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Friday Thoughts: Uneasy Mercy

by Howard Hain

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Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted…

—Luke 2:34


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When we are truly merciful, or at least sincerely try to be merciful—to see others and their deeds through the eyes of the Ever-Loving Eternal Father—there often is an unholy fear that takes place. This fear is not the fear of God. This fear is not from God.

No, the fear of God—the good and righteous “fear of the Lord”—a gift of the Holy Spirit—is not the fear to which I am referring. Let us make that perfectly clear. Absolutely not. That fear—the good and righteous “fear of the Lord”—is a great grace and is actually what prompts us to be merciful toward others in the first place.

The fear that I am referencing is superficial, like all fear other than the only fear we should ever have, “the fear of the Lord.” Whether this superficial fear comes from the world, from our own weak flesh, or from Satan, is not very important. For what we need to know and always remember is that this superficial fear is not of or from God.

It is the fear of being accused. Accused of condoning. For when we see others with true mercy we no longer merely look at their acts, no matter how sinful they may be. No, we see first and foremost a person. More so, we see a child. A child who is frightened. A child who is running a high fever. And no one with any heart at all, even if it be a calloused and somewhat hardened heart, wants to punish a frightened or feverish child.

No, no matter our maternal or paternal instinct, or lack thereof, the truly human instinct is to hug. To help. To hold. To heal. To alleviate the fear and burning pain.

But without God’s grace we too often, almost always in terms of statistical significance, do not see a child.

We only see a person who has harmed our world, our society, our way of life, our order, our peace.

We only see a person who—no matter how indirectly his or her actions might affect us—has harmed us and our families personally, and we along with the rest of the mob want justice.

A conflict takes place.

God’s perspective versus the world’s. A frightened and sick child versus a criminal who must be punished. Mercy versus justice.

But the conflict isn’t real. God not only loves justice too, God is Justice. And he sent His Only Begotten Son as expiation for the great injustice of mankind. Our kind. Our sin.

For God to only see the need for punishment is for God to deny His Only Begotten Son. That is not going to happen.

So the next time you feel the desire to be merciful—the need to be merciful—even toward the most “obvious” and “blatant” sinner do not give into the temptation. The temptation to fear. The fear that you are in some way condoning the sinful action because you are refusing to demand immediate and absolute punishment, a punishment that “fits the crime.”

No, say the Lord’s Prayer.

You are on God’s side. God is being merciful through you. And no matter how intimidated you may feel, be “firm and steadfast” in God’s love and mercy.

For you too love justice. You too love Jesus. And Jesus is Justice.

Jesus is Living and Breathing Justice.

And it is through this very person, The Person of Jesus, that “mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed.” (Psalm 85:11)

Praise be to God.


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Morning Thoughts: One Good Influence

by Howard Hain

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Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

—Psalm 90:12


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Sometimes I feel I have no identity at all. I am at each new successive moment the current culmination of the influences upon me.

I don’t know if this statement is true or not, or if it has any truth attached to it at all—or if perhaps it is merely some kind of “existential” temptation. But just in case there is something to it—something worth paying attention to—I should probably then also ask this very real and relevant question:

What influences are upon me?

If I don’t begin my list with “THE WORD”, then something is certainly not right.

Something is clearly out of order.

“Lord…order our days in your peace…” (Eucharistic Prayer I)

———

It is worth noting that ‘days’ takes the plural form, as does ‘words’.

And let us remember that that is not what God sent.

God sent His Son. Not words.

“And the Word became flesh…”

Jesus is truly singular. So much so He is the only universal.

———

So as we receive our daily correction, and as we get ourselves back in order, let us spend time sincerely reading Sacred Scripture, and let us also remember to never mistake the words for The Word: The Living Breathing Presence of Jesus Christ. The Person. The Man. God Made Man. The Only True Being. Ultimate Reality. Ultimate Unity. Ultimate Oneness. The Guy Next Door.

For Jesus is alive.

He lives “before the foundation of the world”. He lives a few thousand years ago. He lives tomorrow. And yes, He lives today—much closer in fact to each and everyone of us—and in much less “extraordinary” circumstances than we too often are told to think.

Let us be influenced.


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With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

—2 Peter 3:8


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Thoughts Upon The Cross: Bold Humility

by Howard Hain

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We should always strive to be fully united with The Body of Christ, in both thought and prayer. To think prayerfully, and to prayerfully think.

Let us then prayerfully embrace this particular moment:

Lord God, Father Almighty, let us use the talents, the gifts, and the abilities—that come from You, that will return to You, but that You have lent us for the time being—with maximum effectiveness, maximum efficiency, and bold humility—all for Your glory.

In the name of Jesus—in the person of Christ—as the Messiah Himself would offer.

Amen.

———

Now, let us think, prayerfully.

What is “bold humility”?

Let’s explore an answer, slow and steady.

First, like all manifestations of God’s glory, “bold humility” is a matter of transcendence.

Second, transcendence is not merely a type of balance. Balance is something else entirely. It is something less than divine. Balance is a man-made religious concept. It is practical human philosophy at work in the world, depending on and functioning within human limitation. Unlike transcendence, balance does not stem from the theological posture of divine providence, and more so, it does not rely on the acknowledged power and faithful acceptance of divine grace.

For example, with regard to the matter at hand, “bold humility” is not merely the balancing of boldness and humility—it is not a matter of being equally bold and equally humble—as if on a scale of 1-10, a score of 5 for boldness and a score 5 for humility is achieved simultaneously—adding up to 10 and at the same time keeping the “seesaw” of virtue straight and parallel to the earth lying below.

No, “bold humility”, like all Christian (and therefore preternatural) virtue is not a matter of equally limiting each natural characteristic in order to fit them all within the confines of human potential and logical limitations.

In plain language then, “bold humility” is not simply a healthy combination of two virtues, namely “boldness” and “humility”.

And most directly to the point: Christ didn’t balance. He transcended.

Then what does transcendence mean in this supernatural sense?

Well, let us rule out a few more false understandings before positing a possible positive understanding.

It will prove helpful to also establish this negation: To transcend is not merely to eliminate. Nor is it merely to deny. By transcending one does not destroy the categories it transcends. So in this particular case we can say that “bold humility” does not “eliminate” or “deny” the category of “boldness” or the category of “humility”.

Now let us begin to state positively what Jesus accomplished—for Jesus most certainly transcended.

To transcend is to rise above and beyond. It is to journey through. It is to transform.

Transcendence fulfills the “categories” it leaves below—it completely and utterly fulfills each and every virtue that man could ever conceive—and not only at the same time or simultaneously, but eternally and to a maximum degree. Transcendence is perpetual fulfillment of all “goodness” to an infinite “degree”.

Transcendence is then what we might call: Active Shalom.

It is living, breathing “Fullness”. It is “True Peace”. It is “Oneness” and the “Unity of God”—alive and constantly in motion. For to transcend is also to enter and live within the Internal Consistency of The Eternal Creator Himself.

Transcendence is the ultimate simplicity of “I AM.

It is Ipse Christus—Christ Himself—God made man, the Word made flesh, the magnificence of God brought into visible light.

And it is human redemption at work.

For the person of Jesus is just that: He is the glory of God woven into and through the very fabric of humanity—taking humanity above and beyond itself—transforming it on earth and simultaneously bringing it back with Him to the Father in heaven—as a new, glorified, and righteous form.

Jesus both lifts humanity into heaven and manifests fully God’s glory on earth.

Bold Humility” is Jesus Himself.

He alone fulfills completely both “boldness” and “humility” without ceasing.

And by doing so He straddles two worlds—making them one. But yet He is much more than a bridge, much more than a mere mystical ladder. Jesus, if you will, is Jacob’s Ladder but built of human flesh—upon Whom not only holy angels ascend and descend between heaven and earth—but through Whom the very helix of humanity is redeemed and glorified.

———

But enough words.

For they can never capture.

Jesus is profoundly free.

The best we can hope for is a glimpse—a fleeting image of the living, breathing manifestation of “Bold Humility” in ultimate action.

It takes silence.

It involves leaving the senses and faculties behind.

It requires “spirit and truth”:

We must stare at The Cross.

We must experience—firsthand—The Crucified Christ.


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Let us then pray once more:

Lord God, Father Almighty, let us use the talents, the gifts, and the abilities—that come from You, that will return to You, but that You have lent us for the time being—with maximum effectiveness, maximum efficiency, and bold humility—all for Your glory.

In the name of Jesus—in the person of Christ—as the Messiah Himself would offer.

Amen.


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Thoughts Upon The Cross: Act Like A Man

by Howard Hain

saint joseph, holy family.

To all men it may concern (definitely including me):

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Complaining is not strength.

It is actually quite unbecoming, to say the least.

In fact, it can easily become extremely boring.

And when it spills forth from the mouths of men who are appointed to lead, it manages to take on a whole new level of tediousness.

It becomes outright pathetic.

Of course, I am not talking about having private conversations with friends or colleagues, the kind of back and forth that can often strengthen and give great consolation. No, that falls under fellowship, under spiritual friendship. In those situations, practicing vulnerability and allowing oneself to be seen as truly struggling is actually a sign of strength.

What I am referring to are those too-often times when “leaders” openly and repeatedly complain in front of the very people they are chosen to lead and inspire—in front of the very people they are chosen to protect, guide, and encourage. Or to put it in more spiritual and pastoral terms—in terms of the “Good Shepherd” if you will—instead of feeding their sheep a sense of hope, a sense of security, and a sense of peace, the shepherds themselves cultivate and offer their flocks an atmosphere of worldly concern, a stream of ongoing despair, and a diet of downright near hysteria.

It is so embarrassing.

And the scope is broad, for appointed “leadership” comes in many forms: public officials, all kinds of employers, managers, politicians, coaches, pastors, administrators, teachers, and most certainly, and perhaps most significantly, every married man and father in the world.

God have mercy on us.

Forgive us our many failures.

Especially for us Catholic Christians, called to imitate in a special manner the Crucified Christ.

And this isn’t simply a matter of ever-changing public opinion. No, it’s a matter of being inherent in the very idea of leadership itself.

Shepherds lead, sheep follow.

Think about it, when was the last time you saw an artwork depicting a small group of little lambs carrying a full-grown living breathing Jesus?

Needless to say, never.

And in terms of practical and applied philosophy, let us then keep this significant and relative reality in mind: When it comes to real and everyday concerns, chances are that the most grueling day for most of us modern men is only as difficult as the normal, run-of-the-mill, daily employment of a mother of three—not to mention if that mother is also working full-time, single, in an abusive relationship, and/or barely speaks English—then it’s no contest—and in our current “ever-progressive” society, these conditions unfortunately too often apply.

So, if this not-so-gentle “correction” applies to you (as it most certainly applies to me) know that many are praying for us, many feel for us, many love us, many even need us, but we need to do our part:

Act like a man.

For sake of Christ.


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Let us pray:

Lord God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, we give you praise. Help us Father, help all men, all those called by You to lead. Help us to follow the only True Man, Your Only Begotten Son, Christ Jesus—our Lord and our God, and living Innocence itself. May we follow Him and Him alone, so we may be properly equipped—emotionally, physically, and spiritually—to lead those You have entrusted to our care. Make us strong and patient, courageous and persevering. Let us learn through the example of Saint Joseph the true meaning of humility, obedience, and selfless sacrificial service. Teach us to cherish silence and value greatly the grace of a truly developed interior life. Inspire us to love our wives and children with sincerity and integrity and profound gratitude. And when need be, Heavenly Father, show us how to be truly decisive, how to act with boldness in defending Your truth, and how to be utterly fearless in helping rescue those crushed by injustice and hypocrisy.

In all matters may we always do Your will and act on Your behalf—with minds made spotless, hearts made pure, and bodies kept chaste.

We ask this in the name of Jesus, in the perfect unity of the Holy Spirit, for Your endless glory.

Amen.


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Friday Thoughts: Short and Simple

tintoretto-christ-washing-the-disciples-feet-1548-49

Tintoretto, “Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet”, 1548-49

 


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Pray, brothers and sisters,

that my sacrifice and yours

may be acceptable to God,

the almighty Father.”


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Tall and handsome.

Big and powerful.

Profound and exciting.

A great adventure starring a great hero.

Doing the dishes.

Just the right combination of hot and cold.

Mostly hot of course.

And the cold, that splash of sobriety is so we don’t get burned.

In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified, I commence the dishes…

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The sponge is important.

It need be clean and effective.

For how can one wash with something dirty?

And yet, even the best is hardly perfect.

After a single use it’s bound to show signs of deterioration.

So you add more soap and hope for the best.

Our Father, who art in heaven…

———

The circular motion of water, upon and around each dish.

Turn, turn, turn…

Rinse, rinse, rinse…

Like the axis of the earth.

The equator slightly tilting back and forth.

Side to side, to ensure proper runoff.

Such a delicate balance.

Then put aside to dry.

Sunlight works best.

Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…”

———

The drain cannot be ignored.

The little netting, catching all sorts of iniquities.

Now very clean hands.

Cleansed thru humility.

The dignity of work.

Reach down.

To grab what has been left below.

The rejected, the unwanted, the forgotten food.

A Eucharistic portion.

Not washed into the drain.

Yet separated from what is considered clean.

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

———

I find two towels work the best.

One, somewhat clean, to wipe down the faucets and the edge of the sink.

The other to dry shriveled-up hands.

And to be hung, upon the little bar.

The one that crosses the oven door.

Awaiting the warmth.

The warmth that bakes our daily bread.

May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.”

———

It is all really very simple.

Short and simple.

He died. We live.

We die. He lives.

One dirty dish at a time.

One Eucharistic encounter at a time.

Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”


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Thanks be to God.”

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—Howard Hain

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Friday Thoughts: Exhaustion

Jerzy Duda-Gracz

Jerzy Duda-Gracz, “Golgotha of Jasna Gora”, (ca. 2001)


 

“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life…”

—John 6:27


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On a day such as this, our Lord, our God, our Savior Jesus the Christ was crucified.

It is hard to imagine just what He went through that long, hard day.

It is certainly a good exercise to meditate on Christ’s Passion. It bears great spiritual fruit.

This particular morning, exhaustion is on my mind.

I think of all those who are staggering out of bed. All those faces I shall soon see on the crowded bus, the claustrophobic subway car, the bitterly hot city street.

Of course those faces can also be seen in the suburbs and the country. Those faces are all over the place.

All those Josephs. All those Marys. All those Peters and Pauls. All those just like you and me, like yours and mine—all on their way to work—each carrying a cross made of wood, no matter what the job may entail or what the work may look like, no matter if the “work” performed results in “pay” or not.

Exhaustion. Being spent. Having been completely poured out. Nothing left but fumes.

And many whom I shall see this morning will return this evening to ungrateful companions: spouses, children, in-laws, neighbors…all those in their lives who they provide for, but who rarely think about the effort it takes to generate that provision—let alone, to say, “Thank you”.

Jesus kept walking.

Patience. Strength. Perseverance.

———

Lord, teach us. Show us. Show us Your blessed face.

Can we see You today in the tired, the taken for granted, the exhausted? Can we pour ourselves out on Your behalf? Can we serve those who serve others?

Can we be instruments of encouragement? Can we help the anonymous Jesus right next to us carry His Cross? And can we do all this in complete and perfect union with Jesus and all for the love of You, Lord God?

Father, can we continue to ask You questions such as these? Questions that bring us closer to You, and closer to the Passion of Your Dearly Beloved Son.

I love You, Jesus. Let me never take for granted Your crucifixion. Let me never take for granted Your exhaustive gift—a gift that took every bit of You and yet never runs out—a gift exclusively for me and at the very same time exclusively for each and every other member of mankind.

You, Lord God—Father, Son, Holy Spirit: Most Holy Trinity—are everywhere: on crowded buses, on claustrophobic subway cars, on bitterly hot city streets. You are all over the place. You are in so many who don’t even know that You are in them. Let me see You in them. And may that blessed encounter also be the moment in which he and she comes to recognize Your Divine Presence residing deep within.

You are God.

You died for each of us.

Your Passion continues.

On the Third Day, You rose again.

The Third Day is also today—this very day—this new and blessed day.

You are risen. You are risen, indeed!


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So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

—John 6:28-29


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—Howard Hain

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Friday Thoughts: Playing Around

Bruegel, Children's Games, 1560

Bruegel, “Children’s Games”, (1560)

 

…and a little child will lead them.

—Isaiah 11:6

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It’s the simple moments. It’s playing hide-and-seek. It’s pretending that what isn’t is.

Like a game made-up as we go, with only a single rule: It has to make us laugh.

But not the kind of laughter that hurts anyone or anything. No, it has to be true laughter, the kind that comes from and through kindness, through truly wanting to be with one another—so much so that we’ll make up just about any old game, just as long as we wont have to go our separate ways.

“Life” then becomes one big beautiful “excuse” to stay together, and our “actions” take on a tremendously meaningful fashion. They become like soft pieces of colorful clothing gently placed upon our joy-filled affections.

Little children know this through and through. They’re constantly changing and tailoring their “clothes”, adapting and accessorizing as they go, with only one goal in mind: for the “fun” to continue. But the fun they seek is not the kind that you and I normally desire—for little children know what few adults remember. They’re not so easily tricked. They know that fun, true fun, has very little to do with the actual game being played, in and of itself. For little children it’s all about what the game, as a mere instrument, allows them to experience—the freedom to let out love.

That’s why the type of game they play can turn on a dime. It just doesn’t matter.

Rules? Scores? Time-limits?

Who cares about stuff like that?

Are we “laughing”? Are we having “fun”? Are we still “with each other”?

Are we still in love?

These are the only questions that matter to a small child!

And with prayer it is much the same. Saints make up all kinds of “games” in order to “excuse” the time that they want so desperately to spend with God. They play all kinds of little games. They slide beads, they sing little songs, they pretend to be statues while playing hide-and-seek with the Lord, and some—the ones that the world most often calls crazy—even dream up little tales and fanciful stories, imagining along with God what could be if only everyone in the world would join in and play together.

But this is no big secret. All saints in one way or another come to say the same thing: Every technique, every approach, every means of entering into prayer…each and every one…they’re all part of one giant “excuse”, one seemingly never-ending “game”. For at the end of the day, techniques and approaches are at best a mere prelude to divine laughter—that infant-like sound composed of pure joy, that only the Love of God can bring into being.

———

He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

—Mark 10: 14-16

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—Howard Hain

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