Tag Archives: compassion

Friday Thoughts: Angels

Jan Gossaert Agony in the Garden detail..

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:

‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship

and him alone shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.

—Matthew 4:8-11


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Angels.

What if we could see them?

They exist. They don’t have bodies. They are purely spiritual beings.

What if we focused on them?

What if we focused on them helping God’s people?

Perhaps then we’d better see?

Perhaps then we’d realize how conscious God is of our frailty?

Perhaps then we’d have more compassion toward those whom we are tempted to criticize and condemn?

Perhaps then we’d be more like God’s holy angels— “ministering to” and “strengthening” those whose turn it is to undergo great strain?


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Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

—Luke 22:39-46


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—Howard Hain

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Jan_Gossaert_-_Agony_in_the_Garden_-_WGA9761

Jan Gossaert, “Agony in the Garden”, ca. 1510 

 

Friday Thoughts: Innocence Itself

saint-joseph-and-child-jesus

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A small, beautiful child.

What could be more innocent?

The tiny face of one born a few days before.

What could be more pure?

At what age does that stop?

When is it that we no longer see an innocent child, but instead, just one more man or woman walking the crowded streets?

If the child is our own, probably never.

Parenthood is a gift.

A gift beyond telling.

Yet every person we shall see this day was once a child.

Every person we shall see this day is still a child.

A small, beautiful child.

What could be more innocent?

The tiny face of one born a few days before.

———

Can you imagine what Saint Joseph felt?

What it was like to hold Jesus in the crook of his arm?

To present Innocence Itself to the world?

———

True humility has little to do with wanting to be humble.

It has nothing to do with wanting to look small, tiny, and somewhat sad.

True humility comes through grace.

The grace of knowing that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you on your own cannot stop innocence from being slaughtered.

———

Somewhere, right now, the infant Jesus is being rejected.

Saint Joseph can hardly believe it:

Here He is. The Son of Man. Please don’t do anything, don’t say anything, don’t even think anything that offends His dignity.”

———

The next time we are tempted to judge anyone perhaps we should remember that.

Perhaps we should use our imagination, our faith, our hope, our love—all the gifts and talents that come from God, that return to God, but that God Himself lends us for the time being—to find a child.

For wasn’t that very person, the one who is about to be judged, once too only a few days old?

———

Think of Saint Joseph holding Innocence Itself.

Think of Saint Joseph humbly holding a tiny child, a tiny innocent child reaching out to all mankind with outstretched arms—so innocent that it’s hard to even imagine that all the world, that each and every one of us doesn’t immediately reach back with all our might to tenderly embrace this most precious gift—the most precious gift that a guilty world could receive.

Innocence Itself.


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—Howard Hain

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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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21st Sunday B: A Journey of Compassion

 

Who am I? Who are we?

Our first reading this Sunday from the Book of Joshua is all about those two questions. “Who am I?” and “Who are we?” It’s a reading worth reflecting on.

Joshua, you may remember from your bible history, succeeded Moses as the leader of Jewish people when they came out of Egypt. He’s generally remembered as a soldier who led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, a land disputed then and a land disputed now. The Book of Joshua is a litany of the battles he fought, beginning with the famous battle for Jericho. “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin down.”

Our reading today is from the end of the Book of Joshua. Joshua is over a 100 years old, and the old soldier calls together the different tribes and families of Israel to Shechem to speak to them for the last time.

Your work isn’t finished, your journey isn’t over, he reminds them. But he’s not an old soldier interested in recalling old battles or strategizing military planning for the future. You have been called by God, he tells them. Are you going to listen to that call or not, he asks them? You can drift away and follow other voices, other gods. Make your choice.

“As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua says.

And the people respond:
“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods. For it was the Lord who brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

For Joshua the most important thing is remembering who you are. It’s remembering who you are as an individual and remembering who we are as a people. Everything depends on how we choose to answer those questions.

There’s the personal call: “Who am I?” Where did I come from, who gave me life? Why am I here, what am I to do? Where am I going? What’s my future going to be? God is there in those questions. How do I answer him?

My personal call is not for me alone, though, I’m part of a call to others. We go to God together. We make this journey together.

Joshua and the people see God’s call not just as a personal call When God called them from Egypt, he called them all, the old and the young, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, to journey together and they did. That’s the way the bible describes it and that’s the way it should be, even today. No matter how sophisticated our society gets, how difficult our circumstances are, God calls us to make the journey together.

A French geophysicist and philosopher, Xavier Le Pichon, says that the world evolves the way it should when we respect the fragility of the earth and the fragility of our human community. We advance as a people when we take care of our weakest members; our earth community advances when we respect its fragile nature.

One important way we differ from the animals,Le Pichon says, is the care we take of our weakest members. It’s a trait he finds in our earliest ancestors, the Neanderthals, over one hundred thousand years ago. One study of a Neanderthal burial ground in Iraq revealed the skeleton of a 40 year old severely malformed male, who evidently had been carried from place to place by this group of hunters and then buried with them. He would have been a burden to them, he must have slowed them down, but they carried him with them just the same. He meant something to them.

Unlike animals who cast aside their weak to die on the way, humans have developed a feeling for the weak, Le Pichon says. Like animals, they nourish and care for their young, but they reach further to the weakest. This sense of compassion separates humans from animals. It makes us humane.

Le Pichon disputes Darwin’s all embracing principle of the “survival of the fittest.” That principle, when applied to human evolution, does not take into account the spirit of compassion, he says.

Jesus, of course, taught the importance of the spirit of compassion when he told us that what we did for “one of these, the least, you did it to me.” You grow in love through your care of the least. We are truly human, made in God’s image, when we take care of the weak. We make the journey together.

Ready for Lent?

Lent 1
Communicating isn’t easy. Before the Olympics a Russian writer wrote an article in one the papers about how hard it is for Russians and Americans to understand each other. She gave as an example the simple phrase “How are you?” If you ask an American “How are you?” the answer might be “I’m great,” “Wonderful,” the writer said. But if you ask a Russian “How are you?” you’ll likely get a litany of complaints about health, the government, the neighbors, and everything else that’s going wrong.

I was with some of priests the other day, one is from Ireland the other from Argentina. If you ask the Irish priest “How are you?” his answer usually is “Not too bad.” That seems to be somewhere between the American and the Russian. The Argentinian priest told me that a friend of his was flying to America on an American carrier and he had a bad accident and had to cancel his flight. He called for a refund for his ticket, but was told it was a “non cancellation” ticket. You’re out of luck. After realizing he was getting nowhere his friend said: “OK, Goodbye.” The American agent on the line said. “Goodbye. And have a wonderful day!”

If human communication can be difficult, so is our communication with God. For the last few Sundays we’ve been reading from the Sermon on the Mount from St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-8. Jesus goes up a mountain and calls his disciples to himself and begins to teach them. He calls them “the salt of the earth,” “the light of the world.” The Sermon on the Mount is a summary of Jesus’ teaching, and what he teaches can bring flavor and light to our world.

Jesus’ words are not always easy to understand, however. So much of the Sermon on the Mount sounds beautiful, but we find ourselves asking What do you mean by that? What do you mean when you say “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, what you will wear?” I have to pay bills, keep my job, take care of my family. I worry about them. Is that bad? What do you mean when you say, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” “Turn the other cheek… give someone your cloak…give to everyone who asks. Go the extra mile.”

The Lenten season begins this week. It’s a time to turn to God and ask what’s he saying to us and to our world? Let’s go up the mountain and listen to him.

Lent is a time to imitate the way God acts. From the mountain where he taught Jesus came down and cured a leper, according to Matthew’s Gospel. His miracles of healing and kindness reveal a God who heals and comes to the aid of the poor. Lent’s a time to imitate God’s way of acting through acts of kindness towards those in need.

Lent is a time to see how God acts towards us. He ascends another mountain at the end of Lent and dies for us. That vivid sign is something we need to look at again and again. What are you saying to me and to the world? Do you really love us that much?