Tag Archives: Passion

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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Friday Thoughts: Pure Extra Virgin

by Howard Hain
william-dyce-the-garden-of-gethsemane-1860

William Dyce, “The Garden of Gethsemane”, 1860*


To your eyes a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone, no more than a watch in the night.

—Psalm 90:4


.One good olive.

There are so many factors.

The altitude. The light. The soil. The temperature. The rainfall. The wind. The dew point and humidity. The age of the tree.

Then there are those factors that we can control: pruning, watering, fertilizing, fanning, netting, and wrapping chilly trees with burlap or fleece.

And of course there are those other factors, those that fall somewhere in-between, between our control and our complete lack thereof: most of these relate to the sneaky work of numerous little thieves—animals, birds, insects, and perhaps even fellow farmers or other hungry travelers who just happen to pass by.

But when all is said and done—when all the factors are poured into the olive equation, mixed-up well, and left to unify or settle out—the fruit that’s produced by the world’s most nostalgic, symbolic, and romantic of trees means very little (at least in digestive terms) if it’s simply left to shrivel up and fall to the ground.

———

Picking an olive is perhaps the highest part of the art.

———

When to do so? And toward what end?

If too early, great potential is squandered.

If too late, great taste is lost.

If indecisive, we might as well let nature enjoy it for the time being—for one way or another—God’s process will eventually return it to the earth.

———

And yet, we’re still not done, for even if the olive is picked at just the right time, from just the right tree—the one that has grown in all the right circumstances—when it comes to the culmination of olive production, all is moot if the precious fruit of the womb is never squeezed.

For no matter how good the olive, without applied pressure, there’s nothing left to be labeled “pure extra virgin”.


.But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a women…

—Galatians 4:4


 

* Gethsemane is the name of a garden on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It appears in the Greek of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark as Γεθσημανή (Gethsēmanē). The name is derived from the Aramaic ܓܕܣܡܢ (Gaḏ-Šmānê), meaning “oil press”.

 

(Dec/23/2016)

 

Where I Want To Be

by Howard Hain

 

Martin Schongauer Bust of a Man in a Hat Gazing Upward ca 1480-90 The Met

Martin Schongauer, “Bust of a Man in a Hat Gazing Upward”, ca. 1480-90 (The Met)

 

J.M.J.

 

There’s only one place I want to be.

On the Cross with my good Christ.

Strange. Odd. Uncomfortable to admit.

The Cross is where I want to be.

The Cross is where I feel free.

 

The thought of being lifted up high.

The chance to be in pain.

With Him Whom I still don’t know.

To want it to never stop.

To not understand a single thing.

To be burned alive.

I can only call it love.

 

Yes. So be it. It’s Your command.

 

The Cross is where I want to be.

The Cross is where I am free.

The Cross is where I encounter love.

 

Yes, Lord Jesus.

Let me hang with You.

If only for a while.

My sins and those of all the world.

Added to the funeral pile.


 

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

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twitter.com/HowardDHain

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Web Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Martin Schongauer, “Bust of a Man in a Hat Gazing Upward”, ca. 1480-90

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.

———

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

(Romans 5:20)

———

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)

———

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.”

———

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)

———

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)

———

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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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

———

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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