Morning Thoughts: Stench of the Cross

Rembrandt Begger Seated on a Bank (1630)

Rembrandt, “Beggar Seated on a Bank”, (1630)


 

For we are to God the sweet aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing...

—2 Corinthians 2:15


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We see so many images of Christ Crucified. Museums and churches are full of them. And they should be. It is the greatest paradox ever told.

And to go along with the abundance of visual representations, there are of course also many artworks in written form depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ. Shelf after shelf can be filled with books containing the seemingly endless repertoire of poems, plays, and musical compositions based on the subject.

But none can capture the stench of death.

Smell moves us like no other sense.

It is so powerful. So quick. So nauseating.

Think of that the next time you’re riding the subway on your way to a museum. Think of that when a homeless man enters your subway car. Think of that when you’re tempted to switch trains at the next stop due to the stench.

Breathe deep instead.

Think of the stench. Think of that poor man—that poor sorrowful man dying right in front of you. The stench of rotting flesh. The stench of death.

No artwork that you’re on your way to see will bring Jesus and His Cross more to life.

Take a deep breath, and pray. You’re on holy ground.

Pray for yourself. Pray for the man. Pray for all those on board. Pray for the entire world.

Pray that that particular stench, that stench of death, right then and there, brings life.

That it brings life to hardened hearts.

That it brings life to senses numbed to the utter poverty of human suffering—suffering that manifests itself in oh so many ways.

That it brings life to what the world says can’t and shouldn’t be redeemed.

And give that gentleman a few bucks.

———

The Metropolitan Museum of Art recommends an entrance fee of twenty-five dollars. Do you know how much consolation that poor suffering Christ riding right next to you would receive if you gave him that much?

Do you know how cheap a price that is to pay to be able to get so close to a living breathing masterpiece of sacrificial life?

Dig in deep. Dig into your pockets. Dig deep into the reserves of your heart.

You will be amazed how such a prayer, such an act of compassion, such a “living faith”, will transform the stench of death into the aroma of life.

Breathe deep. Pick up your cross. Die daily.

Get over yourself.

What a breath of fresh air!

Now that’s truly an entrance fee.

And it’s worth every drop.


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Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

—John 12:3


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—Howard Hain

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The Queenship of Mary

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“We live from feast to feast.” (St. Athanasius) The feasts of the church feed our faith; they’re linked together and we celebrate them one along with the other, one after the other.

The Feast of Mary’s Assumption, August 15, is one of the major feasts of Mary and it’s closely linked to the Resurrection of Jesus (Easter) and to her other feasts. The feasts of Mary always return to the mysteries of her Son.

The Queenship of Mary (August 22) is linked to the Feast of the Assumption. It originated in 1955 and points to a privileged place in heaven for Mary. She “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things.” (Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 59)

The Old Testament commonly gave royal titles to God and those specially anointed by God; Christianity continued giving titles of royalty to Jesus and Mary. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is called Queen in prayers like the Salve Regina and Regina Coeli.

However sublime her title, though, Mary on her part proclaims the greatness of her Lord, as she does in the portrayal of this mystery by Fra Angelico. (above).“May soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior. He who is mighty has done great things to me; holy is his name.”

She does not seek honors for herself. “Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

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21st Sunday C: “Will Only A Few Be Saved?”

To listen to today’s homily please select the audio file below:

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” someone asks Jesus on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, described in Luke’s gospel, our Mass reading today. He doesn’t answer the question, but instead tells his listeners to respond immediately to God’s call when they hear it.

Why was the question asked anyway, you wonder? Was it because the response wasn’t great when Jesus made his way to Jerusalem? In our first reading Isaiah predicts people from all nations will flock to Jerusalem when the Messiah comes. Were those who followed Jesus few in number then?

Will the response to Jesus sometimes be the same?

The journey of Jesus to Jerusalem never ends, we believe. It goes on through time as Christian missionaries go through other towns, places, even continents. It took place when European explorers, settlers and missionaries brought faith in Jesus Christ to peoples in North America who never knew him.

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Early Christian missionaries may have asked that as they reviewed their attempts to evangelize the native peoples of North America. Historians estimate about 50 million Indians lived in North America before the arrival of Europeans. A hundred years later, only 10 percent survived, mainly because of diseases brought by the newcomers. In a hundred or so years, as European settlers increased in number, most of the native tribes in eastern North America were forced westward or destroyed by war or small pox brought by the Europeans.

H.Hudson halfmoon

Coming to the new world, Catholic missionaries like the Jesuits and Franciscans hoped, not only to convert the native peoples to Christianity, but some thought they might create a fresh, vibrant Christian civilization, without the ancient antagonisms and rivalries of Europe. They looked for new Pentecost, but it did not seem to come.

Their harvest wasn’t great. The two civilizations were very different. The sense of superiority the Europeans brought, colonialism, and the diseases that decimated the native population made the native peoples question Christianity. It seemed to be a faith that brought death not life.

I hope to visit soon the National Museum of the American Indian, located in the old customs house across from Battery Park near the ferry in New York City, a good place to remember the native peoples in the story of America. They were the first the Europeans traded with; they were their guides into an unknown land. The native peoples provided new foods for growing populations in Africa, Europe and America. They had a greater respect for the land than those who came after them. Their story is now largely forgotten.

At the museum I’ll remember St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a native American who lived along the Mohawk River past Albany, New York. She offers an insight into the culture and social world of the native peoples. Smallpox brought by the Europeans disfigured and partially blinded her. Other diseases like tuberculosis, measles and malaria brought death to large numbers of native peoples, who were diminished further by wars and greed for Indian lands.

She came to believe in Jesus Christ.KATERI

At the museum I’ll also remember Father Isaac Jogues, the fearless Jesuit missionary, who was eventually killed by the Mohawks at Ossernonon (Auriesville), past Albany on the Mohawk River. A strong faith in Christ brought him to the New World where he experienced the clash of cultures as Christianity entered a native American world. Fleeing from Indian captivity, he came here to New Amsterdam (New York) in 1643 and was put on a ship for France by a kindly Dutch minister. A few years later, he returned still eager to bring the Christian faith to the native peoples, but was killed in 1646.

He wanted them to know Jesus Christ.

What do these old examples say about our mission today as disciples of Jesus to make him known? “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” Jesus says. (Matthew 28,16-20) What does that mean today?

Some today tell us to think more positively of cultures like that of the American native peoples. Some say Christians should simply be present in these cultures and silently profess their faith and work for the common good. Some even say we should not evangelize at all.

Certainly, the Spirit of God has been active in humanity from the beginning and we have missed God’s gifts in cultures and religions not our own. The church today recognizes the good in other religions “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions” (Nostra Aetate, 2) . Still, it regards them as a “preparation for the gospel.” (Lumen gentium 16)

“The church is missionary by her very nature.” (Ad gentes 2) She is called to both dialogue respectfully, work for the common good and proclaim her belief.

We’re not only speaking of other cultures and religions, of course.  What about our own culture, which is becoming increasingly resistant to Christian belief? How do we dialogue respectfully and proclaim our belief to our own, our young people, those who are drifting away?

“Lord, will only a few be saved?”

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Friday Thoughts: Exhaustion

Jerzy Duda-Gracz

Jerzy Duda-Gracz, “Golgotha of Jasna Gora”, (ca. 2001)


 

“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life…”

—John 6:27


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On a day such as this, our Lord, our God, our Savior Jesus the Christ was crucified.

It is hard to imagine just what He went through that long, hard day.

It is certainly a good exercise to meditate on Christ’s Passion. It bears great spiritual fruit.

This particular morning, exhaustion is on my mind.

I think of all those who are staggering out of bed. All those faces I shall soon see on the crowded bus, the claustrophobic subway car, the bitterly hot city street.

Of course those faces can also be seen in the suburbs and the country. Those faces are all over the place.

All those Josephs. All those Marys. All those Peters and Pauls. All those just like you and me, like yours and mine—all on their way to work—each carrying a cross made of wood, no matter what the job may entail or what the work may look like, no matter if the “work” performed results in “pay” or not.

Exhaustion. Being spent. Having been completely poured out. Nothing left but fumes.

And many whom I shall see this morning will return this evening to ungrateful companions: spouses, children, in-laws, neighbors…all those in their lives who they provide for, but who rarely think about the effort it takes to generate that provision—let alone, to say, “Thank you”.

Jesus kept walking.

Patience. Strength. Perseverance.

———

Lord, teach us. Show us. Show us Your blessed face.

Can we see You today in the tired, the taken for granted, the exhausted? Can we pour ourselves out on Your behalf? Can we serve those who serve others?

Can we be instruments of encouragement? Can we help the anonymous Jesus right next to us carry His Cross? And can we do all this in complete and perfect union with Jesus and all for the love of You, Lord God?

Father, can we continue to ask You questions such as these? Questions that bring us closer to You, and closer to the Passion of Your Dearly Beloved Son.

I love You, Jesus. Let me never take for granted Your crucifixion. Let me never take for granted Your exhaustive gift—a gift that took every bit of You and yet never runs out—a gift exclusively for me and at the very same time exclusively for each and every other member of mankind.

You, Lord God—Father, Son, Holy Spirit: Most Holy Trinity—are everywhere: on crowded buses, on claustrophobic subway cars, on bitterly hot city streets. You are all over the place. You are in so many who don’t even know that You are in them. Let me see You in them. And may that blessed encounter also be the moment in which he and she comes to recognize Your Divine Presence residing deep within.

You are God.

You died for each of us.

Your Passion continues.

On the Third Day, You rose again.

The Third Day is also today—this very day—this new and blessed day.

You are risen. You are risen, indeed!


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So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

—John 6:28-29


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—Howard Hain

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Ezekiel, Words for Hard Times

jewsinexile

Someone was telling me the other day about a man who left the church because he said they only tell you old stories and use old prayers, mostly from early Jewish times.

True, of course. We read old stories and prayers from the Old and New Testament. The danger is to see nothing about life today in them.

We‘re reading the Prophet Ezekiel these days at Mass. He’s a priest who prophesied in Babylon during the Babylonian exile. In 597 BC, after the Jews in Jerusalem revolted against the Babylonians, Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and took King Johoiachin and members of the Jewish elite, Ezekiel among them, as captives to Babylon. He put Zedekiah in place as king. When Zedekiah revolted five years later, the Babylonians decided they had enough and came and destroyed Jerusalem completely.

Ezekiel speaks to the Jewish elite in Babylon, who are convinced at first that God won’t possibly let Jerusalem to be destroyed. When it’s destroyed, they’re just as convinced it will be quickly rebuilt. Wrong on both counts.

Ezekiel tells them God will let Jerusalem to be destroyed and it’s not God’s fault, it’s their fault. They weren’t faithful leaders:

“Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who have been pasturing themselves!
Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?
You have fed off their milk, worn their wool,
and slaughtered the fatlings,
but the sheep you have not pastured.
You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick
nor bind up the injured.”

Nor will Jerusalem’s restoration be quick, Ezekiel says. It will take time, but it will come, in God’s time, not theirs, by God’s power, not theirs. In the meantime, they should ask God to take away their hearts of stone and give them natural hearts.

But they find that message hard to accept. Listen to their reactions in the 12th chapter of Ezekiel:

“The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, what is this proverb you have in the land of Israel: ‘The days drag on, and every vision fails’ (Sounds like they’re losing faith, doesn’t it? Everything’s falling apart) Say to them therefore: Thus says the Lord GOD: I will put an end to that proverb; they shall never use it again in Israel. Say to them instead: The days are at hand and every vision fulfilled.” …

“Son of man, listen! The house of Israel is saying, “The vision he sees is a long time off; he prophesies for distant times!” (Sounds like they’re losing patience, doesn’t it? They want everything done now} Say to them therefore: Thus says the Lord GOD: None of my words shall be delayed any longer. Whatever I say is final; it shall be done.”

Old story, old words, spoken in hard times. But aren’t we facing hard times now? Hard times make you wonder if everything isn’t falling apart. The old proverb can become ours: “The days drag on, and every vision fails.” But hard times should lead us to hold on to the vision and humbly ask where God is leading us. Hard times can lead to impatience, to blaming others, to thinking God is absent, but Ezekiel tells us this is a blessed time when God becomes more present than ever.

Listen to the closing words of our reading for today. “Thus says the Lord GOD:

I swear I am coming… I will claim my sheep…I will save my sheep…
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” (Ezekiel 34,1-11)

The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.”

Good story, good words for us today.A refreshing story as politicians present their vision of a world of tomorrow.

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Morning Thoughts: Looking Up

El_Greco,_The_Vision_of_Saint_John_(ca 1609-1614).jpg

El Greco, “The Vision of Saint John”, (ca. 1609-14)


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The LORD bless you and keep you!

The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!

The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!

—Numbers 6:24-26


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Look up from your keyboard. Look up from your desk. Look up from your kitchen table. Lift your chin. Raise your eyes toward Heaven. Literally, look up.

Align your face to the beam of light that descends upon you. An individual beam of light comes your way. It is just like the beams in heavenly paintings. White. Bright. Clearly separate from the other beams beaming downward. The beam that shines on you is as real as the beams that shone upon all the great saints. For what made them great was a real individual beam of light shinning upon each and every one of them.

God loves you. He watches you. He listens to you. He willed you into existence, and He continues to do so, right up to this very moment. If you are reading this, if you are hearing this, if your are thinking about this, if you are alive at this very moment in any form whatsoever, it is because God is willing it to be so. And it is not an indifferent willing. It is not a willing that comes and goes. It is caring and constant, it is love and more love.

———

Those of you who are old enough—who were around well before the digital age firmly took over—I’m sure you remember what it was like to go to a small movie house to see a true motion-picture film. The kind that was projected overhead and landed upon a big white screen. We heard that distinct clicking sound that accompanied us the entire time the movie played, and we saw above us—especially if we took our eyes off the attraction on the screen and looked slightly backward and upward—a beam of light that pierced the darkness all around us. And in that beam of light we saw small particles, small white specks dancing within the illuminated beam.

We knew that they were just bits of dust. Bits of dust not brought to life by the light, but instead brought out of hiding by virtue of the light. But to a child beneath that projected image, whether that child was six or seventy-six, they were much more than bits of dust. They were evidence. Evidence that something was going on, that something special was happening. Something magical. Something we didn’t have to understand. Something that no matter how much we understood the science of motion pictures still compelled us to go along for the ride. We simply, with childlike faith, chose to believe in the result landing upon the big white screen on the not-too-distant horizon—so “not-too-distant” that it all seemed within arm’s reach.

Those bits of dust, those imperfections—that under a different light would have gone completely unnoticed, been ignored, been wiped away, or sucked up into a vacuum—under these charmingly cinematic circumstances became an integral part of a wonderful life.

They might as well have been pixie dust.

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Look up then. Look up and align your face to the great beam of light shinning down upon you. God’s love is constantly, unrelentingly being projected toward you. In fact, God’s love is what is projecting you into existence. If He stopped thinking about you, if He stopped loving you, for even a moment, the light that is your blessed existence would go out—the motion picture of your life would come to an abrupt end.

But He doesn’t stop. God never stops. And even when our earthly existence does fade to black, God’s light continues to shine upon us, upon our souls, if we accepted His invitation while here on earth. We just need to decide, to decide now, while here in body and soul, whether or not we want to take part in the greatest motion picture that could ever be: The feature film that never ends and is always—each and every scene, “beginning” to “end”—a happy ending without worldly comparison.

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There are other options of course:

We could end up being stuck inside a very dark theater with no hope of another show ever being shown again. With absolutely no way out. We might be tempted to call such a place “hell”.

Or:

We could end up being stuck inside a very dark theater with no show currently being shown, and no idea when one will be shown—but still with the hope that eventually one will come—but then again, we’d also be painfully aware that it could be a really long time, a really long agonizing wait. We might say that that sounds a lot like “purgatory”.

Heaven, on the other hand, who knows? No one can say for sure how wonderful it is, unless he or she has already been there. All we know is that it is infinitely better than our wildest dreams. And all we can do while we wait is imagine.

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I don’t know about you, but the thought of one of those old silent films—where at the end, a couple madly in love heads off hand-in-hand toward a bright horizon—makes me smile.

It may seem silly, but perhaps going to Heaven is something like that. Perhaps the light that passed overhead our entire time here on earth—turning bits of dust into miraculous signs—becomes the film itself, pulling us into the screen, projecting us into the joyous end of what is now a wonderfully silent movie—transforming what was once only make-believe into something abundantly and eternally real.

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Look up. Choosing such an ending begins with becoming holy.

Yes, it is possible. No matter how bad we are it truly is possible, by God’s grace.

For holiness is not reserved for the chosen, privileged few. No, holiness is what makes common folks reserved and privileged.

And holiness begins by staring into what is already there: The light of God’s love projected upon us.

Look up.               Look inward.               Pray.


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“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.”

—1 Corinthians 2:9


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—Howard Hain

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Assumption, Dormition

The Feast of the Assumption on August 15th in the Roman Church and the Feast of the Dormition in the Eastern Church both celebrate the belief that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was taken up body and soul into heaven by her welcoming Son.

The Feast of the Dormition ends the church year for the Eastern Church, which begins the year with the Feast of the Birth of Mary, September 8th. The mysteries of Jesus take place within these two feasts.

The two churches express the mystery differently in art. In the Western Church Mary, radiantly dressed, turns her face to heaven, often surrounded by angels.

The Eastern Church invariably has Jesus standing over his mother’s body, carrying her soul in his arms as a little child. How else would she be at death? Jesus said we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless we become a little child. She became one.

Her Son brings her body and soul to heaven. She bore him in her womb through grace, now she enters heaven through grace. The apostles, surrounding her body, have been summoned from the ends of the earth to be witnesses to her death and resurrection. She is the “first fruits” of her Son’s redemption. Angels cry out for heaven’s gates to be opened.

“Open your gates and welcome the One who gave birth to the Creator of Heaven and earth; let us celebrate with hymns of glory her holy and venerable body which housed the Lord who is unseen by us. We also cry out: O worthy of all praise, lift up our heads and save our souls”. (Troparion, Feast of the Dormition)

“Today, the Virgin Mother of God

was assumed into heaven

as the beginning and image

of your church’s coming to perfection

and a sign of sure hope and comfort

to your pilgrim people.” (Preface of the Assumption)

God took Mary, the lowly one, and “raised her up to this grace, that your Only-Begotten Son was born to her according to the flesh and that she was crowned this day with surpassing glory. Grant through her prayers that, saved by the mysteries of your redemption, we may merit to be exalted by you on high.” (Collect, Feast of the Assumption)

Because Mary shares in her Son’s resurrection, she also share his desire that “all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” She joins her voice to his and intercedes for us.

“In falling asleep, you did not forsake the world, O Mother of God,

You were translated to life, O Mother of Life.

And by your prayers you deliver our souls from death.” (Troparion)

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