Tag Archives: Cross

Stench of the Cross

by Howard Hain

 

Rembrandt Begger Seated on a Bank (1630)

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

 


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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.

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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 is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain   http://www.twitter.com/HowardDHain

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Friday Thoughts: Pure Faith

by Howard Hain

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“God won’t let His power flow through someone who demands clarity.”

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“The Crucified One” (H. Hain, 2006)


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Faith. Pure Faith.

 


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain   http://www.twitter.com/HowardDHain

If you enjoyed this post, please consider “liking” it, adding a comment, or passing it along via the social-media links below. Your support is greatly appreciated. Step by step. All for God’s glory.

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Morning Thoughts: God’s Wealth

by Howard Hain

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Then they handed him the Roman coin.

He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”

They replied, “Caesar’s.”

At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

—Matthew 22:19-21

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What has value? What has true, lasting value?

And how do we distinguish between arbitrary and absolute value?

Good questions. Meaningful questions. Questions with great relevance since the first moment of man, and questions still very much relevant today—maybe more so than ever before—as cultures become increasingly pluralistic, governments increasingly complex, and economies, natural resources, and “manpower” increasingly intertwined and qualitatively and quantitatively obscure.

And perhaps nothing better expresses this uncertainty than the incredibly difficult task of evaluating the meaning of money—something that for so long has been so generally accepted—but now a question our present day begs us to ask anew.

What then is the role of currency within our ever-increasing global complexity?

Does “currency” still mean what it meant in its most basic form: A medium of exchange, generally accepted, and possessing integrity with regard to accurately representing the goods, services, and/or resources involved in an exchange?

Complex times, complex questions. I’m sure polished academics, investors, and politicians have complex answers—if they’d even recognize such a naive question in the first place.

Though I have a hunch that if we ask the common man and woman—those who are the actual “human resources” bundled together, broken apart, and tossed back and forth like various sizes of sacks of potatoes—we’d hear a common concern.

I bet the consensus is a growing sense of separation between the real connection between “currency” and the actual “items” being evaluated and exchanged—that the “general acceptance” sees a serious disconnect—no matter how simple or straightforward the words or expressions used to describe it.

Maybe we should follow their common lead. For it just may be our common sense that best suggests the level road. Let’s then move forward by asking a simple and straightforward question: What is made by man and what is made by God?

Such a question quickly restores a humble perspective—one in which the questioner is once again seen as part of the question—viewing God as the Uncreated Creator of all creation, and viewing man as part of it, not the cause of it.

Such a question also reminds us of a comforting reality, one that helps build up our view of humanity, not devalue it: For in God’s eyes, man always has a certain, absolute value, as do animals, plants, and all the earth’s resources: air, soil, water, minerals, metals…every nook and cranny. For God made it all. And what God makes He values. And what God values He values absolutely.

On the other hand, the price we place on them—the fluctuations in “perceptive” worth—is most certainly arbitrary value—completely man-made. In fact, without man there can be no arbitrary value: No man, no human perception, therefore no arbitrary value.

It is worth noting that there seems to be nothing inherently wrong with arbitrary value. But we also know through real experience that freewill and temptation continuously battle it out. We’ve all seen firsthand how arbitrary value can be used quite negatively. It can be manipulated. It can be unjust. It can be a weapon man uses against his fellow-man.

Absolute value is not the same. It never undergoes corruption or discriminates. It never hurts life or creation.

But why do we ask these questions? Why should we wonder about such issues?

Because without big questions—the panoramic views—we ironically lose sight of the intricacies and peaceful beauty of day-to-day reality. In other words, we need philosophers. We need those who ask questions from mountain-peak perspective in order to properly value even the smallest creature within the deepest valley.

It’s about divine perspective. About wisdom: Knowing there’s One Source of all creation, and that all creation—no matter how seemingly infinite and minute its manifestation—is always a reflection of the totality and unity of the One Source.

For the enterprise of philosophy—literally the “love of wisdom”—is not narrow or shallow. It is neither micro nor macro. It is never “either-or”.

Philosophy is not a specific knowledge of a specific something. It is not a specific science encompassing a specific field or a specific mastery of a specific craft or trade. Philosophy is not even a specific art expressing itself through a specific medium.

Philosophy is a relationship. A specific relationship. A love-propelled relationship with wisdom itself. And wisdom is not merely a word existing solely of sound waves and vibrations, nor is wisdom merely a concept existing solely in man’s mind. No, wisdom is beyond words, beyond concepts, beyond ideas. Wisdom is the Ultimate Idea, the Only Concept, and the Unspeakable Word.

Wisdom is. Always. Purely. Absolutely. No starts or stops. No lines, no boundaries. It possesses no arbitrary or man-made qualities.

Wisdom is God Himself.

The philosopher is therefore a lover of God. A lover of the Incarnate Word. Of Incarnate Wisdom. The philosopher is a lover of Jesus Christ—in all His manifestations—in all His creation.

This is why we ask such questions.

True lovers never lose sight of the Beloved. We therefore must never lose sight of true worth and the source of all that has worth. We must correctly identify reality and all that is rightly extracted from it. Leaving behind the rest. For all experience runs through the philosopher’s fingers as if sifting for precious metals—knowing that even what is priceless is not yet our possession.

The philosopher is also a child of faith. And therefore a descendant of the patriarch Abraham, our father in faith, who was promised descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore. We must therefore be willing to lift up and cherish every “worthless” grain. A task we can hardly achieve. But God who created us shows us how.

The answer is quite absurd—making little logical sense—but it is certain and perfect nonetheless. We must recall Christ’s suffering. And we must partake. It is the only way. For by His Cross and Resurrection, Christ sets us free. Free to use freewill properly. Free to distinguish God’s worth from that which disordered man imposed.

And how does that translate into a more pragmatic approach, into a “practical philosophy” that helps “order our days“?

Hope tells us we must stay grounded. Our toes in the dirt. The nitty-gritty of day-to-day life filling our sensitive nose. Our arms stretched wide, unafraid of having our wind unexpectedly knocked out. And all the while, our chins slightly tilted up and away. Our eyes fixed on the Light of Creation—the One Source that burns away all artificial value.


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St. Vincent Strambi

I find the biographies of most of our saints–I’m thinking now of the saints of my community, the Passionists– weak in history, which tends to remove them from their time and their interaction with it. That makes them less challenging. They can make you believe that holiness means withdrawing from the world you live in when, actually, to be holy means engaging your times, not leaving them.

The world we live in is the path we’re put on when we’re born and our companion through our lifespan. It’s the cross we carry, the calvary on which we are displayed. Our blood, mingled with the blood of Christ, must fall on it to redeem it.

I’ve been 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 conquest and the changes brought about by the Enlightenment.

Strambi had a great devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus, which for him 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 who died recently, wrote a short biography of Strambi which we’re going to translate into English. Someday I hope it will be an ebook.

I wonder, too, if a new generation of hagiographers is needed, drawn from the laity and not from religious communities who may be too prone to promote their own heros.


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Friday Thoughts: Simple Awe

Picasso, The Blind Man's Meal, 1903

Picasso, “The Blind Man’s Meal”, (1903)

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The ear that hears, the eye that seesthe Lord has made them both.

—Proverbs 20:12

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It is the simple times. It is when we are doing life one dirty dish, one utility bill, one ordinary errand at a time that deepened faith creates an awe-filled stir.

For much is said of the bells and whistles of supernatural faith—but what is most supernatural is the presence of “all”, of “everything”, of “heaven and earth” in each dirty dish, each electric bill, each trip to the dollar store. What is most supernatural is the acknowledged presence of God in day-to-day life.

The deeper our trust, the more complete our surrender, the less “exciting” the external signs need to be. Or to express it differently: The least “exciting” times become so overwhelmingly profound that bells and whistles are hardly noticed.

We are told that we need an ear that hears and an eye that sees.

But what is it to have them?

Is it being still within God’s presence while the sponge soaks, the envelope seals, the cash register line slowly shortens?

The skeptic may see such a man as confined by complacency, dangerously satisfied, or simply numb. The skeptic may even call such a man “blind”.

That is certainly one way to look at it.

There is another:

Or is it that the mighty awe of a salvaged life has finally taken hold?

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Turning to the disciples in private he said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

—Luke 10:23-24

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—Howard Hain

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Morning Thoughts: Joy Of The Cross

by Howard Hain

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My parish church was seriously damaged in a fire a few months back. It was pretty dramatic, devastating in many ways.

Since then the parish has continued on, celebrating Sunday Mass in a Union City public school gymnasium. Ironically, that public school is housed within a building that was once part of our parish community, built to stage an annual Passion Play—amazing how consecration begets consecration—grace begets grace.

Seeds long forgotten, suddenly popping up through cracks in the sidewalks.

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“…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…”

(Romans 5:20)

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Overall, the parish community over the last few months—during this period of “destruction” and “darkness”, of “uncertainty” and “grieving”—has been more alive than ever before. Amazingly enough, surely by grace, the various parish ministries seem to have expanded, at least in my unofficial and non-statistically-supported opinion. All this despite the fact that most of us have been hiding in our own upper rooms—doors tightly locked. Praying nonetheless.

No, praying all the more.

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“You are indeed Holy, O Lord….sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall…”

(Eucharistic Prayer II)

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Well, sparing you the details of our own little acts of the apostles, we received official word from the Bishop just this past weekend—Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity—that the church building will be reconstructed.

Believe me, this was not a forgone conclusion. In fact, there was good (and perhaps a better way to express it, “sober”) reason to brace for news quite the contrary.

But it will be rebuilt.

And renewed.

Praise the Lord.

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Sitting in the elementary school chapel of Saint Francis Academy this morning, just a few city streets from our still burnt-out parish structure, I thought about this fresh news. The Good News.

The Church will be rebuilt.

But that’s not how I heard it now.

No, that’s how man reported it.

God says it differently. He doesn’t report.

He speaks into being. God is the News.

And when He is most loving, He is most commanding:

“Rebuild My Church.”

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The irony is delicious, I tasted and saw; I was sitting in a little chapel named after the Original Knight of Lady Poverty, Francesco d’Assisi.

It’s a beautiful, joyful chapel, where God becomes man over and over again, and where children become disciples time and again. It is also the place where we adults, so very much pretending to be in control, came crawling to receive sanctuary—to be cared for during our days of distress.

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“Lord…look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church…”

(Order of Mass)

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Irony upon irony. Saint Francis Academy was originally an orphanage. For the past several generations it has been a beacon of what true elementary education—what true human formation—should look like—when led by the Spirit.

We have celebrated weekday Mass in the academy’s chapel almost every morning since the fire. Such generosity. Such openness. Such hospitality.

So welcoming. So joyful. So Franciscan.

So Christian.

God uses everything, always and in every way, for Good.

And He is never so creative as when manifesting new forms of humility.

For there we are, day in and day out, the homeless “know-it-alls” within the home of tiny tots. Roles reversed. Upside down. Little lambs feeding the uncertain shepherds.

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As I pondered this mystery this very morning, my little Francesca—my own little “flower”, my own little troubadour of God, my own incredible little girl—God’s little girl—to whom I have been chosen “to light and guard, to rule and guide”—tends to her studies just a few floors above.

The first-grade classroom at first glance seems impossibly small. But it’s truly a delight—safe, bright, full of promise—in spiritual reality, there is so much room.

Francesca finishes the school year this week, a week of events and performances and feasts, a week designed to catapult her and her fellow “novices” into a summer of playful absorption and merry-filled mission: public pools, French-braid festivities, and watermelon days and Italian-ice filled nights at the ever-popular Camp Grandma.

Ah, the goodness of God.

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“O Bonitas!”

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The old phase, “goodness gracious”, takes on totally new meaning. It becomes a sacrament. A sacred sigh. With divine significance. A poem made of breath. A cry announcing life.

That little one of whom I speak I love. Deeper and deeper each day. And I pray it’s all for the sake of God. For the love of God. Of His Divine Presence. The King of Kings—The Monarch of Mercy—an eagle and a butterfly—held completely captive—voluntarily held hostage—within the liquid heart of a ever-emerging child.

She is the entire universe within an ark of angelic giggles…all of creation within a jar of ceaseless surprise…the totality of God’s promise within a tabernacle of painfully-sweet joy—O Lord, may we truly learn how to pray!

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“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”

(John 16:12-13)

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Francesca is all children. All children are Francesca. And by the Blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit of Adoption we too are now God’s children.

We are all God’s Francescas.

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Thank You, Lord, for the news. The practical and the permanent. The circumstantial and the promissorial. And thank You for expressing it Your unimaginable way.

For it is You, Lord God—the very same God who spoke to Francis nearly a thousand years ago through the Crucifix of San Damiano, a church almost completely in ruins—who now says to me, to all parishioners of the parish of Saint Joseph and Saint Michael, to all of Union City, to all of New Jersey, to all of America, and to all the world—both the world that is and the world yet to be.

And You Lord, speak quite clearly.

In fact, You speak with unbelievable clarity:

“Rebuild My Church.”


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The Easter Tree

At Easter we celebrate the flowering of the cross.  Artists did this with the fruitful cross in the great apse of San Clemente in Rome brimming with life. (above)  Preachers like Theodore the Studite do it; here’s his sermon below.

“How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! In the cross there is no mingling of good and evil, as in the tree of paradise: it is wholly beautiful to behold and good to taste. The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness but light. This tree does not cast us out of paradise, but opens the way for our return.

“This was the tree on which Christ, like a king on a chariot, destroyed the devil, the Lord of death, and freed the human race from his tyranny. This was the tree upon which the Lord, like a brave warrior wounded in his hands, feet and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature. A tree once caused our death, but now a tree brings life. Once deceived by a tree, we have now repelled the cunning serpent by a tree.

“What an astonishing transformation! That death should become life, that decay should become immortality, that shame should become glory! Well might the holy Apostle exclaim: Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world!”

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