The Broken Heart of Jesus

“The mercy of Christ is not a cheap grace; it does not presume a trivialization of evil.  Christ carries in his body and on his soul all the weight of evil, and all its destructive force.  He burns and transforms evil through suffering, in the fire of his suffering love. The day of vindication and the year of favor meet in the Paschal Mystery, in Christ died and risen. This is the vindication of God: he himself, in the person of the Son, suffers for us. The more we are touched by the mercy of the Lord, the more we draw closer in solidarity with his suffering – and become willing to bear in our flesh “what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (Col 1: 24).”

Joseph Card. Ratzinger, Homily, Mass for the Election of the Pope, 4/18/05

This is the REASON and FOUNDATION for our DIGNITY as human persons!!

Superheroes and the Good

I recently watched “The Amazing Spider-Man.” This prompted me to think about the host of superhero and good-evil fantasy movies that have been made in recent decades. It seems that these superhero movies (rather than religion) are now the public forum for a cultural dialogue on what it means to be truly good, to seek to serve truth and goodness in our world. For me, it is a sign of hope that humanity hasn’t given up on the desire for these foundational principles. These movies struggle with what it means to be “evil” and most illustrate that what makes a person evil is disordered motives or false assumptions – serving an illusory good or incomplete truth. NO person seeks evil; every person wants to believe that what they seek is good. Most of these movies make the case that persons are not inherently good or evil but choose either path through the decisions they make. This reminded me of JPII’s “drama of the human person” – that this world is the stage on which our own final end will be determined. Will we seek to serve the good and the true? Or will we serve the illusory ideal, that which is convenient, popular or economical? Seeking the truth and good is often not sensible or economical, and mostly unpopular. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:

“No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”

– St. Maximilian Kolbe in the last issue of The Knight before he was arrested by the Nazis

Every day we wake, we enter the arena and the drama unfolds through the choices we make. But the battle, rather than being solely outside the self, is primarily within. The person we become is slowly determined. We cannot be satisfied with just good intentions or a partial understanding of truth. It is apathy and misguided optimism about a partial good that yielded the destructive ideologies of the 20th century. I see these same mistakes being made today in the full-tilt cultural shift occurring in America. Many want to be superheroes, and believe they are achieving this through the embrace of partial goodness. But anything less than good is not good at all.

The importance of grasping the full implications of human decision is why it is so important to ground oneself in tradition (which means the body of thinking passed down through the generations) when making decisions of such great import. No one person possesses full knowledge of the truth. But through the body of knowledge refined over time by the mistakes and successes of human experience, we can have a fuller sense of what the outcome of specific decisions will be. Tradition also supplies the tools that help one “do battle” within the soul – exposing the weaknesses and patterns within that allow one to be satisfied with partial truth.

Yet how can the value of tradition be discovered by a culture hell-bent on progress – even when that progress is attained at the expense of humanity itself through the gradual diminishment of human experience? The very good we seek to promote is being lost gradually by embracing partial truths about the good. We continue to ignore the truth about the human person – what actually BUILDS UP humanity: the common good, community relationships, respecting the dignity of the human person with the foundational respect for human life. I fear for a society that seeks to be the “super hero,” seeks to do the good without really weighing their decisions about the good against the gold standard of tradition. What they will eventually find is that what they thought was gold crumble in their hands, being left only with ash.

FEAR and LOVE

“Forgiveness liberates the soul.  It removes fear.  That is why it is such powerful weapon.”

I had the opportunity to watch the movie “Invictus” the other night.  It recounts the story of Nelson Mandela’s  efforts to bring together the people of post-apartheid South Africa through the support of their national rugby team.  The above quote is spoken by Mandela at the beginning of the movie.  A very powerful statement, I think, the meaning of which I have yet to fully understand experientially.  I am learning in a very practical and painful way that forgiveness is a very costly gift to give.  And yet a case could be made that lack of forgiveness is the motivation for most of the awful things that occur in our world.  As the AA saying goes, “hurt people hurt people.”  When we have been hurt by others in our vulnerability, if we choose not to forgive and instead choose to protect ourselves in FEAR, we simply perpetuate the problem.

I think when I first started this blog I expressed that I wanted to use it as a sounding board for some of the things I need to work through in terms of understanding my vocation.  For the next few posts I will be reflecting on forgiveness, and in that vein, will begin by clarifying the concepts of fear and love using Scripture.

I think I only began to understand the great power that FEAR has over humanity many years ago in the Novitiate as I meditated on the creation story.  The book of Genesis is ripe with symbolic meaning in regard to brokenness of the human person.  The Original Sin of Adam and Eve was certainly a sin of disobedience and pride in wanting to be “like gods,” but that at the root of this rupture of relationship between God and humanity was FEAR.   The significance of the encounter between the serpent and the woman in Genesis 3 is often overlooked.  I wanted to spend some time “breaking open” this Scripture in this post today.  I include a link to the text of Genesis 3 (http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/genesis/genesis3.htm) .

First, the biblical view of a serpent is not one of a little snake that we might see in the garden (scary enough!), but a large, powerful creature that embodied for the Hebrew people all that was evil.  So when the serpent questions Eve, his inquiry could be interpreted as a threat as well as just a simple question.  The serpent finds his “in” when Eve responds by saying “God said ‘You shall not eat [of the tree in the middle of the garden] or even touch it, let you die.’” (Gen 3:3)  Eve reveals some resentment or distrust about the command God has made about the Garden of Eden by her addition that they are not even to touch the tree, which was not the case.

The serpent appeals to this emotion by stating that God is withholding something from the first couple.  He claims that God does not want them to be like Him; rather, God wants to keep them in ignorance and subjection.   This completely contradicts the expressed intention of God in Genesis 2 where God makes the statement, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.”  (Gen 2:26,27)   The serpent capitalizes on Eve’s distrust of God or perhaps the fear she is experiencing in this encounter with him, and leads her to believe that by rupturing the covenant of trust between God and the first couple that they have something to gain rather than lose.

The question is not always asked when reading this text: where was Adam?  It was Adam’s job to “cultivate and care for”(protect) the garden, as well as his bride.  Clearly the serpent is an intruder, a threat to the harmony of the garden.  The text tells us Adam’s whereabouts in verse 6: “So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”  Sometimes what Scripture doesn’t say speaks more loudly than what is written.  So why doesn’t Adam say something if he was with Eve the whole time?  And why doesn’t he say anything when offered the fruit?  It was to Adam that God’s command was given in the first place. (Gen 2:16-17)  One conclusion that could be drawn is that Adam sensed a threat in this situation that caused him to respond in fear rather than truth.

The full implication of what they had chosen becomes absolutely clear to the first couple after the rupture the covenant.   Scripture says that “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked.” (Gen 3:7)  The ruptured covenant relationship makes clear to them their vulnerability, and by that same token reveals to them the vulnerability of the other – the weaknesses that can be manipulated or used to gain power over the other.  Scripture indicates that this propensity of persons to operate from a place of power rather than love in relationships is a result of Original Sin; and therefore the power that FEAR has in our lives is due to this result.  We, as Adam and Eve, feel we must protect ourselves in relationships.  When we are called to relationship, just as God calls Adam, we understand his response: “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.” (Gen 3:10)

This rupture that Original Sin causes in all relationships – between God and humanity, humanity and creation, man and woman, and even a loss of harmony in the person – helped me to understand the meaning of John’s letter where he states, “There is no FEAR in LOVE, but perfect LOVE drives out FEAR because FEAR has to do with punishment, and so one who FEARS is not yet perfect in LOVE.” (1 Jn 4:18)  This was a real eye opener to me, as I had formerly believed that the opposite of LOVE is hate.  But it’s not; hate, more often than being an indication of not caring, is often frustrated or embittered love for another.  But it is FEAR that is the motivation behind most of the grave injustices committed in the world.  It is because of FEAR that we are able to “dehumanize” another, to look at that human not as a person but as a “non-being” or “moving object” in order to make it easier for us to treat them as less than what they are. 

I have had this conversation about FEAR with others more specifically in terms of Nazi Germany.  How could a highly educated, civilized group of people justify singling out races and groups of people for destruction?  I used to be confounded by this, but the “school of hard knocks” has helped me to see that this type of behavior goes on every day.  It is easy to let oneself out of FEAR label a person as “less than” in order to guard oneself from behavior that threatens our concept of safety.  The labels we can assign are legion – they are “morally bad,” “different,”  “strange,” “not worthy of help or respect”… the list goes on and on.  Sometimes we can even find reason to justify behaviors towards these labeled persons in order to limit their freedom.  We did this in America during this last century – those who were labeled as “idiots” and “threats to society” were sterilized in government institutions against their will.  Some of these people are still alive.  We do this as a society in our tacit support of abortion of fetuses (a Latin word for “little one”).  And then of course there is our history of race based slavery and discrimination.  Of course, America is not the only country that has done this, just the one I am familiar with.  The point is, operating from FEAR is an everyday occurence, and I believe stating the truth about this can help us be aware of how we marginalize people in order to protect ourselves.  When I start to recognize the barriers I erect in order to protect myself in relationships, only then can I start to heal and strive to recognize the presence of Christ, the profound worth and dignity of the human persons that I have the opportunity to encounter each day.  Whether that presence of Christ is easily discernable or hard to see, it is there.

The next post will be another reflection on FEAR, and I will try to unpack what Scripture says about how we are to respond to this propensity to live from FEAR, and what role LOVE and FORGIVENESS have in this response.

I am the Handmaid of the Lord

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give him the throne of David His father, and He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be to me according to your word. ” Then the angel departed from her.”

 Luke 1:30-33; 38

 The following is a reflection I wrote on Mary during my time in the Novitiate in 2001.  I include it here today on the occasion of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  May all of us grow in our love for Jesus’ mother during this Advent season as we strive to unite ourselves with a little of the anticipation and HOPE she perhaps felt as she prepared to welcome her Son into our world!

Mary, Handmaid of God

            This simple title, “handmaid of the Lord,” is, as far as we know, the only title Mary ever gave herself while she walked the earth. I have heard this passage repeatedly in readings of Scripture, but only recently has this title actually entered into my heart to grow.

            I have never really had a devotion to the Mother of God, and I have always wondered about it.  What was I doing wrong?  I’m still not sure, but it has only been recently – this postulant year in fact, that I have started to yearn to pray to Jesus’ mother, to know her and to emulate her.  What a blessing!

            In particular, I feel very drawn to meditate on the full and total “YES” that pervades her life and resounds in the hearts of Christians to our present day.  “YES!  I will do what God wants!”  And we see how this YES must deepen and grow through every stage of her Son’s life.  As He is smuggled into Egypt as a baby; as He is found in the temple; as He grows to maturity; and then in His public ministry which ended in His crucifixion and death.  Mary was challenged again and again to deepen that YES, to “ponder these things in her heart,” to pray about them and meet the challenge to surrender to God until it consumed her entire life.

            Often when I pray in the chapel, I meditate on the statue we have of our Blessed Mother, and at the same time a picture of Michelangelo’s Pieta.  These two works show Mary at very different stages of her YES to God, but comfort me and give me hope.

The statue of Mary we have in the chapel appears to be a portrayal of a new mother, holding her son up for all to see.  But at the same time her hands hold Him close to her, in a protective embrace, and she keeps Him within the warmth of her mantle, which looks very much like a cocoon.  The way she holds Him reminds me that she experienced what most new mothers do – she was intimately united to her son, loved Him intensely, would sacrifice everything for Him, and she wanted Him to be safe and well cared for.  At the same time, Mary was surrendered to God’s will.  She knew this son of hers was also the Son of God, and that He was “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (Luke 2:34) and that as a handmaid, “a sword will pierce [her] own heart too.” (Luke 2:35) 

There was a deepening of the YES that she first spoke at the Annunciation.  An ever deepening surrender to the will of God enabled her to watch her son die; hold His body in her arms; suffer the deep unspeakable pain that any mother would have witnessing the humiliation and public death of her son; and at the same time to be at peace with God.  She had to grow into God’s will for her, continuing to “ponder these things in her heart,” in order to surrender in obedience as a handmaid to His will.

I too, want to do what God wants; at least I say I do.  But when opportunities arise where I am asked to give much of myself, I start to balk.  Why does this happen?  Why can I not give all, or why must I complain and be so reluctant in giving? 

But I have hope in grace.  Mary strengthens me in this hope.  I know it will be painful.  I know I can not do it on my own.  But, in the deepening of this YES, this assent and surrender in free will to be a handmaid of the Lord, I have hope that God will carry me through and allow me to become what He has created me to be.

HOPE and Advent!

“Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope…It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,  Seek That Which Is Above

Crib, Cross and Holy Eucharist

One of the things I love best about the Advent and Christmas season is the attitude of PREPARATION and ANTICIPATION.  I love putting up Christmas decorations, making cookies and candy for the holidays and the feelings of good will in the air.  Another aspect of this preparation that I love is the SILENCE that can be found during the Advent season too.  It can be a challenge to find it in our busy world, but the moments are there.  Our weather especially can prepare our hearts to be silent and ponder deeper meaning: to go outside when snow has freshly fallen (and where there are no snowplows!); to take a walk among the skeletal trees, dead leaves, and sharp winds and contemplate that periods of death and barrenness can be the preparation for new life.

Most of all during Advent, I love to contemplate what it means that God CHOSE to enter this world as a baby.  This is the thing that I love most about salvation history – that is, that God always seems to choose the surprising way to manifest His love to us.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts nor are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8)  It begins in the Old Testament with the way God begins to draw His people into covenant with Him – a new beginning through Abraham who is to trust radically a God whom he does not really know, building a nation through Moses, a man who stuttered and spoke to the pharaoh about the liberation of the Israelites only through his brother Aaron, and establishing a kingdom through David, a young boy who was still tending sheep when anointed as king.

This “surprising way” of how God manifests His LOVE to us reaches its zenith in the life of Jesus.  St. Francis of Assisi was so struck by it that he established the spirituality of his religious order on this notion through constant reflection on the “Crib, Cross and Holy Eucharist.”  And that notion is the surprising reality that God chooses to SAVE us, to free us from sin, to draw us into relationship by making Himself VULNERABLE, WEAK and POWERLESS.  At the crib, we see the Incarnation, the entrance of the eternal God into time with all of the frailties and insecurity of a helpless baby.  At the cross we encounter a God who chooses to save His people not through a blatant display of power but by being BROKEN so that this BROKEN HEART, the channel of His LOVE and MERCY, could be opened for all people.  And at the tabernacle, we see the presence of Jesus under the humble appearance of bread, waiting for us to encounter Him, drawing us through LOVE: “Whom the world cannot contain, love imprisons here.” (Pope Pius XII)

My hope and prayer is that each of us can take the opportunity to STOP during this Advent season, if only for a few minutes a day, to encounter God in the silence of our hearts and contemplate this mystery of the Crib, Cross and Holy Eucharist.  What was it like for God to be a baby?  Why did he make Himself helpless in this way?  Why did God choose to save us through death?  Why was it essential in the mind of God that His Son restore us to relationship with Himself through an act of extreme vulnerability?  Why does Jesus choose to dwell with us continually through His presence in the Blessed Sacrament?  What meaning is conveyed through this?  How do all of these events help me understand what the real definition of LOVE is?  By asking questions like these we enter more deeply into the ANTICIPATION of the Advent Season and will desire to PREPARE our hearts for His coming!

Finding Meaning in Advent

Advent is my favorite time of the entire liturgical year!  I love the anticipation and HOPE that the readings at Mass convey, and the emphasis on preparing for Christ’s coming.  We are to prepare for His coming in three ways during this season:  reflecting on Christ’s entrance into human history through His Incarnation as a baby, His second coming at the end of time, and we prepare to receive Him more intentionally when He comes to us in the Eucharist and in our encounters with the human person.  Mother Teresa once said, “In the Eucharist I see Christ in the appearance of the bread; in the slums, I see Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor.  The Eucharist and the poor are but one love for me.”

I have been reflecting on how I should best prepare for His coming during this Advent season, and I am once again brought face to face with the stark change that has occurred in my attitude toward life.  Much of my desire to be “serious Catholic” in the past was motivated by a very “black and white” approach to the world.  I have been amused when talking with friends recently by some of the things they say I told them in the past about holiness and the meaning of life.  I was very certain of how holiness is achieved and felt my mission as a religious was very clear.   But PRAISE GOD for the hard knocks of life!  I, like Paul, have been “knocked off my horse” and from my clear mission to consider again what it really means to belong to God. As a person who tends to be focused on accomplishment, I wanted to follow God in a way that was socially acceptable and clear in purpose.  Of course it should follow the dictates of common sense and clearly reflect God’s approval!  But what if that’s not GOD’S plan? I continue to struggle with discouragement over “losing my mission.”  All I was going to “accomplish for God” now seems to have been just an illusion.  I wanted my life to be important, to have MEANING.

I am starting to realize that God is much less concerned with me being successful at doing anything “for Him” than He is interested in helping me to KNOW HIM.  And that the MEANING that I wanted to give to my life is not so much my work, but His.  My motto is the Scripture from the Prodigal son story: “You are with Me always, and everything I have is yours.”  (Luke 15:31)  THIS is what I am to live: to KNOW that I am with Him, and that what I seek, I already possess in this relationship with the Father.  I am starting to learn that “finding God’s will” is not necessarily the hard job that I have made it.  In fact, I think His will is pretty simple: LOVE.  That’s it.  He wants us to know we are loved, and to help every person we meet to  know they are VALUED and LOVED!!!  Perhaps God intends for me to recognize and appreciate the meaning He has imbedded in the very smallest things, the places that seem insignificant.  Rather than accomplishing a plan and giving meaning through my work, perhaps I have been placed here on earth to recognize meaning, appreciate it, and see the extravagant love God manifests in the littlest things.  That is beauty too, and perhaps is the real source of happiness: “to soak up meaning” rather than to create it myself.  This is my HOPE for this Advent.

The Service of Authority Part II

The media excitement about B16’s statement on condoms might also make it easy to miss the profoundly beautiful messages the Pope is speaking this week to the bishops he has recently appointed to the College of Cardinals.  If anyone believes that the Church has lost its way in terms of knowing what it’s about or has become distracted from the gospel by the continual crises that erupt, these messages should quell those fears.  God continues to speak His message of LOVE through the one He has chosen to represent His Son on earth!  Here are a few excerpts:
The drama that unfolds under the cross of Jesus is a universal drama; it regards all men before God who reveals Himself for what He is, namely, Love. In Jesus crucified divinity is disfigured, stripped of all visible glory, but it is present and real. Only faith is able to recognize it: Mary’s faith, who also united in her heart this last tile of the mosaic of the life of her Son; she still does not see the whole, but continues to trust in God, repeating yet again with the same abandonment, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38)…

“See emerge now clearly, dear Brothers, the first and fundamental message that the Word of God says to us today: to me, Successor of Peter, and to you, cardinals. It calls us to be with Jesus, like Mary, and not to ask him to come down from the cross, but to stay there with Him. And this, in regard to our ministry, we must do not only for ourselves, but for the whole Church, for all the People of God. We know from the Gospels that the cross was the critical point of the faith of Simon Peter and of the other Apostles. It is clear and it could not be otherwise: they were men and they thought “as men”: they could not tolerate the idea of a crucified Messiah. Peter’s conversion was realized fully when he gave up trying to “save” Jesus and accepted being saved by Him. He gave up wanting to save Jesus from the cross and accepted being saved by his cross. “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32), says the Lord. Peter’s ministry consists altogether in his faith, a faith that Jesus recognizes immediately, from the beginning, as genuine, as a gift from the heavenly Father; but a faith that must go through the scandal of the cross, to become authentic, truly “Christian,” to become “rock” on which Jesus can build his Church… http://www.zenit.org/article-31053?l=english