Tag Archives: St. Paul of the Cross

Saturday, 5th Week of Lent

Lent 1

Readings

Our readings today set the stage for Holy Week

After Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, some Jewish leaders raise the prospect of his death. (John 11,45-59) Their meeting anticipates the final meeting of the Sanhedrin, which will seek the death sentence from Pilate, the Roman procurator, before the feast of Passover.

The meeting was unlikely a cabal of his enemies. Some who favored Jesus must have also been there. From them news of this meeting must have gotten to Jesus. He had his friends among the Jewish leaders. 

Caiaphas, the high priest, sees political consequences if Jesus isn’t stopped– the Romans will step in at the slightest sign of a political troublemaker. But John’s gospel sees divine consequences– evil is pitted against good. 

The high priest unknowingly predicts God’s reversal of it all John’s Gospel says:: “ he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.”

Good always triumphs.

The passion and resurrection of Jesus is God’s great sign that good triumphs over evil. God has the last word; we’re called to believe in his power over evil, difficult as that is.

Today’s readings also prepare for what’s coming tomorrow– Palm Sunday, when Jesus enters Jerusalem. While leaders plot in the temple area, Jews in that same place, who have come to Jerusalem for the feast– many from Galilee we would suspect– wonder whether Jesus will come there. “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?”

He will come.

.

Lord, in our day we wonder

“Will you come?”

God of all, help us all,

Come to us today in our need..

Deliver us from all evil. Amen.

,

Friday, 5th Week of Lent

Lent 1


Readings

In St.John’s gospel, read these final days of Lent and into Easter, Jesus goes regularly to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feasts. For him the Jewish feasts are signs that say who he is and what he does.

For example, in Jerusalem Jesus heals a paralyzed man at the pool at Bethsaida on a Sabbath feast (Chapter 5); The Son does not rest from giving life as the Father never rests from giving life. At the Passover (Chapter 6), Jesus teaches he is the true Bread from heaven, the manna that feeds multitudes. On the Feast of Tabernacles (chapter 7-9) he reveals himself as the light of the world and living water. On the Feast of the Dedication, which celebrates the rededication of the temple after its desecration Jesus claims to be the true temple, dwelling among us and making God’s glory known.

The feasts are signs that what Jesus says and does is from God. “The Father is in me and I am in the Father,” he claims on the feasts. 

But those listening to Jesus in Jerusalem are blind to the signs and accuse him of blasphemy, St. John’s Gospel says. They try to stone him and have him arrested. Instead of accepting him, Jerusalem rejects him. In today’s gospel, Jesus leaves Jerusalem and goes to a place across the Jordan where John baptized. 

He will come back as a new sign. God will give a new sign, not in the temple or the worship that goes on there, but in One who is lifted up on a cross. John’s gospel, more than the others, finds glorious signs in the sufferings of Jesus. It’s so intent on finding God’s glory that its narrative of the passion of Jesus often seems to ignore what really happened. 

The soldiers who come to arrest Jesus in the garden fall to the ground before him. Pilate shrinks before him on the judgment seat, Jesus speaks calmly, majestically from the cross. Realists that we are, We find it hard to accept suffering revealing God’s glory and power. We find it hard to see glory in someone suffering and dying on a cross..

We’re finding it hard to see anything but absurdity in the pandemic we’re experiencing now. That’s why John’s Gospel may be an important guide  today. “Look for the signs,” it says.  If we believe God is with us, there are signs of glory and a promise of resurrection even in suffering and death.

Pope Francis’ most important response to the pandemic took place a few days ago when he walked all alone on a rainy night into St. Peter’s square and approached an ancient crucifix there and asked for wisdom and strength. The world is caught in a storm, like the disciples caught in their boat at sea, he said. We need to know you are not asleep.   

Lead me on, O Lord,

through your holy signs, especially the sign of your Cross.

Through the One lifted up, show me the glory I don’t see. 

.

Wednesday, 5th Week of Lent

Lent 1


Readings
Those listening to Jesus teaching in the temple area claim they’re “descendants of Abraham.”(John 8,31-42) The splendid temple buildings, its well-ordered worship, its ancient tradition which they know so well, tempt them to ask: “Why listen to this man? We have what God promised to Abraham; it’s automatically ours”.

But God’s promises are not automatic, Jesus says. “If you were the children of Abraham you would be doing the works of Abraham.” The great patriarch, a nomad, found God’s promises revealed from place to place. He discovered the works of God in time. And so must we.

John’s gospel was written well after the temple and Jerusalem itself were destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Jews and Jewish Christians in his time, “descendants of Abraham” may have longed for the restoration of ancient structures now gone,

This gospel would remind them that Abraham, “our father in faith,” ventured on paths unknown.

Does that sound like our times? We’re called to have Abraham’s faith, a mystic faith. Our first reading today from the Book of Daniel tells of the three children thrown into the fiery furnace in Babylon. They sang in the flames.

Is God telling us to do that today? Sing in the flames and God will lead us on.

Two centuries ago, St. Paul of the Cross faced his times urging those who sought his advice to hold on to the Unchanging One we meet “in spirit and truth.” God will be our guide..

“Jesus will teach you. I don’t want you to indulge in vain imagery over this. Freely take flight and rest in the Supreme Good, in God’s consuming fire. Rest in God’s divine perfections, especially in the Infinite Goodness which made itself so small within our humanity.” (Letter 18)

O God, you are my God,
For you I long.
My body pines for you,
Like a dry, weary land without water. (Ps 63)

You guide our steps into the unknown. Lead us on.

Monday, 5th Week of Lent

Lent 1


Readings
Jesus meets the woman accused of adultery in the temple area during the Feast of the Tabernacles. He is the light of the world and living water. His enemies fiercely dispute his claims. It’s likely they brought the woman to discredit him. Earlier, he said, “As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just…” (John 5:30) Here was a test.

Moses, according to the woman’s accusers, commanded she be stoned. What is his judgment?

Adultery–which is still wrong–-is not the only issue here. Gender injustice is also on the table. The woman was treated badly by men. Where is the man in the case?

Jewish religious law then said that if a woman were caught in the act of adultery and two men witnessed it, she could be stoned to death or strangled. The system led to abuse, historians say; two witnesses paid by a vengeful husband who wanted to get rid of his wife, might give false testimony and have her stoned to death.

Jesus brings a lens of justice and mercy to every age; in the temple that day the woman received life and light from him. Her accusers met the judgment of Jesus. We believe he offers that same light for knowing what is right and just today for us.

Lord,
let me judge others with your eyes, your heart and your mind.
Help me work for a world that is right and just.
Give me the grace to know myself.

Tuesday, 4th Week of Lent

Lent 1


READINGS
We continue reading from John’s gospel today with the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethesda (John 5,1-18). Compare him with the official in our previous story who came from Capernaum to Cana looking for a cure for his son. Obviously, the official was important. He knew how to get things done and came to get Jesus to do something for him. He’s a resourceful man.

The paralytic at Bethesda, on the other hand, seems utterly resourceless. For 38 years he’s come to a healing pool– archeologists identify its location near the present church of St. Anne in Jerusalem– and he can’t find a way into the water when it’s stirring. Paralyzed, too slow, he can’t even get anybody to help him. He doesn’t approach Jesus; Jesus approaches him, asking: “Do you want to be well?”

Instead of lowering him into the water, Jesus cures the paralyzed man directly and tells him to take up the mat he was lying on and walk. The man has no idea who cured him until Jesus tells him later in the temple area. He’s slow in more ways than one.

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in this world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God,” St. Paul tells the Corinthians.

Here’s one of the weak, the lowly, the nobodies God chooses, and he wont be the last.
The mystics saw weakness differently that most do. It’s a time God acts, St. Paul of the Cross once remarked:

“Be of good heart, my good friend, for the time has come for you to be cured. Night will be as illumined as day. As his night, so is his day. A great difference takes place in the Presence of God; rejoice in this Divine Presence. Have nothing, my dear one; allow yourself to be deprived of all pleasure. Do not look your sufferings in the face, but accept them with resignation and satisfaction in the higher part of your soul as if they were jewels, and so they truly are. Ah! let your loving soul be freed from all that is created and pay no attention to suffering or to enjoyment, but give your attention to your beloved Good. (Letter 41)

Lord Jesus,
like the paralytic I wait for you,
not knowing when or how you will come.
But I wait, O Lord,
however long you may be.

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.

Silent Clay

The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. The Acts of the Apostles is a fast-moving account of a developing church spreading rapidly through the world through people like Paul of Tarsus and his companions. Blazing new trails and visiting new places,  they’d be frequent flyers today, always on the go.

The supper-room discourse of Jesus from the Gospel of John, on the other hand,  seem to move slowly, repeating, lingering over the words of Jesus to his disciples. Listen, be quiet, sit still, they say. Don’t go anywhere at all.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was inspired by St. Paul, the Apostle, to preach and to teach. Many of his letters end telling readers he has to go, he’s off to preach somewhere. He was a “frequent flyer.”

But the Gospel of John also inspired him; it was the basis for his teaching on prayer. Keep in God’s presence, in pure faith, he often said. Enter that inner room and remain there. Don’t go anywhere.

“It’s not important for you to feel the Divine Presence, but very important to continue in pure faith, without comfort, loving God who satisfies our longings. Remain like a child resting on the bosom of God in faithful silence and holy love. Remain there in the higher part of your soul paying no attention to the noise of the enemy outside. Stay in that room with your Divine Spouse…Be what Saint John Chrysostom says to be: silent clay offered to the potter. Give yourself to your Maker. What a beautiful saying! What the clay gives to the potter, give to your Creator. The clay is silent; the potter does with it what he wills. If he breaks it or throws away, it is silent and content, because it knows it’s in the king’s royal gallery.”  (Letter 1515)

 

St. Paul of the Cross

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

October 20th, we celebrate the feast of  St. Paul of the Cross in the United States.

A saint leaves a legacy, a blessing for the church and especially for members of communities he founded or inspired. What legacy did the saintly founder of the Passionists leave?

Paul of the Cross died October 18, 1775, a year before our American Revolution and fourteen years before the French Revolution. Twenty three years after his death, the French revolution spilled over into neighboring Italy and the Papal States. Napoleon imprisoned the pope, Pope Pius VI, religious houses and church resources were taken over by French forces; the Catholic Church in Italy, like the Catholic Church in France, was seemingly crushed by the French general and his powerful army.

In May of 1810 the situation got worse. Napoleon declared an end to the Papal States and ordered the new pope Pius VII to be imprisoned in Savona, Italy. His police led thousands of religious from their religious houses back to their homes and told to start another life. Among them were 242 Passionists, the community Paul of the Cross founded in the previous century.

The old church was dead, the emperor said. He would replace it by a new one of his own. In that thinking, the Passionists too were dead; they would hardly have a role in Napoleon’s church. Of course, the church didn’t die and neither did the Passionists.

Historians usually credit the brilliant diplomacy of Cardinal Consalvi, the pope’s secretary of state, for keeping the church alive and getting it on its feet again after Napoleon’s defeat in 1814. But diplomats weren’t the only ones responsible for the church’s restoration. Most of the credit belonged to ordinary believers who kept the faith and remained loyal.

The same was true for the Passionists. We certainly gave the church an inspirational figure at the time, St. Vincent Strambi, the Passionist bishop and first biographer of Paul of the Cross. Before Napoleon’s troops invaded Rome in 1798 Pius VI asked Vincent to preach in the city’s four major basilicas to strengthen the Roman people. After Napoleon’s defeat, Pius VII called Strambi to Rome again to preach a 9 day retreat of reconciliation–not everybody stood up to the French invaders.

But besides Strambi, what kept the Passionists alive were certainly those ordinary religious who were driven from their monasteries and came back to continue the work that St. Paul of the Cross envisioned a century before. They were the faithful ones, faithful to what they learned from him.

Paul of the Cross not only preached the mystery of the Passion of Jesus; he lived it. He held on to his dreams through hard times. Humanly speaking, the Passionists, the community he founded, should have gone out of existence many times, from its tenuous beginnings to the years it waited for acceptance by the church. The mystery of the Cross was present in its birth, its growth and its life.

Now as then, the Passion of Jesus brings life, not death.

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

Michael

St.Michael, Lucca, Italy

We celebrate the feast of three archangels today, September 29th. St. Gregory the Great says of the angels: “There are many spirits in heaven, but only the spirits who deliver a message are called angels.” Archangels like Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, “are those who proclaim messages of supreme importance…

“And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.”

Their names, Gregory says, tell the service they perform. “Thus, Michael means “Who is like God”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy.

“Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power…

“So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

“Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.”

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, dedicated his first foundation on Monte Argentario in Italy to St. Michael and he said the archangel preserved his community from harm. Paul was a Lombard. Historians say the Lombards believed the Saracens where stopped from invading Lombardy in the 6th century by Michael and fostered devotion to the archangel afterwards.

In a world so convinced that human power is the only power, it’s comforting to have another level of power to look towards.

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle…”