Category Archives: art

Thoughts Upon The Cross: Bold Humility

by Howard Hain

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We should always strive to be fully united with The Body of Christ, in both thought and prayer. To think prayerfully, and to prayerfully think.

Let us then prayerfully embrace this particular moment:

Lord God, Father Almighty, let us use the talents, the gifts, and the abilities—that come from You, that will return to You, but that You have lent us for the time being—with maximum effectiveness, maximum efficiency, and bold humility—all for Your glory.

In the name of Jesus—in the person of Christ—as the Messiah Himself would offer.

Amen.

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Now, let us think, prayerfully.

What is “bold humility”?

Let’s explore an answer, slow and steady.

First, like all manifestations of God’s glory, “bold humility” is a matter of transcendence.

Second, transcendence is not merely a type of balance. Balance is something else entirely. It is something less than divine. Balance is a man-made religious concept. It is practical human philosophy at work in the world, depending on and functioning within human limitation. Unlike transcendence, balance does not stem from the theological posture of divine providence, and more so, it does not rely on the acknowledged power and faithful acceptance of divine grace.

For example, with regard to the matter at hand, “bold humility” is not merely the balancing of boldness and humility—it is not a matter of being equally bold and equally humble—as if on a scale of 1-10, a score of 5 for boldness and a score 5 for humility is achieved simultaneously—adding up to 10 and at the same time keeping the “seesaw” of virtue straight and parallel to the earth lying below.

No, “bold humility”, like all Christian (and therefore preternatural) virtue is not a matter of equally limiting each natural characteristic in order to fit them all within the confines of human potential and logical limitations.

In plain language then, “bold humility” is not simply a healthy combination of two virtues, namely “boldness” and “humility”.

And most directly to the point: Christ didn’t balance. He transcended.

Then what does transcendence mean in this supernatural sense?

Well, let us rule out a few more false understandings before positing a possible positive understanding.

It will prove helpful to also establish this negation: To transcend is not merely to eliminate. Nor is it merely to deny. By transcending one does not destroy the categories it transcends. So in this particular case we can say that “bold humility” does not “eliminate” or “deny” the category of “boldness” or the category of “humility”.

Now let us begin to state positively what Jesus accomplished—for Jesus most certainly transcended.

To transcend is to rise above and beyond. It is to journey through. It is to transform.

Transcendence fulfills the “categories” it leaves below—it completely and utterly fulfills each and every virtue that man could ever conceive—and not only at the same time or simultaneously, but eternally and to a maximum degree. Transcendence is perpetual fulfillment of all “goodness” to an infinite “degree”.

Transcendence is then what we might call: Active Shalom.

It is living, breathing “Fullness”. It is “True Peace”. It is “Oneness” and the “Unity of God”—alive and constantly in motion. For to transcend is also to enter and live within the Internal Consistency of The Eternal Creator Himself.

Transcendence is the ultimate simplicity of “I AM.

It is Ipse Christus—Christ Himself—God made man, the Word made flesh, the magnificence of God brought into visible light.

And it is human redemption at work.

For the person of Jesus is just that: He is the glory of God woven into and through the very fabric of humanity—taking humanity above and beyond itself—transforming it on earth and simultaneously bringing it back with Him to the Father in heaven—as a new, glorified, and righteous form.

Jesus both lifts humanity into heaven and manifests fully God’s glory on earth.

Bold Humility” is Jesus Himself.

He alone fulfills completely both “boldness” and “humility” without ceasing.

And by doing so He straddles two worlds—making them one. But yet He is much more than a bridge, much more than a mere mystical ladder. Jesus, if you will, is Jacob’s Ladder but built of human flesh—upon Whom not only holy angels ascend and descend between heaven and earth—but through Whom the very helix of humanity is redeemed and glorified.

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But enough words.

For they can never capture.

Jesus is profoundly free.

The best we can hope for is a glimpse—a fleeting image of the living, breathing manifestation of “Bold Humility” in ultimate action.

It takes silence.

It involves leaving the senses and faculties behind.

It requires “spirit and truth”:

We must stare at The Cross.

We must experience—firsthand—The Crucified Christ.


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Let us then pray once more:

Lord God, Father Almighty, let us use the talents, the gifts, and the abilities—that come from You, that will return to You, but that You have lent us for the time being—with maximum effectiveness, maximum efficiency, and bold humility—all for Your glory.

In the name of Jesus—in the person of Christ—as the Messiah Himself would offer.

Amen.


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Thoughts Upon The Cross: Act Like A Man

by Howard Hain

saint joseph, holy family.

To all men it may concern (definitely including me):

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Complaining is not strength.

It is actually quite unbecoming, to say the least.

In fact, it can easily become extremely boring.

And when it spills forth from the mouths of men who are appointed to lead, it manages to take on a whole new level of tediousness.

It becomes outright pathetic.

Of course, I am not talking about having private conversations with friends or colleagues, the kind of back and forth that can often strengthen and give great consolation. No, that falls under fellowship, under spiritual friendship. In those situations, practicing vulnerability and allowing oneself to be seen as truly struggling is actually a sign of strength.

What I am referring to are those too-often times when “leaders” openly and repeatedly complain in front of the very people they are chosen to lead and inspire—in front of the very people they are chosen to protect, guide, and encourage. Or to put it in more spiritual and pastoral terms—in terms of the “Good Shepherd” if you will—instead of feeding their sheep a sense of hope, a sense of security, and a sense of peace, the shepherds themselves cultivate and offer their flocks an atmosphere of worldly concern, a stream of ongoing despair, and a diet of downright near hysteria.

It is so embarrassing.

And the scope is broad, for appointed “leadership” comes in many forms: public officials, all kinds of employers, managers, politicians, coaches, pastors, administrators, teachers, and most certainly, and perhaps most significantly, every married man and father in the world.

God have mercy on us.

Forgive us our many failures.

Especially for us Catholic Christians, called to imitate in a special manner the Crucified Christ.

And this isn’t simply a matter of ever-changing public opinion. No, it’s a matter of being inherent in the very idea of leadership itself.

Shepherds lead, sheep follow.

Think about it, when was the last time you saw an artwork depicting a small group of little lambs carrying a full-grown living breathing Jesus?

Needless to say, never.

And in terms of practical and applied philosophy, let us then keep this significant and relative reality in mind: When it comes to real and everyday concerns, chances are that the most grueling day for most of us modern men is only as difficult as the normal, run-of-the-mill, daily employment of a mother of three—not to mention if that mother is also working full-time, single, in an abusive relationship, and/or barely speaks English—then it’s no contest—and in our current “ever-progressive” society, these conditions unfortunately too often apply.

So, if this not-so-gentle “correction” applies to you (as it most certainly applies to me) know that many are praying for us, many feel for us, many love us, many even need us, but we need to do our part:

Act like a man.

For sake of Christ.


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Let us pray:

Lord God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, we give you praise. Help us Father, help all men, all those called by You to lead. Help us to follow the only True Man, Your Only Begotten Son, Christ Jesus—our Lord and our God, and living Innocence itself. May we follow Him and Him alone, so we may be properly equipped—emotionally, physically, and spiritually—to lead those You have entrusted to our care. Make us strong and patient, courageous and persevering. Let us learn through the example of Saint Joseph the true meaning of humility, obedience, and selfless sacrificial service. Teach us to cherish silence and value greatly the grace of a truly developed interior life. Inspire us to love our wives and children with sincerity and integrity and profound gratitude. And when need be, Heavenly Father, show us how to be truly decisive, how to act with boldness in defending Your truth, and how to be utterly fearless in helping rescue those crushed by injustice and hypocrisy.

In all matters may we always do Your will and act on Your behalf—with minds made spotless, hearts made pure, and bodies kept chaste.

We ask this in the name of Jesus, in the perfect unity of the Holy Spirit, for Your endless glory.

Amen.


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Thoughts Upon The Cross: Speak Life

by Howard Hain

Sandro Botticelli, The Last Communion of Saint Jerome, early 1490s (detail)

Botticelli, “The Last Communion of Saint Jerome”, early 1490s, (detail), The Met


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Heal us.

In the form of bread.

Our tongues like cribs.

You come to rest.

A sacred place.

A mother watches.

A father can hardly believe.

Greatness simply conceived.

Silent.

Yes let us be.

Help us not to speak.

No words can be.

No thoughts except those that flee.

Yes.

Hold our tongues.

Into quiet place.

Stillness.

Let us wait.

Till hear You cry.

A hungry child.

Tucked in for night.

A drop of milk.

In reality blood.

In the form of wine.

The angels sing.

Holiness explodes.

Heaven down to earth.

Saints to and fro.

Blessings forth.

Grace abounds.

The sick are healed.

The blind can see.

The lonely find friends.

Children unwanted?

They finally reach home.

We look.

We see.

We wonder.

How could it be?

It’s Him!

It’s Him.

Right there.

The One nailed to the tree.

Alive again.

Within my mouth.

And at my right hand.

And to the left.

And straight ahead.

And there!

Yes, there too!

In that hopeless situation.

We thought all was lost.

But, no, it’s Him.

He really does care.

And He calls us over.

To Himself.

And yes.

Silence changes forms.

It’s again time to speak.

What else can we do?

The Eternal One.

The Son of Man.

The Conqueror of Strife.

Let us smile at one another.

Let us speak life.


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http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/435728

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Thoughts Upon The Cross: The Imitation of Christ

by Howard Hain

Francisco Goya, The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid, 1814-15 (detail), oil on canvas, (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

Francisco Goya, “The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid”, 1814-15 (detail)


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I hear, ironically mostly among clergy, that the spiritual classic “The Imitation of Christ” is no longer really relevant—that it is too hard, too negative, too oppressive—written for a time when plagues and famines and wars were rampant, when men hardly lived to what we now call “middle age.” But most of all, perhaps, I am told through cute smirks and smug expressions that it is a book not for our “age”, that it no longer applies to our advanced “civilization”, that it no longer rings true in the triumphant “West”.

I ask: Are we free of plagues, free of war, free of famine?

Are not our priests and religious sisters dying off rapidly? Are not babies systematically massacred inside their mothers’ womb? Are not children starving for their fathers to marry their mothers, for there to be a man who actually lives in the same home?

Do we no longer thirst?

Or have we “moved passed” Christ’s inconvenient cry from the Cross?

It seems to me that Christ Himself put little value on living past “middle age”.

Perhaps imitating Him would not be such a barbaric idea.

Lord, have mercy on us.


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Francisco Goya, The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid, 1814-15 , oil on canvas, (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

Francisco Goya, “The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid”, 1814-15, oil on canvas, (Museo del Prado, Madrid)


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Jesus, the Teacher

This evening at our mission at Immaculate Conception Parish in Irvington on the Hudson, I spoke about Jesus, the Teacher. I like Rembrandt’s drawing of Jesus preaching to a crowd. For one thing, the crowd around him seems to represent all ages, shapes and sizes of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ disciples, like Peter, James and John may be there, but they don’t seem to stand out. Maybe some of his enemies are there, but they don’t stand out either. They’re all there listening, except maybe the little child on the ground playing with something he’s found. And Jesus teaches them.

Did Rembrandt find these faces in the people of his neighborhood, ordinary people? If that’s so, this crowd could be us.

Luke’s gospel seems a lot like this painting to me. In much of Luke’s gospel Jesus makes his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, and as he goes his way he calls everybody to follow him. Some women from Galilee follow him. He calls Zachaeus, the tax collector, down from a tree to join him. Follow me, he says to a blind man begging in the same place for years. He called people in every shape and form, sinners, tax-collectors, everyone.

It was not just to see him die that he calls them to follow him, but to go with him onto glory. “Come with me this day to paradise, “ Jesus says to the thief on the cross. Our creed says he descends into hell, which means he goes to those who have been waiting for centuries for the redemption he brings. He calls to all, to them and to us, to follow him.

Following Jesus to glory also means taking up our cross each day. Listen to Luke’s gospel: “Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily *and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” ( Luke 9, 23-24 )

Listen carefully to what Jesus says. He speaks to “all”. Everyone in this world has a challenge to take up and a burden to bear. Jesus also says, “take up your cross.” It’s a cross that’s distinctly ours. It’s not the same cross that Jesus bore; it’s the cross we bear. “Do you want to see the cross? Hold out your arms; there it is.” (Wisdom of the Desert)

He blesses us from his cross. He gives us strength to bear what we have to bear and to carry out the mission he gives us.

Besides taking up our cross each day, Jesus says also to become like little children to enter into his glory. Often in the gospel, Jesus points to children when his own disciples try to lord it over other people. Listen again to St. Luke:

“An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.” Luke 9, 46-48

One of the saints describes this teaching very well. Jesus doesn’t tell us to go back to being children physically. We can’t do that. This is what it means to be children. “To be free from crippling anxieties, to be forgetful of injuries, to be sociable, and to stand in wonder before all things.” (St. Leo the Great)

There’s great wisdom in Jesus’ teaching on spiritual childhood. No matter how old or young we are, we’re called to become like children. Rembrandt instinctively has a child prominently in his drawing of Jesus preaching to the crowd. Jesus opens his hands as he preaches. Can we see him teaching them they must bear their cross?

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The Ethiopian Eunuch

Philip eunuch

Readings
Rembrandt’s biblical subjects are always interesting. They say as a child he used to sit with his mother while she prayed and look at the illustrations in her prayerbook. All his life the painter was attracted to the bible. Even without a commission, he’d sketch a biblical story that caught his eye.

Here’s the Ethiopian eunuch–our reading from Acts for today– kneeling and looking intently at the stream of water, waiting to be baptized by Philip the deacon. He’s been profoundly moved by the story he’s been told.

His servant stands behind him holding his rich outer garments. He’s the queen’s treasurer, don’t forget. An imposing guard on horseback, armed to the teeth, maybe an Ethiopian security agent, looks on. The rest of his retinue stand back, maybe puzzled by it all and anxious to get on their way on the long trip home from Jerusalem.

Like Zacchaeus, another rich man Luke recalls, the Ethiopian sees something greater than riches in Jesus and the water that promises life.

Though visibly absent, the Holy Spirit who orchestrated this scene is here too. .

How does it all turn out, we wonder? When they get home, does the eunuch get sacked because the security agent turns him in for foolish behavior? Does the servant who watched the baptism become a follower of Jesus too? Did the eunuch tell the Queen the story of Jesus? Did he ever get back to Jerusalem again?

Luke is a wonderful story-teller. Rembrandt is too.

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Jesus, the Teacher

 

This evening at our mission at St. Theresa’s Parish in Staten Island, NY, I spoke about Jesus, the Teacher. I like Rembrandt’s drawing of Jesus preaching to a crowd. For one thing, the crowd around him seems to represent all ages, shapes and sizes of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ disciples, like Peter, James and John may be there, but they don’t seem to stand out. Maybe some of his enemies are there, but they don’t stand out either. They’re all there listening, except maybe the little child on the ground playing with something he’s found. And Jesus teaches them.

Did Rembrandt find these faces in the people of his neighborhood, ordinary people? If that’s so, this crowd could be us.

Luke’s gospel seems a lot like this painting to me. In much of Luke’s gospel Jesus makes his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, and as he goes his way he calls everybody to follow him. Some women from Galilee follow him. He calls Zachaeus, the tax collector, down from a tree to join him. Follow me, he says to a blind man begging in the same place for years. He called people in every shape and form, sinners, tax-collectors, everyone.

It was not just to see him die that he calls them to follow him, but to go with him onto glory. “Come with me this day to paradise, “ Jesus says to the thief on the cross. Our creed says he descends into hell, which means he goes to those who have been waiting for centuries for the redemption he brings. He calls to all, to them and to us, to follow him.

What does following Jesus mean? I spoke of two things. Jesus said to follow him we must take up our cross each day. He also said we must become like little children. He taught us about spiritual childhood.

 

 

 

 

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