Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (beneath Golgotha)

The Cross at Ground Zero.

[In absence of more time to write, I will share my recent journal entry here meditating on the Triduum. It was a one sitting stream of thought. I pray one insight feeds your prayer these holy days. This will be my last post till after Easter, so all good wishes for your celebrations to be filled with joy and God’s blessings.]

As I have been meditating on this impending Triduum, a host of insights have been boiling in my heart. I will write them here with a logic and order totally disrupted by the unsettled-ness of this paschal mystery. Worse in its mess because I am part of that mystery. Gulp.

In the 7-day liturgical rhythm of the first creation story in Genesis, Friday (day 6) is the day Man was created, male-female, in the divine image; Saturday (day 7) is the day of both divine and human Sabbath rest; Sunday (day 1) is the very dawn of creation when God first spoke light into being.

Good Friday. Holy Saturday. Easter Sunday.

The Pasch of Christ weaves its seamless disruption so magnificently into the textures of creation’s pattern, you almost don’t notice when the bread and wine become Him. Clearly, divine providence loves patterns that evince surprising beauty. God loves making us gawk.

The Last Supper takes place, by the Jewish counting of a new day beginning at sunset, on the same day as the crucifixion. “Holy Thursday” is a deceptive way of naming the Last Supper. The Eucharist and the cross are in one day, are one event.

The Eucharist is a verb, a sacrificing: Body broken for you, Blood spilled for you.

The Eucharist is a verb, a command: Take, eat; Take, drink. Terrifying to eat and drink verbs. Especially ones suffused with crazed love. Active, plying. I much prefer nouns. Passive, pliable.

The Eucharist is a verb, a demand: As I have done, so you must do. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.

The Eucharist is God-Man grain, grapes, surrendered to death, to crushing, to pressing, to fire, to fermenting, to ingestion. All in order to give life, to give thanks, to reveal the most secret essence of God. God is food, drink.

The crucified and risen Flesh and Blood of the God-Man is His supreme sacrificial self-gift for His bride, for humanity. Given so she might become “church,” ekklesia, which means “called out from where you are.” Out of my comfort zone, that is, to where He is. Ekklesia is the Woman born of His open side, a New Eve washed and clothed, invited, called and gathered into His home, His life, His love, His faithfulness, His joy, His recreating work.

The Eucharistic sacrificial banquet feeds us, the image-bearers God created to make certain creation was lovingly cultivated into a beautiful, fragrant, fruit-filled, life-giving Garden of offering.

The Eucharist effects, seals, perfects, elevates, transforms, transfigures, glorifies, divinizes Man and Woman. Eucharistic Communion is the true two-in-one-flesh, the extreme source and paradigm of all human community, the nuptial union on which a new humanity is built.

The Word once spoken into clay, in the beginning, comes now, in time, to speak words of tender love to His image. Yet His image silences Him, takes His Breath away. The “word of the cross” is His silence, the asphyxiation of the God who breathed life into Man in the beginning. Silent, breathless love. “He opened not His mouth.” “He breathed His last.” “He handed over the Spirit.”

Listen to His silence, eloquent beyond all words. In His silence He listens attentively to our screaming hatred, rejection, cursing, jeering, mocking, spitting, abuse, blasphemy, ridicule, injustice, lies, torture, death. His silence speaks long, long-suffering mercy. Omnipotence, un-condemning from the cross, unsaying sin, undoing death, unmasking violence: “I don’t want to hurt you,” He says in effect. And after He rises, after being felled by us He says with indescribable kindness, “Shalom.” “Do you love me?” “Feed.”

“It is finished,” before He finally obeys death. Creation is finished, completed, redeemed, re-created now that the labor of love-to-the-end has ended its exodus and all things have been delivered. God can rest in the completion of love’s toil.

The Burial of Christ, the Sabbath of the slain God-Man, a rest restless with the urgency of love (John 5:17); of a Father gazing in tender mercy on the corpse of His Son, contemplating the goodness and beauty of Their love’s self-emptying work. The Word-made-flesh has restored creation to its original beauty and goodness (kalon) by an act of obedient love. Creation was created by and for love. As Christ rested in Hell, slept in that loveless space, preached hope wordlessly, Hell shook with unrest and terror.

And on the first day of the week, before dawn, the Word, dreaming of us, awoke from sleep and at once commanded Hell still, Death slain, Sin pardoned, the Grave powerless. The Word rose from death’s darkness and said, “Let there be light.” And He was Light without evening, forever risen in an unending Day, artisan of a New Creation, Gardener of an immortal Garden through which the Living Waters flow.

All this because in His compassion He came down for us, for our salvation. For me, the guilty, fallen, beaten and bleeding bystander, He stooped low to tend my wounds and lift me up.

I re-read Fr. Aidan Nichols’ reflection on the paschal mystery again this week for the umpteenth time. This paragraph always blows me away:

Christ’s death was not a piece of ritual yet it was a cultic act, i.e. a deliberate act of adoration of the Father … Thus the circumstances in which the death was embraced — the betrayal by friends, the rejection by the religious leaders, the hostility, or cynical indifference of the men of power — all of these purely secular conditions were taken up into an act of cult, a supreme act of worship, whose hidden fruitfulness made it the central event in the history of the world. Because Christ’s sacrifice was a supreme act of worship, it was capable of becoming the foundation of the Christian liturgy. Aquinas remarks that by his sacrifice on the cross, Christ inaugurated the cultus of the Christian religion. His sacrifice is the objective basis of our worship.

It means so many things to me! But here is what springs to mind.

The “purely secular conditions” of human existence — what is good and what is riddled with chaos and evil — are caught up into the cross-shaped Liturgy that, every day since the Resurrection, fills the world. Haunts the world.

Especially through the laity, whose baptismal priesthood renders them liturgical beings, allowing them to carry with them, everywhere, the “hidden fruitfulness” of  the Liturgy. As they live, love, work, pray, eat, drink, forgive, play, sacrifice, repent, suffer, sleep or weep, the earth-quaking power of Christ-unleashed hiddenly floods out of them into every nook and cranny of secular life. They roam out about everywhere, celebrating amid the truth, goodness and beauty of the world; as well as amid the “betrayal by friends, the rejection by the religious leaders, the hostility, or cynical indifference of the men of power” — all the while gathering innumerable fragments of redeemed existence and bringing them, compressed into bread and wine, up to the Holy Sacrifice.

The faithful refuse to abandon anyone, anywhere — even the hangman or the gulag — by leaving them bereft of Christ’s saving power. Pentecost ensured Hell no longer has anywhere to hide, no world without a soul.

“We may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body” (From a letter to Diognetus, 140 A.D.).

The redeemed animate the world with divine life and love, humbly and mostly unnoticed, like God Himself.

Ours is a Paschal Liturgy, in which purity appears wrapped in filth; love in hate; gentleness in violence; life in death. Fr. Kavanagh:

The Book of Hebrews tells us how the resolution was accomplished, not in an orchard set in pleasant countryside but in a butcher shop located in the city’s center. The World’s story from beginning to end pivots upon this resolution, a resolution the faint of heart, the fastidious, and the squeamish find hard to bear. Suburbia prefers its meat wrapped in plastic, all signs of violence removed so as to reduce the necessity of entering into the dark and murderous transaction with reality which one creature giving up its life for another entails.

Daring to liturgize, we join the obedient love of the “total Christ” — Christ and Christians — who bears on His back the sins of the “whole world” (1 Jn 2:2) and everything is redeemed (Titus 2:11). Christians have this noblesse oblige, this liturgical burden to offer their own Christ-knit lives to the Father in the Spirit for the whole of humanity and creation. Interceding forever for all, lifting them up with and to Him (Heb. 7:25); offering up their bodies as living sacrifices “on behalf of all and for all,” with martyrdom being liturgy’s apogee.

Egypt, Copts, Passion Sunday. Alongside them, I am unworthy to be called Christian. May I become worthy.

The Chaplet of Divine Mercy magnificently captures the liturgical work of the baptized as a Eucharistic co-offering for the whole world. And it should be prayed not only in churches or shrines, but everywhere we find ourselves. Eternal Father, I offer you…

Someone just sent me this clip they recorded during the celebration of Holy Mass on a balcony in the French Quarter. The recording catches a most beautiful part of the Mass, the “liturgy of the laity” — the Offertory. It seemed divinely timed that during the Offertory a huge second line party passed right under the balcony on the street below. It was a wedding. How fitting. No need to be super-spiritual here in the sense of being swept off into some otherworldly Heaven. Rather, Heaven swept down to Earth. Or, better, Heaven wedded to Earth, and man was reconciled to God.

As at Golgotha, this wedding welcomed near unlikely guests joyful, smelly, drunken, laughing, staggering revelers. In those streets, some strange and unsortable mix of saints and sinners. I imagine the shysters, tourists, prostitutes, johns, tax collectors extorting, gamblers squandering their mammon, addicts looking to buy, dealers looking to sell. Unaware their redemption was near at hand. Encircling them. Above them. Beside them. Beneath them. For them.

Might they only see, hear, understand and say, “Remember us, Lord, when you come into your Kingdom.”

I dream of an outbound Church, not a self-referential one, a Church that does not pass by far from man’s wounds, a merciful Church that proclaims the heart of the revelation of God as Love, which is Mercy. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Pope Francis)

Thank you, Father Celebrant, clothed in Penitent’s Purple, for turning your face toward them, and so sweeping them — us, me — up into the at-one-ing Offering.

It seems fitting to end here with an excerpt from Hymn of the Universe by Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, followed by a contemporary musical setting of the 6th century liturgical hymn to the Cross, Vexilla regis proderunt:

I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world.

I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labor. Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth’s fruits.

This restless multitude, confused or orderly, the immensity of which terrifies us; this ocean of humanity whose slow, monotonous rhythms trouble the hearts even of those whose faith is most firm: it is to this mystery that I thus desire all the fibers of my being should respond. All the things in the world to which this day will bring increase; all those that will diminish; all those too that will die: all of them, Lord, I try to gather into my arms, so as to hold them out to you in offering. This is the material of my sacrifice; the only material you desire.

Tree of life and glory, Tree that heals and saves;
Tree that tells the ancient story:
dying, rising from the grave.

The royal banners forward go,
The cross shines forth in mystic glow;
Where He, by whom our flesh was made,
In that same flesh, our ransom paid.

Where deep for us the spear was dyed,
Life’s torrent rushing from His side,
To wash us in that precious flood,
Where flowed the water and the blood.

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old,
That He, the nation’s King should be,
And reign in triumph from the Tree.

O Tree of beauty, Tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear:
Gone is your shame, each crimsoned bough
Proclaims the King of Glory now.

8 comments on “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (beneath Golgotha)

  1. Jennifer says:

    (I am going to return to this as my meditation for the rest of this Holy Week…So much more than one thing to bring to prayer! Thank you!! So in the spirit of getting the boiling words out and making a holy mess i thought I’d write my initial prayer response…)
    Wednesday: my Jesus, these days between your triumphant entry and your slaughter I find so difficult to comprehend. I imagine the cacophony of a people come to their great city preparing for the great feast marking their liberation by God’s steadfast commitment and live to them; recalling what happened when they heeded the voice of God; recalling what happened to the sons of those who did not. I imagine the urgency you must have felt in knowing that were your last days, longing desperately to gather your people under your wing. All the we while a fevered, behind-closed-doors plan for your destruction being pieced together. I’m blown away by the parallels that Tom pointed out between the first week and the events of Holy week. So today is the fourth day… You created the two great lights, to rule the day and night. The light and darkness, created in the beginning, now taking shape, there is a consolidating of sorts, (a telos?), A demarcation… Sides are chosen… Will you (will I) be ruled by the light or by the darkness? As you look out over your beloved people, your Jerusalem, then, now, eternally… Over us… Let me console your heart, make me ever more supple to your will, let me draw others to your light, transform my feeble efforts, strengthen my purpose and my resolve. ‘God grant that I may love you and then do with me as you will.”

    • Jennifer: Yet again, here’s what I love so much about this community. Thank you for extending my meditation into a powerful Ignatian imaginative entry into the Gospel, into the unfolding of Jesus’ betrayal. For me to also bring to prayer! These more free-flowing, messy and involved posts I write tend to receive the fewest ‘hits’, so I so so appreciate when people take the effort and time to sweat through my prose and read and pray what I write. It’s super humbling and fills me with such gratitude to know I have helped another pray. As you do here for me and, I am sure, others who read your comments.

  2. DismasDancing says:

    My dearest brother and sister in Christ Tom and Jennifer:

    For me, it is difficult to understand why your posts (and the replies thereto) tend to “receive the fewest hits…” when you write at the behest of a stream of conscience inspiration from the Holy Spirit. When I come to this post I await with excited anticipation those very same deep reflections (like today’s journal entry) that will rock me to my core, awakening my heart and soul to the essence, the very “being”, of the entire Passion story. Those “crazy” thoughts are never disjointed, IMHO. Rather, in perfect harmony with the way our own minds work in quiet reflection, they create a collage of intensely vivid portraits showing forth what lies deep within the sinews of your heart. Having followed you for a while and having personally met you, I know without doubt that the baring of your soul through these “epistles” to your community indeed emanate from that heart that we who follow might indeed travel with you from the Mount of Olives to the foot of the cross, weeping for the things we have caused yet second-lining with delirious joy in celebration of our Redeemer’s response to the “Happy Fault” celebrated in the “Exultet”. This joyful weeping gets me every year, the intensity of which I pray to be able to maintain during the other 51 weeks. Sadly, in my human wretchedness, I continue to fail in that effort. In company with Jennifer, I will, however, hold your reflections dear and read them periodically to remind myself of who I am and why the struggle is ultimately worthwhile.

    My dear friends, my thoughts herein are not words lightly offered; but are rather a testament to a personal intense sharing of the things I know you too (two) must feel as you (and many alongside) meditate on the events that drive our feelings during this holiest of weeks. Thank you so much for your willingness to open your souls and share the deepest of your thoughts with your brothers and sisters that the struggles with our own “yokes” may indeed, be lightened. (“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Gal 6:2-3)).

    Brother Tom, since you mention the Divine Mercy, I cannot get away without a final comment. Today’s Divine Mercy meditation is a more-than-appropriate accompaniment to the things I have heard you saying–and writing–of late:

    “Jesus said to me with kindness, ‘My daughter, speak to priests about this inconceivable mercy of Mine. The flames of mercy are burning Me — clamoring to be spent; I want to keep pouring them out upon souls; souls just don’t want to believe in My goodness’ (Diary, 177).” Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M.

    Your intense thoughts help me in that effort. May we as a priestly laity shout out with great joy and enthusiasm this message to the world that others come to truly “believe in (His) goodness!” And may the Lord Jesus Christ be fully in your hearts and souls as we walk through the Triduum and experience the Glory of His Resurrection. Peace, my dear friends. Peace!!

    • Jennifer says:

      If I could humbly opine… I can think of several reasons why stats on hits are unreliable indicators of the value of the content. It was a great temptation of mine to read too much into my stats so now I just don’t.
      Thank God for the paucity of feedbacks, I think it keeps​ one humble and honest.
      DD: so love your reflections! It​ is a joy to know you here. Much rejoicing to you and your family this Easter!!

      • Jennifer says:

        My last comment sounds so condescending. Not my intent!! what I meant is that I am tempted to write what I think will impress others rather than what is being placed on my heart and I am crushed when I get no comments, no feedback on the stuff that I feel is most urgent…
        You are a zillion times more humble and honest than I will ever be… I meant this can’t help but keep one that way if they let it…I hope my meaning is clear.

      • Jennifer:Thanks! Great wisdom. DD: Magnificent reflections, again. So incredibly meaningful.
        Re hits: I don’t really think about it much after so many years of doing this, and have the ‘hits’ meter turned off so I have to search for it if I want to know. But when I write something that is super close to my heart I am fascinated to see if it resonates with many.
        However, far more significant is the depth and charity of the comments. It’s just not normal for blogs, as you know, and I have to believe Providence oversees that. Really. It’s a marvel. That’s y’all, today, the perfect example. If only y’all read my work and responded with your wisdom, it would be enough for me. Truly. That’s how this all began — for a small group of DRE’s in Iowa. Large #’s scare me anyway! 🙂 I write with my family, friends in mind. Thanks for the company.
        Paschal joy! TJMFJN

  3. Tara Rodden Robinson says:

    Hi Tom,

    One of your best posts, ever! As I have been studying Chapter 4 of Lumen Gentium (while praying for “detonation”), I’ve contemplated the incredible responsibility, the noblesse oblige, of the lay faithful. It’s astounding that the Lord would trust us and entrust us with so much.

    As a long-time blogger and denizen of social media land, I always pray that the Lord will grant me the grace to love being small and unknown.

    Finally, the juxtaposition of a second line and the Mass is so NOLA! The sacred and the profane, side by side, bourbon and wine.

    May your Easter journey be blessed to overflowing!

    With love and gratitude,

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