Tag Archives: joy

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: 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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Morning Thoughts: She Planted The Sun


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There once was a little girl who loved to write “love”.

Over and over she wrote the lovely word.

Straight. Crooked. Curved. Upside down.

“Love”, “Love”, “Love”…

She drew hearts and placed all around.

And in a corner she planted the sun.

Day after day she pecked away.

A little hen marking the ground where she play.

All kinds of chicks came to stay.

She lined her dolls in pretty little rows.

A beauty pageant, all kinds of hair.

Straight. Curly. Blond. Brown.

She loved them all.

Did she favor?

She rotated each day.

She knew who needed extra care.

Though all to be happy.

That the only rule.

No room in her garden for overcast days.

And how her family grew.

She had, my God, so many to attend!

Amazing she could even keep track.

Yet each tiny doll held a special place.

She simply made room.

A little girl who loved to write “love”.

Over and over she wrote the lovely word.

Straight. Crooked. Curved. Upside down.

“Love”, “Love”, “Love”…

She drew hearts and placed all around.

And in a corner she planted the sun.

———

Miriam…Marie…Maria…

Mary…

I guess it depends on the day.

Accent. Pronunciation. Spelling.

Even eye color may change.

But it’s always the same little girl.

Age to age.

Place to place.

The same little girl

Helping save the human race.

The same little girl

In the fullness of time

Forever known:

Full of Grace


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—Howard Hain

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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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Morning Thoughts: How About Today?


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Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

—2 Corinthians 6:2


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“How about today?”

“How about right now?”

“Now is good.”

“Yes, now is a very good time, indeed.”

“Great, let’s do it.”

“Here, sit here.”

“So…how are you?”

———

Ministry is saying yes and ministry is saying no. Ministry is saying I don’t want to, but God does, so I shall.

Obedience is a place. Not a verb. It is a state. Not an action. Obedience is a chair, indifferent to my personal ambitions, but resting on God’s.

God’s will is the only true act. And the only time we act truly is when we are fulfilling His Divine Good Pleasure.

———

Yesterday only has meaning in terms of finding God’s blessings.

Today is significant only if lived with the assumption that God has already filled it with blessings that simply need to be discovered.

Tomorrow…well, tomorrow is pretty much the same as yesterday and the same as today…just much, much better…infinitely better in fact…and it lasts for ever.

———

“No, I’m fine…all yours…take your time, I’m free all day…now go on, you were telling me about your mother…”

———

Ministry is crucifixion. It is happening now. It began yesterday. Tomorrow remains to be seen.

In the meantime—no matter what we sense or smell, no matter what we taste or see, no matter what we hear or feel—no matter the day of the week—Sunday will arrive.

And then, resurrection minsters to us.

———

Lord Jesus, help me be like You. Help me pour myself out.

Help me endure the wood of the tree. Help me see the joy that lies ahead. Help me embrace the joy already within. Help me believe the kingdom is truly at hand. Help me, Lord Jesus, help me know it is You in me and I in You. Help me, help me, help me, Lord Jesus…have mercy on me. I thank You because I know You do. Simply because You say.

You are Mercy. You forgive. You heal. You bring peace. You are Innocence. You are the tiny infant. The child running free. The teenager filled with dreams. The young man boldly going west. You are middle-aged and getting tired. You are old and broken down. You are dying on a wooden bed. You are lowered into a weeping mother’s arms. You are put to rest. You enter living hell. You set captives free. You rise. You speak. You break fast. You open the scriptures. You float above. You promise to return. You serve us again and again in the mystery of bread and wine. You feed us relentlessly with Your own Body and Blood.

Help me, Lord Jesus, be more like You. Help me pour myself out.

Amen.


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—Howard Hain

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Friday Thoughts: Up From The Ashes

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I saw a ladder extended high up into the sky.

It seemed to reach into heaven.

Were angels ascending and descending?

Perhaps.

Firefighters can be seen as angels, that’s for sure.

“The church is on fire.” That was the reality. The flames that consume wood and air have now been extinguished. Our parish has been pushed into the street. Most of the material damage was done to the steeple. It is pretty much gone. The bells collapsing inward. The large copper cross crashing onto Central Avenue. The roof too suffered. A large hole, allowing direct sunlight, presides directly above the altar.

The tabernacle and the statues are perfectly intact.

In other words, Jesus’ real presence and His Communion of Saints are alive and well.

No Resurrection without Crucifixion. No Easter Sunday without Good Friday.

The last service before the fire was The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—Friday after Ash Wednesday—the first Friday of Lent. The Mass was preceded by the Stations of the Cross. It was led by the women of The Sacred Heart Society.

The best poetry, the most romantic images, the most apropos settings are constructed by God Himself. Like good, basic, simple, yet shockingly profound haiku poetry—God’s work always contains three lines: One of Faith, One of Hope, One of Love.

Faith: There is a God. He is our father. He is good. All He does is good. He is ultimately in control. Nothing happens without His active or passive permission. He brings all to good. All back to Himself. His promises are good as gold. Better. Much. His promises are eternal. He promises everlasting peace. He promises joy beyond comprehension.

Hope: Jesus is with us every step of the way. Everything that happens to us can become an event that teaches us, instructs us, encourages us, and helps us become more like Him. It can propel us deeper into His presence. And Jesus is already victorious. He died for us, for you and for me, personally. He defeated death. Completely. And He has perfectly shown the way through. For Jesus not only makes His Father’s promises possible, He fulfills them. He not only provides salvation but also all the help and assistance we will ever need to reach salvation, our eternal home. All will be ok.

Love: The Holy Spirit—the Love of the Father for the Son, the Love of the Son for the Father—is awesome. Period. And there is nothing that can stop God from loving us, each and every one of us, as individual and greatly prized children. Love. Love. Love. Say it out loud. Breathe it. It is the breath of life. With Faith and Hope we can freely Love. With Love we can continually Believe and Hope.

But He never says it will be easy, this pilgrimage on earth. But He says it is worth it.

Suffering is not a choice. We will experience suffering. No one gets out alive. The only real question then is this: How will we receive suffering, and how will we handle it?

There is only one acceptable answer: In Union With Jesus.

If we suffer in union with Jesus, then our suffering is His suffering. And Jesus’ suffering is fruitful, always. It redeems. It brings to life. It resurrects.

How then can we do it?

The answer is always the same: Grace

We must cooperate with God’s grace. And that cooperation begins with posture, with how we position ourselves. And the posture needed is prayer. In His Holy Name. We need to ask Jesus for what He will not deny: To participate in His salvation of the world.

To participate in His life, His death, and His resurrection:

Lord, grant me the grace to endure all suffering in perfect union with You. Grant me the patience and strength and courage to accept and carry my cross daily. The grace to not desire that the circumstances be immediately changed, nor the desire that I be removed from the struggle—but instead the grace of walking with You, Lord Jesus, through the suffering—praising You constantly—thanking You continually for the privilege of no longer being a mere bystander, but now instead an active participant in Your great work of salvation—filled the entire time with Faith, with Hope, and with Love—knowing that great work, heavenly work, tremendous good is being done. Whether it is seen or unseen. And also please grant, my Lord and my God, the grace of always giving all honor and praise to You and You alone. “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever.”

Amen.


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—Howard Hain

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Morning Thoughts: Word by Word

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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

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