Thursday, April 17, 2014

It's Always About Love

Strange, isn’t it, that on this seemingly sorrowful day pain and joy meet. And this is the cross - the cross that everybody is running away from - and I include everybody! We don’t want it - we like the cross on a table - we like the cross on a wall - we don’t mind it in a church - but when we say to ourselves, “Ah, he loved me unto total emptiness, even unto hanging naked on the cross, I must do likewise” and we turn the cross around so that we know that this is the place where we should go - we break it apart! We think of something else, and yet we miss the whole thing!

Did you ever stop to think of the love with which God loves? There is a fantastic joy. Did you ever think of a saint who is not full of joy? Is there a sad saint? Well, he ain’t a saint; he is a sad sack! You just don’t think of a saint as sad. It is impossible! How can a person who practically sees God with the eyes of faith so closely be sad? How is it possible?

Good Friday is the meeting place of the Lord’s joy. Do you know why he was joyous also? He fulfilled his Father’s will! Now we go around saying that we want to fulfill God’s will because we are all ready to be emptied, but the way we say it is like this - like a little girl here in Madonna House - she said, “The Holy Spirit told me not to go to the laundry today.” “Oh,” said I, “what did he tell you to do?” She said, “He told me to sit outside and read a book!” I said, “Good! Why don’t you take that book home with you, pack your bags and go!” Uh-uh! that is not the Holy Spirit, that is telling her stuff! It is somebody else!

The will of God I know through somebody else. Very rarely, unless you are great prophets and what have you, do you personally know. And even if you do, be sure to check with your spiritual director. At all times, obedience is poverty! People want to run around doing anything - my thing! You want to love as Christ loves - do the other people’s thing! That will help you. Forget all about your thing.

God surrendered to his Father’s will unto the cross, because of love of the Father and us. What about us? Are we going to allow today the joy of beholding his total love for us, bring ourselves to the surrender which he did for us, to obey his Father’s will? For I am a sister of Jesus Christ. He said, “I am the way to the Father.” Kenosis, surrender, emptying of self, is part of the Way of Jesus Christ.

Today is a strange day.. Quite strange! A day when joy meets pain, and pain begets joy. And if we enter into the heart of that hurricane, because it is a hurricane of pain and of joy, we shall be empty too.

This is the hour... this is the day ... in which God who doesn’t speak much, but in his silence and in his agony, says, “Love me as much as I love you!” It is a solemn day. It is a day in which we can descend into the well of our heart and find out how much we love him who loved us so much.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Spiritual Reading, Good Friday, 1974

Reflection – This is the last of the Good Friday spiritual reading from Catherine, and my last blog post for a little while—I will keep the Triduum as days of silence and recollection (at least as far as social media go), and then enjoy a few days off from blogging over the Easter octave. Probably back mid-week, next week.

At any rate, this is vintage Catherine—some have argued that the early and mid 1970s were really the apex of her spiritual reflection. Her story of the young girl deciding the Holy Spirit wanted her to read a book on the lawn rather than go to the laundry is a favorite of hers. God’s will coming to us through the duty of the moment as revealed by other people and (in the case of a community like MH) obedience to one’s superiors is a basic doctrine of hers.

But it’s always about Christ, always about love, always about this intense personal awareness and desire to be one with the One who gave everything to be one with us. And that this is joy, true joy, everlasting joy. To so utterly surrender one’s own will as to have no care for anything but that Love be loved, that God be served, that the will of the Father be done on earth as it is in heaven.

It is painful, true. It is cruciform. But it is the narrow gateway into life, and it is exceedingly beautiful to pass through this gateway. Let us pray for one another this Easter Triduum that we behold the face of Love, and beholding it, receive it, and receiving it, live it in our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Buried Treasure of the World

Now the great question that stands before us on Good Friday is: are we going to empty ourselves in answer to his emptiness? Because if we are, the moment we empty ourselves, at that moment we shall know the joy of Christ! 

Notwithstanding his pain, notwithstanding all the things that happen today and tomorrow - the pain, the cross, the tomb - if I empty myself because I am in love with God, the God who emptied himself for me - when I say, “Yes, here I am Lord! Take out of me anything that is displeasing to you. Empty me... (the Greek word is ‘kenosis’) Let me enter into this kenosis that you have entered into for love of me”--the moment I have accepted to be emptied, that very moment I shall know joy.

This is why in the Eastern Church it says that Good Friday is full of flowers, is full of joy. It is like a person stepping out on a sunny day, like our days here, still with snow on the ground - and suddenly, through a quiet breeze through which God usually speaks, I feel spring! So standing under the cross, tears falling down my cheeks, pain racking me - shall we say ‘in union with his’ I feel arising from my heart a joy.

Out of the depths of my heart arises the sound, the smell, the joy of spring! Resurrection!

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Spiritual Reading, Good Friday, 1974

Reflection – I am continuing to blog this excellent Good Friday meditation from Catherine. The intersection of pain and joy, the strange union of the two, is among the greatest ‘buried treasures’ the human race doesn’t know too much about, honestly.

In fact, reading Catherine on this subject is, for many, the strange experience of reading someone who is using a series of ordinary English words, not one of them hard to understand in themselves, yet put together in what is essentially a nonsensical fashion. ‘Joy’, as we normally understand it, arises when everything is just the way we want it, when we get our desires met, when we have our way with things. ‘Pain’ is the antithesis of all these things. How can joy arise from pain, and how can pain and joy be one?

Love is the answer to this question, as it is one way or another to most human questions. It’s actually all quite logical. Joy is, indeed, that which we experience when we receive what we want. Joy is ‘resting in the good’, according to the old scholastic definition, the bliss of obtaining the object of our desires.

If we love God, our desire is to be one with Him. We becoming one with Him by living His life, by sharing in His love. We become one with God by being crucified with Christ, by our self-will and selfishness being nailed to the Cross and our love being poured out for neighbor as his was poured out for all humanity. This, of course, hurts.

So if we love God, joy and pain are one reality, the Cross and the Resurrection merge into a single movement of love, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are, in a sense, one single day, one single revelation of love—on the one part showing forth the cost, the strain, the anguish of it, on the other the radiant beauty and victory.

Without love, everything I have written in the above two paragraphs is sheer unadulterated nonsense. With love, everything I have written here is pellucidly clear. I think a parent will understand this dynamic easily—if one’s child is really suffering, you will be happy to cut off your left arm to alleviate that pain. At any rate, it is quite true, and reveals to us so much of the secret of life and love, happiness and the deep truths of our humanity.

It is not suffering that saddens us ultimately, but selfishness. It is not pleasure that gladdens us, but love. The whole orientation of our being, the whole spectrum along which joy/sorrow, happiness/misery runs is very different from what it seems at first. It is indeed a question of getting what we want, of being fulfilled in our desires, but it is even more so, much more so, a matter of wanting the right thing, wanting that which actually is commensurate with the fullness of our human dignity, our greatness, our divine capacity.

We are made to be sharers of the divine nature, made to be lovers with the scope and extent of Love Himself, cosmic and total. The expansion of our being to our divine destiny hurts us, because we have clung to all sorts of things that limit us to lesser goods, but as we tear free from those bindings, Lazarus-like, we are pulled even in the pain and distress of it into a new freedom, a new horizon of love, a new expansion into a way of life and love that is wholly one with Christ, wholly joyful and radiant with the light of the endless Easter day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Difficult Beauty, An Uncomfortable Truth

Well, the week that is called ‘holy’ is intensifying itself, and today pain and joy meet. It is a strange meeting point. An apex of sorts, a fantastic mountain of the Lord. Moses climbed a mountain and God spoke to him, and he returned and his face was so shiny that people could not look at it. He had to put a veil over it.

But today God who has incarnated himself, who came down from the mountain through his Incarnation, lived amongst us, strangely enough today he is lifted up again on such an unspeakable, incredible mountain that anyone who thinks about it feels a strange tension - a sort of feeling of total incredulity - that for me, who am so poor, God sent his Son to climb this mountain which is just a Cross. A plain, wooden, unplaned cross!

To think about it holds you tight. Not in the sense that people say - I am uptight. It holds you close. It holds you close to a love that is incomprehensible, incredible, but so true!
Now, this God of ours was born like all of us, naked. But he chose to be naked on the wood. When I say he chose, that is what happened to him, and probably to all those who were crucified.

Now, the meditation of Good Friday goes in depths. It does deeper - in some sort of depths of my heart that perhaps I have never looked into before. To be naked for the reasons of poverty - total poverty - of total surrender - even unto the clothes that I possess, is something that shakes you.

We are supposed to understand that God came and took upon himself the shape of a servant, a slave... us, the body. But he went further. He surrendered everything including that body for the love of us. He emptied himself.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Spiritual Reading, Good Friday, 1974

Reflection – I won’t be blogging during the Triduum and over the Easter holiday, but I very much wanted to share with you this magnificent talk Catherine gave on Good Friday, a mere three days from now. Certainly all of Holy Week is meant to be a prolonged meditation on this mystery of what our God has done for us to save us.

The theme of poverty has been much to the fore in the Church since Pope Francis was elected, and this is a very good thing. It is, by definition and strict necessity, an uncomfortable topic, and that is good, too. Why should we be comfortable, in a world where so many of our brothers and sisters are without?

So often in our discussions about poverty, the subject is cast solely in terms of social justice—we who have much should have less so that the poor of the world have more, essentially. And of course this is very true—the requirement to share the world’s goods fairly and to not be living in luxury while people are starving in shacks is plain to see.

But Catherine—who had a great sensibility around that and could talk very passionately about that aspect of it—always went somewhere else in the poverty question. Namely, for her it was inextricably and intimately bound up with her love of and union with Christ. God was born naked and died naked, chose to be born in the lowest of circumstances and chose to die the contemptible death of a condemned criminal.

Poverty for her was always a question of just how many layers of padding and fabric and belongings, how much sumptuous food and how much comfortable surroundings we could surround ourselves with, wrap ourselves tight with, and still be passionate lovers of this naked man, this naked God.

On one level, for her it was never about quantities and dollar figures—it was about love and union and caring about nothing so much as whether or not we are one with Christ in his passionate love of the world. She would happily send members of MH off on trips to the ends of the earth to learn this skill or gain that experience that would help them be better lay apostles… and she would be very disturbed to see someone take a second cup of coffee or a third helping.

It was never about the thing, it was about the cling—our hearts grabbing onto that cup of coffee, that piece of cake, that material reality as if that was our life and our security. But Jesus, the Son of God, was born naked and died naked—his life and his security was to do the Father’s will, his food and drink, his only home was the call to love and to die for his people.

So this is Good Friday and its depth of meaning, and I want to spend the next couple days before the blog goes dark listening to what Catherine has to say about it. It’s not comfortable, not easy, and I make no claim to my own living of it very well at all… but it is very beautiful, and above all it is true. It is Truth, and it is the truth we are to contemplate in this Holy Week.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Give Me Half Your Mercy (Lord)

In Buenos Aires — I am speaking of another priest — there was a well known confessor: he was a Sacramentine. Almost all of the priests confessed to him. On one of the two occasions he came, John Paul II had requested a confessor at the Nunciature, and he went. He was old, very old.... He had served as Provincial in his Order, as a professor ... but always as a confessor, always. And a long line was always awaiting him in the Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

At the time, I was Vicar General and was living in the Curia, and every morning, early, I would go down to the fax to see if anything was there. And on Easter morning I read a fax from the community superior: “Yesterday, a half hour before the Easter Vigil, Fr Aristi died at the age of 94 — or 96? The funeral will be on such and such a day...”.

And on Easter morning I was to go to lunch with the priests at the retirement home — I usually did on Easter — and then —, I said to myself — after lunch I will go to the Church. It was a large church, very large, with a beautiful crypt. I went down into the crypt and the coffin was there; only two old ladies were praying there, but not a single flower. I thought: but this man, who forgave the sins of all the clergy of Buenos Aires, including mine, not even a flower ...

I went up and went to a florist — because in Buenos Aires there are flower shops at the crossroads, on the streets, where there are people — and I bought flowers, roses ... And I returned and began to decorate the coffin with flowers.... And I looked at the Rosary in his hands.... And immediately it came to mind — the thief that we all have inside of us, don’t we? — And while I was arranging the flowers I took the cross off the Rosary, and with a little effort I detached it.

At that moment I looked at him and said: “Give me half of your mercy”. I felt something powerful that gave me the courage to do this and to say this prayer! And then I put the cross here, in my pocket. But the Pope’s shirts don’t have pockets, but I always carry it here in a little cloth bag, and that cross has been with me from that moment until today. And when an uncharitable thought against someone comes to mind, my hand always touches it here, always. And I feel the grace! I feel its benefit. What good the example of a merciful priest does, of a priest who draws close to wounds...

Mercy. Think of the many priests who are in heaven and ask of them this grace! May they grant you the mercy they had with their faithful. This does good.

Pope Francis, Address to the priests of the Diocese of Rome, March 6, 2014

Reflection – Well, this is the end of that fine talk by Pope Francis on the priesthood and mercy. This last part has been quoted around the internet, etc., about this good priest in Buenos Aires and his effect on the Pope. It is good to hear about such people.

We all know, don’t we, about the harm that can be done by bad priests? It is the easiest thing in the world to go on at length about how much damage is done by Fr. X. and his harshness, Fr. Y and his softness, Fr. Z. and his drinking problem, Fr. Q. and his worldliness, and so on and so forth. So easy to do, and perhaps not always out of order, either.

But a good priest can do so much good for so many people. And there are good priests out there, and not just a few of them, either. And it’s good to (once in a while, anyhow) remember that.

But mercy is the theme of all of this, more so than the priesthood particularly. And mercy is the theme of Holy Week and its movement – the mercy of God poured out in Jesus Christ, the capacious heart of Christ big enough to take the whole world into its abysses, the action of Christ shedding his blood, a true flood that would cleanse the world of sin and raise up a new creation pleasing to God and radiant in his light.

And this mercy is the call of all Christians and all men and women ultimately. Priests do have a particular work of mercy to do, above all in the ministry of the confessional, but the task of mercy, the call to show forth the mercy of God poured out in Christ Jesus, is for all the baptized, and indeed is the sole happiness and fullness of life possible for the human person.

So as we journey through Holy Week together, this is the basic idea of it—to contemplate Love lifted up for us on the Cross, to take it in, ponder it in our hearts, move through the liturgies of the week with acute care and attention, and allow God to do His work on us through them, and then to extend the love and mercy we have been shown to everyone, so that God may be made visible in our lives, and may be known and loved through the proclamation we make of Him through our mercy, kindness and love of our neighbors.