinegar; and again, “Many dogs came about Me, the council of evil-doers beset Me. They pierced My hands and My feet, they counted all My bones. But they themselves watched and gazed on Me, they parted My raiment among them, and for My robe they cast lots.” And lest the course of your own evil doings should seem to have been foretold, and no power in the Crucified predicted, ye read not, indeed, that the LORD descended from the cross, but ye did read, “The LORD reigned on the tree.”

III. The triumph of the Cross is immediate and effective.

The Cross of Christ, therefore, symbolizes the true altar of prophecy, on which the oblation of man’s nature should be celebrated by means of a salvation-bringing Victim. There the blood of the spotless Lamb blotted out the consequences of the ancient trespass: there the whole tyranny of the devil’s hatred was crushed, and humiliation triumphed gloriously over the lifting up of pride: for so swift was the effect of Faith that, of the robbers crucified with Christ, the one who believed in Christ as the Son of GOD entered paradise justified. Who can unfold the mystery of so great a boon? Who can state the power of so wondrous a change? In a moment of time the guilt of long evil-doing is done away; clinging to the cross, amid the cruel tortures of his struggling soul, he passes over to Christ; and to him, on whom his own wickedness had brought punishment, Christ’s grace now gives a crown.

IV. When the last act in the tragedy was over, how must the [people] have felt?

And then, having now tasted the vinegar, the produce of that vineyard which had degenerated in spite of its Divine Planter, and had turned to the sourness of a foreign vine, the LORD says, “it is finished;” that is, the Scriptures are fulfilled: there is no more for Me to abide from the fury of the raging people: I have endured all that I foretold I should suffer. The mysteries of weakness are completed, let the proofs of power be produced. And so He bowed the head and yielded up His Spirit and gave that Body, Which should be raised again on the third day, the rest of peaceful slumber. And when the Author of Life was undergoing this mysterious phase, and at so great a condescension of GOD’S Majesty, the foundations of the whole world were shaken, when all creation condemned their wicked crime by its upheaval, and the very elements of the world delivered a plain verdict against the criminals, what thoughts, what heart-searchings…when the judgment of the universe went against you, and your wickedness could not be recalled, the crime having been done? What confusion covered you? What torment seized your hearts?

V. Chastity and charity are the two things most needful in preparing for Easter communion.

Seeing therefore, dearly-beloved, that GOD’S Mercy is so great, that He has deigned to justify by faith many even from among such a nation, and had adopted into the company of the patriarchs and into the number of the chosen people us who were once perishing in the deep darkness of our old ignorance, let us mount to the summit of our hopes not sluggishly nor in sloth; but prudently and faithfully reflecting from what captivity and from how miserable a bondage, with what ransom we were purchased, by how strong an arm led out, let us glorify GOD in our body: that we may show Him dwelling in us, even by the uprightness of our manner of life. And because no virtues are worthier or more excellent than merciful loving-kindness and unblemished chastity, let us more especially equip ourselves with these weapons, so that, raised from the earth, as it were on the two wings of active charity and shining purity, we may win a place in heaven. And whosoever, aided by GOD’S grace, is filled with this desire and glories not in himself, but in the LORD, over his progress, pays due honour to the Easter mystery. His threshold the angel of destruction does not cross, for it is marked with the Lamb’s blood and the sign of the cross. He fears not the plagues of Egypt, and leaves his foes overwhelmed by the same waters by which he himself was saved. And so, dearly-beloved, with minds and bodies purified let us embrace the wondrous mystery of our salvation, and, cleansed from all “the leaven of our old wickedness, let us keep” the LORD’S Passover with due observance: so that, the Holy Spirit guiding us, we may be “separated” by no temptations “from the love of Christ,” Who bringing peace by His blood to all things, has returned to the loftiness of the Father’s glory, and yet not forsaken the lowliness of those who serve Him to Whom is the honour and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Love, Blessed Good Friday,
Matthew

*Leo the Great. (1895). Sermons. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), C. L. Feltoe (Trans.), Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (Vol. 12a, pp. 167–168). New York: Christian Literature Company.

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

The Real Presence

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

Presence of God – “Hidden God, devoutly I adore Thee, truly present beneath these veils: all my heart subdues itself before Thee, since all before Thee faints and fails” (cf. Adoro Te Devote).

MEDITATION

“Verbum caro factum est” (John 1:14). The Incarnation of the Word, the ineffable mystery of the merciful love of God, who so loved man that He became “flesh” for his salvation, is, in a way, prolonged and extended through the ages, and will be until the end of time, by the Eucharist, the Sacrament by means of which the Incarnate Word became Himself our “food.” God was not content with giving us His only Son once for all, willing Him to take flesh in the womb of a Virgin–flesh like ours, so that He might suffer and die for us on the Cross–but He wished Him to remain with us forever, perpetuating His real presence and His sacrifice in the Eucharist. Aided by the Gospel narrative we can reconstruct and relive in our heart the sweet mysteries of the life of Jesus. Had we nothing but the Gospel, however, we would have only nostalgic memories; Jesus would no longer be with us, but only in heaven at the right hand of the Father, having definitively left the earth on the day of His Ascension. With what regret we would think of the thirty-three years of our Savior’s earthly life passed centuries ago! Oh, how different the reality! The Eucharist makes the presence, of Jesus with us a permanent one. In the consecrated Host we find the same Jesus whom Mary brought into the world, whom the shepherds found wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger; whom Mary and Joseph nurtured and watched over as He grew before their eyes; the Jesus who called the Apostles to follow Him, who captivated and taught the multitudes, who performed the most startling miracles; who said He was the “light” and “life” of the world, who forgave Magdalen and raised Lazarus from the dead; who for love of us sweat blood, received the kiss of a traitor, was made one enormous wound, and died on the Cross; that same Jesus who rose again and appeared to the Apostles and in whose wounds Thomas put his finger; who ascended into heaven, who now is seated in glory at the right hand of His Father, and who, in union with the Father, sends us the Holy Spirit. O Jesus, You are always with us, “yesterday, and today, and the same forever!” (Hebrews 13:8). Always the same in eternity by the immutability of Your divine Person; always the same in time, by the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord, wealth of the poor, how admirably You can sustain souls, revealing Your great riches to them gradually and not permitting them to see them all at once. When I see Your great Majesty hidden in so small a thing as the Host, I cannot but marvel at Your great wisdom.

“O my God, if You did not conceal Your grandeur, who would dare to come to You so often, to unite with Your ineffable Majesty a soul so stained and miserable? Be forever blessed, O Lord! May the angels and all creatures praise You for having deigned to adapt Your mysteries to our weakness so that we might enjoy Your treasures without being frightened by Your infinite power. Otherwise, poor, weak creatures like ourselves would never dare to approach You.

“How would I, a poor sinner, who have so often offended You, dare to approach You, O Lord, if I beheld You in all Your Majesty? Under the appearances of bread, however, it is easy to approach You, for if a king disguises himself, it seems as if we do not have to talk to him with so much circumspection and ceremony. If You were not hidden, O Lord, who would dare to approach You with such coldness, so unworthily, and with so many imperfections?

“Besides, I cannot doubt at all about Your real presence in the Eucharist. You have given me such a lively faith that, when I hear others say they wish they had been living when You were on earth, I laugh to myself, for I know that I possess You as truly in the Blessed Sacrament as people did then, and I wonder what more anyone could possibly want” (Teresa of Jesus, Life, 38 – cf. Way of Perfection, 34).”

Love,
Matthew

Stripping of the Altars: Holy Thursday & the English Reformation


-by David Warren

“As Christ was stripped of his garments, so the altars are stripped of their coverings in the traditional Maundy Thursday celebration. “They parted my garments amongst them: and upon my vesture they cast lots.” (Ps 22:18) Following hard upon this antiphon is the recitation of Psalm XXI (or, 22), the Deus meus: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”…”


-written 1086 AD, in both Irish Gaelic & Latin. The first and last line of each verse are in Latin, while the middle lines are in Irish (Gaelic). Written by the Donegal monk Maol Iosa O Brolchain.

Deus meus adiuva me
Tabhair dom do shearch,a Mhic ghil Dé
Tabhair dom do shearch,a Mhic ghil Dé
Deus meus adiuva me.

In meum cor, ut sanum sit,
Tabhair, a Rí rán, do ghrá go grip;
Tabhair, a Rí rán, do ghrá go grip,
In meum cor, ut sanum sit.

Domine da quod peto a te,
Tabhair dom go dian a ghrian ghlan ghlé,
Tabhair dom go dian a ghrian ghlan ghlé,
Domine da quod peto a te.

Hanc spero rem et quaero quam,
Do shearc dom sonn, do shearc dom thall;
Do shearc dom sonn, do shearc dom thall,
Hanc spero rem et quaero quam.

Tuum amorem, sicut vis,
Tabhair dom go tréan, a déarfad arís;
Tabhair dom go tréan, a déarfad arís,
Tuum amorem, sicut vis.

Quaero, postulo, peto a te,
Mo bheatha i neamh, a mhic dhil Dé;
Mo bheatha i neamh, a mhic dhil Dé,
Quaero, postulo, peto a te.

Domine, Domine, exaudi me,
M’anam bheith lán de d’ghrá, a Dhé,
M’anam bheith lán de d’ghrá, a Dhé,
Domine, Domine exaudi me.

Rough translation

My God, help me.
Give to me Your love,
O son of my God

Into my heart/soul, that it be healthy
Give, O noble king, Your love swiftly

Lord, give what I beg of You
Give, give swiftly, O clear bright sun

This thing I hope and which I seek
Your love to me in this world, Your love to me in the next world

Give me your love, as fully as You wish.
Give me strongly what I ask of You again.

I search, I desire, I beg of You
My life in heaven, dear Son of God
My God, hear me
My soul may (it) be full of love, O God

“…It is an arresting Psalm, with its shockingly exact prevision of the Crucifixion, centuries before the event took place. It was very much in my thoughts, about the time I “lost my faith” in Atheism, some forty-one years ago while crossing a footbridge in London, England – curiously enough on a Maundy Thursday.

On the first anniversary of that event, or more precisely, the next Maundy Thursday, I found myself in Saint Ives, Cornwall, with the great studio potter, Bernard Leach, then approaching his ninetieth birthday. (I, approaching my twenty-fourth.) He was a Baha’i, deeply committed to the marriage of East and West. Much of our conversation, which went on through Easter, was about “art,” about “religion,” and about “art and religion.”

Strangely, for a man who had fallen away from his Christian upbringing, he decried the loss of Christian belief in modern England, including particularly faith in the literal Resurrection of Jesus Christ. While saying this, he began reciting passages from that Psalm, dwelling with special emphasis on, “The assembly of the wicked have inclosed me. They pierced my hands and my feet.”

Now, in the teaching of Baha’u’llah, as Leach understood it, the New Testament is factually correct, and moreover, anyone who faithfully follows Christ’s teachings is ipso facto a Baha’i. This is not my understanding, but we will let it pass. I was struck by the sudden bold defense of Christian belief, from a most unlikely source.

“Without faith,” Leach argued, “art is a monkey’s game.” Conversely, I supposed, without art, religious ideas cannot be adequately expressed. This can be seen in all cultures: this departure from the commonplace, in the midst of the commonplace. Everywhere the divine is instinctively acknowledged in elevated language, and gesture. Liturgy – art – is essential to it.

It is more than mnemonic; the Last Supper itself is not merely “remembered” in the liturgical events of the Triduum, or in the repetitions of the daily Mass. As the Catholic Church has continued to teach, the Real Presence transcends the historical event. Yet the historical event remains true within it. These things really happened; and by their nature continue to happen in a world that was altered by the coming of Our Savior.

They remain true even if the truth is rejected, as it was in Christ’s time, is, and will be. We do not have “progress” in the profane sense; we do not have a progressive revelation. We have the truth of Christ, at the center of history and of our being, now and forever. He is what lifts us out of our mundane sinful lives, and conducts our attention to what is changeless, pure, and in every sense, higher. We return to this, or try to get away.

To escape: into a world of our own making, and into a life where in our vanity we think that we can make the rules. Hell, which is discernible from Earth, is the putting of the greatest possible distance between ourselves and God. It is the reason Pride is the queen bee in the hive of the deadly sins; and in humility, Love becomes its opposite, theological virtue. It is the reason Love is expressed in acts of holy obedience, as we are resplendently told in the Magnificat. The return, to truth, begins in the acceptance of God’s will, even in denial of our own.

“The Stripping of the Altars” was used as the title of a book by Eamon Duffy, which has now been in circulation for a quarter century. It is a remarkable revisionist history of the English Reformation, which to my mind has grown in significance over this time. It challenges the myth and propaganda that has guided our thinking in the English-speaking realms, and beyond them wherever our influence has been felt.

It is a variation, I think, on the pagan myth of Prometheus, who stole the divine fire, and put it at the service of his fellow man. In our variation, we have believed that the Catholic Church was tired and failing through the generations prior to a kind of “liberation”; that the Protestant faith emerged as a rekindling, a maturing, a coming of age in a spiritual Magna Carta. Henceforth we would no longer be captive to the authority of a dark and conniving priesthood, but free – to read the Scriptures for ourselves, to strip the churches of their encrusted decorations; to form our own judgments, and write our own prayers.

We all share in this history, going back to Henry VIII, and striding forward through the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I, when the medieval order was turned upside down, and the Catholic faith made capitally illegal. What Duffy showed, for this generation, as for instance Philip Hughes for an earlier one (in the three volumes of his Reformation in England, 1950 and 1963), was the evidence proving a huge, enduring, historical lie.

The old order was robust to the eve of this revolution, which was imposed by force. The resistance to it from the people was profound; yet it failed – in England as elsewhere – under the violence of an emerging political power, directing theology to its own ends. Liturgical destruction at every level, extending to the dissolution of monasteries, the smashing of images, the torching of medieval libraries – was necessary to the creation of a brave new world in which the Church was placed at the disposal of Caesar.

Yet all this is also prefigured, in the Psalm, and in Maundy Thursday’s stripping of the altars.”

Blessed Holy Thursday,
Matthew

Did the Apostles steal the body?

TESTIMONY: Matthew 27:62-66

The next day, the one following the day of preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that this impostor while still alive said, ‘After three days I will be raised up.’ Give orders, then, that the grave be secured until the third day, lest his disciples come and steal him and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ This last imposture would be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, “The guard is yours; go secure it as best you can.” So they went and secured the tomb by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard.

COMMENT

Matthew records how the chief priests and Pharisees asked Pilate to take measures to prevent Jesus’ followers from perpetrating a fraud. They feared that Jesus’ body would be stolen and then his disciples would pretend he had risen from the dead. Pilate allowed them to seal and secure the tomb themselves, and so they did.

HOSTILE WITNESS

In his 1965 best-seller The Passover Plot, Hugh Schonfeld popularized what is called the “Swoon Theory,” which teaches that Christ’s resurrection was not a resurrection at all, but a resuscitation. According to this theory, Jesus never died—he was only wounded and unconscious. After spending time in the tomb, he revived, unwrapped his burial cloths, rolled back the stone, and appeared to the apostles (who misinterpreted his reappearance as a resurrection).

Our hostile witnesses’ actions as described in Matthew 27:62-66, above, speak against this theory. They knew that Jesus was dead. Their concern was keeping Jesus’ followers out of the tomb, not keeping him in.

In addition to giving counter-testimony to the Swoon Theory, our hostile witnesses provide indirect evidence in another dispute: whether the prodigies described in Matthew 27:51-54 as having occurred during Christ’s crucifixion actually happened.

To settle that dispute, let’s start with this: As far as we can tell, there was no widespread expectation that Jesus would rise on the third day. The Jews generally understood that the Messiah would “[remain] forever” (John 12:34), and that the only resurrection which would take place would be at the end of time. This belief was so widespread and ingrained that even after Jesus repeatedly told His own disciples that He would rise, they failed to comprehend it (Mark 9:10; Luke 18:31-34; John 2:22, 13:7). Christ’s death on the cross, then, should have ended any hope that He was the Messiah, just as happened with the dozen or so pseudo-messiahs after their deaths.

Given all this, did the Jewish leaders really have any reason to fear that Jesus’ disciples, who were in hiding, could convince the populace that He rose from the dead? Yet the Jewish leaders feared exactly that, and took measures to prevent it. Why? What could have possibly have happened after the crucifixion to convince the very people who jeered at Jesus on the cross that He might rise from the dead after all?

Matthew’s account of prodigies when Christ died (darkness at noon, earthquake, open tombs, temple veil torn, etc.) just might provide the answer. Could it be that whatever expectations that were dashed when Jesus died were brought to life again by these strange occurrences (Matt. 27:54; Mark 15:39)? If these things did occur, the crowd that witnessed them would have been moved to see that Jesus was something more than just a charismatic teacher or even a prophet, and their expectations would have been raised that perhaps He would rise again as He claimed. This would also explain our hostile witnesses’ otherwise unfounded fear that Christ’s disciples could convince the populace that He did rise. Hence the measures taken by the Jewish leaders to ensure that Christ’s disciples couldn’t tamper with His body.

THE EMPTY TOMB

TESTIMONY: Matthew 28:12-15

They assembled with the elders and took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him while we were asleep.’ And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy [him] and keep you out of trouble.” The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present [day].

COMMENT

The directions given to the guards were both necessary and self-contradictory. The well-trained, fully-armed detachment could easily have fended off the disciples had they attempted to steal Christ’s body. The only way the disciples could have succeeded would have been to steal the body while the guards were asleep. But this is highly unlikely. After all, this wasn’t the first time Roman soldiers had set up a watch. Surely they took precautions to ensure that someone was always awake and on duty. Even if they all did fall asleep, it beggars belief that the disciples could have broken the seal and rolled a large stone away from its entrance without waking anyone

HOSTILE WITNESS

Our hostile witnesses affirm two very important facts. First, the tomb really was empty. Obviously, they wouldn’t have needed to bribe the guards if Jesus’ body remained in the tomb. Second, they provide what appears to be the earliest official explanation by nonbelievers of the empty tomb: The disciples stole the body.

The report that the disciples had stolen the body in order to perpetrate a fraud could have made it up the Roman chain of command; our hostile witnesses seem to have anticipated this when they offered to bribe not only the guards, but if necessary the guards’ superiors. As we will see later, there is evidence that such a report did make its way to the ear of the emperor, provoking an official rescript to prohibit the removal of dead bodies from tomb with ill intent.”

Love, He is Risen!!! Praise Him!!!
Matthew

Betrayal…


-“Taking of Christ”, Caravaggio, c. 1602, oil on canvas, 133.5 cm × 169.5 cm (52.6 in × 66.7 in), National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

We are all betrayed at some point(s), in some way(s), in our lives. We even betray ourselves; granted, hopefully, optimistically, in an unconscious way. We certainly betray others, consciously or not.


-by Br Hyacinth Grubb, OP

“There are two great betrayals in the Passion of Christ by two of Christ’s very apostles: Judas and St. Peter. Only one now has the title “saint” before his name.

Why did Judas betray Christ? It was not a spontaneous decision, but had a long-built foundation. He had been defrauding the poor, deriding Mary’s gift of perfumed oil. Judas sought out the Jewish authorities to ask their price for his betrayal; he was not recruited. Only after all this did “Satan enter into him” (Jn 13:27).

This was all at Judas’s initiative, and the foundation for betrayal had been laid long before. When Christ named Judas as his betrayer, via a shared morsel of bread, Judas asked, “surely it is not I?” And Jesus replied, “you have said so.” Judas chose this; he had been working towards this choice for a long time. Judas said so, not Jesus.

What about the other betrayal, that of Peter? Peter sinned in three moments of weakness and cowardice. His good intentions, shown at the Last Supper, fell away in three acts of denial. Like Judas, he turned traitor. But unlike Judas, Peter had not laid a foundation of unfaithfulness; there was only original sin and human weakness. Peter’s will to sin was his own initiative, but a spontaneous and unplanned initiative.

Betraying Christ is only too common: “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). But some men repent and are raised back to spiritual life, while some abide in the darkness of death. A crucial difference between Peter and Judas was the foundation in their hearts that supported either good or evil, built by many acts over a long period of time.

When we sin, does it rest on a foundation for sin or for repentance? Today, on Spy Wednesday, the plot is set in action that will end in one way on Good Friday and in another way during the Easter Vigil. We know that there will be heroism and tragedy and cowardice and redemption, and that the foundations built in the secret places of men’s hearts will be made known. It is a drama of which we are not spectators, but participants. Ask yourself then—have you followed Judas or Peter? What foundation are you building in your heart?”

Love, & repentance, true contrition to those I have betrayed & to my God,
Matthew

Sensitivity…

‘Tis true, ’tis true, dear, gentle reader. Your editor has NEVER, in his entire life, been accused of being too sensitive. ‘Tis true. Shocking, even scandalizing, I realize. Faith shaking, yes; hold fast. The truth is a blessing. 🙂 Neither too sensitive to the real fears and needs of others, rational or otherwise, in the humble opinion of this editor, nor ’tis himself, the Irish would say, to the injuries or slights of others. ‘Tis true. But, we are not speaking about rationality here, now are we? No, we have wandered into the realm of human psychology and feelings. Beware!!!

aka, “Awareness of Misery, The Key to the Mercy of God”, from “The Art of Loving God”, by St Francis de Sales

“You ask me if a soul sensible of its own misery can go with great confidence to God. I reply that not only can the soul that knows its misery have great confidence in God, but that unless it has such knowledge, the soul cannot have true confidence in Him; for it is this true knowledge and confession of our misery that brings us to God.
All of the great saints — Job, David, and the rest — began every prayer with the confession of their own misery and unworthiness. And so it is a very good thing to acknowledge ourselves to be poor, vile, abject, and unworthy to appear in the presence of God.

“Know thyself” — that saying so celebrated among the ancients — may be understood as applying to the knowledge of the greatness and excellence of the soul (so that it may not be debased or profaned by things unworthy of its nobility); but it also may be taken to refer to the knowledge of our unworthiness, imperfection, and misery.

Now, the greater our knowledge of our own misery, the more profound will be our confidence in the goodness and mercy of God, for mercy and misery are so closely connected that the one cannot be exercised without the other. If God had not created man, He would still indeed have been perfect in goodness, but He would not have been actually merciful, since mercy can only be exercised toward the miserable.

You see, then, that the more miserable we know ourselves to be, the more occasion we have to confide in God, since we have nothing in ourselves in which we can trust. The mistrust of ourselves proceeds from the knowledge of our imperfections. It is a very good thing to mistrust ourselves, but how will it help us, unless we cast our whole confidence upon God and wait for His mercy? It is right that our daily faults and infidelities should cause us some shame and embarrassment when we appear before our Lord. We read of great souls like St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila, who, when they had fallen into some fault, were overwhelmed with shame.

Again, it is reasonable that, having offended God, we draw back a little in humility and from a feeling of embarrassment, for even if we have offended only a friend, we are ashamed to approach him. But it is quite certain that we must not remain at a distance, for the virtues of humility, abjection, and shame are intermediate virtues by which the soul must ascend to union with God.

There would be no point in accepting our nothingness and stripping ourselves of self (which is done by acts of self-abasement) if the result of this were not the total surrender of ourselves to God. St. Paul teaches us this when he says, “Strip yourselves of the old man, and put on the new”; for we must not remain unclothed, but must clothe ourselves anew with God. The reason for this little withdrawal is only so that we may better press on toward God by an act of love and confidence. We must never allow our shame to be attended with sadness and disquietude. That kind of shame proceeds from self-love, because we are troubled at not being perfect, not so much for the love of God, as for love of ourselves.

And even if you do not feel such confidence, you must still not fail to make acts of confidence, saying to our Lord, “Although, dear Lord, I have no feeling of confidence in Thee, I know all the same that Thou art my God, that I am wholly Thine, and that I have no hope but in Thy goodness; therefore I abandon myself entirely into Thy hands.”

It is always in our power to make these acts; although there may be difficulty, there is never impossibility. It is on these occasions and amid these difficulties that we ought to show fidelity to our Lord. For although we may make these acts without fervor and without satisfaction to ourselves, we must not distress ourselves about that; our Lord loves them better thus.

And do not say that you repeat them indeed but only with your lips; for if the heart did not will it, the lips would not utter a word. Having done this, be at peace, and without dwelling at all upon your trouble, speak to our Lord of other things.

The conclusion of this first point, then, is that it is very good for us to be covered with shame when we know and feel our misery and imperfection; but we must not stop there. Neither must the consciousness of these miseries discourage us; rather it should make us raise our hearts to God by a holy confidence, the foundation of which ought to be in Him and not in ourselves. And this is so inasmuch as we change and He never changes; He is as good and merciful when we are weak and imperfect as when we are strong and perfect. I always say that the throne of God’s mercy is our misery; therefore the greater our misery, the greater should be our confidence.”

Love,
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

Holy Week, Monday: supper at Bethany

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

Presence of God— O Lord, with Mary of Bethany I wish to pay my humble, devout homage to Your sacred Body before it is disfigured by the Passion.

MEDITATION

The Gospel for today (John 12:1-9) tells us of this impressive scene: “Jesus therefore, six days before the Pasch, came to Bethany … and they made Him a supper there; and, Martha served…. for post on The Supper at BethanyMary, therefore, took a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.” Martha, as usual, was busy about many things. Mary, however, paid attention only to Jesus; to show respect to Him, it did not seem extravagant to her to pour over Him a whole vase of precious perfume. Some of those present murmured, “Why this waste? Could not the ointment have been sold … and the price given to the poor?” And they murmured against her (cf. Mark 14:4,5). Mary said nothing and made no excuses; completely absorbed in her adored Master, she continued her work of devotion and love.

Mary is the symbol of the soul in love with God, the soul who gives herself exclusively to Him, consuming for Him all that she is and all that she has. She is the symbol of those souls who give up, in whole or in part, exterior activity, in order to consecrate themselves more fully to the immediate service of God and to devote themselves to a life of more intimate union with Him. This total consecration to the Lord is deemed wasteful by those who fail to understand it–although the same offering, if otherwise employed, would cause no complaint. If everything we are and have is His gift, can it be a waste to sacrifice it in His honor and, by so acting, to repair for the indifference of countless souls who seldom, if ever, think of Him?

Money, time, strength, and even human lives spent in the immediate service of the Lord, far from being wasted, reach therein the perfection of their being. Moreover, by this consecration, they conform to the proper scale of values. Giving alms to the poor is a duty, but the worship and love of God is a higher obligation. If urgent works of charity sometimes require us to leave His service for that of our neighbor, no change in the hierarchy of importance is thereby implied. God must always have the first place.

Jesus Himself then comes to Mary’s defense: “Let her be, that she may keep this perfume against the day of My burial.” In the name of all those who love, Mary gave the sacred Body of Jesus, before it was disfigured by the Passion, the ultimate homage of an ardent love and devotion.

COLLOQUY

Here are two paths, Lord, as diametrically opposed as possible: one of fidelity and one of betrayal, the loving fidelity of Mary of Bethany, the horrible treachery of Judas. O Lord, how I should like to offer You a heart like Mary’s! How I should like to see the traitor in me entirely dead and destroyed!

But You tell me: “Watch ye, and pray that you enter not into temptation!” (Mark 14:38). Oh! how necessary it is for me to watch and pray, so that the enemy will not come to sow the poisonous germs of treason in my heart! May I be faithful to You, Lord, faithful at any cost, in big things as well as in small, so that the foxes of little attachments will never succeed in invading and destroying the vineyard of my heart!

“Lord Jesus, when I meditate on Your Passion, the first thing that strikes me is the perfidy of the traitor. He was so full of the venom of bad faith that he actually betrayed You–You, his Master and Lord. He was inflamed with such cupidity that he sold his God for money, and in exchange for a few vile coins delivered up Your precious Blood. His ingratitude went so far that he persecuted even to death Him who had raised him to the height of the apostolate…. O Jesus, how great was Your goodness toward this hard-hearted disciple! Although his wickedness was so great, I am much more impressed by Your gentleness and meekness, O Lamb of God! You have given me this meekness as a model. Behold, O Lord, the man whom You allowed to share Your most special confidences, the man who seemed to be so united to You, Your Apostle, Your friend, the man who ate Your bread, and who, at the Last Supper, tasted with You the sweet cup, and this man committed this monstrous crime against You, his Master! But, in spite of all this at the time of betrayal, You, O meek Lamb, did not refuse the kiss of that mouth so full of malice. You gave him everything, even as You gave to the other Apostles, in order not to deprive him of anything that might melt the hardness of his evil heart” (cf. St. Bonaventure).

O Jesus, by the atrocious suffering inflicted on Your heart by that infamous treachery, grant me, I beg of You, the grace of a fidelity that is total, loving, and devoted.”

Love,
Matthew

Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth.