Category Archives: Passionists

Laudato Si and the Passion of Jesus Christ



The temptation when reading Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, on our common home, is to limit it to a series of political or economic or social recommendations. It goes deeper than that.

Early on in his encyclical Laudato Si, the pope says that “Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it. (19) He’s asking for a change in the way we see things and do things.

A painful seeing and a painful doing. The pope seems to me to be recommending we take a traditional form of Christian prayer, meditation on the Passion of Christ, and extend it to a meditation on the pains of creation and the pains of the poor. We are to make their pain our own and then “discover what each of us can do about it.”

Mystics are usually the people who see the connection of things. Is the pope calling for a passion mysticism, prompted by the Passion of Jesus, that hears “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor?” (49)

I like his quotation of the Sufi spiritual writer Ali al-Khawas who “stresses that we not put too much distance between creatures of the world and the interior experience of God.”

“Prejudice should not have us criticize those who seek ecstasy in music or poetry. There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted…” (EVA DE VITRAY-MEYEROVITCH [ed.], Anthologie du soufisme, Paris 1978, 200).

Silent Clay

The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. The Acts of the Apostles is a fast-moving account of a developing church spreading rapidly through the world through people like Paul of Tarsus and his companions. Blazing new trails and visiting new places,  they’d be frequent flyers today, always on the go.

The supper-room discourse of Jesus from the Gospel of John, on the other hand,  seem to move slowly, repeating, lingering over the words of Jesus to his disciples. Listen, be quiet, sit still, they say. Don’t go anywhere at all.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was inspired by St. Paul, the Apostle, to preach and to teach. Many of his letters end telling readers he has to go, he’s off to preach somewhere. He was a “frequent flyer.”

But the Gospel of John also inspired him; it was the basis for his teaching on prayer. Keep in God’s presence, in pure faith, he often said. Enter that inner room and remain there. Don’t go anywhere.

“It’s not important for you to feel the Divine Presence, but very important to continue in pure faith, without comfort, loving God who satisfies our longings. Remain like a child resting on the bosom of God in faithful silence and holy love. Remain there in the higher part of your soul paying no attention to the noise of the enemy outside. Stay in that room with your Divine Spouse…Be what Saint John Chrysostom says to be: silent clay offered to the potter. Give yourself to your Maker. What a beautiful saying! What the clay gives to the potter, give to your Creator. The clay is silent; the potter does with it what he wills. If he breaks it or throws away, it is silent and content, because it knows it’s in the king’s royal gallery.”  (Letter 1515)

 

Bread from Heaven

Jordan satellite
The dark green around the Lake of Galilee you see in the upper part of this Google satellite picture of Palestine says there’s good farmland there now; it was good farmland at the time of Jesus.

Herod the Great and his son Herod Antipas,  Galilee’s rulers then, appreciated the prospects  then and they created a network of roads and large cities – Tiberius, Sepphoris and Caesarea Maritima on the sea– to export goods from Galilee to the rest of the world. Could this information help us appreciate the miracle of Jesus, feeding the crowd bread and some fish?

“I am the bread of life”,  Jesus says in today’s gospel from John. I’m the source of your blessings and everything that is. God the creator works through me.  Moses asked for bread for his people journeying from Egypt.  Jesus says: “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus makes a divine claim in this miraculous sign, feeding a multitude. The crowd  wants to make him king, (John 6, 15) but the kingship they see doesn’t approach the kingship that’s his. It’s much too small. Jesus rejects their plan.

In a wonderful commentary on Jesus as the bread of life, the early theologian Origen says that Jesus calls himself bread because he is “nourishment of every kind,” not just nourishment of our bodies. He nourishes our minds and our souls; he brings life to creation itself.  When we ask “Give us this day our daily bread,” we’re asking for everything that nourishes our “true humanity, made in the image of God.”

Jesus is the bread that helps us “grow in the likeness of our creator.” (On Prayer 27,2) Sometimes– in fact most of the time–we don’t know the nourishment we or our world needs, but God does. “The true bread come down from heaven”  knows how to feed us.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

May, the Month of Mary

Mary Garden, Immaculate Conception Monastery, Jamaica, NY

We celebrate Easter through the month of May. The Risen Lord stays with his church on her pilgrim way and walks with her step by step. Jesus is with us; he won’t leave us orphans. He gives us his gifts.

One of his gifts is Mary, his Mother. We honor her this month and ask her to guide us into the mysteries of Jesus, her Son. She knew him better than any of his creatures. I have been out in our Mary Garden these last few days visiting her.

In the Acts of the Apostles, our primary scriptural source for knowing how the church developed, Luke describes that development mainly through the missionary journeys of Peter and Paul. But let’s not forget Mary, a key figure in that development. She’s “embedded” in the story of Jesus’ life and in the development of the church. I like that word to describe her–”embedded.”  

After Jesus ascends into heaven, forty days after his resurrection, a group of his followers, whom we already know from Luke’s gospel, go back to the upper room in Jerusalem.  Luke describes them:

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” 

As he says earlier in his gospel, Luke depends on eyewitnesses who not only have seen and heard what Jesus said and did, but also are given prophetic gifts for preaching and teaching in the church. They tell us Jesus rose from the dead but, inspired by the Holy Spirit, they also tell us what that mystery means for the world. 

Luke’s eyewitnesses are the eleven apostles, paired up two by two as Jesus told them for  preaching the gospel. There are also women, like Mary Magdalen, followers of Jesus during his ministry and important witnesses of his resurrection. And finally Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers, his relations, who knew him from the beginning.

Mary, who kept all these things in her heart, is the chief eyewitness.

What Does the Risen Christ Look LIke?

Many of us  learned our faith from catechisms and sermons and pictures on the windows and walls of our churches. Xavier Leon-Dufour begins his classic work (Resurrection and the Message of Easter, New York, 1971) remembering trying to reconcile images he saw on the church windows of his youth with the gospel accounts he studied later. In art Jesus often appears as a revived corpse, his body and clothing brighter than before..

The church window above, based on Matthew’s Gospel, changes the way the gospel tells the resurrection story. Similar images appear often, especially in the Easter season.  Jesus risen from the dead appears like Lazarus raised from the tomb. But resurrection is different from resuscitation.

“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.” Mt 28,1-5

According to Matthew, an angel descends from heaven, rolls back the stone and strikes fear in the guards at the tomb. Our stained glass window depicts Jesus Christ stepping from the tomb striking fear into the guards. The angel becomes an onlooker wearing green, the color of hope. Jesus looks rather like he did before he died and he would be recognized immediately.

The gospels, however, indicate he was changed. Mary Magdalene and the others have difficulty recognizing him– he’s changed. The disciples on the way to Emmaus recognize him after he quotes the scriptures and, finally,  breaks bread with them. The disciples at the lakeshore in Galilee are not sure who is he, until they eat with him.

The Risen Lord has entered another realm of existence. He is risen.  He remains with us mysteriously.  He does not blind us with  light, as he did Paul the Apostle. He does not appear in bodily form, as he was before his death. He  comes to us risen, risen indeed. Now, we meet him in the scriptures and the “breaking of the bread.” Also, just as mysteriously, we see him in the least. “When did we see you?”  is the question raised at judgment.

Early Christian art as seen in the 4th century portrayal from catacombs below, recognizing the mystery of the Resurrection, used symbolism to represent the Risen Christ. Jesus entered a new existence in his resurrection. It’s hard for artists and for us to depict that existence.

I mentioned Xavier Leon-Dufour earlier. Here’s what he said about the Risen Jesus:

“To speak of the resurrection of Jesus is to affirm that death has been conquered in one man at least: and to say that he lives forever is boldly to locate oneself at the end of time. It is a challenge for the unbeliever to revise his idea of life: for if one man is alive forever after his death, why not should the same be so for all men at the end of time? Why should there not be after death an existence called heaven?”  In that existence “life is changed, not ended.”

Resurrection

Weekday Readings: Third Week of Easter


Monday Acts 6,8-15; John 6,22-29
Tuesday Acts 7,58-8,1; John 6,30=35
Wednesday Acts 8,1-8; John 6,35-40
Thursday Acts 8,26-40; John 6,44-51
Friday Acts 9,1-20; John 6,52-59
Saturday Acts 9,31-42; John 6,60-69

The Mass readings this week continue from the Acts of the Apostles with the story of the Greek-speaking deacon Stephen. His fiery preaching against temple worship and “stiff-necked” Jewish opposition to Jesus results in his death and a persecution that drives Hellenist Christians out of Jerusalem. (Monday and Tuesday) But Stephen’s death, like the death of Jesus, brings new life. The church grows. “The death of Christians is the seed of Christianity.” (Tertullian )

Philip the Deacon, one of those displaced, preaches to the Samaritans north of Jerusalem. Then, led by the Spirit, he converts the Ethiopian eunuch returning home after his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (Wednesday and Thursday} Following Philip’s activity, Paul, the persecutor, is converted by Jesus himself. (Friday)

Before Paul’s ministry begins, Peter leaves Jerusalem to bless the new Christian communities near the coast; at Joppa he’s told by God to meet the Roman centurion in Caesarea Maritima. The mission to the gentile world begins with that meeting. (Saturday)

Stephen, Philip, Peter and Paul serve God’s mysterious plan. It’s not human planning. The Holy Spirit is at work.

The gospel readings this week are from St.John’s gospel– segments of Jesus’ long discourse on the Bread of Life to the crowd at Capernaum after the miracle of the loaves. (John 6) In the Eucharist we meet the Risen Christ.  He not only feeds us personally, but a growing church is fed.

Creation Speaks of the Word

St. Athanasius, the 4th century  bishop of Alexandria in Egypt whose feast we celebrate today, was one of the great defenders of the divinity of Christ against the Arians, who claimed that the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, was created by God the Father.and so was not eternal. The Word was God, eternal, consubstantial, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Athanasius taught. Humanity and all creation were brought into being by the Word.  We are made in the image of God, the saint says in his treatise “Against the Arians” and so we are made  in the image of the Word of God, who became flesh.

“Our Lord said: ‘Whoever receives you, receives me.’ The image of the Word through whom the universe was made, the Wisdom that made the sun and the stars– is in us.”

The  saint carries this thought further:

“The likeness of Wisdom has been stamped upon creatures in order that the world may recognize in it the Word who was its maker and through the Word come to know the Father. This is Paul’s teaching: ‘What can be known about God is clear to them, for God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature has been there for the mind to perceive in things that have been made.’”

All creation has been stamped with “the likeness of Wisdom.” The universe can be traced to the Word; and it draws us to the Word. Creation is hardly secular, divorced from God, to be seen as worthless. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, came among us that we might discover the divine image not only in ourselves, and in the things that are made. Creation leads us to its Creator.

We make Jesus Christ too small if we see him only a human being, the saint argues. We also make creation too small if we dismiss it as godless. Jesus immerses himself in the waters of the Jordan at his baptism and  is proclaimed as God’s only Son. At the last supper, Jesus took bread and wine, blessed them and gave himself to us through them. The bread at Mass is the “fruit of the earth” and the wine “fruit of the vine.”  Creation brings the Word to us.

Pope Francis asks for this same recognition of the dignity of creation in his encyclical “Laudato Si.”

Father, you raised up  St. Athanasius, to be an outstanding teacher of the divinity of your Son.  May we grow to know and love you through his wisdom.