Category Archives: Lent

The God Who does not feel


-by Br Isaiah Beiter, OP

“In this season of penance, we ask God to have mercy. Human mercy involves compassion, looking upon someone’s misery and feeling it as your own. But God, in His eternity, can’t feel misery—he can’t feel anything. I don’t mean that the Holy Trinity does not comprehend what misery is, nor that He does not love. He made our heart in His image (Ps 94:7-11):

They say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob takes no notice.”
Understand, you stupid people!
You fools, when will you be wise?
Does the One Who shaped the ear not hear?
The One Who formed the eye not see?
Does the One Who guides nations not rebuke?
The One Who teaches man not have knowledge?
The Lord knows the plans of man;
they are like a fleeting breath.

, and He knows most intimately all of our experiences, but not by enduring them Himself. This is because God doesn’t change: He perfectly enjoys an unchanging and infinite happiness beyond happiness.  (Impassibility) Feelings imply changeability and dependence on another. God is above this.

But don’t we hear about the depth of God’s feeling heart through His prophets? Don’t we hear God cry out, “I writhe in pain!” (Jer 4:10) or that “the Lord takes pleasure in His people” (Ps 149:4)? Does this contradict the unchangeability of God?

No. God speaks this way not to say that we are pulling on His heart, but that His heart is freely given to us: “I have graven you on the palms of My hands” (Is 49:16). The eternal Godhead doesn’t feel sorrow for our misery in the way that we do, but He establishes a covenant with us: “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God” (Ex 6:6–7). His mercy is no weaker for the fact that the Divinity has no heartstrings to pull. In fact, it is all the stronger because it flows from a choice that is infinitely free.

That should have been enough for us, but it wasn’t. God’s people continued to complain that He didn’t care for them, that He had tricked or abandoned them: “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land only to have us fall by the sword?” (Num 14:3). So all the passages from the prophets above, and many others, express God’s repeated pleas to his wayward people, trying to convey to them the depth of His love.

Consider what it means that God didn’t stop there. If it wasn’t enough for us to know His peace, now He takes upon Himself the ability to feel our misery and death. literally. If it wasn’t enough that He had made a covenant with us, He becomes a covenant Himself. For the Son of God became flesh, the Son to Whom it is said, “I have given you as a covenant to the people” (Is 49:8). God is still unchangeable in His divinity, but in the assumed humanity of Jesus Christ, He truly feels our misery and pain—even unto death. And the blood of this covenant stands forever.

What misery, what mystery, what mercy! He took upon Himself the Lent that belonged to us, and now we follow Him through it, yearning to see His Easter—and call it our own.”

Love,
Matthew

Lent with Bl Henry Suso, OP


-by Br Vincent Antony Löning, OP. (English Province)

“I know of few people who have loved Christ so much as to take a blade to their heart and inscribe the Holy Name of Jesus in their blood upon their breast. Blessed Henry Suso is one of them. He used to call his beloved crucified Lord “God’s Eternal Wisdom”, which indeed Christ is. Although in his lifetime Blessed Henry suffered much and was not renowned for being a great theologian or preacher, the manuscripts surviving of his writings suggest he was the most widely read spiritual author in the later Middle Ages until the publication of the Imitatio Christi.

Henry Suso had a very strong devotion to Christ’s passion and crucifixion, and speaks of it in very human terms. This makes him, and especially his Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, ideal reading and material for meditation during Lent. He is ready to admit his weaknesses. As he tells Christ, “Alas! There is just now in my soul a bitter complaint, that Thy Passion does not at all times thoroughly penetrate my heart, and that I do not meditate on it so affectionately as in reason I ought to do, and as is worthy of Thee, my Lord elect; teach me, therefore, how I ought to comport myself!” A valuable lesson for us here is that prayer should be our first recourse, whenever we undertake something new, or struggle to persevere in what we have already begun. It is even the solution when prayer itself becomes difficult!

Jesus’s incarnation means that in order to come to meet His divinity, I must also come to meet his humanity. Christ tells Blessed Henry in one of their encounters, “My humanity is the way one must go, My Passion the gate through which one must penetrate, to arrive at that which thou sleekest.” It is this humanity that Christ gradually unveils in the series of conversations that form the Book of Eternal Wisdom. Blessed Henry ends the book by leaving us one hundred meditations on the Passion. Taken from it, here is a prayer he addresses to Our Lady at the foot of the Cross:

Thy woeful heart was without consolation from all mankind. Oh, pure Lady, on this account forget not to be a constant protectress of my whole life, and my faithful guide. Turn thy eyes, thy mild eyes, at all times, with compassion on me. Watch over me like a mother in every temptation. Protect me faithfully against my enemies, protect me beneath thy tender arms. Let thy faithful kissing of Christ’s wounds be to me as a tender reconciliation with Him; let the wounds of thy heart obtain for me a cordial repentance of my sins; thy fervent sighing procure for me a constant yearning; and let thy bitter tears soften my hard heart; be thy lamentable words even as renunciation to me of all voluptuous speeches, thy weeping form as a casting away of all dissolute conduct; thy disconsolate heart as a despising of all perishable affections, that I may only cherish a perpetual desire of Him, and may persevere in His praise and service to the grave. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

St Jerome on the Book of Joel

-from a commentary on the book of Joel by Saint Jerome, priest, Doctor of the Church (PL 25, 967-968) as found in the Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, Second Reading, 21st Week in Ordinary Time.

“”Return to me with all your heart [Joel 2:12] and show a spirit of repentance with fasting, weeping and mourning [Joel 2:12]; so that while you fast now, later you may be satisfied, while you weep now, later you may laugh, while you mourn now, you may some day enjoy consolation [cf Luke 6:21; Matthew 5:4]. It is customary for those in sorrow or adversity to tear their garments. The gospel records that the high priest did this to exaggerate the charge against our Lord and Savior; and we read that Paul and Barnabas did so when they heard words of blasphemy. I bid you not to tear your garments but rather to rend your hearts [Joel 2:13] which are laden with sin. Like wine skins, unless they have been cut open, they will burst of their own accord. After you have done this, return to the Lord your God, from whom you had been alienated by your sins. Do not despair of his mercy, no matter how great your sins, for great mercy will take away great sins [cf Luke 7:41-47].

For the Lord is gracious and merciful [Joel 2:13] and prefers the conversion of a sinner rather than his death. Patient and generous in his mercy, he does not give in to human impatience but is willing to wait a long time for our repentance. So extraordinary is the Lord’s mercy in the face of evil, that if we do penance for our sins, he regrets his own threat and does not carry out against us the sanctions he had threatened. So by the changing of our attitude, he himself is changed. But in this passage we should interpret “evil” to mean, not the opposite of virtue, but affliction, as we read in another place: Sufficient for the day are its own evils [cf Matthew 6:34]. And, again: If there is evil in the city, God did not create it.

In like manner, given all that we have said above – that God is kind and merciful, patient, generous with his forgiveness, and extraordinary in his mercy toward evil – lest the magnitude of his clemency make us lax and negligent, he adds this word through his prophet: Who knows whether he will not turn and repent and leave behind him a blessing? [Joel 2:14]. In other words, he says: “I exhort you to repentance, because it is my duty, and I know that God is inexhaustibly merciful, as David says: Have mercy on me, God, according to your great mercy, and in the depths of your compassion, blot out all my iniquities [cf Psalm 51:1]. But since we cannot know the depth of the riches and of the wisdom and knowledge of God, I will temper my statement, expressing a wish rather than taking anything for granted, and I will say: Who knows whether he will not turn and repent? [cf Joel 2:14]. Since he says, Who, it must be understood that it is impossible or difficult to know for sure.

To these words the prophet adds: Offerings and libations for the Lord our God [cf Joel 2:14]. What he is saying to us in other words is that, God having blessed us and forgiven us our sins, we will then be able to offer sacrifice to God.”

Love,
Matthew

Memento Mori – Remember Death


-above is a picture of my “memento mori” rosary. I had it especially made. There are few like it. It is one of my favorite rosaries, and, yes, I have a few. 🙂 The Hail Marys are skulls. Please click on the image for greater detail.

The Roman triumph (triumphus) was a civil ceremony and religious rite of ancient Rome, held to publicly celebrate and sanctify the success of a military commander who had led Roman forces to victory in the service of the state or, originally and traditionally, one who had successfully completed a foreign war.

On the day of his triumph, the general wore a crown of laurel and the all-purple, gold-embroidered triumphal toga picta (“painted” toga), regalia that identified him as near-divine or near-kingly, and even was known to paint his face red. He rode in a four-horse chariot through the streets of Rome in unarmed procession with his army, captives, and the spoils of his war. At Jupiter’s temple on the Capitoline Hill, he offered sacrifice and the tokens of his victory to the god. Republican morality required that, despite these extraordinary honours, the general conduct himself with dignified humility, as a mortal citizen who triumphed on behalf of Rome’s Senate, people, and gods. Inevitably, the triumph offered extraordinary opportunities for self-publicity, besides its religious and military dimensions.

In Republican Rome, truly exceptional military achievement merited the highest possible honors, which connected the vir triumphalis (“man of triumph”, later known as a triumphator) to Rome’s mythical and semi-mythical past. In effect, the general was close to being “king for a day”, and possibly close to divinity. He wore the regalia traditionally associated both with the ancient Roman monarchy and with the statue of Jupiter Capitolinus: the purple and gold “toga picta”, laurel crown, red boots and, again possibly, the red-painted face of Rome’s supreme deity. He was drawn in procession through the city in a four-horse chariot, under the gaze of his peers and an applauding crowd, to the temple of Capitoline Jupiter. The spoils and captives of his victory led the way; his armies followed behind. Once at the Capitoline temple, he sacrificed two white oxen to Jupiter and laid tokens of his victory at Jupiter’s feet, dedicating his victory to the Roman Senate, people, and gods.

Behind the general, in the same chariot, was placed a slave whose sole responsibility was to remind the general of his mortality as a hedge against excessive pride, the kind that comes before the fall. “Memento mori”, the slave would whisper, “Someday you will die.” We are equal coming in and going out of this world.

Love,
Matthew

inordinate attachments & One necessary thing…

“…but few things are needed–or indeed only One. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” -Lk 10:42

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

Presence of God – O Lord, I place myself in Your presence, begging You to enlighten my soul so that I may see what are the obstacles to my union with You.

MEDITATION

“To be perfectly united to God by love and will, the soul must first be cleansed of all appetites of the will, even the smallest” (John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel I, 11,3). In the language of St. John of the Cross, appetites are disordered inclinations or affections for St John of the Cross for oneself or creatures, tendencies which are, according to their seriousness, more or less contrary to the divine will. God wishes us to love ourselves, as well as all created things, in the measure assigned by Him, with a view to His pleasure and not to our own selfish satisfaction. These inclinations or appetites always give rise to venial sins, or at least to deliberate imperfections, when one willingly yields to them, even though it be only in matters of slight importance. The will of the soul which freely assents to these failings, slight though they be, is stained by this opposition to the will of God; for this reason a perfect union cannot exist between its will and God’s. Moreover, if these imperfections become habitual and the soul does not try to correct them, they form a great obstacle to divine union; and according to St. John of the Cross, “they prevent not only divine union but also advancement in perfection” (ibid.). He gives a few examples of these unmortified “habitual imperfections”: the habit of talking too much, unrestrained curiosity, attachment to little things—whether persons or objects—such as food and so forth, which the soul refuses to give up. There is also the attachment to one’s comfort, to certain sensible satisfactions, little vanities, foolish self-complacency, attachment to one’s own opinion or reputation. There is a real mushroom-bed of “appetites” and disordered inclinations from which the soul will not free itself, precisely because it is attached to the meager selfish satisfaction which it finds in these wretched things. It is “attached” to them; that is why it cannot make the decision to give them up completely. These are precisely the “habitual voluntary appetites” of which St. John of the Cross says, “One single unmortified appetite is sufficient to fetter the soul” (ibid.).

On the other hand, when it is a question of imperfect inclinations arising solely from human weakness, of those which do not get beyond the stage of “first movements” in which the will has no part, “either before or after,” but rather tries to repress as soon as it notices them, “these do not prevent one from attaining divine union” (ibid., 11,2). It is the will that counts and it must be completely free from the slightest attachment.

COLLOQUY

“Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved Thee. Thou wert within me, and I looked outside; I sought Thee, and miserable as I was I longed for creatures, I was detained by the wonderful works of Thy hands. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee, though that which kept me far from Thee could exist only in Thee. Thou hast called and cried to me in my deafness. Thou hast shone as lightning, brilliant enough to drive away my blindness. Thou hast scattered Thy perfume; I breathed it, and now I sigh for Thee. I have tasted Thee, and now I hunger and thirst for Thee. Thou hast touched me, and I burn with desire for Thy peace” (St. Augustine, Confessions).

My God, give me the light necessary to recognize in myself all that keeps me from union with You. Grant me the light to recognize all the attachments which still bind me to creatures, and especially those which are most displeasing to You because they proceed directly from pride and self-love. In the secrecy of my heart You teach me sweetly and gently, You show me clearly that I am still far from conforming my will to Yours, in all things and for all things. I love and desire so many trifles, so many imperfections which You neither love nor desire because they are contrary to Your infinite perfection. Give me strength to wage a constant and courageous battle against them. You know, O Lord, that I have great need of Your help, for I am too attached to myself to be capable of struggling against my disordered affections, of giving up so many little pleasures which feed my egotism. I love myself too much to sacrifice what separates me from You. Then, let me present myself to You, O Lord, as a sick person to a surgeon; plunge the knife into my soul, cut away and destroy all that displeases You and that is not in accord with Your will.”

Love,
Matthew

Christ crucified – St Paul of the Cross, (1694-1775), Confessor, Founder of the Passionist Order, “Love is a unifying virtue”

“It is very good and holy to consider the passion of our Lord and to meditate on it, for by this sacred path we reach union with God. In this most holy school we learn true wisdom, for it was there that all the saints learned it. Indeed when the cross of our dear Jesus has planted its roots more deeply in your hearts, then will you rejoice: “To suffer and not to die,” or, “Either to suffer or to die,” or better: “Neither to suffer, nor to die, but only to turn perfectly to the will of God.”

Love is a unifying virtue which takes upon itself the torments of its beloved Lord. It is a fire reaching through to the inmost soul. It transforms the lover into the one loved. More deeply, love intermingles with grief, and grief with love, and a certain blending of love and grief occurs. They become so united that we can no longer distinguish love from grief nor grief from love. Thus the loving heart rejoices in its sorrow and exults in its grieving love.

Therefore, be constant in practicing every virtue, and especially in imitating the patience of our dear Jesus, for this is the summit of pure love. Live in such a way that all may know that you bear outwardly as well as inwardly the image of Christ crucified, the model of all gentleness and mercy. For if a man is united inwardly with the Son of the living God, he also bears his likeness outwardly by his continual practice of heroic goodness, and especially through a patience reinforced by courage, which does not complain either secretly or in public. Conceal yourselves in Jesus crucified and hope for nothing except that all men be thoroughly converted to his will.

When you become true lovers of the Crucified, you will always celebrate the feast of the cross in the inner temple of the soul, bearing all in silence and not relying on any creature. Since festivals ought to be celebrated joyfully, those who love the Crucified should honor the feast of the cross by enduring in silence with a serene and joyful countenance, so that their suffering remains hidden from men and is observed by God alone. For in this feast there is always a solemn banquet, and the food presented is the will of God, exemplified by the love of our crucified Christ.”

Love,
Matthew

Betrayed with a kiss -Lk 22:48

Mohandas Gandhi was known to read the New Testament every day. A British reporter asked him if he intended to become a Christian. Gandhi replied, “Your Jesus I like. If I ever meet a Christian, I will become one.”

-by Don Steiger, pastor of Dakota Ridge Assembly, Littleton, Colorado

“It has been said that there are two reasons why people do not go to church: They do not know a Christian, or they do know a Christian. Several times through the years I have heard people say they are no longer serving God because someone in the church let them down. Our maturity as Christians is put to the test when people disappoint us. No one has gone through life without such experiences.

Several years after I came to Colorado Springs to pastor Radiant Church a fellowship of pastors decided it would be a good thing to bring our churches together for a united worship service. We secured the city auditorium and invited our congregations to gather for a Sunday night service. The response was terrific and the building was packed when we started the worship. The evening went well up to the conclusion of the service. To my surprise, the pastor responsible for the closing prayer departed from the planned order of service and asked all the pastors to come to the front and face the audience. He then said, “If anyone has a grievance against a pastor come forward and work it out.” Billy Graham would have been envious of the response to this altar call. People got out of their seats and moved toward me and my fellow pastors in what looked like a tidal wave of disgruntled parishioners. A line formed in front of me and one by one I listened to their complaints and responded as best I could. This process probably took an hour or two, but it seemed more like an eternity. After it was all over my wife Loretta said, “Don, I don’t know if you realize it, but you had the longest line.” This distinction was not one I wanted when I entered the ministry. I must admit I left that service wounded by the people I had worked so hard to serve.

The apostle Paul also experienced his share of troubling relationships. In his last recorded words Paul includes a listing of several people who played important roles in his life. Some were positive in their influence and some were negative. His response is instructive as we make our way through the variety of relationships life presents to us.

In 2 Timothy 4:9–22, Paul mentions several people by name as he concludes his last epistle. He is writing from a Roman prison cell facing the possibility of martyrdom. Among the names mentioned is a representation of some of the critical relationships we experience in our Christian walk.

First, there was an adversarial relationship—“Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm” (verse 14, NIV). It may be that this person is the Alexander mentioned in Acts 19:33. The idol makers of Ephesus were losing business because of the influence of the church, and incited the city residents against the Christians and their most visible leader, Paul. Consequently, the Jewish community, for fear of being associated with the church, chose Alexander to speak on their behalf. There is also an Alexander mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:19,20. This man’s faith was shipwrecked and Paul delivered him over to Satan that he may be taught not to blaspheme. It is tough enough when unbelievers oppose us, but when a professing Christian does so it is most disheartening. We do not know much about Alexander or the details of his activity, but Paul said he “did me a great deal of harm … because he strongly opposed our message” (verse 14,15).

Responding to an adversarial relationship requires wisdom and prayer. Loving his enemy, and yet guarding himself against Alexander’s attacks, was a skill Paul had acquired in his walk with God. He taught us “Do not repay evil for evil. … Do not take revenge. … ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17–21, NIV). So in response to Alexander’s opposition Paul said, “The Lord will repay him for what he has done” (verse 14, NIV). He rejected a life of resentment and retribution, and gave his hurt to God. Adopting this perspective will prevent the pollution of our spirit when we are tempted to retaliate. Furthermore, Paul protected himself from unnecessary injury by Alexander. He said, “You too should be on your guard against him” (verse 15). Paul was on guard against Alexander, and he advised Timothy to do the same. Loving our enemies does not mean we allow ourselves to be unnecessarily victimized by them.

Second, there was a broken relationship—“for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (verse 10, NIV). Demas was mentioned by Paul in his letters to Philemon and the Colossians as a fellow laborer. Demas’ action at this time was not a matter of opposition; it was a matter of failure. Demas deserted Paul in one of the most difficult moments of Paul’s life, and chose to pursue the things of the world rather than Christ. His timing could not have been worse for Paul. At this point some would throw up their hands and say, “It’s not worth it.” But Paul remained steadfast in his commitment to Christ and healthy in his attitude. The reality is there will be broken relationships resulting from the sins of others. Some times we are unable to repair the damage and are left with the heartache of a friend who chooses to persist in rebellion against God.

Samuel experienced this kind of pain in his relationship with Saul. He did everything he could to help Saul be the man and king God wanted him to be. Unfortunately, Saul repeatedly disobeyed God, and finally the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?” (1 Samuel 16:1, NIV). The Lord then sent him to the household of Jesse to anoint David as the next King of Israel. To endure in our Christian faith and service we must be willing to give to God those who have deeply disappointed us and move on.

Third, there was a reconciled relationship—“Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (verse 11). Mark had disappointed Paul on this first missionary journey. Mark was part of the team, and in Acts 13:13 it states that John (Mark) left them. This departure was early on in the journey and was regarded by Paul as a desertion. When Paul and Barnabas discussed plans for their second missionary trip (Acts 15:36–41) Barnabas suggested taking Mark again. Paul refused and they were unable to agree, so Barnabas took Mark and set out on their own missionary effort. Paul then chose Silas to accompany him on his missionary journey. No doubt it brought great joy to Barnabas and Paul when Mark proved himself to be a reliable coworker in the kingdom of God. It must have been a poignant moment when Paul and Mark reconciled. Clearly they forged a trusted friendship as the years went by, so much so that Paul wanted Mark to be present during his time of suffering.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13,14, NIV). Developing a forgiving spirit and a heart for restoration will prevent us from imposing a burden of perfection upon others that neither they nor we can fulfill.

Fourth, there was a faithful human relationship—“Only Luke is with me” (verse 11). For everyone who had let Paul down, several had not. Paul taught us to think on good things. In this text he enumerates some who had brought him heartache, but he also lists the names of others who had consistently strengthened him. In fact, he names more in this category than in the other. He mentions Crescens, Titus, Luke, Tychicus, Priscilla, Aquila, Onesiphorus and his household, Erastus, Trophimas, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia. For each one who fails us there are many who have not. We tend to respond to the failures of a few by concluding that no one is trustworthy.

Luke stands out as one of Paul’s closest and most trusted friends. Some even speculate that Paul’s statement, “Only Luke is with me,” indicates that Luke made himself a legal slave to Paul so he could enter the prison and minister to him. This seems possible given the record of Luke’s loyal friendship with Paul.

Even the best friendship, however, is flawed by our humanity. Notice what Paul said in verse 16, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.” When Paul was taken into a Roman courtroom there was not a single Christian present to support him. Even Luke was not there. Paul felt deserted in his greatest hour of need. What will he do— how will he respond? He could have been overcome with disappointment or anger, but amazingly he was not. He concluded verse 16 by saying, “May it not be held against them.”

Even the most mature saint will sometimes disappoint others. It may not be by grievous sin, but by not meeting their expectations. Being human we sometimes grow weary and cannot do any more in a given situation, or we misjudge what our involvement should be, or the offended party misunderstands us. These human episodes teach us mercy. When we feel disappointed in someone else we should remember that others have been disappointed in us. Hopefully we can respond with the gracious prayer “May it not be held against them.” Jesus gave us the example when on the cross He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV).

Last, there was a faithful divine relationship—“But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth” (verse 17). The faithfulness of God is absolute. I think sometimes He allows circumstances to arise in which we feel disappointed in people to test our dependence on Him. Without question, He has designed the body of Christ to be a sustaining influence for every believer, but our dependence on people can reach unhealthy proportions. Jesus Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith and when we can look beyond the failures of men and remain faithful to God, we have reached an important level of maturity in Christ that contributes strength to the rest of the Body. How we relate to people should be the result of our relationship with Christ. When our relationship with Christ depends on the performance of people, our faith is in peril.

The moment when Paul felt all had deserted him was a critical moment in his walk with God. It was also a critical moment in his service to Jesus Christ. By not giving in to the disappointment, he experienced the empowering presence of Christ and was able to fully accomplish the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles in a hostile Roman courtroom. If he had given in, his heart would have been deeply wounded and an important opportunity lost.

“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’ ” (Hebrews 13:5,6).”

Love,
Matthew

The Truth & the Life

-by Bossuet, Jacques Bénigne, 1627-1704, “Meditations for Lent”, Saturday after Ash Wednesday.

“I AM the truth and the life” (cf. John 14:6). I AM the Word that was “at the beginning,” the word of the eternal Father, His concept, His wisdom, the true light that enlightens every man (John 1:9). I AM the truth itself and consequently the support, the nourishment, and the life of all who hear Me, the One in Whom there is life, the same life that is in the Father…It is when we possess the truth, that is to say, when we know it, when we love it, when we embrace it that we really live…

Come then, O Truth! You Yourself are my life, and because You come close to me, You are my way. What do I have to fear? How can I be anxious? Do I fear that I will not find the way that leads to truth? The way itself, as St. Augustine said, presents itself to us; the way itself comes to us. Come then and live by the truth, reasonable and intelligent soul! What light there is in the teaching of Jesus!

Let us love the truth. Let us love Jesus, Who is the truth itself. Let us change ourselves so that we may be like Him. Let us not put ourselves in a condition that will oblige us to hate the truth. The one who is condemned by the truth hates and flees it. Let there be nothing false in one who is the disciple of the truth. Let us live by the truth and feed ourselves with it. It is for this that the Eucharist is given to us. It is the body of Jesus, His holy humanity, the pure grain that nourishes the elect, the pure substance of truth, the bread of life, and it is at the same time the way, the truth, and the life.

If Jesus Christ is our way, let us not walk in the ways of the world. Let us enter into the narrow gate through which He walked. Above all, let us be mild and humble. Man’s falsehood is his pride, because in truth he is nothing, and God alone IS. This is the pure and only truth.”

Love,
Matthew

We are all going to die


-“Et in Arcadia ego” (also known as Les bergers d’Arcadie or The Arcadian Shepherds) is a 1637–38 painting by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). It depicts a pastoral scene with idealized shepherds from classical antiquity clustering around an austere tomb. It is held in the Louvre, Paris.

I volunteer in hospice, and with dementia/alzheimer’s patents. It is a profound understatement to say it is humbling, sobering, heart & thought provoking work. In particular, I volunteer for what is known as “vigil” service. This is providing others human companionship, on a continuous basis around the clock in the last hours or days, typically, of their lives. I would hope someone would do it for me. In particular, we try to relieve family members during non-waking hours, to give them rest and respite. To give them peace that their loved one is not alone, and should they pass when family, if any, is not present no one should die alone. Our work brings relief to both family and medical staff who have too much responsibility for others to offer this human compassion, although they desperately desire to offer it, during their regular duties.

I may read to patients/residents appropriately for their faith or lack of faith persuasion, particularly scripture, both Old and New Testaments, or just Hebrew scriptures if Jewish. But, if not religious, whatever text they may have of their own, that brings them comfort. If Catholic, I may say the rosary or Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours/Office of the Dead for them. Sometimes, I play soft music. Often, those “actively dying” are non-communicative, but not always, most definitely not always. Hearing is known to be the last sense to succumb.

I also teach young people. It is a profound, lived experience in mid-life to spend the day with young people at the prime of their health and beauty, typically, their joyfulness, their silliness, their boundless energy, their certain joie de vivre, their understandable lack of care about the future and their health, their strength, their goofiness, their playfulness, their love of talking to, with, and about each other, constantly, and then to journey just a few minutes to my service for the dying, their diminishment, their humiliation, shame, despair, at their profound inability to care any longer for self, let alone others; they who ruled the world a short time ago. It reminds me of one of my favorite poems, which I find myself self-repeating to myself, as I drive.

Ozymandias – by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Jan 1818

“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

So much for the glory of man.

Or, from my favorite poet, Sara Teasdale’s, “November”: “The world is tired, the year is old, the faded leaves are glad to die.” Yes, they are. Yes, they are. Yes, I will.


-by Br Reginald Hoefer, OP

“We are all going to die.

We were reminded of this on Ash Wednesday when the priest put ashes on our heads saying, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We need to be reminded about the reality of our death because we forget so easily.

Our culture desensitizes us to the fact of dying. It makes death seem so commonplace as to be almost unbelievable—or, at least, so prevalent that we think it could never really happen to us.

We see this in action movies where the death of combatants costs nothing: sure, a couple of those soldiers got blown up, but we didn’t really know them; they weren’t really central to the story. The good guys win, and we forget about the dead. We also see it in video games where players can continuously get killed and then “re-spawn” at no cost.

The point of receiving ashes, then, is to remind us that we are going to die someday. But do we really let that sink in? If we don’t ignore the question, it should naturally occur to us to ask: “well, if I’m going to die, what’s next? Does my life really have any meaning?”

Obviously, for the Christian, the answer is a resounding “of course.” Our life is given meaning by the promise of an eternity of happiness with God, greater than anything beyond our wildest dreams. But life doesn’t just have meaning because of the promise of something we will eventually receive but currently lack.

Those in the state of grace possess immortality now by sharing in the eternal life of God Who dwells deep within the soul. St. Augustine says that God is “more inward in me than my inmost self.” When we recognize that the Undying One wants to dwell deep within us, we begin to glimpse the true meaning He can give to our lives. But we only arrive at this recognition if we open ourselves to this reality and conform ourselves to His love.

At baptism, this most intimate, immortal indwelling of God is planted in the soul like a seed. Through frequent reception of the sacraments (especially Holy Communion and confession), God cultivates this indwelling presence so that it will blossom into a fruitful tree when the soul reaches Heaven. But we forget so easily that His immortal life can be within us; and, as a result, we also forget the true meaning of our lives.

Our consumerist lifestyle tends to bury the question of our origin and our end: it’s a defense mechanism meant to self-medicate us against the fear of not having answers to such fundamental questions. But Lent is a chance to remember—not only our impending death—but the reality that the God who never dies can live within our souls and can invite us to share that life with Him.

So how does Lent jog the memory? The three pillars of Lenten (and, really, Christian) observance are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Fr. Francis Martin teaches that we pray so that we can relate to God; we fast so that we can deprive ourselves; and this self-deprivation prepares us for almsgiving.

The idea behind this is that human beings are self-centered. We eat up everything: food, money, time, clothes, TV. But fasting counteracts that selfish tendency of our fallen nature. Depriving ourselves prepares us to give of ourselves and thus grow in charity (that is, love, the life of God within us). Counteracting our own selfishness prepares us, for instance, to be patient with those who annoy us and kind to those we can’t stand.

So fasting prepares us for almsgiving, but neither have a context without prayer—without recognizing and communicating with the God Who dwells deep in the souls of His faithful ones.

The lesson of Lent, then, is to remember death. But remember death so that you also remember that the immortal God wants to live within you so that you may share in His undying life. Doing so will remind you of the meaning of your own life.”

Love, & the joie de vivre,
Matthew