Tag Archives: Cross

A New Strategy

Carthusian motto: Stat Crux Dum Volvitur Orbis (The Cross stands still as the world is spinning)

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Isaiah 1:10-17; Matthew 10:34—11:1

Hear the word of the LORD, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the LORD. I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure.

When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

The prophets obviously never read books like How to Win Friends and Influence People. Addressing Israel by the notorious names of Sodom and Gomorrah could only win friends among the wise and humble. God’s rejection of the people’s “worthless offerings” in Isaiah’s messages were echoed by Samuel, Jeremiah, Hosea and Amos among others, and climaxed with the Son of God himself driving out the money-changers from the temple with a whip of cords (John 2:14-16 and Synoptic Gospels). 

If the prophetic tradition was subjected to a modern management effectiveness evaluation, the results would probably not be favorable. 

St. Stephen offered this assessment of the prophetic centuries: “Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:52-53). 

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and lawyers, “Woe to you! for you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed,” and charged them for all the murders from Abel to Zechariah, “who perished between the altar and the sanctuary” (Luke 11:47-51). 

“Your hands are full of blood!” Isaiah cried, “Wash yourselves clean!”

The serial rejection of the prophets clearly signaled the need for a new strategy. Jesus’ New Law of Grace came to replace the worn-out wineskins of external ritual and law, which alone were ineffective to transform and deify persons from the inside out. 

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Jesus’ words fell on deaf ears then and now, but his revolutionary strategy of offering himself upon the altar of the world caused time to stand still at the eternal axis of the Cross. All lines of history past, present and future converged upon this still point of theandric self-emptying. 

Centuries of chastisement and castigation availed little, but the love and humility of Jesus Christ opened the gates of Paradise to hardened rebels like the crucified thief beside him, the first of many whose hearts were crushed with sorrow at the selfless love of the Lord. 

The Trinitarian self-emptying of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the axis of the Cross, planted within the human person, remains the only truly effective strategy for deification.

-GMC

From Miracles to the Cross

Jesus Heals the Paralytic, Mosaic at the Sant’Apollinare Nuovo – Ravenna. © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0

13th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Amos 7:10-17; Matthew 9:1-8

The paralytic and his friends in the Gospels show us that we are never alone in our journey of faith. Together with our fellow pilgrims, we carry one another on a stretcher to Jesus. Hidden prayers are rising like incense from unknown caves and crannies throughout the world in the bosom of the Father. Mary, the saints and the angels also surround us by their love.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.”

Spiritual healing accompanied bodily healing; Jesus first reconciled the infirm man to God as God, healing the primordial wound. Hearts blind to divine realities saw only a man in Jesus, and thus charged him with megalomania.

At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He rose and went home. 

For Jesus, forgiving and healing proceeded from the same source; neither was “easier.” But empirical humanity rarely rouses from its spiritual slumber without a dazzling display of power or a dramatic crisis: When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to men.

Yet power and crises have limited long-term effect. The miracles of Jesus and the warnings of the prophets did not bring about lasting conversion or prevent their murders. Something deeper needed to be effected in the hearts of persons beyond sight and hearing. 

Those who mocked Jesus at the foot of the Cross challenged him, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross, that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32). If Jesus had come down with power and might, he would have surrendered to his taunters and shown true weakness. Giving up his life out of love was paradoxically real, divine strength: “the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

The ego is a hard nut to crack. A snapshot of Amos and Amaziah, and Jesus and the scribes, show God knocking on the shell of the “hard hearted” and the “stiff-necked,” and trying to enter their hearts. Miracles and words fell like rain on the shell, but did not penetrate to the interior spirit. The Cross alone cracked the ego and broke down the dam that let the “rivers of living water” flow in.

-GMC

Letting Go

Our Lady of Guadalupe

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Matthew 10:37-42

Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The way of the Cross is paved with losses one after the other. In searching for the pearl of great price, illusion after illusion peels away until we arrive at the dimensionless core: nada. We brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it (Job 1:21). 

Losing our life to find it is essentially giving up what was never ours to begin with. Not a breath or a heartbeat is our own achievement. We are, at bottom, ex nihilo—created out of nothing. At the border between being and non-being the mind disappears into a cloud of unknowing and can see no further, as Ultimate Reality lies beyond the dyad of thinker and thought. 

If the possessive pronoun “mine” is really an illusion, we are simply stewards of time, life, relationships and circumstances. Each person is dealt a certain set of cards to be played in a limited space of time. 

We did not choose our parents, culture, epoch, blood type, height, race, gender, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Our individual selves in this world are fragments of Adam, borrowed elements for the exercise of our personal freedom in this journey to our eternal Source. Returning in Christ to the Father, we become whole and distinct persons, possessing in common the union of all fragments as our own Body. What is possessed by all is possessed by none. “All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10).

Familial ties belong to our fragmented, biological condition. Persons transcend and encompass all tribes, cultures, nations and tongues. Even the biological role of the Blessed Virgin Mary was  provisional and limited to her earthly sojourn. In communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Mary is an indescribably glorious person transcending the root of Jesse and the Davidic line. 

To the woman who said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” Jesus responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27) In no way was Jesus diminishing the role of Mary—the Theotokos was the exemplar of all those who “hear the word of God and keep it”—but her physical motherhood was put into perspective. Neither Jesus nor Mary are Jews in heaven, but persons transcending all cultures. From Our Lady of Guadalupe to Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of Fatima to the Black Madonna, Mary is Mother to all nations and races.

Apparitions to humankind necessarily use forms and names in order to reach our limited mode of knowing. Communion in the Trinity transcends the dyad of motherhood and fatherhood, but we are like children being gathered into the bosom of the Father. 

Divine love (agape) gives parents, children, siblings and friends the freedom to follow Christ wherever he wants to lead them. Clinging to our loved ones and boxing them in to satisfy our own needs is against reality. A child born into the world is not ours, but the Father’s. By letting go, we flow with the grace of the Holy Spirit through Christ to the Father.

Spiritual motherhood and fatherhood are universal: we may offer a “cup of cold water” to Christ’s “little ones” anytime, anywhere, opening our hearts to the family without boundaries.

-GMC

The Lodestar

Carthusian motto: Stat Crux Dum Volvitur Orbis

Jeremiah 20:10-13, Romans 5:12-15, Matthew 10:26-33

“Fear no one.”

Jeremiah stood alone in his views and was hated. The truth is unpopular but necessary like oxygen. 

On the Cross, Jesus was deprived of earthly oxygen by asphyxiation, but when his mission was completed, he filled our humanity with the eternal oxygen of the Spirit of truth.

We need to access that Spirit in whose fire we were baptized. We need to truly live and breathe by dying with Christ. The Cross is still standing, not far away in Golgotha, but within our own hearts. 

Stat crux dum volvitur orbis (The Cross stands still as the world is spinning). This motto of the Carthusian monks can help us face fear and uncertainty, for fear is like a spinning tornado. The Cross is like the eye of a tornado, which is “as still as death,” according to an eyewitness (Will Keller from Greensburg, Kansas).

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).

Silent, hidden prayer, like that of Mary standing at the foot of the Cross (Stabat Mater), unites us with Jesus, who takes us to the Father in the Spirit. Christ is the still and radiant Lodestar within and beyond the cosmos to which everything looks for its fulfillment.

This haiku poem distills the essence of living in union with the Stat Crux within:

Hidden Prayer

Silent, hidden force
Lures all things to the Lodestar,
Aligned with the Source.

-GMC

(This reflection was inspired by Fr. Victor’s homily on Jeremiah for the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A).

Word by Word


As we walk along and lean more and more on God and less and less on human consolation we discover we are never alone.

When we truly give thanks to God for the human consolation that comes our way we discover just how many angels and saints God has placed along the path.

Everyone and everything is originally from God.

He is the only true creator, at the beginning, and at the end of the day.

If we love only Him we love everyone and everything.

Evil is the denial of such undeniable truth.

Evil is the denial of God’s supreme creativity.

Evil is the absence of good.

And shadows and darkness need spaces and voids in order to exist.

Jesus came to cast providential light.

For as the sun rises toward “straight above” the length of negativity surely disappears.

And at perfect high noon darkness does not stand a chance.

For Jesus was raised up upon the crisscrossed tree of life.

Good squelching evil for all the world to see.

———

The foot of that Cross still remains.

The closer we get the brighter the day.

Spaces and voids fill with pure light.

Absence disappears.

Evil is cast into hell.

For what God creates He intends for good.

———

Will we then live good lives?

Will we allow our absences to be filled with genuine goodness?

Will we speak life?

Will we help build the kingdom?

Let us do so.

One stone at a time.

One flickering light at a time.

One Eucharistic encounter at a time.

———

Let us live “on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

For when we do,

Stones become bread,

Water becomes wine,

And bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.

———

Lord Jesus, cover us with Your Blood.

Let us hug the foot of Your Cross.

Let us adore Your feet nailed to the trunk of the tree.

Let us get so close that not even a speck of darkness can get in between.

Let us truly ask this in Your Holy and Perfect Name.

Amen.


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—Howard Hain

http://www.HowardHain.com

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Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Lent 1


Today’s readings

Then Jesus 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.

Jesus offers a blunt challenge in this reading from Luke’s gospel;  a challenge to us now as well to his disciples then. He speaks to  all. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

No one escapes each day’s cross.  It may not look  like the stark cross Jesus receives from the hands of the chief priests, the elders and the scribes in Jerusalem, but it’s there all the same.We may not see it as a cross because it’s so much a part of  life, but if we look closely our cross is there.

A traditional Christian practice is to make the Sign of the Cross over ourselves as we begin the day. We do it to remind ourselves of the daily cross we bear and remember that God helps us bear whatever life brings that day. Let’s start lent by consciously taking up this basic Christian practice.

St. Paul of the Cross wrote a letter to Teresa, a woman overwhelmed by life.  What shall I do? she said. Paul urges her to let God’s Will decide for her what to do. He wanted people to find their cross and embrace it:

“Teresa, listen to me and do what I’m telling you to do in the Name of the Lord. Do all you can to be resigned to the Will of God in all the sufferings that God permits, in your tiredness and in all the work you have to do. Keep your heart at peace and be recollected; don’t get upset by things. If you can go to church, go; if you can’t, stay quietly at home; just do the Will of God in the work you have at hand.” (Letter 1135)

Bless me, Lord,
and help me take up the cross
that’s mine today,
though it may not seem like a cross at all.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Acquinas

The feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, January 28th, in my student days was a day for presentations honoring the saint. The presentations were not about the saint’s life but his wisdom. Thomas Aquinas was a great theologian dedicated to the search for truth.

He was a man of faith, searching for understanding. That’s the definition of theology– faith seeking understanding, an understanding that draws us closer to God and helps us know God, the source of all truth.

He was a man of questions, who approached great mysteries through questions. That’s the way St. Thomas begins a sermon he once preached, found today in the Offices of Readings for his feast:

 “Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us?” He asks as he looks at the Cross of Jesus.
The passion of Jesus was necessary, the saint says, for two reasons. First, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.

Interestingly, the saint doesn’t spend much time asking why it’s a remedy for sin. He’s more interested in the passion of Jesus as an example for us. To live as we should, we need to look at Jesus on the cross, an example of every virtue:

“Do you want an  example of love? ‘Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ That’s what Jesus did on the cross. If he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.

“If you want patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid.

“Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.

“If you want an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.

“If you want an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.

“If you want an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.

“Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

St. Thomas’ great theological work, the Summa Theologica can be found here.

Morning Thoughts: Who is Paul of the Cross?

st-paul-castellazzo


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Who is Paul of the Cross?

He’s a saint, canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1867.

He’s the founder of the Passionists , a religious community of priests, brothers, sisters, and laypeople.

He lived in northern and central Italy during most of the 18th century and was originally called Paul Francesco Danei.

There are books written about him. His letters have been collected and printed in large, thick volumes. And time on the internet will easily identify many short biographical sketches, prayers, and sayings. There is also much available about the Passionists, and their life after the death of Saint Paul of the Cross—their growth, history, struggles, saints, and their current configuration, focus, and works.

There are also the many individual members of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, living today and based all around the world, and they each have their own story to tell.

But there is also the man named Paul.

And somehow this kind, gentle, humble, and beautifully-flawed human being seems to get lost in all this.

His weaknesses greatly interest me.

Christ’s courage and strength in and through him inspire me.

If we prayerfully put aside the constitutions, the history, the legacy, and even his incredibly personal and guidance-filled letters (that he never intended anyone other than the recipients to read) we just may find a stripped-down saint whose essence and example we badly need in times such as these.

We just may find what we find in each and every great man and woman of God throughout Christian history—that same occurrence that appears again and again through the lives of our brothers and sisters who have truly renounced all their possessions in order to become true disciples of Christ.

———

In Saint Paul of the Cross we just may find…

…a cold, naked infant in a cradle, desperate for his mother’s breast…

…a frightened and insecure child running to keep pace with the visions of his father…

…a tired, distraught, beaten-down young man offering his life for the benefit of his brothers…

We just may find ourselves.

Or we may find someone that we used to know.

Or we may find someone that we should get to know.

But what really matters is that we find the Word made flesh.

And that is the heart of the matter. The fleshy heart that matters.

For while hearts of stone are hard to wound, they are not really hearts at all. They are the hearts of the walking dead, of those whom Jesus Himself says, “let the dead bury their dead.”

Jesus wants our hearts, our entire hearts. He wants undivided, tenderized hearts. Soft and fleshy hearts.

Yes, that type of heart is easily pierced, but in being wounded they are transformed, in being merciful they begin to bleed, and in forgiving they become His. They become sacred. Our hearts become His Most Sacred Heart.

———

The saints show us Jesus. They show us ourselves. They show us where we come from, where we currently need to stand, and where it is that we should go.

And the answer is always the same: With God.

Born of a virgin. Dying on a cross. Raised from the dead. Ascending into Heaven.

———

I am no expert on Saint Paul of the Cross. But I am his friend, and he has been very good to me. And I hope that you get to know him too.

As far as me telling you more about Paul Danei, you probably fall into one of three categories: you already know the details, you have never even heard of him, or you are about to meet a man with a striking resemblance.

For you see, the best thing I can say about Paul is that he is a lot like Jesus—a man in history but not met through it, a man who wore a robe but not defined by it, a man who submitted himself to the law but didn’t let that stop him from transcending it.

A man who at the end of the day, knows that it is all about love.


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—Howard Hain

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Friday Thoughts: Francesca and William

pierre-auguste-renoir-julie-manet-with-cat-1887

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Julie Manet with cat”, 1887


 

Francesca, like most 4-year-olds, is not particularly gentle when it comes to petting a cat. Well, let me put it another way, her gentleness as compared to her zeal when It comes to petting a cat is somewhat lacking. Hence, our cats spend most of their time in the attic of our apartment, hiding from the over-affectionate hand of Francesca.

One morning I was on the couch and Francesca was sitting at the coffee table working on a coloring book. From the door leading to the attic peaked the head of William. Francesca saw him and quickly looked at me, and for some reason this time she attempted to implement what she had been told many times before.

In a barely audible whisper, she looked for affirmation: “Daddy, I shouldn’t move, right?”

“No, Francesca, stay still…”, I whispered back, “…let him come to you. Just leave your hand down by your side.”

And lo and behold, William began to make his way toward us, and began to even approach Francesca’s still fingers. He sniffed. He balked. He approached again. Francesca went to move and stopped. William and Francesca courted each other, one filled with fright, the other excitement, both nearly shaking with emotion.

Francesca broke the tension and attempted to pet his head. William allowed it but could not hold together the nerve to stay put once Francesca’s hand moved past his neck. Off and up the stairs William went.

I realized something. Sometimes, when a person is filled with fear he can not be approached. No matter how kind, soft, sincere our intention, he just can not take the approach, any approach. He needs to make the first move. And we on our part need to simply stay still, patiently waiting for him to come closer, and then maybe, just maybe, we can make a kind gesture. But even if the person runs away at that point we need not take it personal. It is fear that is the cause. Neither the person giving nor the person receiving is to blame.

But unlike cats, who usually show fear just as it is, perhaps with an occasional threatening hiss, humans on the other hand show fear through a different type of tremble. They often preemptively throw insults, curses, mocks, pushes, and even outright physical strikes.

And just as it is hard to ignore the sharp claws of a frightened kitten digging into your arm—even when we fully understand that the kitten truly means no personal harm to us—it is hard to ignore such “attacks” from our fellow man. It is hard to strip them down to what they really are: pathetic attempts at self-preservation. But then again, was not Jesus striped down? And shouldn’t we always keep Christ’s Passion in our hearts? Well, then, as a sign of gratitude, we owe it to Jesus to see His Passion in all our interactions, especially the encounters that cause us pain, be it a superficial abrasion or a wound that pierces the core of our soul.

Let us then employ God’s grace in seeing all harshness, in any form, from any human being toward us, as fear. And by doing so we find ourselves very much in the actual footprints of Christ. For what nailed Him to the Cross was not jealousy nor anger nor even resentment, but fear, fear of the worst kind, fear of the truth. And in the case of Jesus, Truth had a very real face.

But we too are alive. We too have within us the divine presence, a presence that some find dreadfully frightening.

No, we can not like Jesus be sinless, but we can see our persecutors as he did: men to be pitied not punished, men that need mercy not condemnation, men who if we don’t offer forgiveness to are less likely to find it within themselves when they are at the other end of the sword—when it is their turn to be insulted, cursed, mocked, pushed, and even outright physically struck for simply wanting to love.

In the mean time, Francesca continues to color and William sleeps peacefully up in a tight nook of the attic. In the fullness of time, they’ll see eye to eye, as shall you and me.


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—Howard Hain

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St. Vincent Strambi

St. Vincent Strambi, CP

We know the saints best when we see them as part of their time. Saints don’t withdraw from the time they live in. They engage it. The world we live in is the path we take when we’re born and our companion through our lifespan. It’s the cross we carry, the calvary on which we find ourselves. Our blood, mingled with the blood of Christ, must fall on it to redeem it.

I’m thinking of St. Vincent Strambi, a Passionist who lived in Italy as the 18th century gave way to the 19th century. His cross was a world convulsed by Napoleon’s dreams of world conquest and a society increasingly influenced by the Enlightenment.

Strambi had a great devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus, which was inspired by the sufferings he saw in the world around him.Some say over 4 million people were killed in the Napoleonic wars, military and civilians. So much innocent blood was shed then.

Strambi was part of that world; his blood was being shed too, not literally, but in the crucifying events of war, confusion, famine, sickness and change that affected his church, his community, his diocese, his country and the people he served. His devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus came mainly from his experience of his time, I think.

Father Fabiano Giorgini, a fine historian, wrote a short biography of Strambi which we’re going to translate into English. Someday I hope it will be an ebook.

Room of St. Vincent Strambi, Saints John and Paul, Rome