5/1/15

Moon

My daughter Maria took this photo Good Friday night. The Passover moon.

Happy Bright Monday of Easter Octave, the day God laughed!

I will resume posting on May 1, St. Joseph the Worker’s Feast. As ever, I am grateful and exceedingly humbled that those who read this blog, well, read this blog. Deo gratias et gratias tibi.

In the mean time, let me leave you with one powerful article to read here.

All good and innumerable graces to you during this joyous season. Christus resurrexit! ¡Cristo ha resucitado! Cristo ressuscitou! Alleluia to the Risen One!

Dr. Tom

“The Raising of Adam and Eve,” Chora Church, Istanbul, c. 1315. Taken from wikimedia.org

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

“Resurrection,” by Piero della Francesca c. 1460. Taken from wikimedia.org

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.
O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!
O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!
The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!
The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!
He embittered it when it tasted His flesh! And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: “Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions”.
It was embittered, for it was abolished!
It was embittered, for it was mocked!
It was embittered, for it was purged!
It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and came upon God!
It took earth and encountered Ηeaven!
It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen! — from the Paschal Homily of St. John Chryostom

Every Easter I like to re-post this jubilant middle eastern outpouring of flash-mob Paschal joy (in Arabic/Greek).

This is the text they sing:

Arabic: Al-Masih qam minbain’il-amwat, wa wati al mowt bil mowt, wa wahab’l hayah lil ladhina fi’l qubur

Greek: Christos anesti ek nekron,
thanato thanaton patisas,
ke tis en tis mnimasin,
zoin charisamenos!

English: Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Enjoy:

…et sepultus est…

“…He suffered, died, and was buried.” iconreader.files.wordpress.com

A collage of wisdom for this Great Sabbath:

“Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God’s love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed ‘adultery’ and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: ‘How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! … My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst’ (Hos 11:8-9). God’s passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself [ut contra se ipsum vertat Deum], his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God’s love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.” — Pope Benedict XVI, “Deus Caritas Est”

And Jesus uttered a loud cry [phōnēn megalēn], and breathed his last. – Mark 15:37

“We could say that the last word of the Word lacks intelligible meaning. This word is only a voice, a sound pronounced by the vocal organs of an animal. One produced at the moment when his lungs were emptied. This sound was produced by flesh, therefore, it was nothing but a spasm of the flesh in the death rattle … At this point of time, the Word and the flesh are but one. In the simplest, least theological meaning of John 1:14, the word becomes flesh. The last word of the Word is that of a powerless Word, reduced to silence … But here everything is turned upside down. What would be the defeat a speaker that one had silenced is no longer that if the speaker is identical with what he has to say, if he is the word of Another who speaks him. It is not the Word that speaks, but is the One who is spoken. If, therefore, a man is the Word, he ought to be silent … what would be most revealing is not what he says, but what he does. Who he is.

It is therefore unreasonable to regret the silence of the divine. This silence is the inevitable consequence of a word uttered without reserve. Christ on the Mount of Olives [in the Garden of Agony] has no response to expect. He himself is the response of God … C.S. Lewis says, ‘I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer: you are yourself the answer.’ The silence of God gives rise to complaints against him, even accusations. But this sort of accusation only desires to inflict on him a reproach and a vengeance he has already fully suffered … If God were that of pagans or philosophers, he could very well find refuge in the highest heavens. But you know that our God stepped forth and stood before us. You can show him the finger, spit on his face, whip him and, finally, nail him to a cross. Whatever. It’s already been done.” — Rémi Brague, “On the God of the Christians”

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled. — From an ancient homily on Holy Saturday

“In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dread silence – a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this? In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.” — Pope Benedict XVI at Auschwitz

There is so much deep contradiction in my soul. Such deep longing for God – so deep that it is painful – a suffering continual – and yet not wanted by God – repulsed – empty – no faith – no love – no zeal. The silence and emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear. Heaven means nothing – to me it looks like an empty place – the thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God. Pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything. For I am only His – so He has every right over me. I am perfectly happy to be nobody, even to God. . . .

Your devoted child in J.C.
Mother Teresa ― Brian Kolodiejchuk, “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta”

“When the stone had been sealed by the Jews, and the soldiers where guarding Thine most-pure Body, Thou didst rise on the third day, O Savior, granting life unto the world. Glory to Thy dispensation, O only Lover of mankind.” — Troparion of the Resurrection

“The Burial of Jesus,” by Carl Heinrich Bloch c. 1880. Taken from wikimedia.org

Good Friday

Pietà. taken from rastko.org

Re-post 2011

“Evening came…”

A few undisciplined meditations on this Day…

This Day, with its eternal hours, is haunting in its strange beauty, mingling horror and glory, shame and mercy, kisses and scourges, jeers and psalms, violence and gentleness, hatred and love, blood and water.

The hymn Today is Suspended leaps to mind – an exquisite hymn of the Orthodox Church sung on this Day. Listen:

On the Cross reality inverts: God places himself at the mercy of his creatures that creatures might be placed at the mercy of God.

On this day, the Bridegroom cries out to his Father, “Why have you abandoned [enkatelipes] me?” {Matthew 27:46} Because your bride awaits you, O Lord. “For this reason a man shall abandon [kataleipsei] his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” {Matthew 19:5}

You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My delight is in her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married. — Isaiah 62:4

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” {Matthew 27:51}

St. John of the Cross wrote a stunning poem called Romances; a colloquy of the Trinity before the first moment of creation. Years ago, after praying it, I wrote a paraphrase of his words:

Before the light had dawned, the Father took counsel with his only Son: “Son, we will create a world vast and lovely, fashioning clay to share in our image, to bear our likeness, and receive our life and love. I will make of them a Bride, lovely, and suitable for you to love, my Son. But know, she will fall away and abandon you; rebel. If you pursue her, and at last clothe yourself yourself in her nature; take her bone and flesh as your own, she will reject you and spit upon you, beat you and put you to a terrible death. But I will raise you from the grave, my Son, that you might pardon her and call her to yourself forever. Do you wish this also, my Son?” The Son replied to his Father, Fiat lux, “Let there be light,” and there was light…

On this Day, the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass falls silent before the bloody Liturgy offered by the only-Begotten God to the Unbegotten God.

Stat crux dum volvitur orbis. Around Golgotha the cosmos turns, whirling in sacred dance as David once did with abandon.

God is slain.

Thus says the Lord:
“What have I done to you, O my people,
And wherein have I offended you?
Answer me.
For I have raised you up out of the prison house of sin and death,
“And you have delivered up your Redeemer to be scourged.
For I have redeemed you from the house of bondage,
And you have nailed your Savior to the cross.
O my people!” — Improperia 

Be silent in awe! We are granted access to the inner chambers of divine life.
Be silent in awe! The thrust of a lance reveals the human heart of God.
Be silent in awe! The sin of all ages unseals for us eternal fountains.

Linger as you can. Breathe deep the mystery of this Day, before night sets in.

Weep o’er our naked disgrace,
shroud your eyes in shame: See!
before us, God! robed in flies;
in Him burns th’eternal Flame.

Let us rest now with God. His Sabbath has come.

Triduum: Days of Compassion

Re-post

Some scattered Triduum thoughts…

This evening the Three Days of awe commence. We’ve arrived at the unfathomable and dazzling depths of the Paschal Mystery, which in theo-speak refers to the Passover of Christ from death to life.

Holy Week always thrusts us into a disorienting confrontation with the Cross as the Event of events that dirties the immaculate God, sinking him into the miry, messy muck of human existence. And then! …then on the night of Easter Vigil He infuses into that miry, messy muck a superlative and unsurpassed beauty that does not simply leave behind the Cross in forgetfulness, but rather renders it as an undying memorial of self-wasting love … “I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne” (Revelation 5:6).

Dark Light

O Christ, you who were transfigured in glorious splendor on Mt. Tabor are now disfigured beyond all recognition on Golgotha. Save us, O Marred One!

At first glance the Passion appears to be an irredeemable mix of pure Light and gruesome darkness, a tragic rupture in God’s progressive triumph over the ruins of a fallen world. God seems to have fallen victim to the very malady man begged Him to heal. But we know, in the light of faith, that in Christ God transformed what German philosopher Georg Hegel called “the butcher block of history” into an altar of sacrifice from which the saving remedy of the nations is served in a Eucharistic Feast.

In these Three Days is unveiled God’s boundless mercy, His reckless desire to, as St. Maximus says it, “relinquish His utter transcendence” in order to take up the history of our human misery into his own existence, bleeding from our wounds and suffering under our blows. What wondrous love is this? We gave you death, you gave us life; we gave you judgment, you gave us pardon; we slapped your face in mock, you kissed our cheek in peace; we bathed you in spittle, you bathed us in living waters; we denied you, you defended us; we scourged your back with pain, you clothed us in your joy; we thrust you into the sleep of death, and in your sleep you dreamed of our eternal well-being.

Last week during Mass, as I was working out these concepts, I had a flash of insight: the Eucharist was instituted by Christ precisely as His consent to being slain by his own creation. Christ is God freely handed over, given up, poured out. I’ve not been able to stop thinking about this. In fact, yesterday I was about to drink from the Chalice at Mass and I paused for just a moment and looked at the consecrated Wine. In that Chalice was a very still, deceptively serene Drink that hid beneath its appearance the raging storm of a divine-human drama … of innocent love facing the enemy, of compassionate mercy embracing misery, of limitless wealth bearing poverty, of eternal Communion suffering abandonment, of immaculate purity risking filth, of unshakable joy knowing sorrow, of life obeying death.

My God!

And then I thought, after I had consumed — I who dare to drink this Blood must be prepared to be metabolized, to be swept up into the divine storm that rages unceasingly in the deepest abyss of our Holy Holy Holy God. In that Chalice was the whole mystery of the new Passover, the supreme epiphany of omnipotent love, the hidden presence of the FarNear. And I drank. In saying “Amen” before I consumed, I consented to God re-creating me as a gate for the “peacefully violent” Christ-storm to enter our war-weary world. Annie Dillard gives me the words I need: “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

O salutaris Hostia,
Quae cæli pandis ostium:
Bella premunt hostilia,
Da robur, fer auxilium.
Uni trinoque Domino
Sit sempiterna gloria,
Qui vitam sine termino
Nobis donet in patria.
Amen.

O, saving Victim,
Who expandest the door of heaven,
Hostile wars press,
Give strength; bear aid.
To the Triune Lord,
May there be everlasting glory;
that life without end He
to us give in our homeland.
Amen.

Bl. Teresa of Calcutta for the last word:

And I believe that great love must begin in our own home first in our own heart in our own home; my next door neighbor; in the street I live; and in the town I live; and in the world because only then he will be able to spread the meaning of Eucharist. The meaning of Eucharist is “understanding love.” Christ understood that we have a terrible hunger for God. He understood that we have been created to love and so he made himself a bread of life … we must eat and drink in the Eucharist the goodness of the love of Christ of his understanding love; he also wants to give us a means, a chance to put our love for him in a living action; he makes himself the hungry not only for bread, but for love; he makes himself the naked one not only for a piece of cloth, but for that understanding love; that dignity, human dignity; he makes himself the homeless one not only for a piece of a small room, but for that deep sincere love of one another; and this is Eucharist, this is Jesus the living bread that he has come to break with you and with me.

Forgotten self

Re-post from 2013

“St. Peter Weeping before the Virgin,” by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, c. 1657. Taken from wikimedia.org

To approach the Other in conversation is to welcome his expression…to welcome the face of the Other. – Emmanuel Lévinas

I was speaking with a woman recently about her own spiritual journey, and as we talked about our common love for the “Jesus Prayer” she shared with me a truly extraordinary story that revealed profound insights into the nature of conversion and what it means to pray, and not just say, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” I will attempt to accurately summarize what she said, blending it with what she later emailed me. I am grateful that, for others’ benefit, she was open to having the general story-line shared.

I grew up in a high-achievement family where we were all expected to prove our worth by achievements in school, sports, and music. And it wasn’t just that my parents wanted me to be successful and reach my potential, but the clear message was: we value you inasmuch as you earn that value. Once I left college and began working in a successful and ascending career, I began to suffer from anxiety and depression, and got involved in relationships that were destructive; where I felt compelled to ‘perform’ for the men I dated and felt a failure if I didn’t meet their demands. It all fell apart in my early thirties, and I ended up coming back to my faith with a vengeance. It was liberating in ways that I cannot express.

But I was still who I was, and even if Jesus had come and given me new hope I still operated in the prove-my-worth mode. But now, my compulsion was spiritualized, and I began to be obsessed with being an Über-Catholic who gained the admiration of my Catholic peers. I found myself constantly finding subtle and not-so-subtle ways to make known to my Catholic peers my dedication to prayer that made me feel a mystic; to make known the trials and tribulations of my life that made me feel a martyr; to make known the simplicity of my life that made me feel a veritable nun; to make known the goodness of my deeds that made me feel a Mother Teresa; and to make known the orthodoxy of my thought that made me not-like-those-half-baked-Catholics who just weren’t up to my level of radical-ness. And at the core of it all, un-admitted, there was seething anger that drove me; lots of anger; anger that no one really measured up, and that I never measured up. And that God’s face toward me was a mostly a grimace.

Then it all came crashing down again as I suffered from a fresh bout of anxiety from all the pent-up anger, from trying to be what I was not, and failing to feed sufficiently my voracious, though well-cloaked appetite for others’ approval. And from the midst of this real suffering and this real poverty, in my breakdown, I suddenly faced who I was: a weak, needy and fragile woman who was ready to surrender my anger and say, in the secret of my heart, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”

And it was undoubtedly the first time I ever really meant it, that I meant those words I always said to causally at Mass; and maybe it was even the first time I had ever really prayed.

After that, my anger withered and I lost my compulsive need to seek others’ attention, approval, admiration; I lost my need to be a saint for others and without God; and I gained a new — so new! — desire to seek not God’s admiration or applause, but his mercy. And it was all like a second birth, a second conversion, and it set me free from me. My anxiety melted away, and though I flirt now and again with these old habits and patterns, there’s something new in me that makes it all different.

And I remember the first time after this all happened that I knew I was different. I met up with one of my Catholic friends, and for the first time in my life I felt that my interest in being with her wasn’t about me. I forgot I was there, and I didn’t even think about what she thought of me.

My favorite song now is the spiritual, Freedom. That’s my song.

In ways great or small, O Lord, deliver us all! Listen here:

 

Embracing Reality in Hope

“The Rich Man and Lazarus.” by Hendrick ter Brugghen, c. 1620. Taken from wikimedia.org

Age quod agis, “Do what you are doing.” — St. Benedict of Nursia

Fr. Tom Hopko — may he rest in peace — responded to a question by a woman who asked whether or not God plays favorites. His answer was very long, but I thought I would share this section of it as it offers some really insightful wisdom on “blooming where you are planted.” It’s a transcription of a talk, so it has a wonderfully informal tone. The italics are used to reflect his use of an emphatic voice.

+++

St. John Chrysostom says if anyone in this life feels that God has intervened and miraculously healed them and made their life happy—let’s say gave them a good job or something, or healed them of a physical disease—then they have to answer to God for how they use that. And he says, when that happens, it always happens for more crosses, for greater suffering, for more service, for greater repentance, but it doesn’t have anything to do with who goes to heaven at the end, as such. And it doesn’t have to do with who may have some kind of experiences of God on earth before they die, as such. I don’t think that we can say that. I don’t think that that’s warranted to be said according to the Holy Scripture. And we do believe that God cannot save one individual person without saving the whole thing because we’re interconnected. That’s why when we say in church, things like “he came to save Adam,” it means he saves the whole of humanity and that’s why the saints say, “if anyone is saved, everyone is saved with them and in them,” somehow, interconnected, but then they have to deal with that fact. That’s why the prayers of holy people and the actions of holy people, they either contribute to the salvation of others, or, to use a scriptural expression, they pour more burning coals on their head because that person does not accept it.

So what we have to say is that there’s a fundamental will of God, but there’s a providential will of God. And the providential will of God is exactly what this question is about. We can ask, why is my providential will of God this way and someone else’s providential will of God the other way? And why does God deal with this person this way and that person that way? And I think, again, the rationalization answer—God forgive me, I don’t think it’s a rationalization—but I think the truth of the matter is because you are you and I am me and he is he and she is she. And, you know, I’ve had people say to me, “Oh, Fr. Tom, why couldn’t I have been your child? Why was I someone else’s child and my own father was so horrid? And I didn’t have a nice father like you are, and you’re a nice father for your children.” Well, I would say two things. Number one is: because you’re not my child. If you were my child, you wouldn’t be you. You are who you are because you are that guy’s child and that woman’s child, and you are produced by them, and they were produced by their parents and produced by their parents. I would also say, ask my kids how nice it was to be my child. I’m sure you’ll get an answer that will blow your mind what it meant to be my child.

I mean, but still as Fr. Alexander Schmemann used to say, life for every human being on this earth is: how do we deal with what we’ve been dealt, and what we’ve been dealt makes us who we are; it makes us how we are. I am who I am, what I am, how I am, why I am, with whom I am, from whom I am because I was born from John and Anna Hopko on the north side of Endicott in 1939. That’s who I am. And then God will ask me at the last judgment, “What did you do with what you’ve been given?” But God also may ask that, will ask that same question in some sense—he’ll ask that same question to some—let’s try to think of somebody—son of a communist in the Soviet Union or some child of a mafia worker in the Bronx or something.

But God is not going to ask the same thing from each one. How could he? He wouldn’t. And my guess is that God is not even going to ask anything of certain people on this earth because their life was so damaged that he’s just going to love them, embrace them, and take them to paradise; and so the very fact that you just simply survived and endured, even though you yourself did lots of evils yourself perhaps—because as the saying goes “hurt people hurt people”; if you’ve been hurt, you’re going to hurt others; if you’ve been loved, you’re going to probably have a better chance to love others. But in the sight of God, the one who has had what you might consider a lucky or fortunate birthright—let’s say born into people who are basically sane, virtuous and believing, and who are trying to keep God’s commandments. Yeah, if that happens, that’s great! But then God still asks that person what they did with that. But that person is not better or worse or more gifted or treated more wonderfully by God. That’s not the teaching, not the teaching at all.

It doesn’t at all mean that if a person is born in an alcoholic family where there was just rage and abuse and sadness, it doesn’t mean that that person is worse in the eyes of God. And that person would not be asked by God to go out into the desert like St. Seraphim and kneel on a rock for 15 years. That’s not their calling. That’s not their vocation. They have to do something else with what they’ve been given. And maybe the best that that person can do is endure it, and endure it with some kind of faith, hope, and love. And even maybe endure it without too much faith, hope, and love, but still endure it. And maybe they’ll do lots of sins, but they’ll still be pretty good in God’s eyes compared to some other person who is greatly gifted. So I think that we have to deal with this issue of God’s basic will and God’s providential will. And the providential will, I agree totally, is a great mystery.

But one thing’s for sure that we must really, I think, just accept: you can’t say, “Why couldn’t I have been that other person? Why couldn’t I have had some other parents? Why couldn’t I have lived in some other time? Why couldn’t I have lived in some other place? Why couldn’t I have lived with other conditions?” Well, the simplistic answer would be: because if you did, you wouldn’t be you! You would be somebody else. That was not your vocation. That was not your cross. That was not what you have to bear in your earthly life, and we should remember how fleeting earthly life is. That’s one of the teachings of Scripture, too.

The Apostle Paul says that the glory of the age to come can’t even be compared to the afflictions that we suffer on this earth. Now, I know you could say, tell that to someone who is suffering, tell that to someone who wants to be St. Seraphim but is in fact a struggling mom with a difficult situation. Well, I would be careful not to say it so easily and glibly, but I think what would have to be said to that mom in a difficult situation is: you really must believe that God didn’t call you to be St. Seraphim—or St. Seraphima, if you’re a lady. He didn’t. He called you to be who you are and to enter into what you have to do.