Sometimes there are no words…. (Tears at the Afghanistan evacuation)

One of my friends posted this on her Instragram account. To me, it said more than words could ever say. It includes the artist’s name.

This reminds me of the reflections of Etty Hillesum in her book An Interrupted Life. Esther (Etty) Hillesum (15 January 1914–30 November 1943) was the Dutch author of confessional letters and diaries which describe both her religious awakening and the persecutions of Jewish people in Amerstdam during the German Occupation. In 1943 she was deported and killed In Auschwitz concentration camp. In one of her diary entries she wrote, in a similar vein to the image above, that even the German mothers are mourning the loss of their sons, just as the Jewish mothers are. I have always kept An Interrupted Life and love to pull it out at times such as these. Some of my favorite quotes from Etty:

“All disaster stems from us. Why is there a war? Perhaps because now and then I might be inclined to snap at my neighbour. Because I and my neighbour and everyone else do not have enough love. Yet we could fight war with all its excrescences by releasing, each day, the love that is shackled inside us, and giving it a chance to live. And I believe that I will never be able to hate any human being for his so-called wickedness, that I shall only hate the evil that is within me, though hate is perhaps putting it too strongly even then. In any case, we cannot be lax enough in what we demand of others and strict enough in what we demand of ourselves.”
― Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
― Etty Hillesum

“Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning.”
― Etty Hillesum, Lettres De Westerbork

“Each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others.”
― Etty Hillesum

“I know and share the many sorrows a human being can experience, but I do not cling to them; they pass through me, like life itself, as a broad eternal stream…and life continues…”
― Etty Hillesum

“I really see no other solution than to turn inwards and to root out all the rottenness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we first change ourselves. And that seems to me the only lesson to be learned.”
― Etty Hillesum, Lettres De Westerbork

“I know that those who hate have good reason to do so. But why should we always have to choose the cheapest and easiest way? It has been brought home forcibly to me here how every atom of hatred added to the world makes it an even more inhospitable place.”
― Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork

“When you have an interior life, it certainly doesn’t matter what side of the prison fence you’re on. . . I’ve already died a thousand times in a thousand concentration camps. I know everything. There is no new information to trouble me. One way or another, I already know everything. And yet, I find this life beautiful and rich in meaning. At every moment.”
― Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork

“We go too far in fearing for our unhappy bodies, but our forgotten spirit shrivels up in some corner. Our lives are going wrong, we conduct ourselves without dignity. We lack historical sense, forget that even those about to perish are part of history. I hate nobody. I am not embittered. And once the love of mankind has germinated in you, it will grow without measure.”
― Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork

God’s living message is very close to you

“God’s living message is very close to you, as close as your own heart beating in your chest” (Rom 10:8, TPT).

These are the words of Moses quoted by St Paul in his letter to the Romans. We could read them today in this way: “You may feel alone. You may be scared about the future. You may be worried for your children. You may wonder if God will do something to protect you. What I want you to know is that God’s living message of salvation is very close to you. His revelation of faith for salvation is truly the news that is good, that makes your heart skip a beat when you realize how near to you is the One who speaks and is the true promise and guarantee of your being loved forever and ever. Nothing can shake that love. In my hands you are safe.”

The ongoing media discussion about the nation’s crises in these early days of September 2021 will never satisfy your heart. It isn’t the “good news” that God knows your heart needs to sing and flourish. It isn’t the “good news” that will guide you into all truth. The constant commentary is like piling up stones and bricks and wood and paint and cement…a pile that never becomes a building of any sort. The arguments don’t hold together. The words don’t become wisdom.

For “In HIM, in Christ,” Paul states, “all things hold together.” This is because “He is before all else that is” (Col. 1:17). Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone of all that exists. Apart from Him we can “do nothing” (Jn 15:5). A Cornerstone “is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.”

Nothing in our life or in the history of the world “hangs together” if it is without reference to Jesus Christ.

Nothing in our life or in the history of the world “hangs together” if it is without reference to Jesus Christ. “All before or after Jesus is meaningless without experiential contact with him” (Philip Krill, More Than Conquerors). As you listen to or read social and news commentary on the truly critical issues of our day, ask yourself, “Where is the Cornerstone? Where is Jesus? What is the “glue” holding together this person’s ideas?”

Jesus recapitulates in himself all of humanity and all of the entire creation. It is because of our Bridegroom, the Lion of Judah and the Lamb without stain, beautiful Jesus, Savior of the world, that we can have the expectation that no matter what the sufferings of this present time, the glory of God is to be revealed in us (1 Cor. 2:9).

Paul could be so absolutely certain of this glory because he had been given a foretaste of it on the road to Damascus when he was thrown to the ground before the manifestation of the glory of the resurrected Jesus who called him by name, who knew everything about him, and who had chosen him to tell the world about the mystery of salvation.

Friends, when I see the terror on the face of Afghan women, try to understand the complex situation regarding the crisis at our border, look at so many cities that are now after Hurricane Ida no longer livable in Louisiana and Mississippi, consider the thousands still attempting to escape the Taliban, I too throw myself down at the feet of Jesus, the “one who holds the seven stars firmly in his right hand” (Rev. 2:1). Through the victory of his resurrection he now holds the keys of life and death.

“Don’t yield to fear. I am the Beginning and I am the End, the Living One! I was dead, but now look–I am alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys that unlock death and the unseen world” (Rev 1:18).

To seven churches, the apostle John was directed to write seven letters (Rev 2–3). In these letters to Christians who were suffering persecution and martyrdom for their belief in Jesus, the risen One calls the churches to account: return to the passionate love you had for Christ at the beginning! Do not become discouraged! Do not yield to fear in the face of suffering! Repent of believing the words of men and listen to the Spirit! Flee immorality for I search your mind and heart! Remember all the things you’ve received and heard, turn back to God and obey him! Cling tightly to what you have so that no one may seize your crown of victory! Jesus wants his Bride the Church to burn brightly, bringing light and illumination to the world as a witness of God’s glory.

In the face of the barrage of the words of men–analysis, anger, manipulation, fear–I need help sometimes to cling to the Word of God–to Jesus the Cornerstone, the Bridegroom of the Church whom he has made the Light to the nations. If Jesus called and missioned Paul to announce Jesus to the world, he has called and missioned the Church, and you, and me, in the same way. Each of us has our own unique corner of the world in which we shine, certainly, but we each were created to manifest God’s glory to this world. It doesn’t help any of those suffering so tremendously in today’s political climate if I neglect to be and do that for which God has sent me. It is the glory of God that in mysterious ways more powerfully sways nations and rulers and the powers of nature than any human plan or political agenda.

So let us take as our rule of life these directives to the seven churches: Return to the passionate love you had for Christ at the beginning! Do not become discouraged! Do not yield to fear in the face of suffering! Repent of believing the words of men and listen to the Spirit! Flee immorality for I search your mind and heart! Remember all the things you’ve received and heard, turn back to God and obey him! Cling tightly to what you have so that no one may seize your crown of victory!

Read them morning and night. Remind yourself of them during the day. Post them where you can see them often. Read them after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. Examine yourself on them as you prepare for confession.

Hold onto faith, preserve your expectation. John Howard Yoder stated when we say, “I hope so,” it is most often a polite way of saying, “it probably won’t happen.” Christian hope, instead, is an absolute unquestioned confident expectation that what we have already experienced in Jesus Christ will give us the courage to put away the fearful questions that haunt our uncertain dreams with the proclamation from the depths of our hearts that Jesus, and only Jesus, “makes all things new” (Rom. 21:5).

If the Church doesn’t hold out this hope for the world, then who will? This is the hope that has saved the world. You and I can be the hope the world needs today.

Image credit: Cathopic, Angie Menes

Throw Open Your Heart

The road to communion is beautiful. So open your heart to the world. We are meant to be one. We are one. We come forth—each and all of us—from the creative word of the same Father and Creator: “Let us make mankind in Our image, after Our likeness….” (Gn. 1:26).

Throw open the doors and windows of your heart to brothers and sisters looking for someone whose heart is filled with the wind of the Spirit…

Throw out the furniture to make more room, for only a heart that is poor and waiting can receive the other…

Throw down the welcome mat and refuse to no one access to your charity and compassion and care…

Let them come, my friends, these others who are your brothers and sisters. Let them come from wherever they are now, from whatever country, political persuasion, faith, poor or rich, healthy or suffering in any way, and together let us build a new way of living in communion.

What would it look like to live together knowing our total dependence on God for everything?

To wait upon the Lord…

To let gentleness live within us and among us…

To claim nothing as our own, but to share all things as one family…

To be single-hearted and pure of spirit…

To be makers of peace, to wish well-being to all…

To work that no one might suffer…

The road to communion is beautiful. The possibility of living the way of the beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus attracts us. When I was younger, I had great hopes for a heart characterized by this charity. At 57 I realize that I cannot change my own heart in so radical a way, much less transform others and the world. The terrors and pain that wound my brothers and sisters in the world frighten and overwhelm me. Sometimes they seem to steal my voice and paralyze my own hope.

At 57 I realize that the beauty of this path is created by the eagerness of the continued journey, and the willingness to let God wreck my idealism about myself and the world. So know, my friend, that deep inside your heart lies the seed of God’s own power to build communion. The gift of unity and shared respect grows like the mustard seed and in our tentative, gradual and often faltering steps this broken yet gifted world is transformed into the Kingdom. 

So allow others into your life and heart. They are God’s messengers to break you out of your own frozen places and constricted ideas and opinions about what is true, good, and beautiful. Even the ugly can teach you beauty. Even the harsh can call forth your tenderness. Even the proponent of ideologies you do not share can push you to kneel before the One alone who is Truth, Way, and Life.

Ask Jesus for the grace to know who you may need to forgive or where bitterness and resentment are keeping you apart from this oneness for which you are made. May these days be a time of healing, a calling to the center, a uniting into one family, a restoring of what has been lost, a re-membering of what has been forgotten. May these days be filled with graces beyond your wildest dreams.

Never stop running for the goal!

In this spring and summer we are almost holding our collective breath as the pandemic seems to be slowly winding down here in the US. We wonder what normal will look like after having “worshipped” via Zoom for so long.

The Spirit is actively creating something new in this transition and return to the celebration of the Eucharist with our brothers and sisters, together, as a community in Christ, as Christ’s body. Those who have been waiting for Baptism can now receive that most important sacrament by which, as St Paul tells us, we die with Christ and rise with him.

Through the sacraments of baptism and the receiving of the risen Christ in the Eucharist at Mass, a deep and radical change takes place within us. In the words of Nicholas Cabasilas (a 15th-century Greek theologian): “O wonder of wonders! It is God himself we touch in the Eucharist and God becomes one with us in the closest union.” And again, of the sacrament of baptism, “When we come up from the water we bear the Savior upon our souls, on our heads, on our eyes, on all our members…. We have been stamped with Christ.”

These days can be a renewed experience for all of us of the life we receive only through Christ, in Christ, and in the sacramental life of the Church. This was a favorite topic of St. Paul, so I reached out to Sr. Margaret Kerry for some thoughts on this theme. She has such a rich experience of speaking with people both about the faith and about St. Paul to help us deepen this topic. For years she has been writing reflections on Paul’s letters for our lay Paulines (Pauline Cooperators) as an ongoing study. Her focus is on baptism, the sacrament that opens the door for all of the sacraments as we join the family of God. The following material is from Sr. Margaret.


                                               

Thank you so much for inviting me to explore the sacraments with you in the spirit of St Paul. I would first like to put this in context by recalling Paul’s words, quoted loosely, “Never stop running for the goal!” St. Gregory the Great wrote, “Jesus became incarnate so that he may be seen by us. And Jesus wants to be seen so that we may imitate him.” In relation to this, Blessed James Alberione exclaims, “How sublime this is! All baptized Christians are called to become one personality in Christ, to graft ourselves to Christ, so that truly Christ lives in us.”

St. Paul explained this imitation of Christ, this goal of becoming Christ, in terms of living in Christ when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal 2:19-20). St. Paul imitated Christ so brilliantly that he could exhort others, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

Through our baptism, this conformity with Christ is already a reality in us. We enter a covenant with God. On our part, we pray that the “grace of God will bear fruit” so that this conformity with Christ will attain fullness. We have been given the first fruits of the Spirit who helps us in our weakness. “With Christ in us we are a new creation!” (see 2 Cor 5:17).

Saint Paul, you lived in deep intimacy with Jesus and spent your life proclaiming him to all God’s people. Teach us to do the same.

By virtue of our baptism, we live in Christ; in him “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We are members of his Body, his dwelling place. Show us what it means to live out of this amazing reality: that, having encountered the love of God in Jesus, we are called to share it as his missionary disciples.

Baptism admits us into a mysterious and permanent communion with Christ. In the ancient church, baptism was also called “illumination,” because the sacrament gives light; it truly makes us see. This is clear from the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts Paul’s encounter with Jesus, his “conversion.” He had traveled to Damascus prepared to take any followers of the Way into custody to Jerusalem. Instead, Jesus appeared to him outside Damascus, calling out, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” When Paul asked Jesus who he was, he was told to get up and go into Damascus where he would be told what to do. Paul waited three days in Damascus, unable to see anything. The darkness gave way to light when Ananias, sent by the Lord, baptized him so that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Paul was transformed by the irresistible presence of the Risen One. Once blind, he was now able to see. The illumination that Paul received on the road to Damascus is what happens for every Christian at their own baptism. Baptism admits us into mysterious and permanent communion with Christ. “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of [Jesus] Christ” (2 Cor 4:5-6).

Lord, illumine us, grant us an encounter with your presence in our world, open our eyes, grant us a lively faith, an open heart, and great love for all, love capable of renewing the world.

Even after such a tremendous grace as was this encounter with the risen Christ, Paul writes again and again in his letters about an ongoing “conversion.” In his letter to the Romans, he famously writes about his struggle: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Rom 7:15, 18-19).

The verb Paul uses for conversion is an active verb signifying “ongoing transformation.” Paul admitted that he was always on the road to conversion. “I strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). He depicts the ongoing struggle we all experience in our call to live fully our Baptismal commitment. “Creation waits in eager expectation for us to be revealed as new” (Rom 8:19).

Yet Paul also assures us that, through our baptism and our ongoing transformation, we are being transformed from glory to glory. “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).

Lord, grant us freedom in your Spirit so that, from this inner abundance filling our earthen vessel, we can say “it is no longer I who live, Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20)

Ultimately, our transformation takes place, not through our own power, but through the power of the Risen One. Paul invites us to glory in our weakness as the power of Christ is manifested in us. When Paul experienced what he called a “thorn in the flesh,” he begged God to take it from him. But Paul said that the Lord refused to take this suffering from him. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then glories in his infirmities, because the power of God is made manifest through them: “So I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (see 2 Cor 12:9).

Through our baptism, Christ confirms a permanent dwelling in us, the beginning of new life. “He will change our lowly body to conform to his glorified body” (Phil 3:12). Paul speaks of this permanent dwelling, this conformation to the glorified body of Christ, as living “in Christ.” In fact, Paul uses the word “in” over 164 times when he refers to life in Christ! By living in Christ through the graces of our baptism, by deepening our union with Christ through the Eucharist, Jesus restores us to the fullness of life in the Triune God in whose image we are created. In turn, we are sent as Christ for others.

God, in your mercy, transform us into your likeness so that we become way, truth and life for our families, our neighbors, our Church and for those who have not yet encountered you. Amen.

Jesus, I want what you have!

Keeping the commandments. It is something that children wrestle with as they prepare for their First Penance. Do you remember that first time you had to examine your conscience? Later this tension to fidelity to God’s Word and the Ten Words of Law becomes “second nature,” spiritually speaking, or else rebellion to the invitation to holiness found in the commandments becomes ingrained in thoughts, words, and habits, ultimately manifesting in a life of pain and sorrow. According to the words of Jesus there is no middle road: “Whoever breaks one of the of the least of the commandments…whoever obeys and teaches these commandments…”

St Silouan the Athonite said that the apostle John says that the commandments of God are not difficult to keep (1 John 5:3). For the one who loves, they are easy to keep. They are difficult only for the one who does not love.

Keeping the commandments is a matter of the heart. Recently I was resting in prayer, silently contemplating Jesus who had climbed a mountain for time alone with his Father. It was night. I imagined myself quietly watching from a short distance, my elbows on a large boulder, holding my face in my hands, as I observed Jesus standing a few yards away. I could just see the silhouette of Jesus as he stood looking up into the star-lit night sky in this place to which he had retired to be with his Father. The intensity of love that I sensed between him and his Father, the energy of their wordless communion, the giving and receiving, the loving and responding, the gift and obedience…. Even though I was not a part of their unspoken communication, Jesus’ bond with his Father was unmistakable and strong. When Jesus’ had finished praying he turned and noticed me watching. He walked quietly toward me and sat down. My heart full, I said simply, “I want what you have.” And he said to me, “I want you to have it too.”

I want the love that Jesus experiences to take hold in the deepest recesses of my heart. I want my sole desire to be to surrender my life entirely to that love, to desire to speak, think, and do only what the Father has given me to do. In other words, I want to be true to the Father’s love for me and for others in the totality of the way I live. But when I examine myself I see that I am not like Jesus who could say, “I say only what I hear from the Father.” My love is only a distortion of divine love.

I want the love that Jesus experiences to take hold in the deepest recesses of my heart. I want my sole desire to be to surrender my life entirely to that love, to desire to speak, think, and do only what the Father has given me to do.

The law of God helps us recognize our poverty and our utter dependence on God. It floods us with God’s mercy which renews us, as we realize we cannot keep the commandments unless God himself remakes our hearts. And he will do so, if we open our heart to him. As Jesus said to me, “I want this for you too!” What generous kindness that will not fail to be brought about through Jesus’ action on my poor heart.

Pope Francis said that the commandments help people face the disarray of our hearts in order to stop living selfishly and become authentic children of God, redeemed by the Son and taught and guided by the Holy Spirit.

The commandments are a gift. They save us, as Saint John Paul II reminded us in his speech on Mount Sinai, from the “destructive force of egoism, hatred and falsehood. They point out all the false gods that draw [us] into slavery: the love of self to the exclusion of God, the greed for power and pleasure that overturns the order of justice and grades our human dignity and that of our neighbor.”

To keep the commandments is paradoxically to know that we can’t keep them without the power of God at work within us, without the Spirit remaking our hearts and minds, without the blood of Jesus washing us clean and transfiguring our entire being in himself.

Image credit: Il Ragazzo via Cathopic

Guest Post: The Hearts of Jesus and Mary

June is the month of the Sacred Heart, and this year the feast of the Sacred Heart falls on Friday, June 11. In this feast Jesus pours out the love of his heart on us. But Jesus always comes with Mary. The next day, June 12, is the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the union of these two hearts we are completely enveloped in divine and human love.

The heart is the symbol of love, one that’s even used widely in our secular culture (as in Saint Valentine’s Day). It’s a universal symbol most people can relate to easily. From his heart, Jesus pours forth the ocean of his love, and Mary does the same from her own tender maternal heart. They both have an unconditional love for us. That doesn’t mean they don’t care if we sin, but rather that they still love us despite our sins. Jesus in his Sacred Heart and Mary in her Immaculate Heart want to pour out their love on us. If we stray, they call us back.

Mary can transform hearts. In Paris in 1836, a holy priest, Monsignor Charles Desgenettes, was assigned to Our Lady of Victories parish. Spiritually the parish was dying. Only a faithful few old people still went to Mass. Determined to bring about a spiritual revival, the priest consecrated himself and the parish to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. He announced that he was going to call a meeting about being consecrated to Mary. To his astonishment, the church was packed for the meeting! In time a complete spiritual revival took place—and devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart was the driving force.

If we need renewal in our life, whether as a church or as an individual, devotion to Mary is a great place to start. She will draw us closer to her son, Jesus, and together the two hearts of Jesus and Mary will help our own hearts burn with love of God and neighbor.

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Image Credit: Tacho Dimas via Cathopic

The Heart of a World in Pain: Meditation for Corpus Christi

I spent a couple of hours this morning before Mass meditating on Alexander Schmemann’s profound articulation of the mystery of the Eucharist…. a gift to myself on this most beautiful of liturgical feast days. The vast horizons of this Orthodox priest and writer’s soul seem to peer into eternity as he contemplates the liturgy of the Eucharist:

The Liturgy is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom…. Our sacramental entrance into the risen life of Christ. The liturgy of the Eucharist is where individuals of every culture, socio-economic bracket, and way of life come together in one place to bring their lives with them in order to be more than what they were: a new community with a new life. In the liturgy we are immersed in the new life of the Kingdom… (cf. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, page 28-32).

This morning my heart is also shadowed by conflicting emotions, sorrow, a desire to make things right if I could, to erase wrongs, to supply for what is now lacking, to heal the ones who are broken…. On this day I am mindful of very difficult stories that have been in the news and are on all of our minds and hearts lately: the discovery of the mass grave with the bodies of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Residential School in British Colombia, Canada; the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre; the one year anniversary of the death of George Floyd; the ongoing violence on our streets and in our homes.

The inexcusable and horrific stories of how we creatures of the same God and Father of us all can harm each other, taking from each other life, hope, future overwhelm our hearts. They are so incomprehensible that our minds and hearts recoil from even learning about them, facing them, putting things right. Let’s take a step back, again letting Schmemann be our guide, as we ask ourselves from where this evil among us comes, this evil we first encounter in the story of Cain turning on his brother Abel, these two sons of Adam and Eve who had chosen to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden at the serpent’s suggestion:

Man ate the forbidden fruit. The fruit of that one tree, whatever else it may signify, was unlike every other fruit in the Garden: it was not offered as a gift to man. Not given, not blessed by God, it was food whose eating was condemned to be communion with itself alone, and not with God. It is the image of the world loved for itself, and eating it is the image of life understood as an end in itself.

To love is not easy, and mankind has chosen not to return God’s love. Man has loved the world, but as an end in itself and not as transparent to God. He has done it so consistently that it has become something that is “in the air.”

It seems natural for man to experience the world as opaque, and not shot through with the presence of God. It seems natural not to live a life of thanksgiving for God’s gift of a world. It seems natural not to be eucharistic.

The world is a fallen world because it has fallen away from the awareness that God is all in all. The accumulation of this disregard for God is the original sin that blights the world.

On this Feast of Corpus Christi I’ve been thinking about how all of life is meant to be eucharistic, a life of thanksgiving to the God on whom we depend for everything. Life lived in a eucharistic key is a journey of love and adoration toward God. We lost this eucharistic life in Adam and Eve. In Christ, the new Adam, this eucharistic life is restored to us. Contrary to the first Adam, Christ offered himself to the Father in perfect obedience, love and thanksgiving. Christ did not reach for his own glory, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Christ’s life was a symphony in the key of Gift and Gratitude. He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant for our salvation, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross! As Gift he received from God the highest place, and to him every knee must bow to the glory of God the Father (cf. Phil. 2:5ff).

For “the wages of sin is death.” The life man chose was only the appearance of life. God showed him that he himself had decided to eat bread in a way that would simply return him to the ground from which both he and the bread had been taken: “For dust thou art and into dust shalt thou return.” Man lost the eucharistic life, he lost the life of life itself, the power to transform it into Life. He ceased to be the priest of the world and became its slave.

In the story of the Garden this took place in the cool of the day: that is, at night. And Adam, when he left the Garden where life was to have been eucharistic—an offering of the world in thanksgiving to God—Adam led the whole world, as it were, into darkness. In one of the beautiful pieces of Byzantine hymnology Adam is pictured sitting outside, facing Paradise, weeping. It is the figure of man himself (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, page 17-18).

In the Mass Christ himself takes all of us and the totality of our life to God. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken unto you. Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it remains in the vine; so neither can you, unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches: He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit: for away from me you can do nothing. If a man does not remain in me, he is thrown away as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatsoever you will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:1-7).

In the light of the Eucharist we see that Christ is indeed the life and light of all that exists, and the glory that fills heaven and earth….

He became man and lived in this world. He ate and drank, and this means that the world of which he partook, the very food of our world became His body, His life. But His life was totally, absolutely eucharistic—all of it was transformed into communion with God and all of it ascended into heaven. And now He shares this glorified life with us. “What I have done alone—give it now to you: take, eat. … (page 43).

Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we experience the very joy of the Kingdom because we realize that even as the joys of earth will one day come to an end, there is now through Christ a seed of eternal joy planted in our world that will grow into the Kingdom. And so we pray for the world, we beg God that we might love the world as Jesus loves the world. That we might love the world with the very love of Christ. That we might see the world in Christ, as it really is, and not from our own limited points of view. We intercede for those who are victims, for those who perpetrators, for our are brothers and sisters.

I’ve been wrestling with these shadows of sorrow even as I stand at the messianic banquet and receive into my heart the Life of the world. It is this way with all of us. It will always be this way in this world.

I’ve decided today that what matters for me is where I stand. In what dimension I live. With whose gaze I look upon the world. With whose heart I feel.

I am, we are, one in Jesus, the Vine, our Life, the one who holds us all together as one and brings us with him into the Kingdom of his Father. The image of the Vine and the Branches offers me a way to live through these sad and disconcerting times:

  1. Jesus said that the branches must bear fruit. He commands it actually eight times in John chapter 15. The present tense here points to bearing more than one fruit or one season of fruitfulness. It indicates a sustained productivity. Yet I know by myself I cannot bear fruit. I cannot reach up and grasp for fruitfulness. I need to remain attached to the Vine through the Eucharist in order to be fruitful. I am mindful of the too many branches that have been weakened and have even given up on the Vine because of the activity of some of those who are Christians and Catholics, themselves branches on the Vine. I remember those who have chosen to behave toward others in ways that have separated themselves in some way from the full Life of Christ the Vine. I remember all those who have suffered grievously at the hands of other branches on the one Vine. In every Eucharist I can pray with the heart of Jesus for all those for whom Christ died for he is now the only one who makes things right, who brings shalom, that is, wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and peace with God and reconciliation.
  2. Every branch that does not bear fruit will be taken away by the Gardener. The prayer often on my lips in times like these is: “Thy kingdom come! Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God is at work clearing away what needs to be cleared away so that the voices of his children who have been marginalized and suffered devastating losses can be heard. We need to have the courage to enter into the stories of those who have suffered at the hands of others. I must admit, about some of these situations I knew nothing until I started reading, inquiring, listening. Even a 30 minute tour around the internet can help us hear their voices. Thy kingdom come means that we stand up to hear all these voices and allow the kingdom which is beyond the smallness of our hearts to break open the hold that evil has on us.
  3. We are invited to remain in Jesus as he desires to remain in us. To abide, to be joined to him. To have a sustained union, a steadfast and enduring communion with the Vine. For those who abide in Christ as branches on the Vine there is the promise that they can ask what they will and it will be done for them. I believe this is because the branches that are receiving nourishment from the Vine are of one heart and mind with Jesus. What they ask for the world comes from the heart and interests and desires of Jesus that all be saved, that all be healed, that all be made whole, that all be one.

Through the Liturgy the broken life of this world is brought, in Christ and by Christ, into the dimension of the Kingdom of God. The Mass is the Heart of a world in pain, the seed of Joy, the manifestation of the mystery of God’s presence and action. It is in the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice that the world as it isdivided, torn, broken apart with anger and shadowed in fearis brought to God. For it was for this world that God’s Son, his only Son, gave his life. And so will I.

Image Credit: Dulce Maria via Cathopic

Blessed are you who believed!

Promises! Elizabeth said to Mary, “Blessed are you for believing that what was promised to you would be fulfilled.”

Those words could be repeated to Mary at the foot of the cross as her son was dying, “Blessed are you, O Mary, for believing that what was promised to you would even now be fulfilled.”

They could be proclaimed at Pentecost, “Blessed are you who believed what was promised! It shall be fulfilled!”

They were sung at the moment of her assumption into heaven, “Blessed, most blessed among all earth’s women, are you, Mary, for you believed, you never wavered, even in suffering you were steadfast in the certainty that God would keep his promises to you.”

Life is hard enough at times, and I think too often we forget the promises God has made to us, words of power that will keep any storm from overwhelming our fragile boats.

Elizabeth and Mary were two women—one too old to bear a child and the other barely a child herself—who became the channel of God’s mercy poured out through his Son in the redemption of the world: Jesus Christ, fulfillment of the Promise.

Both Elizabeth and Mary may have felt that this vocation was beyond their personal capacity…but they believed that what God had begun in them he would bring to completion in his own way, in his own time, through his grace. They knew there were no guarantees, there was no way to control or manipulate the future. What was left to them was praise and joyful wonder at what God was doing in and through them.

In the Responsorial Psalm we hear their quiet joy and firm and solid hope:

God indeed is my savior;
    I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
    and he has been my savior….

Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
    for great in your midst 
    is the Holy One of Israel.

What is God doing in you? Like Elizabeth and Mary take some time today to notice, to sing, to rejoice, to believe, to trust. “God indeed is my Savior, I am confident and unafraid.”

Image Credit: Fra Angelico, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Inexhaustible Mystery of the Eucharist

A priest once shared with me when he really “got” the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. After years of theology, celebrating hundreds of Masses, teaching religious education to thousands of kids, he was asked one day to give Communion to Mother Theresa who would be participating at a Eucharistic Liturgy. MOTHER THERESA, he thought. Probably just about the holiest person on the face of the earth! And he would be giving her Communion! He was amazed and awestruck and excited all wrapped in one until the moment when she stood before him….

It was at that moment that he was unexpectedly surprised with wonder. As he raised the host and began to say the words, “Body of Christ,” his attention was suddenly riveted…not on Mother Theresa…but on Jesus.

I am giving the BODY OF CHRIST to Mother Theresa, he reflected. Mother Theresa had receded into the background of his contemplative focus on the Eucharistic gift he held in his hands. He felt that it would be more appropriate for him to sink to the floor in adoration of the Lord Jesus who nourishes us with his body and blood.

This was an experience that would be impressed on his soul and remain a part of his Eucharistic devotion for all his life.

All of God’s saving activity through the ages from the Garden of Eden  to the Garden of the Resurrection finds its climax in the Eucharist we receive and adore. The threads of his story and ours combine in the glory of the Blessed Sacrament:

The Creator who promised hope to fallen Adam and Eve.
The God who rescued Noah through the flood.
The Lord who chose Abraham, making with him a covenant and promising he would be the father of many nations.
The Liberating God who freed his people from slavery in Egypt, carried them through the desert, revealed to them his law.
The God who through the prophets taught and exhorted his chosen people….

The Jesus who healed and made whole.
The Redeemer who forgave and incorporated sinners into his family.

The Master who invited us together into community around himself and through him with the Father.
The Lover of us all who taught us to love and to live according to God’s heart.
The Savior who knelt and washed our feet and called his friends.
The Lord who gave himself to us to be our nourishment and strength.
The King who died for us that we might have life in total, extravagant abundance.
The Son of God who sends us to the whole world to proclaim him and baptize everyone into God’s life.

O Eucharistic heart of Jesus,

In you I find hope and freedom, truth and belonging, forgiveness and healing, friendship and mercy and life!

In your Eucharistic heart, O Jesus Christ, I experience the greatest love. You make me worthy of love, you make me capable of loving others as you have loved me.

O Jesus, in the Eucharist you rescue me from despair by attaching me to yourself, the Source of all Life. Without you I can do nothing (John 15:5).

O Jesus, by receiving into myself your body and blood I take on the features of your face.

O Jesus, only-begotten Son of the Father, by receiving into myself your body and blood I take on the features of your face. I appear before the Father with your beauty. In me he sees you, his beloved Son. You set me free from slavery (Jn. 8:36) and make me a  child of God. You give me a share in everything that is yours. Jesus “makes us to share in his body, blood, spirit, and everything that is his. It is in this way that he both recreated us and set us free and deified us as he, the healthful, free, and true God mingled himself with us” (Nicholas Cabasilas).

Friend, Jesus wants you to know this:

From your every suffering he wants to heal you with his touch.
The God who in Christ has opened his heart to you can redeem your life.
All social ills find their healing in the Gospel that transforms life and the world from within.
Jesus is the only one who can tell you who you really are.
Jesus Christ himself is both the way and the truth and therefore he is also the life that you are seeking.
The Christ who has found you, seeks out every person to give them abundant life. He will use you as his hands, his voice, his heart, his touch.
Only Jesus knows how to show you the way to happiness.

All the good we desire, all the good we hope to achieve, all the truth we need to understand life, all the love we yearn for and the love we desire to give away to others—all of this we will find in the Eucharist. In the Blessed Sacrament is the inexhaustible mystery of how all creation and all of reality streams forth from the Father’s hands. He desires that we will live “in Christ” and be carried back to him in and through his Son and our Savior.

O sacred banquet!

When we receive the body and blood of our Savior there is sown in us a seed of immortality.

O sacrum convivium!
in quo Christus sumitur:
recolitur memoria passionis eius:
mens impletur gratia:
et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.
Alleluia!

O sacred banquet!
in which Christ is received,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory is given to us
Alleluia!

In the words of St. Angela of Foligno let us cry out at every Mass: “O my soul, how can you refrain from plunging yourself ever deeper and deeper into the love of Christ, who did not forget you in life or in death, but who willed to give himself wholly to you, and to unite you to himself forever?”

By Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP

Image credit: Cathopic; Exe Lobaiza

Jesus partook of our infirmity that we might partake of his divinity

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon (Jn 1.35-39).

“They remained with him that day” (Jn 1.39). The narrative of the first two disciples following Jesus to see and know where he stayed, to present themselves and to discover if they would be accepted, is so simple, yet riddled with intense emotion. Excitement, fear, desire, tentative trust, hope that risked disappointment, curiosity, and a myriad other motivations were tangled up with the decision to walk after the man John the Baptist had called the Lamb of God. The intense emotions are juxtaposed with the yawning stretch of the afternoon they spent together. “It was about four in the afternoon” (Jn 1.39).

The gospel leaves no record of what occurred that afternoon. What did they discover when they found where Jesus lived? Was it a physical dwelling that Jesus showed them? Did he talk about himself, his dreams, his Father? Did he ask them questions about themselves?

The psychological intensity of the reader of the gospel is, like that of the two disciples, swallowed up in the measured response of the Master: Come and see. The effect of the gospel narrative is to focus the eyes of our soul inward, to a vast, unending, path that leads progressively deeper into the “yawning stretches” of our inner self. In a word, the effect of the narrative is to create a space in which to remain, to abide, an abiding which has less a sense of cohabitation as it does of inhabitation. Inhabitation, in the thought of Augustine, presumes the direct action of God upon the person, the raising of the human creature into a supra-human world. Inhabitation means incorporation into Jesus, being inhabited by the Holy Spirit.[1]

On this journey inward, we discover not ourselves, at least not at first, but the One we are following.

Jesus has vital information to give us about himself, and any self-identity without this revelation of Jesus would be ill founded.

How is this so? First, Augustine states again and again: Jesus was born of God that we might be made through him; he was born of a woman that we might be remade through him.[2] Jesus’ relationship to us is that of Creator and Savior, which defines us as “created” and “saved,” or at least in need of salvation. Jesus raises us and leads us to God.[3]   Our Lord God is the Lofty One, the Powerful One who made us, in Jesus God is the Humble One who has come to make us anew.[4] The chain of sin no longer has power over us because the temporal death of Jesus Christ has killed eternal death: this is grace and truth (cf. Jn 1.17).

Second, Jesus gave himself as the Vine to us the branches. Without him we have no life (Jn 15.5).[5] If Jesus is the cause of life, then without him we are dead. We are utterly dependent on him for everything, since the gift of life is the basic foundation upon which all other gifts are laid. Jesus had no need of us in order to work out our salvation. We, however, had infinite need of him for without him we can do nothing.[6]  In the 15th chapter of John, Jesus tells us not to separate ourselves from him, but this is only after he has shown us that he will not separate himself from us. He attached himself to us, and asks us not to separate ourselves from him who has grafted us into his life.

Third, Jesus was ready to be made low in order to come to us—to leave behind greatness and glory, to humble himself in order to come down to our level. So that pride would be cured, the Son of God came down and was made low.[7] Since the beginning, in the gift of the garden, we have sought to erase the distinction between ourselves and God (Gen. 3). Jesus instead has emphasized that distinction in lowering himself. The Son of God made himself the son of a creature that he might make creatures sons and daughters of God[8]  and in order to cure our pride (Phil 2.6-12).[9]  “I teach humility, none but the humble can come to me” (cf. Mt 11.29).[10]  In the end only those who are willing to hold fast to the lowliness of Jesus will remain with him.[11] Fourth, in Jesus who has sought us and saved us, we are safe from all judgment. Augustine states: Jesus will not cast us out, because we are his members, because he willed to be our Head by teaching us humility.  Even though the Father hated what we had done to ourselves and our relationship with him, he loves us inasmuch as we are members of his Son whom he loves.[12] He who loves his only-begotten Son certainly also loves the members of his Son’s Body[13] which are engrafted into him by adoption. God loves us because God loves what he has done in us. In fact, the divine love is not a reward for our good behavior in responding to Jesus’ work of redemption. There is no other reason necessary for the Father loving the members of Jesus’ Body than that the Father loves himself.[14] So entirely have we been mystically brought into the living circle of Trinitarian love.[15]

Photo Credit: Matías Medina 


[1] “If we contemplate most of our fellow-men, we have to agree that they seldom if ever take into account the direct action of God upon them, let alone that action as raising them to an altogether super-human plane. Even Catholics are apt to see themselves just as beings who are taught what to do and what not to do, though no doubt helped by God to do the former. But how very few attach a conscious habitual meaning to a phrase like: ‘incorporation into Christ’; ‘inhabitation of the Holy Spirit’! On this elevation of the human creature into a super-human world, Augustine without cease insists.” Przywara, vi.

[2] Tractate 2; Also: “Beautiful as a bridegroom, strong as a giant, lovable and terrible, severe and serene, beautiful to the good, harsh to the wicked, remaining in the bosom of the Father, he made pregnant the womb of the Mother.” Ser CXCV, 3. Quoted in Przywara, 180.

[3] “He who was God was made man, by taking what he was not, not by losing what he was: thus was God made man…. Let Christ, therefore, lift you up by that which is man, let him lead you by that which is God-man, let him guide you through to that which is God.” In Joan Evang. XXIII, 6. Quoted in Przywara, 196.

[4] Tractate 10.

[5] Tractate 84.

[6] Tractate 84; Also: “In order that we might receive that love whereby we should love, we were ourselves loved, while as yet we had it not….For we would not have had the wherewithal to love Him, unless we received it from him by his first loving us.” De grat. Christi xxvi, 27.  Quoted in Przywara, 345-346.

[7] Tractate 24.

[8] “He, being God, for this cause became man, that man might acknowledge himself to be but man… Being God he is made man; and man does not acknowledge himself to be man, that is, does not acknowledge himself to be mortal, does not acknowledge himself to be frail, does not acknowledge himself to be a sinner, does not acknowledge himself to be sick, that as sick he may at least seek a physician; and what is still more perilous, he fancies himself to be in good health.” Serm (de Script. NT) LXXVII, vii, 11. Quoted in Przywara, 187.

[9] Tractate 54.

[10] Tractate 24.

[11] “But the Teacher of humility, the partaker of our infirmity, giving us to partake of his own divinity, coming down for the purpose that he might teach the way and become the way (cf. John xiv, 6), deigned to recommend chiefly his own humility to us.” In Ps. LVIII, Serm. i, 7. Quoted in Przywara, 203.

[12] Tractate 110.

[13] Tractate 110.

[14] Tractate 110.

[15] “For it was not enough for God to give as his Son one who should show the way. He made him the Way, so that walking by him you might go under his governance.” In Ps. CIX, 2. Quoted in Przywara, 204.