Tag Archives: Cross

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.

———

“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.

———

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.

———

“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.

———

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.

———

“O Bonitas!”

———

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!

———

“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.

———

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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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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Thoughts Upon The Cross: Black Ashes, Red-Hot Coals

by Howard Hain

 

marc-chagall-the sacrifice-of-isaac-1966 detail

Marc Chagall, “The Sacrifice of Isaac”, (1966), detail

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When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”

Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord.

—John 21:4,9-10,12

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When is it that we break-fast?

Perhaps it is at morning Mass, when the long night of daily winter is slowly burned away by “the dawn from on high”.

Perhaps it is there, at the altar of our Lord, at the breakfast table of our one united body, that we come to see the Crucified Christ truly risen and waiting for us, “standing on the shore”.

We take so much for granted, so much we just assume is already prepared, without giving much thought to just how much goes into each meal. But we are in good company, Peter and the rest of the apostles, like us, come to a meal already in progress.

And just as Jesus called the apostles to a new morning meal, He calls each one of us each new day to a meal prepared ahead of time—in fact it was ordained a long, long time ago—for even upon those hot coals which the apostles approached two millennia ago, fish were already waiting.

It is to this ongoing meal that He asks all apostles to bring their fish, their most recent catch—to add to the fire—to the feast ever being prepared for those still yet to come.

The Fisher of Men, who calls others to become fishers as well, asks His disciples to contribute not only their earthly catch but the eternal offering of themselves.

But who is it that we find already lying upon the charcoal fire, upon the table of the Lord, waiting for us each morning as we approach the altar with our daily catch?

Is it not all those who have walked in faith before us? Is it not the communion of saints, the cloud of witnesses, the community of believers?  Is it not those who pray in silence this very day for the conversion of sinners, the salvation of souls, the release of those in purgatory, the return to a unified Church?

Is it not those who suffer each and every day for the sake of Christ?

We will never really know exactly who, at least not while we walk within these “earthen vessels” we call bodies—not while we continue our pilgrimage through this valley of tears and wage our military-like mission against the powers of darkness.

We will never know while here on earth just how many fish are laid upon the fiery altar each new day, just how many join Jesus in His one perfect offering, just how many “share in his glory” because they “share in his suffering”.

But God does know, and he orchestrates it all. He knows exactly how many, and who. He misses not a tear, not a moan, not the slightest prick of a pin. He knows each and every one of His silent, unknown martyrs—those whose suffering “completes” what is “lacking in Christ’s afflictions”.

The Mystery. The Love. The Wisdom of the Cross. The Grandeur of God’s Salvific Plan. Praise be to God. Praise be to Christ Crucified and Risen. Praise be to the Holy Spirit: “O font of life! O fire of love!”

Let us then join the breakfast feast.

And let us not only eat but add to the meal.

Let us offer up all our “prayers, works and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world…”

And let us dare to wonder with true childlike joy and adoration. Let us wonder who it is that is already laid upon those ancient coals as the apostles approach that gloriously simple meal on the shining shore of a most placid sea.

Is the fish already in place Jesus Himself? Jesus who is priest and sacrifice and altar?

Yes. Of course it is Him.

But perhaps it is someone else too.

Perhaps among that first batch of fish is also the first follower of Christ: the first to surrender all “possessions”, the first to pick up the cross daily, the first to follow Jesus through the completion of His Passion.

Yes, perhaps it is Mary, His mother, His first disciple…our mother and the queen of all apostles. And perhaps it is also that “upright” man whom Jesus Himself saw as a father, the “righteous” Joseph who suffered so much in the name of Jesus. Perhaps that first batch contains all three: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, that most blessed of families—The Holy Trinity “made flesh”—The One Triune God dwelling in a humble hut in a little town named Nazareth.

In that sense, perhaps that first batch of fish is also you and me, your family and mine—and perhaps then “our” little “sacrifice” is already being offered up, right here in each of our “humble” homes and within the boundary lines of our own “Nazareths”.

Perhaps that first batch is waiting to be joined to all other offerings, to be joined together with all the other individuals and families that are called to be a “living sacrifice”.

Perhaps that first batch is within each one of us and is longing to be united to the one true sacrifice—the sacrifice of God’s crucified love, eternally offered upon the white-hot coals of God’s infinite charity.

———

Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne. The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with burning coals from the altar, and hurled it down to the earth…

—Revelation 8:3-5


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Thoughts Upon The Cross: Building Strength

by Howard Hain

 

Jacopo Tintoretto The Ascent to Calvary (1566-67)(detail)

Jacopo Tintoretto, “The Ascent to Calvary”, 1566-67 (detail)

 

In spiritual matters, weight training principles often apply:

Without sufficient resistance, strength won’t increase.

Resistance is then not only something to be tolerated, it’s to be seen as necessary, as something desirable:

Without proper resistance, real growth won’t take place.

In fact, the more resistance the better, as long as we maintain good positioning and form, eat and drink properly, and get enough off-time and rest.

In spiritual terms, these conditions easily translate:  1) Stay close to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and receive the Body and Blood of Christ with a grateful heart; 2) Remain in the Word of God and actively do the will of the Father; 3) Live a life of mental prayer—residing continually in “your inner room”—where we encounter the Divine Presence and lovingly adore the One True Source of all existence.

Let us then not be fools and seek shortcuts. Let us put aside all fads and worldly ways. Let us instead properly train, keeping in sight, and practice, the very basics:

To build strength, we need resistance.

Accept resistance then in every form—obstacles, roadblocks, annoyances, ridicule, mockery, difficulties, delays…

Accept it all as if directly delivered to you from the personal-training hand of God.

Accept it willingly, thankfully, even joyfully, as if weight added to the bar—as part of perfectly planned resistance—individually and specifically designed to increase moral strength and spiritual stature.


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Tuesday: 5th Week of Lent

Readings here

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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 

 

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