Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Monday: Living Under Enemy Occupation in the Light of Victory

I've been posting this one since waaaay back in 2007. It is still as valid now and I, personally, need the  reminder.
Now think of the cross and resurrection of Jesus as breaking the power of sin. But if the power of sin, death and evil has been broken, how can we make sense of the fact that it still continues to plague us? Human history and Christian experience tell us of a constant struggle against sin and evil in our own lives, even as Christians. There is a real danger, it would seem, that talking about "the victory of faith" will become nothing more than empty words, masking a contradiction between faith and experience. How can we handle this problem?

A helpful way of understanding this difficulty was developed by a group of distinguished writers, such as C.S. Lewis in England and Anders Nygren in Sweden. They noticed important parallels between the new Testament and the situation during the Second World War. The victory won over sin through the death of Christ was like the liberation of an occupied country from Nazi rule. We need to allow our imaginations to take in the sinister and menacing idea of an occupying power. Life has to be lived under the shadow of this foreign presence. And part of the poignancy of the situation is its utter hopelessness. Nothing can be done about it. No one can defeat it.

Then comes the electrifying news. There has been a far-off battle. And somehow, it has turned the tide of the war. A new phase has developed, and the occupying power is in disarray. Its backbone has been broken. In the course of time, the Nazis will be driven out of every corner of Europe. But they are still present in the occupied country.

In one sense, the situation has not changed, but in another, more important sense, the situation has changed totally. The scent of victory and liberation is in the air. A total change in the psychological climate results. I remember once meeting a man who had been held prisoner in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore. He told me of the astonishing change in the camp atmosphere which came about when one of the prisoners (who owned a shortwave radio) learned of the collapse of the Japanese war effort in the middle of 1945. Although all in the camp still remained prisoners, they knew that their enemy had been beaten. It would only be a matter of time before they were released. And those prisoners, I was told, began to laugh and cry, as if they were free already.

... And so with us now. In one sense, victory has not come; in another, it has. The resurrection declares in advance of the event God's total victory over all evil and oppressive forces -- such as death, evil and sin. Their backbone has been broken, and we may begin to live now in the light of that victory, knowing that the long night of their oppression will end.
Alister E. McGrath, quoted in Bread and Wine: Readings For Lent And Easter
This is a point of view that hadn't occurred to me. I especially like it for those times when the world is too much with us and the cynicism of modern times begins to get us down. The deciding battle is over, the victory won, but there remain all the small skirmishes (which are not at all small to those caught up in them ... like us) that go on afterwards in any war. By virtue of simply being human and alive we are caught up in the skirmishes of resistance to the enemy occupation. Even when fighting, though, we know ...
The strife is o'er the battle done;
Now is the Victor's triumph won:
Now be the song of praise begun: Alleluia!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Sunday: Joyful, Joyful

Maurice Denis. Holy Women Near the Tomb/Saintes Femmes au tombeau. 1894
RAISED FROM THE DEAD
This is the great truth which fills our faith with meaning. Jesus, who died on the cross, has risen. He has triumphed over death; he has overcome sorrow, anguish and the power of darkness ... In him we find everything. Outside of him our life is empty (J. Escriva, Christ is passing by).
HE IS RISEN! ALLELUIA!
After the somber tone and reflection of Holy Thursday and Good Friday I can hardly wait to get to Mass to hear the joy and triumph of our Easter celebration.

May you all have the same delight and joy in your Easter celebrations both in church and at home.

WELCOME HOME!
To all the new Catholics around the world who are joining the Church this year, welcome home! This is my 14th birthday as a Catholic and well I remember how wonderful it was sitting with my sweet and wise sponsor, the smell of the chrism (I wanted to never wash it off), and that glorious Mass where it all happened. I will leave you with some funny but wise words from another convert. If you remember these, it will make the good times better and any disillusionment with the Church less.
First, the good news about the Catholic Church is: it's like a big family.

Second, the bad news about the Catholic Church is: it's like a big family.

I Wanted to Tell You I Love You: The Story of Easter Joy (from the very beginning)

Reposted because I just love it!



It's the story of salvation history, a love story from God's point of view. This made me think, made me laugh, made me joyful and thankful. About 6 minutes long, but worth it. Joyful Easter everyone!

Holy Week: Holy Saturday - The Sepulchre of Jesus' Body

Hans Holbein. The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb. 1521.
Click through on this to see it properly large.
THE SEPULCHRE OF JESUS' BODY
The Body of Christ lay in the tomb. The world was in darkness. Mary was the only light still burning on earth. The Mother of Our Lord -- my Mother -- and the women who have followed the Master from Galilee, after taking careful note of everything, also take their leave. Night falls.

Now it is all over. The work of our Redemption has been accomplished. We are now children of God, because Jesus has died for us and his death has ransomed us. "Empti enim estis pretio magno (1 Cor 6:20), you and I have been bought at a great price.

We must bring into our own life, to make them our own, the life and death of Christ. We must die through mortification and penance, so that Christ may live in us through love. And then follow in the footsteps of Christ, with a zeal to co-redeem all mankind. We must give our life for others. That is the only way to live the life of Jesus Christ, and to become one and the same with him (J. Escriva, The Way of the Cross, Fourteenth Station).


Nicolas Poussin. The Lamentation over Christ. 1655-1657.

This is the loneliest day of the year. Our Lord is gone ...

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Beginning of the Celebration of Our Lord's Paschal Mystery

This post will remain at the top of the blog for Holy Week. Scroll down to see each day's offering. This post is from last year and so some of the liturgical links are not exact but the reflections remain with me this year ... and I have updated it at the bottom to reflect my thoughts yesterday.
... we gather together to herald with the whole Church
the beginning of the celebration
of our Lord's Paschal Mystery,
that is to say, of his Passion and Resurrection.
Palm Sunday, Commemoration of the Lord's Entrance Into Jerusalem
In his commentary on this portion of the Mass last year, our priest pointed out that the Triduum is one extended liturgy.

For the first time I understood why we read the entire passion and crucifixion during Palm Sunday's liturgy. It is to give us a preview of what we are to be meditating on during this week. It is to give us a chance to enter fully into that journey Jesus is taking which culminates with his Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. It is to give us the chance to accompany him not just as a spectator, but as a friend.

Let us put aside our differences. It changes nothing. It is fruitless self preoccupation. It distracts and divides us at a time when we should be focusing on Jesus. I thought of those squabbles when I heard this part of the gospel:
His disciples realized what was about to happen, and they asked,
“Lord, shall we strike with a sword?”
And one of them struck the high priest’s servant
and cut off his right ear.
But Jesus said in reply,
“Stop, no more of this!”
Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him.
Let us "Stop, no more of this" as we concentrate on what matters most now.
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This year, our priest had a three sentence homily and it hit the nail on the head. When talking to his spiritual advisor about troubles and trials, he was told, "You are having these problems because you are avoiding the Cross."

Aren't we all? For my own part, I faced a severe internal struggle last week. Then God in his goodness made me understand that I was causing my own turmoil because I was trying to squirm out of the Cross.

Ah yes.

At that point I gave up wanting my way. And I was able, with St. Josemaria Escriva, to say, "Is that what you want? Then I want it too." that I regained peace and calm. I still had to face the Cross, but it was not so big a cross as the one I was creating for myself.

This is why I need Lent every year. I forget this lesson so easily. And life is so much simpler when I live without avoiding the Cross. Let's face it ... I'd face that Cross anyway. But when I do it squirming and turning away it is so much more difficult than when I slip my hand in God's and follow my Savior's example.

Let us walk with him this week.


Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 173v - The Entry into Jerusalem the Musée Condé, Chantilly.

Holy Week: Good Friday - Jesus Dies on the Cross

JESUS DIES ON THE CROSS
The Lord is firmly nailed to the cross. He has waited for this for many years, and this day He is to fulfill his desire to redeem all men ... What until now has been an instrument of infamy and dishonor, has been converted into the tree of life and the stairway of glory. A deep joy fills him as he extends his arms on the cross, for all those sinners who will approach him will now know that he will welcome them with open arms...

He saw -- and this filled him with joy -- how the cross was to be loved and to be adored, because he was going to die on it. He saw the witnessing saints who for love and in defence of the truth were to suffer a similar martyrdom. He saw the love ofhis friends; he saw their tears at the foot of the cross. He saw the triumph and the victories Christians would achieve under the standard of the cross. He saw the great miracles which, with the sign of the cross, would be performed throughout the world. He saw so very many men who, with their lives, were going to be saints, because they would know how to die like him, overcoming sin (L. de la Palma, the Passion of the Lord) ...

It was not necessary for him to undergo so much torment. He could have avoided those trials, those humiliations, that ill-usage, that iniquitous judgment, and the shame of the gallows, and the nails and the lance ... But he wanted to suffer all this for you and for me. And we, are we not going to respond?

Very likely there will be times when, alone in front of a crucifix, you find tears coming to your eyes. Don't try to hold them back ... But try to ensure that those tears give rise to a resolution. (J. Escriva, The Way of the Cross, Eleventh Station).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Scott has this great idea for an automated shower, if only Julie would front him a few dollars...

The guys at the bathhouse are not taking sides. We discuss the Chinese movie Shower at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Holy Week: Holy Thursday - The Lord's Last Supper

THE LORD'S LAST SUPPER
Singular events took place in that period, which the evangelists have recorded for us; take, for instance, the rivalry between the apostles, who began to discuss who was the greatest; think of Jesus' surprising example of humility and of service when he carried out the menial task of the lowest of the servants -- he began to wash their feet; consider, too, how Jesus went out of his way to show his disciples his love and affection. My little ones, he actually calls them. Christ himself wished to give that gathering such a fullness of significance, so rich in memories, scene of such moving words and sentiments, such new actions and precepts, that we will never come to an end of meditating on them and exploring them. It was, you might say, a testimonial dinner: it was an affectionate and yet a somber occasion, a time mysteriously revealing divine promises and far-reaching visions. On top of that was the sad presentiment of death, with unprecedented omens of treason, of abandonment, of immolation; the conversation dies away, while Jesus' words flow continuously in his gentle and winning voice, though there is an unwonted tension in his grave allusion to profound revelations, the matter of which hovers between life and death (Paul VI, Homily, Holy Thursday).

What Christ did for his own may be summarized in a few words from St. John: he loved them to the end (John 13:1). Today is a particularly appropriate day for mediating on the love Jesus has for each one of us, and how we respond to it; in regular dealings with him, in love for the Church, in acts of atonement and reparation, in charity towards others, in preparation and in thanksgiving for Holy Communion, in our desire to co-redeem with him, in our hunger and thirst for justice ...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In which we get to the bottom of the Devil's Nest and the path of romance does not run true.

Chapters 14 and 15 are now available for your listening pleasure at Forgotten Classics podcast.

Holy Week: Wednesday - The Way to Calvary


Maurice Denis. The Road to Calvary/Montace au calvaire ou Le Calvaire. 1889.
THE WAY TO CALVARY
Forming part of the procession, their presence making his impending death yet more shameful, are two convicted criminals, described as two thieves. A recently-arrived spectator to the scene would see three men, each laden with a cross, walking towards death. But only one is the Saviour of the world. Only one of the crosses is the redeeming Cross.

Today, too, the cross can be carried in different ways. There is the cross carried furiously or sullenly, in a rage; man writhes and squirms, filled with hate, or at least, with a deep and burning resentment. It is a cross without meaning and without any explanation, useless; such a cross may even separate one from God. It is the cross of those in this world who seek comfort and material well-being, who will put up with neither suffering nor setbacks, for they have no wish to understand the supernatural meaning of pain. It is a cross which does not redeem. It is the cross carried by one of the thieves.

On the road to Calvary is a second cross, carried this time with resignation, perhaps even with some dignity, with an acceptance of the situation simply because there is no alternative to it. This is the one carried by the other thief. Little by little he realizes that close by him is the sovereign figure of Christ, who will radically change the final moments of his life on earth, and for eternity; he will be the one converted into the good thief.

There is a third way of carrying the cross. Jesus embraces the saving wood and teaches us how we ought to carry our own cross: with love, co-redeeming all souls with him, making reparation at the same time for our own sins. Our Lord has conferred on human suffering a deep meaning. Being able, as he was, to redeem us in a multitude of ways, he chose to do so through suffering, for greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Part 5 - The Wedding at Cana and The Passion of Christ

Duccio di Buoninsegna. Maestà (back, predella): The Wedding at Cana. 1308-11.

The final part of Fulton Sheen's reflections on the wedding at Cana and Christ's Passion, death and resurrection.
The Cross is everywhere. When a man stretches out his arms in relaxation, he unconsciously forms the image of the reason for the Son of Man's coming. So too at Cana, the shadow of the Cross was thrown across a "woman," and the first stroke of the "Hour" was sounded like a bell of execution. In all the other incidents of His life, the Cross came first, then the joy. But at Cana, it was the joy of the nuptials that came first--the nuptials of the Bridegroom and the Bride of redeemed humanity; only after that are we reminded that the Cross is the condition of that ecstasy.

Thus He did at a marriage feast what He would not do in a desert; He worked in the full gaze of men what He had refused to do before Satan. Satan asked Him to turn stones into bread in order that He might become an economic Messiah; His mother asked Him to change water into wine that He might become a Savior. Satan tempted Him from death; Mary "tempted" Him to death and Resurrection. Satan tried to lead Him from the Cross; Mary sent Him toward it. Later on, He would take hold of the bread that Satan had said men needed, and tee wine that His mother had said the wedding guests needed, and He would change them both into the memorial of His Passion and His death. Then He would ask that men renew that memorial, even "unto the consummation of the world." The antiphon of His life continues to ring: Everyone else came into the world to live; He came into the world to die.
Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen

Holy Week: Tuesday - Before Pilate

Nikolay Gay. "Quod Est Veritas?" Christ and Pilate. 1890.
The Passion of Our Lord
BEFORE PILATE: JESUS CHRIST, THE KING
Thinking that in this way he might placate the hatred of the Jews, Pilate, took Jesus and scourged him (John 19:1). This is the scene we contemplate in the second sorrowful mystery of the Rosary, Bound to the pillar. Covered with wounds.

The blows of the lash sound on his torn flesh, upon his undefiled flesh, which suffers for your sinful flesh. More blows. More fury. Still more ... It is the last extreme of human cruelty.

Finally, exhausted, they untie Jesus. And the body of Christ yields to pain and falls, limp, broken and half-dead.

You and I cannot speak. Words are not needed. Look at him, look at him ... slowly.

After this ... can you ever fear penance? (J. Escriva, Holy Rosary, Second Sorrowful Mystery)


When this has happened, the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; they came up to him, saying, "Hail King of the Jews!" and struck him with their hands (John 19:4-5). Today as we contemplate Jesus proclaiming his kingship before Pilate, we should also meditate upon that scene contained in the third sorrowful mystery of the Rosary.

The crown of thorns, driven in by blows, makes him a mock king ... And with their blows they wound his head. And they strike him ... and spit on him ...

You and I ... haven't we crowned him anew with thorns and struck him and spat on him?

Never again, Jesus, never again ... (J. Escriva, Holy Rosary, Third Sorrowful Mystery)

Caravaggio. The Flagellation of Christ. 1607.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Well Said: A day may come when the courage of men fails ...

Sons of Gondor, of Rohan. My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day! An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! by all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you, stand, men of the West!
Aaragorn, The Return of the King movie
For our brothers in the Ukraine, I fear that day has come.

Just as when Hitler took the Sudetenland and all that was heard were a few bleats of protest from weak leaders, so I see news coverage of Ukraine standing alone against a wolf while weak bleats come from all around ... and my heart breaks for them.

I mentioned this to a friend when the Crimean situation arose and he said, "Tough words."

But here we are with phase two, as I think of it. I can't keep this quote from my mind.

Then this weekend I was looking at the Kindle sample for Churchill's "The Gathering Storm" about the period between the two world wars and was struck by this.
THEME OF THE VOLUME.

HOW THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLES
THROUGH THEIR UNWISDOM
CARELESSNESS AND GOOD NATURE
ALLOWED THE WICKED
TO REARM
And now here we are again.

Holy Week: Monday - Peter's Denials

Duccio di Buoninsegna. Maestà (back, central panel): Jesus Accused by the Pharisees. 1308-11.
The Passion of Our Lord
PETER'S DENIALS
Jesus having been much ill-used, is led into one of the courtyards. He then turned and looked at Peter (Luke 22:61). Their looks meet. Peter would like to bow his head, but he cannot tear his eyes from Him, Whom he has just denied. He knows the Saviour's looks well; that look that had determined his vocation, he had not been able to resist either its authority or its charm; and that tender look of the Master's on the day He had affirmed, looking at His disciples, "Here are my brethren, my sisters, my mother!" And that look that had made him tremble when he, Simon, had wanted to banish the Cross from Jesus' path! And the affectionately pitying look with which he had invited the too-rich young man to follow him! And His look, clouded with tears, before Lazarus' tomb ... He knows them well, the Saviour's looks.

And yet never, never had he seen on the Saviour's face the expression he sees there at this moment, the eyes marked with sadness but without any severity. A look of reproach without a doubt, but which becomes suppliant at the same time and seems to repeat to him, "Simon, I have prayed for thee!"

This look only rests on him for an instant; Jesus is violently dragged away by the soldiers, but Peter sees Him all the time (G. Chevrot, Simon Peter).
He sees that compassionate look of Jesus fixed upon the deep wound of his guilt. He now understands the enormity of his sin, and the fulfillment of Our Lord's prophecy about his betrayal ...

Contrition gives special strength to the soul; it restores hope, makes the Christian forget himself and draw close to God once more with a deeper act of love. Contrition proves the quality of interior life and always attracts God's mercy; ... this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit ... (Isaiah 66:2)

Christ found no difficulty in building his Church upon a man who was able to fall and who did fall. God also counts on weak instruments, provided they repent, to carry out his big project: the salvation of mankind.
I will never forget when I first read the Gospel where Jesus turns and looks at Peter. What a terrible moment of sudden knowledge that must have been. I know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you are "found out" and the remorse and shame that flooded Peter on that instant. How many times have I given Jesus reason to look at me like that?

On the other hand, I also read a commentary mentioning that Jesus turned and looked at Peter first ... indicating that God always looks first (echoes of the parable of The Prodigal Son to meditate upon there). Which is a comforting thought especially when we, like Peter, have fallen so far and need to get up again.

Part 4 - The Wedding at Cana and The Passion of Christ

Gerard David. The Marriage at Cana. c. 1503.

More of Fulton Sheen's observations about the wedding at Cana and Christ's Passion, death and resurrection.
The six water pots were filled, making about one hundred and twenty gallons, and in the beautiful language of Richard Crashaw, "the conscious water saw its God and blushed." The first miracle was something like creation itself; it was done by the power of "the Word." The wine He created was so good that the bridegroom was reproached by the steward with the words:
Everyone serves the best wine first, and waits until the guests have drunk freely before serving the poorer sort; but you have kept the best wine till now. John 2:10
Truly the best wine was kept. Up until then in the unfolding of revelation, the poor wine had been the prophets, judges, and kings, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Josue -- all were like the water awaiting the miracle of the Expected of the Nations. The world generally gives its best pleasures first; afterward come the dregs and the bitterness. But Christ reversed the order and gave us the feast after the fast, the Resurrection after the Crucifixion, the joy of Easter Sunday after the sorrow of Good Friday.
This deed at Cana-in-Galilee is the first of the signs by which Jesus revealed his glory and led his disciples to believe in him. John 2:11
Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen
Part 5 will be tomorrow.