Category Archives: Cross

Flee to Jesus


-“Crucifixion”, by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308-11), Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy


-by Br Luke VanBerkum, OP

“Flee to Jesus.

In the spiritual life, we are often tempted to adopt a “fix-it-myself” attitude. “If I just work really hard and overcome this habitual sin, then I’ll be holy enough to approach Jesus in prayer.” This attitude fundamentally misses the point.

In the first moment of temptation or in the realization of having committed a sin, we must flee to Jesus. There’s no need to do anything else first.

Where do we find Jesus? On the cross. It is hard to contemplate the cross, but that is where He awaits us. Jesus is on the cross, and He is there because of me. This can be taken in two ways.

First, we must face up to the reality that He is there because of me – Jesus is on the cross because of my sins. Facing the cross, we see exteriorly what the evil of sin truly looks like interiorly. Sin destroys, mutilates, shames. Fixing our eyes on the cross, we see how our sins are a true death, how we cannot heal our own wounds and, no matter how hard we try, cannot bring ourselves back to life. We cannot, however, merely call ourselves “sinners.” We must be “sinners who flee to Jesus,” for He is the one who heals us.

Thankfully, He is there because of me – Jesus is on the cross because He loves me. Dying on the cross, Jesus knew every sin that every person would commit and, in turn, merited each and every grace that He wishes to bestow on us. He died once for all two millennia ago, yet we must approach Him right now to receive that grace by which we are healed and restored to life. The cross is the source of life for us. When we approach Jesus on the cross, we find that the grace needed to heal a particular sinful habit or weakness has already been won for us.

Encountering the cross daily, then, is more than gracefully enduring those hardships that come our way unprovoked, whether at the hands of others, (our own), or because of physical ailments. Encountering the cross daily entails holding these two aspects of the cross together – the shame and disorder that our own sins cause as well as the love of Jesus. When we examine ourselves and accept in humility our complete inability to heal our weakness and sins, we find that we are truly contemplating the cross of Christ and seeking it for the life it bestows. As sinners who flee to Jesus, the very acknowledgment of our sinfulness and brokenness of heart is the action by which we find ourselves at the foot of the cross, the source of life. Try as hard as we might, we cannot fix ourselves.

We must flee to Jesus.”

Flee to Jesus; rest in His loving arms; rest, flee to Jesus. Lord, I rest/trust only, truly in You.
Matthew

Job 30:20-22

“Why does God give light to one who is in misery,
and life to those whose soul is bitter,
to those who wait for death that does not come,
and search for it
more than for hidden treasures,
who rejoice even to jubilation,
and are exultant when they find the grave?
-Job 30:20-22

“It’s often difficult for those who have never experienced depression to imagine a feeling of utter emptiness, the collapse of the will to live, the devastating loss of self-worth that fills the heart of the person who seeks to live with the heavy burden of depression or mental illness. I remember the early days of illness that transformed my once happy and ambitious dreams into clouds that faded on the horizon, leaving behind the dull grey ache of loneliness and isolation. We are fragile things. God knows how much we need his strength, particularly in times when sadness and grief rob us of the joy of life and the will to live. God is the one, I discovered, who heals the brokenhearted, who wipes away our tears, who binds up our wounds, who helps us fly again. There was simply no way through my pain but to hold my beloved Father’s hand.

The darkness engulfed and suffocated everything…I still prayed even though it seemed useless. But one day Jesus’ message shouted through the weltering gloom that He too had experienced the same darkness on the cross. Those last moments were actually the depth of darkness for Him, feeling even His Father disowned Him. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t find life in this inspiration. I couldn’t believe that his situation could touch mine.

Depression was a swirling black hole that sucked me in until I was in well over my head and drowning. The energy needed to fight against it was immense and at times I just let it take over. I was so tired…I don’t know how to feel happy anymore.

I can relate when I hear them. Though my experience of depression has been different, and though each person’s symptoms of depression and struggle to survive are unique, it is not difficult if we’ve suffered with depression to resonate with the story of inner sorrow when someone shares it with us.

What Is Depression?

Depression has been called the “common cold” of mental disorders. Everyone experiences situations or events in their life that make them sad for a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months. A death, a move, a change of job, graduating from college, or a loss of a pet can be painful and sad, but the feelings are relatively short lived and not permanent. Even positive experiences for some can be followed by a feeling of letdown. Depression, on the other hand, interferes with daily life and causes great distress for you and those around you for an extended period of time. Though depression is a common illness, it is a serious one and should be treated with the same care with which you would handle any other medical condition. Depression affects more than your feelings. It affects your body, mood, thoughts, and the way you feel about yourself. It affects the way you eat and sleep. It influences your perspective on life, on yourself, and regarding others. Sadness is only a small part of depression. In fact, some people with depression do not feel sadness at all. A person with depression may also experience many physical symptoms, such as aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems. Someone with depression may also have trouble with sleeping, [Ed. I have anxiety, too, so I have nightmares that awaken me violently, and so take a PTSD drug] waking up in the morning, and feeling tired.

-Hermes, Kathryn. Surviving Depression, 3rd Edition: A Catholic Approach . Pauline Books and Media. Kindle Edition.

I believe, Lord, but let me believe more firmly.
I hope, Lord, but let me hope more surely.
I love, Lord, but let me love more warmly.
I repent, Lord, but let me repent more deeply.
St. Anthony Mary Claret

I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice
and my supplications. Because He inclined His ear to me,
therefore I will call on Him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”
-Ps 116: 1-4

I remember taking communion from a lay minister who came on Sunday to a place where I could be helped, and rather than “Amen”, I said, “Jesus, save me.” The lay minister seemed to approve of that, and from that day on I promised myself in my heart I would always save “Jesus, save me” when taking communion. I still do. Jesus, save me.

I think to truly understand, as it should be understood and appreciated and celebrated, praised, Resurrection/Redemption, we have to die many times in our lives. Resurrection must pass from intellect to the gut, and it is this necessarily repeated process, and grace, which allows it, to be saved. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…on repeat. Even if you don’t believe, or having a tough time doing so, at least have a crucifix, gaze upon Him from time to time in life. Hold it, tightly. I do. Like the fragrance of flowers, grace and faith will come.

If you’ve ever walked into a space where flowers were in abundance, that fragrance can be overpowering, practically knocking you from your feet.

Love & hope,
Matthew

Lent, Fridays: Canticle of the Passion, St Catherine de Ricci, OP, (1522-1590) – we carry our crosses w/Him


-“Canticle of the Passion” by St Catherine de Ricci, please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Br Bartholomew Calvano, OP

“For twelve years, Saint Catherine de Ricci, OP, experienced all of the rigors of Christ’s passion on a weekly basis. From noon on Thursday until late afternoon on Friday, the marks of Christ’s Passion were visible on her body. After her first ecstatic experience of the stigmata, St. Catherine received the Canticle of the Passion from the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since then, it has spread as a pious devotion to the monasteries and convents of the Order of Preachers, and it has been traditionally prayed on the Fridays of Lent.

The Canticle consists of a series of couplets drawn from Scripture, with the exception of a single couplet from the Te Deum. The cantor chants each couplet in succession, though silence punctuates the space between them. The entire Canticle is divided into two segments, which are separated by a lengthier silence after a reference to the death of the Lord. The first half of the Canticle recounts the Passion of Christ through the words of Scripture, and the second half is the Christian’s response. In each half of the Canticle, there is a verse repeated by the entire choir.

The current practice in the Studentate at the Dominican House of Studies is to precede the chanting of the Canticle with a reading of one of the four servant songs from the book of Isaiah and to conclude by venerating a cross while the Vexilla Regis is sung. These reminiscences of Good Friday help to focus our contemplation on Christ crucified during the season of Lent.

Suffice it to say, Saint Catherine de Ricci had a great devotion to the crucified Christ. Aside from the marks of Christ’s Passion, a betrothal ring was also visible to those looking on during her ecstatic episodes. Saint Catherine’s experience of Christ’s sufferings was Christ’s gift to her as his beloved spouse. This may appear, at first glance, incredibly counterintuitive. Why would Christ grant suffering to one he loved? To answer this question, we must first answer another: Why did Christ undergo his Passion? Love. Christ suffered out of love for sinners. Christ suffered out of love for us (ST III q. 46, a. 3).

When we look upon the Cross, we primarily see two things: first, we see our sins; second, we see God’s loving mercy. The heart that loves Christ and sees Him on the Cross cannot help but desire to accompany Him in His sufferings. The model for this is, of course, His Mother, whose Immaculate Heart was pierced as she looked upon her Son and suffered alongside Him at the foot of the Cross.

It is fitting then that this devotion of the Canticle of the Passion should have been handed over by the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Catherine de Ricci, because St. Catherine also shared in the sufferings of the Virgin’s Son. It is further fitting that St. Catherine, another virgin united to Christ’s sufferings on the Cross, should spread this devotion to women and men ardently seeking that same union. May we who have received this devotion come to know deeply the love of the crucified Christ through our own share in his Cross. We also suffer like Him so that we may come to love like Him.”

Love & His mercy,
Matthew

Purifying fire

Pr 17:3

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

Presence of God – My God, from all eternity You have gone before me with Your infinite love; increase my love for You.

MEDITATION

“What shall prevent God from doing that which He will in the soul that is resigned, annihilated, and detached?” (John of the Cross Ascent of Mt. Carmel II, 4,2). This statement of St. John of the Cross makes you understand that God has an immense desire to work in your soul, to lead you to sanctity and to union with Himself, provided you commit yourself into His hands, despoiled of every attachment, annihilated in your self-love, entirely docile, malleable, and adaptable to His action. The Lord comes to your assistance with purifying trials in order to empty you of self, to detach you from creatures, to immerse you in true humility, but at the same time He helps you to grow in love, the strong bond which must unite you to Him. All the work which God accomplishes in your soul is done in view of making you advance in this virtue; exterior and interior trials, humiliations, powerlessness, aridity, struggles, and tempests are meant in the divine plan to extinguish the illusory fires of self-love, pride, earthly affections, and all other irregular passions, so that only one fire may burn within you, ever more intensely and strongly, the fire of charity.

The more the Lord purifies you, the more your heart will be freed from all dross and become capable of concentrating all its affection upon Him. Walk, then, in this way by accepting purification in view of a deeper love, and by orientating your whole spiritual life toward the exercise of love. What you suffer, suffer for love, that is, suffer it willingly, without rebellion or complaint, and then, in the measure that your soul is humbled, despoiled, and mortified, it will also be clothed with charity. The trials which God sends you have the purpose not only of purifying your heart, but also of dilating it in charity. They aim at deepening your capacity for love; not, certainly, a sensible love, but a powerful love of the will, which tends toward God through pure benevolence, independent of all personal consolation, its sole pursuit being His glory and good pleasure.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord of my soul and my only Good! When a soul has resolved to love You, and forsaking everything, does all in its power toward that end, so that it may the better employ itself in Your love, why do You not grant it at once the joy of ascending to the possession of this perfect love? But I am wrong: I should have made my complaint by asking why we ourselves have no desire so to ascend, for it is we alone who are at fault in not at once enjoying so great a dignity.

If we attain to the perfect possession of this true love of God, it brings all blessings with it. But so [ungenerously] and so slow are we in giving ourselves wholly to God that we do not prepare ourselves as we should to receive that precious love which it is His Majesty’s will that we should enjoy only at a great price.

There is nothing on earth with which so great a blessing can be purchased; but if we did what we could to obtain it, if we cherished no attachment to earthly things, and if all our cares and all our intercourse were centered in heaven, I believe there is no doubt that this blessing would be given us very speedily…. But we think we are giving God everything, whereas what we are really offering Him is the revenue or the fruits of our land while keeping the stock and the right of ownership of it in our own hands…. A nice way of seeking His love! And then we want it quickly and in great handfuls, as one might say.

O Lord, if You do not give us this treasure all at once, it is because we do not make a full surrender of ourselves. May it please You to give it to us at least little by little, even though the receiving of it may cost us all the trials in the world.

No, my God, love does not consist in shedding tears, in enjoying those consolations and that tenderness which for the most part we desire and in which we find comfort, but in serving You with righteousness, fortitude of soul, and humility. The other seems to me to be receiving rather than giving anything ….

May it never please Your Majesty that a gift so precious as Your love be given to people who serve You solely to obtain consolations.” (Teresa of Jesus The Book of Her Life 11).

Love,
Matthew

The Cross


-please click on the image for greater detail.

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

Presence of God – O Holy Spirit, teach me the value of suffering, so that I may esteem it and love it as a means of sanctification.

MEDITATION

We must be thoroughly convinced that if the Holy Spirit works in our souls to assimilate us to Christ, He can do so only by opening to us the way of the Cross. Jesus is Jesus Crucified; therefore, there can be no conformity to Him except by the Cross, and we shall never enter into the depths of the spiritual life except by entering into the mystery of the Cross. St. Teresa of Jesus teaches that even the highest contemplative graces are given to souls only in order to enable them to carry the Cross. “His Majesty,” says the Saint, “can do nothing greater for us than to grant us a life which is an imitation of that lived by His beloved Son. I feel certain, therefore, that these favors are given to us to strengthen our weakness, so that we may be able to imitate Him in His great sufferings” (Interior Castle also known as The Mansions, VII, 4). Yes, conformity to Jesus Crucified has more value and importance than all mystical graces! The whole spiritual life is dominated by the Cross and, as the Cross is the central point in the history of the world, so it is the central point in the history of every soul. The Cross gave us life; it will imprint upon our souls the traits of the most perfect resemblance to Jesus; the more we share in His Cross, the more shall we resemble Him and cooperate in the work of Redemption.

In order to attain sanctity, it is evident that we need the Cross. To accept God’s will always and in every circumstance implies the renouncement of one’s own will; it is impossible to be conformed to Jesus in everything, “Who in this life had no other pleasure, nor desired any, than to do the will of His Father” (John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel I; 13,4), without renouncing one’s own selfish pleasures. And all this means: detachment, crosses, sacrifice, self-denial. It means setting out steadfastly on the way indicated by Jesus Himself: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). This is the path which the Holy Spirit urges and invites us to follow. Whenever we find ourselves looking for things that are easier, more commodious, or more honorable; whenever we notice that we are satisfying our self-love, our pride, or see that we are attached to our own will, let us remind ourselves that all this is far removed from the inspirations of the Holy Spirit and, what is worse, it is an obstacle to His action in us.


-please click on the image for greater detail.

COLLOQUY

“O Spirit of truth, make me know Your Word; teach me to remember all He has said; enlighten me, guide me, make me conformable to Jesus as an ‘alter Christus,’ another Christ, by giving me His virtues, especially His patience, humility, and obedience; let me take part in His redemptive work by making me understand and love the Cross.

“O Holy Spirit, I come before You like a little green fruit which will ripen in the sun, like a bit of straw which is to be burned, like a drop of dew to be absorbed by the sun, like an ignorant child who must be taught. O Holy Spirit, giving Yourself to little souls, poor and humble, I present myself to You as one of these, and in this disposition I invoke You: ‘Veni, Sancte Spiritus, sanctifica me!’ Come, Holy Spirit, sanctify me! My desire for holiness is so great! Sanctify me Yourself; make haste to make me holy and a great saint, without my knowing it, in the self-effacement of my daily life.

“I wish to cast myself into You, O Holy Spirit, divine Fire, so that You will complete my purification, destroy my miserable self-love and transform me wholly into love. It is for this that I beseech You to come upon me and direct me according to Your good pleasure. ‘Dirige ados nostros in beneplacito tuo.’ Direct our actions according to Your good pleasure.

“O consuming Fire, divine Love in person, inflame me, burn me, consume me, destroy all self-love in me, transform me entirely into love, bring me to the ‘nothing’ that I may possess the ‘All’; bring me to the summit of the ‘mountain’ where dwells only the honor and glory of God, where all is ‘peace and joy’ in You, O Holy Spirit! Grant that here below—through suffering and loving contemplation—I may arrive at the most intimate union with the Blessed Three, until I go to contemplate Them in the face-to-face vision of heaven, in the peace, joy, and security of the ‘perpetual banquet’” (Sr. Carmela of the Holy Spirit, O.C.D.).”

Love & strength to endure all the crosses we must endure. Put your faith in Him, and NEVER WAIVER!!!! Be as rock!!! The ultimate thing Satan desires is our despair!!!! Resist him!! Solid in your faith!!!,
Matthew

Suffering


-adapted from Br. Luke VanBerkum, OP

“The onslaught of television shows, movies, advertisements, and pop culture can skew the perception of a normal human life. We unconsciously form an idea of what there is to expect in life: peak physical fitness and attractiveness, perfect love, and material happiness. Young people especially can become enamored with this picture, making it the standard of a fulfilling life. But this ignores a very real aspect of our existence: suffering…

By Jesus, we are transformed from dying on the cross. As St. Peter says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24). By Christ’s death and resurrection, we are freed from original sin, and life with God in heaven is made possible.

While we wait in hope for heavenly glory, we suffer during this life on earth because of the effects of sin. Our suffering, though, is not in vain. It is a participation in Jesus’s own suffering: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His footsteps” (1 Pet 2:21). Following in Christ’s footsteps by offering up our suffering to God prepares us to continue following in His footsteps unto eternal life. (Ed. Treasury of Merit!!)

Must we suffer with Christ?… Our physical deterioration is inevitable as we age. Wheelchairs and the return of diapers are in our future. Bed baths, walking with a walker, Alzheimer’s, and dementia are all real possibilities. The helplessness and reliance on others that mark this later stage of life can be frightening, and so it is easy to ignore it until we are in the clutches of old age. (…whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. Ps 121:1-2)

How can we prepare spiritually for this bodily suffering? With constant practice over a lifetime, we can form a habit of prayer, an awareness of the presence of God, and firmly rooted virtue. Moreover, the Church has given us this season of Lent to consider suffering, particularly the greatest mystery of suffering: GOD suffering on the cross. Contemplating the cross now…prepares us for when our body becomes our cross. Staying close to Christ and His cross transforms this suffering into an eternal reward. Embracing the cross, we are ready to follow Christ into eternal life, where one day our bodies will be glorified supernaturally as we share in God’s life.”

Love, joy, hope,
Matthew

Doubt, despair, hopelessness,… & Truth.

The ultimate thing the devil wants is our ultimate despair. Resist him. Eph 6:10-18.

“What is truth?” -Jn 18:38


-by Br Raymond La Grange, OP

“In the twentieth century, many thinkers became disillusioned with traditional morality. It seemed to be a cold and impersonal list of rules. For something supposedly based on a transcendent God, it was surprisingly powerless to resist changing social conventions. Many took it as a given that received moral norms are nothing more than commonly held ideas about decency, often buoyed by fluffy thoughts about what God supposedly wants. In Sigrid Undset’s 1932 novel Ida Elisabeth, the main character of the same name considers the religion of her mother-in-law, Borghild:

“But all she had been able to get out of it was that Borghild Braatö’s god dwelt in Borghild Braatö’s heart and broadly speaking was of Borghild Braatö’s opinion on all questions, spoke to her through her conscience and gave his approval whenever she made a decision.”

In the face of such a vacuous morality, what is one to do? I will present the contrasting approaches of two Nobel Laureates. The mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell attempted to engineer moral norms to make them more manageable, while the author Sigrid Undset sought to return to a deeper traditional Catholic morality.

Russell’s approach has become characteristic of progressive movements. Since moral norms only express what is socially acceptable, a rational society may modify its expectations. In his 1936 essay Our Sexual Ethics, he argued that while adultery certainly has its downsides, it is just not realistic for most people to avoid it. In centuries past, spouses were seldom separated for long periods. Small villages, where everyone knew everyone else, would discourage indiscretions, while the fear of hellfire would keep the passions at bay. Without those helps, we might as well decide that adultery is okay after all and work around that. At least no one will feel guilty when they inevitably commit adultery. Russell would become a champion of the sexual revolution.

Sigrid Undset took a very different approach. Raised an agnostic, as a young woman she wandered in moral confusion, falling in and out of love, before finally settling down with a man who had abandoned his first wife. This relationship produced three children, but was not to last. One can detect in her work from this period a dissatisfaction with life. Her 1911 novel Jenny explores the tension in the life of a woman whose only moral code is self-respect. She seeks love but is powerless to its fickleness. By the end, one suspects that Undset did not think there was much more to life than this tension.

During the years of her marriage, Undset began asking serious questions. She had long thought that the morality she heard from the Lutheran State Church was no more adequate to explain life than it was to oppose the legalization of divorce years before. But she realized that the human person demanded far more than any socially updated moral code could deliver. This was especially clear in the face of the joy of her own motherhood. In 1919, she wrote against attempts to fix contemporary problems encountered in marriages by the easy means of divorce and looser moral standards. Instead of giving up on the demands of marriage, she argued, the Catholic Church raised it up by making it a sacrament. In 1924, Sigrid Undset was received into the Catholic Church.

Both Russell and Undset felt that the common notions of morality in their societies were, at bottom, social conventions. Both would initially push these boundaries. Russell went on to modify moral codes to perceived convenience. Undset came to realize that neither social conventions nor the experimentation of a young artist could ever come close to explaining the human person. Russell neutered the impulse to marital fidelity so that the base impulse to adultery could go on mostly unhindered. Undset found Catholic sacramental morality to be a gift from God and the only thing that could answer her questions and raise marriage to the heights that she always knew it must reach. For Russell, morality was a list of conventions for personnel management. For Undset, it became not a list of rules nor a code of decency, but rather God’s gift and plan for human happiness. This is not a morality that is imposed, but one that is discovered contemplating the mystery of the human person.”

Love,
Matthew

Gender?

“Before retiring to bed on a Tuesday night in the Vatican, Saint John Paul II prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, meditating upon the following words from Saint Peter: “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1

Long after others in the papal apartment were asleep, a noise awoke his secretary, Monsignor Stanisław Dziwisz, who left his room to investigate. His room was adjacent to the Holy Father’s, but he noticed that the sounds were not coming from the Pope’s room, but from his chapel. Although late-night prayer was not uncommon for John Paul, Dziwisz peered in to be certain that everything was all right.

The sight was typical: John Paul immersed in contemplation alone before the tabernacle. The Pope usually spoke to God with very simple words, and often prayed during adoration like Jesus did in Gethsemane, talking with his Father. 2 This night, Dziwisz noticed that John Paul indeed seemed troubled. The disturbance he overheard was the Pope speaking aloud to God, asking repeatedly, “Dlaczego? Dlaczego?” (“ Why? Why?”). Out of reverence, the monsignor backed away from the chapel and returned to his room for the night.

John Paul celebrated Mass the next morning, but was unusually reserved during breakfast afterward. The Pope’s typical jovial and engaging demeanor toward the sisters and guests was subdued. Instead of asking questions and conversing about an endless variety of topics, he was recollected and withdrawn. He ate no breakfast, and drank a cup of tea. 3

That afternoon would be an important one: During his Wednesday audience, John Paul was preparing to announce the establishment of two ministries in the Church that would address the problems facing families in the modern world. 4 One of these, the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, would become the main teaching arm of the Theology of the Body. 5

On his way to deliver his message, the Holy Father rode in the Popemobile across Saint Peter’s Square. As he was blessing children and greeting the crowds, gunshots from a Turkish assassin rang out. An ambulance rushed the Pope in his bloodstained cassock to the hospital, where he narrowly escaped death.

Had God given him a premonition of his suffering the night before? The answer to that question will likely remain a mystery known only to John Paul.

Was there a link between his suffering and his efforts to build up marriage and the family? This he affirmed, saying, “Perhaps there was a need for that blood to be spilled in Saint Peter’s Square.” 6 He added, “Precisely because the family is threatened, the family is being attacked. So the Pope must be attacked. The Pope must suffer, so that the world may see that there is a higher gospel, as it were, the gospel of suffering, by which the future is prepared, the third millennium of families. . . .” 7

…While camping at the World Youth Day vigil in Kraków, I spoke with a young woman who was preparing to enter her first year of college at a prestigious university in California. She pulled her phone out of her backpack and showed me where her online college application required her to check the appropriate box to indicate her gender.

There were eighteen boxes to choose from.

I read through the litany of genders, and noticed that two were missing: male and female. (Facebook— which invites its users to identify as one of more than fifty genders— at least offers them the possibility of choosing to be male or female.) The university application, however, did allow the incoming students to choose “cis-male” or “cis-female,” which means that the biological sex one was “assigned” at birth aligns with the gender one chooses for one’s identity.

While some seek to expand upon the number of genders and create a spectrum of options, the ultimate goal of gender theory is not diversity. After all, diversity requires objective differences. The goal is to erase the sexual difference, and thus to eliminate the meaning of the body.

Where is this coming from? The Second Vatican Council prophesied our culture’s sexual identity crisis by stating, “When God is forgotten . . . the creature itself grows unintelligible.” 8 Although the Theology of the Body was written before many of the modern ideas of gender theory became popular, it was ahead of its time in offering a clear answer for them— and for many other key issues about sexuality and the body.

What is the Theology of the Body?

The Theology of the Body is the popular title given to 135 reflections written by Saint John Paul II. As a cardinal in Poland, he (Karol Wojtyła) planned to publish them as a book titled Man and Woman He Created Them. 9 Before this could happen, he was elected pope, and instead delivered the content in 129 Wednesday Audiences during the first five years of his pontificate.

The thousands of vacationers and pilgrims who gathered to see the Holy Father at these audiences had no idea that the Pope’s biographer would later describe the Theology of the Body as a “theological time bomb set to go off, with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.” 10

What could be so explosive about a Polish bishop’s theological reflections on the body? To answer this, consider how the human body has been viewed throughout history. Thousands of years ago, Gnostics and Platonists believed that a person’s true self was different from his or her body. One Gnostic sect, the Manicheans, believed that man’s destiny was to set his spiritual essence free from the pollution of matter. Because the body was material, it was not only inferior, but evil. In fact, it was considered a sin for a woman to give birth because she was bringing more matter into existence! Centuries later, puritanism considered the body to be a threat to one’s soul. Meanwhile, the philosopher René Descartes proposed that the soul is like a ghost trapped in a machine.

All these views about the body have one element of truth in common: Our bodies and souls aren’t in harmony. However, the body is not unimportant compared to the soul. Nor is the body something we “have,” or something that encumbers our soul. We are our bodies, and our bodies reveal us. However, our current state is not the way God created us in the beginning. The discord that exists within man is the result of original sin. 11

While some individuals devalued the body and cared only for the soul, others fell into the opposite mistake. Atheists and materialist philosophers argued that the human person is nothing more than his or her body: There is no soul, and the body has no meaning.

Although these ideas might seem like debates reserved for philosophers and theologians, consider what happens when entire cultures accept these misguided notions of what it means to be human. If man has a body but no spiritual dimension, what distinguishes him from other animals? Why should he act differently or be treated differently? On the other hand, if a person’s true identity is found in his spirit alone, then man’s view of himself becomes uprooted from any objective reality. Truth would then be defined by a person’s feelings. As a result, masculinity and femininity would be viewed as social constructs, not realities created by God. But if masculinity and femininity don’t exist, then what becomes of marriage and the family?

Because there has been so much confusion about the meaning of the human body, John Paul set out to present a total vision of man that would include man’s origin, history, and destiny. Instead of arguing from the outside in, offering people a litany of rules, he invited them to seek the truth about reality by reflecting on their own human experience. The writings of Saint John of the Cross played a key role in shaping John Paul’s style of thinking. His philosophical studies on of Max Scheler and other phenomenologists further sharpened his ability to observe human experience. John Paul doesn’t begin by explaining what man ought to do, but by explaining who man is. In the Pope’s mind, people will know how to live if they know who they are.

It has been said that rules without a relationship creates rebellion. This is true with parents and children, and it’s especially true with the relationship between God and humanity. John Paul knew that laws don’t change hearts. When people view morality as a rigid list of imposed regulations, they might temporarily behave themselves out of guilt or fear, but they often abandon the faith. The Pope understood the futility of this approach, and knew that a fresh re-presentation of the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics was overdue.

What the modern world needed was not just a defense of the Church’s teachings, but rather an unveiling of God’s original plan for the beauty of human love. Culture needed something that wasn’t simply intellectually convincing or morally upright, but rather something that corresponded to the deepest yearnings of the human heart.

Unfortunately, many have grown deaf to these yearnings and hear only the urges of the body. But no matter how numb one might be to the deepest aspirations of the soul, everyone can relate to the ache of solitude, the experience of shame, and the desire for communion. In the Theology of the Body, John Paul explored these experiences and more, to reveal how God’s plan for humanity is stamped not only into our hearts, but also into our bodies.

When people discover the Theology of the Body, they often exclaim that they’ve never heard anything like it before. This is because many people learned about sexuality in a religious framework that focused only on what is forbidden and permitted. Others learned about it through the lens of modern sex education, which reduces one’s sexuality to biology and sensuality. This might count as “sex ed,” but it’s not a true education in human sexuality. 12

Properly speaking, “sex” is not something people do. Sex is who we are as male and female persons. The Theology of the Body reminds us of this broader meaning and offers compelling answers to questions such as: Who am I? What does it mean to be human? How should I live? It delves into delicate questions regarding marriage and sexual ethics, but does so while inviting people to rediscover the meaning of life. Through it, one realizes that modern man’s sexual confusion is not caused because the world glorifies sexuality, but because the world fails to see its glory.

For those who have disregarded the Church’s teaching on human sexuality because it seems out of touch with the modern world, the Theology of the Body offers a fresh perspective. Its insights are not pious reflections offered by a theologian who was isolated from the daily struggles of married life. On the contrary, they are the result of decades of personal interactions between a remarkable saint and the countless young adults and married couples that he accompanied through their vocations. These couples attest that although John Paul had a great ability to preach, he had an even greater ability to listen.

The Theology of the Body comes from the heart of a saint who listened intently not only to others but also to the God Who could provide meaning to their lives. He was no stranger to suffering, living under Nazi and Communist regimes and having lost his family by the age of twenty. While such trials might lead some to abandon their faith, John Paul’s was forged by them, as he sought answers to the deepest questions about life’s meaning.

John Paul also possessed a staggering intellect, and according to his secretary, spent three hours each day reading. 13 Although he was dedicated to the intellectual life, John Paul’s prayer life took priority. His colleagues attest that he seemed to be continually absorbed in prayer, as can be seen from the fact that he considered the busy Paris Metro to be “a superb place for contemplation.” 14

His greatest devotion, however, was to the Blessed Sacrament. He never omitted his Holy Hour on Thursdays, even while traveling internationally. If the organizers of his trips didn’t make room for it in his schedule, he would make time and simply arrive an hour late to their program. When his assistants attempted to convince him to decrease the amount of time spent in this devotion, he refused, saying, “No, it keeps me.” 15 He knew that apostolic mission derives its strength from life in God. 16 It is from this man’s heart, mind, and soul that the Church has been given a tremendous gift: the Theology of the Body.

Structure

The Theology of the Body is comprised of two parts. The first focuses on three passages from Scripture, or “words” of Christ. In it, John Paul examined the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding marriage and divorce. 17 Then he reflects upon the words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount, in particular those concerning committing adultery in one’s heart. 18 Finally, he turns to Christ’s words regarding the resurrection of the body. 19 By means of these reflections, he explains the redemption of the body. If fact, in his final catechesis, he describes the content of the whole work as “the redemption of the body and the sacramentality of marriage.” 20

The Theology of the Body is thoroughly biblical— as can be seen by the fact that the Pope draws from forty-six books and more than a thousand Scripture citations. However, among all of the passages he quotes, the three mentioned above are his focus. He compares them to the panels of a triptych, which is a work of sacred art consisting of three panels, or parts. When the three images are displayed together, they present a fuller understanding of a topic of theology (in this case, the human person).

The three parts of John Paul’s triptych are original, historical, and eschatological man. Original man is who God created man to be in the beginning, before the dawn of sin. Historical man refers to the current state of humanity, burdened by original sin but redeemed by Christ. “Eschatological” has its roots in the Greek word for “end,” eschaton, and refers to the glorified state of man in heaven. Together, these three epochs of human history form what John Paul called an “adequate anthropology”— an understanding of what it means to be a human person.

In the first part of the Theology of the Body, John Paul used the above three “words” of Christ to explain man’s call to live out “the spousal meaning of the body.” This phrase is the heart of the Theology of the Body. It means that the human body has “the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and— through this gift— fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.” 21 (This gift of self can be expressed not only through marriage, but also through celibacy for the kingdom of God.)

In the second part of the Theology of the Body, the Pope analyzed “The Sacrament” which is the “great sign” of Christ’s love for the Church and the love between a husband and wife. He explained what the gift of self means in terms of the “language of the body,” and how men and women are called to live it out, especially as it relates to building their families.”

-Evert, Jason (2017-12-06). Theology of the Body In One Hour (Kindle Locations 63-102, 109-239). Totus Tuus Press. Kindle Edition.

Love, His will is perfect,
Matthew

1 Peter 5: 8.
2 Mieczysław Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference, Krakow, Poland, July 27, 2016.
3 Interview with Father Andrew Swietochowski, July 31, 2017.
4 The Pontifical Council for the Family and the International Institute of Studies on Marriage and Family.
5 Diane Montagna, “Online Exclusive: What John Paul II Intended to Say the Day He Was Shot,” Aleteia, May 7, 2016.
6 Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity (New York: Rizzoli, 2005), 164.
7 Pope John Paul II, Angelus message, May 29, 1994.
8 Gaudium et Spes, 36.
9 Other proposed titles included “Human Love in the Divine Plan” or “The Redemption of the Body and the Sacramentality of Marriage.”
10 George Weigel, Witness to Hope (New York: Harper, 2001), 343.
11 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2516 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994).
12 Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 11 (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1981).
13 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
14 George Weigel, City of Saints (New York: Image, 2015), 232.
15 Mokrzycki, World Youth Day Press Conference.
16 Pope John Paul II, Master in the Faith 2, Rome: December 14, 1990.
17 Matt. 19: 8; Mark 10: 6– 9.
18 Matt. 5: 28.
19 Matt. 22: 30; Mark 12: 25; Luke
20: 35– 36. 20 TOB 133: 2.
21 Theology of the Body 15: 1; 32: 1, 3.

Purification

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

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

MEDITATION

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

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

COLLOQUY

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

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

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

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

Love,
Matthew