Tag Archives: suffering

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: The Bad Thief

rembrandt-self-portrait-c-1668

Rembrandt, “Self Portrait”, c. 1668 (detail)

 


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The Bad Thief
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good thief
bad thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
can be all three?
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we know of Jesus
as perfect
as perfect can be
speaking faith
breathing forgiveness
the Word
bound up
still
completely free
.
we know too
of the good thief
turning
turning toward Goodness
our Goodness
so gracious
hanging there
tortured
beside him
beside the good thief
Jesus nailed
one with the tree
.
we know too
what happened
what happened then
to the prodigal thief
humility
contriteness
a humble heart
spurned not
yes
true repentance
sorrow for sin
painful sorrow
paid forth
by a sinless man
and God
God the father
accepting the fee
the precious blood
of Jesus Christ
setting him
the good thief free
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but what
what of the other one
what of the thief
named bad
what of him
unrepentant
deserving to hang
what of that poor man
that poor
prideful soul
just like you and me
that poor
nameless sinner
just like you and me
also hanging
hanging there
hanging above Mary
and the disciple
Jesus loved
hanging there
upon a third
a third
rarely talked about tree
.
who is he?
but you and me
.
i am the bad thief
.
and so are you
.
i have stolen
stolen so much
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especially time
.
what have you
in your pocket
that isn’t thine?
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Jesus makes it
perfectly clear
what happens
what happens to thieves
thieves like us
who simply say
i’m sorry
yet even His promise
His promise
full of mercy
His promise
of paradise
of paradise in fact
that very day
doesn’t stop
his good thieving legs
from being smashed
his repentant body
completely broken
head to toe
no
not even Christ’s promise
the promise
from the King Himself
removes the good thief
from the gift
from the gift that is his cross
.
but what of the other one
what of you and me
what of us
thieves who also lie
who reject justice
Justice hanging
right next-door
what of the bad thief
can be redeemed
what of the bad thief
in you and me
God only knows
.
mercy
mercy
mercy
Father
upon the dead
both the living
and the deceased
mercy
mercy
mercy
Father
upon us all
upon Your children
Your children turned thieves
whose faith
and sorrow
is known
by You
and You alone
.
good thief
bad thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
and all the rest
of all humanity
can lack
to such a degree
true repentance
true humility
.
good thief
bad thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
are all three?
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—Howard Hain

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Friday Thoughts: Completion


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Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…

—Colossians 1:24


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One more day. A few more hours. A couple more minutes.

The joy of wrapping things up. Of finishing strong. Competing well. Seeing things through.

The anticipation of rest. Of a good meal. The best. Of the company of those you love, of those who know you best.

How can there be another round? How can I possibly do one more day?

Questions we ask when we are truly spent.

———

To be in Christ’s Passion is to think that there can’t possibly be more. That this, this very moment, has to be the end.

But Christ continues. So does His Passion.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

—2 Corinthians 12:9

———

He’s sweating blood in the garden. He’s scourged at the pillar. He’s crowned with sharp thorns.

He carries His cross. He’s stripped. He’s nailed.

He hangs for hours, for all passing by to see.

———

But He hangs not alone.

A powerful woman, a tender-hearted disciple, a handful of faithful women, a couple of good law-abiding men, a few soldiers doing their duty, an evolving circle of “innocent” bystanders, and of course, a hoard of mockers. They are all on hand.

Yes, the mockers, they are there for sure. But they don’t stay the entire time. Their shame shows them the door.

The evil spirits, on the other hand, they stay till the end. Taunting. Challenging. Hating Christ’s inevitable victory over death:

“Come off that cross, you coward! Fight like a man!”

———

There are times when laughs and cries sound very much the same. When the heart bursts forth from the valley of death.

“Is he laughing?”

“Is he crying?”

“Has he gone insane?”

Or has he finally finished taking upon Himself all the blame?

———

 “It is finished.”

And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

—John 19:30

———

And that was just the beginning.

Almost like the first week of school.

Now all of Jesus’ younger siblings get to follow His rule:

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Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,

who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame

and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

—Hebrews 12:2


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“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

—Matthew 28:20


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—Howard Hain

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An Electrifying Image

photo

Last Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope embraced and kissed a man suffering from a rare disease called neurofibromatosis, which causes his skin to be covered with awful tumors and sores. Most people would find it hard to look at him; much harder to embrace him.

A writer in the New Yorker Magazine said “The image was electrifying, in a way that mercy can be.”

That phrase is also true of the image at the center of our faith.

The Patience of Job

I think the greatest of popes was Gregory the Great, who held the church together during Rome’s free fall into poverty in the 6th century. He kept his balance by reflecting on the scriptures, and one of his favorite books to reflect on was the Book of Job.  Here he is drawing on Job’s wisdom:

“Paul saw the riches of wisdom within himself though he himself was outwardly a corruptible body, which is why he says ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels’. In Job, then, the earthenware vessel felt  gaping sores externally; while an interior treasure remained unchanged. The gaping outward wounds did not stop the treasure of wisdom within from welling up and uttering these holy and instructive words: ‘If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, shall we not receive evil?’ By the good he means the good things given by God, both temporal and eternal; by evil he means the blows he is suffering from in the present.”

Gregory quotes from Isaiah:

“‘I am the Lord, unrivalled,

I form the light and create the dark.

I make good fortune and create calamity,

it is I, the Lord, who do all this.’

“I form the light, and create the dark, because when the darkness of pain is created by blows from without, the light of the mind is kindled by instruction within.

‘I make good fortune and create calamity…’ Notice Job’s skill as he meets the arguments of his wife.If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, shall we not receive evil?’

 “It’s consoling, when we suffer afflictions, to remember our Maker’s gifts to us. Painful things will not depress us if we quickly remember also the gifts that we have been given. As Scripture says, ‘In the day of prosperity do not forget affliction, and in the day of affliction, do not forget prosperity.’”