Imagined grace

I went to a symposium last weekend in Denver, Colorado. It was held at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and was sponsored by the Institute for Priestly Formation. The topic was, of course, priestly formation and focused on the relationship between the human and spiritual dimensions of priestly identity and ministry. In my work serving the formation of future priests I sometimes think, “How did they let me in here?” It’s such a privilege, even as it’s also challenging work.

The seminary chapel was lovely, and having a Mass celebrated by 50+ priests is always an extraordinary experience. After Mass on the second day of the symposium, I walked around toward the narthex of the chapel and was overtaken by this beautiful bronze statue of Christ in the throes of his Passion. I stood in prayer before him and couldn’t help but think of St. Teresa of Avila’s experience,

By this time my soul was growing weary, and, though it desired to rest the miserable habits which now enslaved it would not allow it to do so. It happened that, entering the oratory one day, I saw an image which had been procured for a certain festival that was observed in the house and had been taken there to be kept for that purpose. It represented Christ sorely wounded; and so conducive was it to devotion that when I looked at it I was deeply moved to see Him thus, so well did it picture what He suffered for us. So great was my distress when I thought how ill I had repaid Him for those wounds that I felt as if my heart were breaking, and I threw myself down beside Him, shedding floods of tears and begging Him to give me strength once for all so that I might not offend Him.

I had a great devotion to the glorious Magdalen and often thought of her conversion, especially when I received Communion for, knowing that the Lord was certainly within me then, I would place myself at His feet, thinking that my tears would not be rejected. I did not know what I was saying; but in allowing me to shed those tears He was very gracious to me, since I so soon forgot my grief; and I used to commend myself to that glorious Saint so that she might obtain pardon for me.

But on this last occasion when I saw that image of which I am speaking, I think I must have made greater progress, because I had quite lost trust in myself and was placing all my confidence in God. I believe I told Him then that I would not rise from that spot until He had granted me what I was beseeching of Him. And I feel sure that this did me good, for from that time onward I began to improve.

That made me think of how very important sacred images are in the spiritual life, and how God can use them to sanctify our senses and stir both contrition and virtues to life within. Especially in a culture so supersaturated with sensual images, we desperately need to allow God to pour his grace into our senses by praying with beautiful and sacred artwork. As Cardinal Ratzinger said it in a 2002 lecture,

Being struck and overcome by the beauty of Christ is a more real, more profound knowledge than mere rational deduction. Of course we must not underrate the importance of theological reflection, of exact and precise theological thought; it remains absolutely necessary. But to move from here to disdain or to reject the impact produced by the response of the heart in the encounter with beauty as a true form of knowledge would impoverish us and dry up our faith and our theology. We must rediscover this form of knowledge; it is a pressing need of our time.

The Passion of Jesus is the most beautiful form in the whole of creation, as it reveals the self-wasting love of God, “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints” (Colossians 1:26). As I looked at him, I prayed that I might place all my confidence in God.

ChristStatue

Merciful Ladder

John Climacus is shown at the top of The Ladder of Divine Ascent, with other monks following him, 12th century icon (Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, Egypt). Taken from wikimedia.org

Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus’ one-line summary of his entire ethical teaching, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” This saying concludes and sums up his extended commentary on the meaning of the stark command, “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27-35), and is the equivalent of Matthew’s, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It’s indisputable in St. Luke’s Gospel that perfection for Jesus means one thing: being merciful. And that mercy, in its most perfect form, means loving one’s enemy.

And who is the enemy? Anyone who intends my harm, delights in my misfortune, schemes for my failure or does what is hateful toward me (or toward those I love). The Greek word exthrós used in “love your enemies” refers specifically to an enemy who is openly hostile, animated by deep-seated hatred, and implies an irreconcilable hostility rooted in a personal hatred bent on inflicting grave harm. For Jesus, love reveals my enemy as the neighbor most in need of my mercy.

Climbing to God

Below I will share a quote on mercy that knocked my socks off when I first happened on it years ago. I’ve quoted it here before, but it bears re-quoting. It’s from 7th century Egyptian monk, St. John Climacus, whose Ladder of Divine Ascent is revered as the epitome of spiritual wisdom in the Eastern Church. On the 9th rung of the 30-rung ladder to Paradise, St. John describes the demand to forgive wrongs by ceasing to harbor any “remembrance of those wrongs.” Remembrance of wrongs, for St. John, does not mean the obliteration of memories, a kind of spiritual amnesia. Rather, it refers to nursing one’s anger, harboring a grudge, clinging to the pain or hate conjured by the injury inflicted. It also implies the full meaning of “love your enemies,” i.e. to will, and eventually desire from the depths of the heart, the temporal and eternal well-being of the one who has harmed you or those you love.

St. John counsels elsewhere that the best remedy for the remembrance of wrongs is to pierce it with “arrow prayers.” In the desert spiritual tradition, this refers to short Scriptural passages (often a line from the psalms) offered to God in ceaseless repetition. One of these arrow prayers that originated in the deserts of Egypt eventually made its way into the Church’s liturgy of the hours:

O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me. — Psalm 69:2

In the selection below, St. John refers to the Jesus prayer — “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” — which, in the Eastern Church, came to be the “prayer of prayers” among all the arrow prayers. I can personally attest to its astounding power to open the heart to grace. If you are interested, read this spiritual classic.

Quotes

As a reflection on today’s Gospel injunction to exercise mercy by forgiving, let me share two quotes.

First, I will allow St. John to shine Gospel light into our shadows:

Remembrance of wrongs comes as the final point of anger. It is a keeper of sins. It hates a just way of life. It is the ruin of virtues, the poison of the soul, a worm in the mind. It is the shame of prayer, a cutting off of supplication, a turning away from love, a nail piercing the soul. It is a pleasureless feeling cherished in the sweetness of bitterness. It is a never-ending sin, an un-sleeping wrong, rancor by the hour.

Let the Jesus prayer put it to shame, that prayer which cannot be uttered in the company of malice.

If after great effort you still fail to root out this thorn, go to your enemy and apologize, if only with empty words whose insincerity may shame you. Then as conscience, like a fire, comes to give you pain, you may find that a sincere love of your enemy may come to life.

A true sign of having completely mastered this putrefaction will come not when you pray for the man who offended you, not when you give him presents, not when you invite him to share a meal with you, but only when, on hearing of some catastrophe that has afflicted him in body or soul, you suffer and you lament for him as if for yourself.

Some labor and struggle hard to earn forgiveness, but better than these is the one who forgets the wrongs done to him. Forgive quickly and you will be abundantly forgiven. To forget wrongs is to prove oneself truly repentant, but to brood on them and at the same time to imagine one is practicing repentance is to act like the man who is convinced he is running when in fact he is fast asleep.

Second, let me share with you with a powerful sign that the teaching of this Egyptian monk lives on. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Bishop Angaelos, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, about ISIS’ beheading of the 21 Coptic Orthodox men:

Q: Not long after the video released, you tweeted about the killings, using the hashtag #FatherForgive. Did you mean that you forgive ISIS?

A: Yes. It may seem unbelievable to some of your readers, but as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.

Narek, the Marginal Doctor

Taken from horizonweekly.ca

A new Doctor of the Church! I was so excited when I read the news yesterday I wanted to shout for joy (but it was 6:00 a.m. and I thought better)! Narek rocks.

Let me throw together a few thoughts, joining the online chorus that is swelling.

Pope Francis named the 10th century Armenian monk, St. Gregory Narek, the 36th Doctor of the Church. I love the writing of St. Gregory! He’s a poet to the core, and demonstrated amply, like the Hebrew prophets, that beauty is the truest form of divine discourse. Many of his theological and mystical-ascetical works are written as a colloquy — a dialogue with God — as was St. Augustine’s autobiography, the Confessions. Theological colloquy offers such a deep insight into the nature of theological discourse which must always be, in the first instance, a dialogue with the revealing God himself. God reveals to us not mere data for speculative consideration, but Himself for consummating union. Here’s a sample of Narek’s writing from his famous Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart:

The voice of a sighing heart, its sobs and mournful cries,
I offer up to you, O Seer of Secrets,
placing the fruits of my wavering mind
as a savory sacrifice on the fire of my grieving soul
to be delivered to you in the censer of my will.

Compassionate Lord, breathe in
this offering and look more favorably on it
than upon a more sumptuous sacrifice
offered with rich smoke. Please find
this simple string of words acceptable.
Do not turn in disdain.

May this unsolicited gift reach you,
this sacrifice of words
from the deep mystery-filled chamber
of my feelings, consumed in flames
fueled by whatever grace I may have within me.

As I pray, do not let these
pleas annoy you, Almighty,
like the raised hands of Jacob,
whose irreverence was rebuked
by Isaiah, nor let them seem like the impudence
of Babylon criticized in the 72nd Psalm.

But let these words be acceptable
as were the fragrant offerings
in the tabernacle at Shiloh
raised again by David on his return from captivity
as the resting place for the ark of the covenant,
a symbol for the restoration of my lost soul.

And, true to Pope Francis’ pastoral style, this doctor is chosen from the “margins” of the suffering church [incidentally, in 2012 Pope Benedict named a “marginal” medieval woman as Doctor of the Church, 12th century Abbess Saint Hildegard of Bingen. A genius. Sadly, so little fuss was made subsequently. Some time I will write on her]. The Armenian Apostolic Church (great documentary here), that traces its origins back to the 1st century, has a rich monastic, liturgical and theological tradition, and a rich history of saints and culture. But Armenian Christians also have a long history of oppression, climaxing in the horrors of the “Armenian Holocaust” genocide of 1915, carried out by the Ottoman Turks who slaughtered more than 1 million Armenian Christians.

The Armenian Divine Liturgy is magnificent in its poetry, sense of mystery and theological depth. One of the most cherished hymns of the Liturgy is called Khorhoort Khoreen, “O Mystery Deep.” I heard a lecture on it back around 2005 by an Armenian Orthodox priest and it b-l-e-w m-y m-i-n-d. Here are the words:

O Mystery deep, inscrutable, without beginning. Thou hast decked thy supernatural realm as a chamber unto the light unapproachable and hast adorned with splendid glory the ranks of thy fiery spirits.

Wow. If you don’t feel you have stepped onto terrifyingly holy ground when that is chanted, I don’t know if there’s hope you ever will.

I will end with a recited prayer for healing by St. Gregory. Through his intercession, may we all be healed unto the divine charity that is eternal life:

Kyrie eleison

Today I will share with you a loosely strung set of quotes that came to mind as I prayed over this morning’s Gospel…

Taken from classicalchristianity.com

Today’s Mass readings turn our minds to Lenten almsgiving. Etymologically, the word “alms” comes from the Greek word eleos, which means “pity, mercy.” So, to give alms is to give mercy to those who need mercy — and mercy, simply put, is love encountering human misery and overcoming it. Think of the Latin word for mercy, misericordiamiser, “misery,” and cordia, “of the heart.”   Mercy is both a response to human misery and the compassionate empathy of one’s heart toward the suffering of another. As St. Thomas Aquinas would say, mercy, to be fully virtuous, must be affective and effective, moving me with emotive empathy and toward effective action.

We also know what Jesus says in the Beatitudes about mercy-givers:

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Today’s Gospel reveals the shocking truth that our salvation, the gift of God’s undeserved mercy, is itself dependent on the quality of our mercy-giving to the deserving and undeserving (cf Luke 6:35).

On the “undeserving” recipients of alms, St. John Chrysostom famously said,

You must not demand an audit of a person’s life – just correct the poverty and supply the need (Homilies on 1 Corinthians 21.5).

Shakespeare says of mercy in The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes

St. John Bosco captures this saving dynamic when he says,

An effective but often neglected means of gaining Paradise is almsgiving. By almsgiving I mean any work of mercy exercised toward one’s neighbor for the love of God.

Along those same lines Dr. Nathan Eubank, a biblical scholar and colleague of mine at the seminary, once made this comment to me:

If one were to do even a cursory read of the Synoptic Gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke], one would get the immediate impression that we are saved by giving alms.

Saving alms. The hands of the needy are the gift-receiving altar of God.

We are not saved by mere faith, but saved by merciful faith that stoops down to the needy and suffering. St. James says it with sharp clarity:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Clearly for James saving works=almsgiving, good Jew that he is. Sounds like a Hebrew prophet or some such:

Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. — Isaiah 58:7-8

Or maybe a Hebrew sage:

Give to God as he gives to you with a good eye and a large hand; for he who gives to the poor, lends to God; for who is a repayer if not he? For he is God who repays and he will repay you ten thousand times the thousand.” — Sirach 35:10–11

Again, St. Augustine comments on almsgiving,

Study the money lender’s methods. He wants to give modestly and get back with profit; you do the same. Give a little and receive on a grand scale. Look how your interest is mounting up! Give temporal wealth and claim eternal interest, give the earth and gain heaven. ‘Whom shall I give it to?’ did you ask? The Lord himself comes forward (in the form of the poor person) to ask you for a loan, he who forbade you to be a usurer. Listen to the Scripture telling you how to make the Lord your debtor: ‘Anyone who gives alms to the poor is lending to the Lord.’

A moral theology professor I had in grad school once said on our Catholic social ethics class,

In Scripture, those are most like God who choose to override the natural slouch of fallen humanity toward self-interest in order to lift up the fallen; or who resist the sloth that prevents us from exiting our comfort zones and attending with mercy to the more unpleasant realities of human suffering and need. God is most at home among the homeless, building them homes; among orphans, adopting them; among widows, taking them into his care. And he’s always looking for laborers to join his cause.

St. John of the Cross says that one who is possessed with divine charity senses the sweet aroma of Christ in the stench of the sick or the poor, while those who are attached to pleasant odors are incapable of allowing the love of God to fully enter and free them to love as God loves, i.e. with a merciful love.

Mercy, which Aquinas argues is God’s greatest attribute, is therefore the supreme manner for human beings to image God. As such, being merciful is the truest use of human freedom and the greatest sign that we are truly free. I think here of the words of holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl:

There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread… Dostoevsky said once, ‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.’ These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom — which cannot be taken away — that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

A volunteer at Good News Ministries, an ecumenical outreach to the poor and needy in Tallahassee, once said to me:

I’m always asking God questions about the suffering I encounter every day. But there’s one question you will never find me asking Him: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’

Amen.

Samuel Aranda‘s winning image of a woman in a niqab comforting an injured man in Yemen. Taken from dvafoto.com

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” — Genesis 4:10

A priest in his Ash Wednesday homily this week said, “St. Paul tells us to ‘be reconciled to God!’ But remember, my dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, most practically this means to us: be reconciled to one another. It’s easy to be reconciled to God. He’s easy to get along with. Not so easy is my difficult neighbor.” Considering the stories of global violence, I will share with you today three global witnesses of reconciliation that came to mind this week, two Christian, one Muslim.

St. Sudan

St. Bakhita. Taken from communio.stblogs.org

Sold in the markets of El Obeid and Khartoum, in the Sudan, as a slave, St. Josephine Bakhita endured constant beatings, starvation and humiliation. The trauma of her abduction was so profound it caused her to forget her own name. The name she is known for as a saint was the one given to her by slave traders — bakhita, Arabic for lucky. Over the course of twelve years (1877–1889) she was resold again three times and then given away to an Italian merchant who eventually gave her her freedom. The kindness of this Catholic family led her to embrace their Catholic faith and eventually to enter religious life.

Near the end of her life, a young student once asked her, “What would you do if you were to meet your captors?” Without hesitation she responded, “If I were to meet those who kidnapped me, and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands. For, if these things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian and a religious today.”

That’s a vantage I can only bow low before in awe.

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.” — Hebrews 13:7

Taken from chaldean.org

Here is a letter (from Zenit) written posthumously to Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni by a Muslim friend of his who is also a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Father Ragheed and three deacons were shot and killed in Mosul, Iraq, on Sunday after Mass back in 2007.

In the name of the compassionate and merciful God,

Ragheed, my brother,

I ask your forgiveness for not being with you when those criminals opened fire against you and your brothers. The bullets that have gone through your pure and innocent body have also gone through my heart and soul.

You were one of the first people I met when I arrived to Rome. We met in the halls of the Angelicum and we would drink our cappuccino in the university’s cafeteria. You impressed me with your innocence, joy, your pure and tender smile that never left you.

I always picture you smiling, joyful and full of zest for life. Ragheed is to me innocence personified; a wise innocence that carries in its heart the sorrows of his unhappy people. I remember the time, in the university’s dining room, when Iraq was under embargo and you told me that the price of a single cappuccino would have satisfied the needs of an Iraqi family for a whole day.

You told me this as if you were feeling guilty for being far away from your persecuted people and unable to share in their sufferings …

In fact, you returned to Iraq, not only to share the suffering and destiny of your people but also to join your blood to the blood of thousands of Iraqis killed each day. I will never forget the day of your ordination [Oct. 13, 2001] in the Urbanian University … with tears in your eyes, you told me: “Today, I have died to self” … a hard thing to say.

I didn’t understand it right away, or maybe I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. … But today, through your martyrdom, I have understood that phrase. … You have died in your soul and body to be raised up in your beloved, in your teacher, and so that Christ would be raised up in you, despite the sufferings, sorrows, despite the chaos and madness.

In the name of what god of death have they killed you? In the name of which paganism have they crucified you? Did they truly know what they were doing?

O God, we don’t ask you for revenge or retaliation. We ask you for victory, a victory of justice over falsehood, life over death, innocence over treachery, blood over the sword. … Your blood will not have been shed in vain, dear Ragheed, because with it you have blessed the soil of your country. And from heaven, your tender smile will continue to light the darkness of our nights and announce to us a better tomorrow.

I ask your forgiveness, brother, for when the living get together they think they have all the time in the world to talk, visit, and share feelings and thoughts. You had invited me to Iraq … I dreamed of that visit, of visiting your house, your parents, your office. … It never occurred to me that it would be your tomb that one day I would visit or that it would be verses from my Quran that I would recite for the repose of your soul …

One day, before your first trip to Iraq after a prolonged absence, I went with you to buy souvenirs and presents for your family. You spoke with me of your future work: “I would like to preside over the people on the base of charity before justice” — you said.

It was difficult for me to imagine you a “canonical judge” … And today your blood and your martyrdom have spoken for you, a verdict of fidelity and patience, of hope against all suffering, of survival, in spite of death, in spite of everything.

Brother, your blood hasn’t been shed in vain, and your church’s altar wasn’t a masquerade. … You assumed your role with deep seriousness until the end, with a smile that would never be extinguished … ever.

Your loving brother,

Adnam Mokrani
Rome, June 4, 2007
Professor of Islamic Studies in the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture,
Pontifical Gregorian University

“Love your enemies” — Luke 6:

Undoubtedly you have heard of the gruesome beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIS, but maybe you have not heard of the testimony of the family of two of the men murdered, who were also brothers. A friend sent me a video from an Arabic Christian television interview with a brother of these two men. He offers his gratitude to ISIS for allowing the name of Jesus, spoken by some of the men before their execution, to remain in the video of the mass beheading. He also shares his/their mother’s astonishing sentiments in the face of such brutality. If you have 4 1/2 minutes it will be worth your time. Chick on the blog post title if you are reading an emailed version.

On Another’s Sorrow

“The Ancient of Days,” by William Blake, c. 1820, taken from burbanklodge.com

On January 30th, two days after the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, Fr. Michael Dodds, O.P. gave a lecture at the seminary on the question of God’s impassibility, i.e. whether or not one can say properly that God is capable of suffering, and if so, in what sense. If you’d like to hear the lecture, click here. I found it clear and insightful.

But what I wanted to highlight here today were the literary references he used to open and close his lecture. The first was a poem by William Blake called, On Another’s Sorrow. I had never heard it, but was taken with its deep intuitions of divine and human compassion. The second was a quote from St. Catherine of Siena in which she passionately puzzled over the tension between God’s dispassionate perfection and his impassioned desire for his creatures. So, today, I will simply share both of these with you.

Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow’s share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?

Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird’s grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear –

And not sit beside the nest,
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant’s tear?

And not sit both night and day,
Wiping all our tears away?
O no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

He doth give His joy to all:
He becomes an infant small,
He becomes a man of woe,
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy Maker is not by:
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy Maker is not near.

O He gives to us His joy,
That our grief He may destroy:
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.
Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow’s share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?

Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird’s grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear –

And not sit beside the nest,
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant’s tear?

And not sit both night and day,
Wiping all our tears away?
O no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

He doth give His joy to all:
He becomes an infant small,
He becomes a man of woe,
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy Maker is not by:
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy Maker is not near.

O He gives to us His joy,
That our grief He may destroy:
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

+++++++++++++++++++

“O immeasurably tender love! Who would not be set afire with such love? What heart could keep from breaking? You, deep well of charity, it seems you are so madly in love with your creatures that you could not live without us! Yet you are our God, and have no need of us. Your greatness is no greater for our well-being, nor are you harmed by any harm that comes to us, for you are supreme eternal Goodness. What could move you to such mercy? Neither duty nor any need you have of us –but only love! Just as love constrained you to draw us from yourself, so the same love constrained you to redeem us when we were lost. You indeed showed that you loved us before we existed when you willed to draw us from yourself solely through love, but you showed greater love towards us when you gave yourself, enclosing yourself in our humanity. And what more could you give than yourself? Because of this you could truly say ‘what should I have done or what could I have done that I have not done?’”

Night Light

Taken from apriestlife.com

2012 repost. Re-reading this made me ache for a Trappist monastery to hide in for a while.

From my journal kept on retreat at New Melleray Trappist monastery in New Melleray, Iowa in January, 2010:

I’m at 3:30 a.m. Vigils on this Friday morning of my silent retreat. There’s a dim light behind me, but the whole church is enveloped in darkness. The monks are sitting in their choir stalls reflecting on what we just heard.

A monk just read an excerpt from the life of a Trappist monk from Nigeria named Fr. Cyprian.  At the age of 61, the story went, he suddenly fell ill (unbeknownst to anyone) with what sounds to me like gangrene in his intestines. After Cyprian failed to show for the communal Divine Office, the Abbot sought him out and found him on the floor of his cell writhing in pain. The Abbot quickly called for an ambulance. As the monks gathered and waited there with him, trying to comfort him, Cyprian said, “Brothers, this is why we are here.”

The reader left off at, “…this is why we are here.” The Abbey church has fallen silent and dark, illumined only by the flickering sanctuary light and the light behind me. We’re left to reflect on those stark words in this stillness. I can hear my breathing.

Why are we here, Cyprian?  I imagine him enduring that excruciating pain as a redemptive offering. He surely was keenly aware he stood at the threshold of eternity. I can see him looking into the faces of his compassionate brethren, seeing Christ in those moments of tender and desperate love. All of these could be “why we are here.”

I wonder how one can enter so fully into such deep mystery, discovering in one’s terrible pain unspeakable intimacy with Christ writhing, gasping, dying.

This morning I heard at Mass that Fr. Cyprian is Blessed Cyprian (d. 1964). Wow. This day is his liturgical feast day in the Trappist Order.  The Abbot celebrating morning Mass, and shared his reflections on this holy monk:

Vocation defines our life’s meaning. We were first called into existence — our first vocation is to exist — and then our lives unfold as an dramatic story of heeded and unheeded calls from God…if we heed we are, as Mother Teresa put it, pencils in the hand of a writing God, invited write God’s Word with our lives…we meditate on His Word day and night that we might know the divine vocabulary and syntax, that our lives might be well-written…saints are grace writ large, living words, able interpreters of the Word come down from heaven…Cyprian became that living text for us to read with our eyes and proclaim with our lives…for him, the whole way to heaven was heaven, and nothing of life — neither the best nor the worst — is to be excluded from one’s calling to be a faithful scribe of the Kingdom…for Cyprian, life was Christ, death was gain and suffering was the grammar of love…like St. Ignatius of Loyola he vowed to give and not to count the cost…may the Lord remove all obstacles that prevent us from doing the same.

Indeed, Cyprian, this is why we are here.  Deo gratias.

Blessed Cyprian, taken from theblackcordelias.files.wordpress.com