LENT: Union With God, by Evelyn Underhill

From The School of Charity

All gardeners know the importance of good root development before we force the leaves and flowers.  So our life in God should be deeply rooted and grounded before we presume to expect to produce flowers and fruits; otherwise we risk shooting up into one of those lanky plants which can never do without a stick.  We are constantly beset by the notion that we ought to perceive ourselves springing up quickly, like the seed on stony ground; show striking signs of spiritual growth.  But perhaps we are only required to go on quietly, making root, growing nice and bushy; docile to the great slow rhythm of life.  When we see no startling marks of our own religious progress or our usefulness to God, it is well to remember the baby in the stable and the little boy in the streets of Nazareth.  The very life was there present, which was to change the whole history of the human race, the rescuing action of God.  At that stage there was not much to show for it; yet there is perfect continuity between the stable and the Easter garden, and the thread that unites them is the hidden Will of God.  The childish prayer of Nazareth was the right preparation for the awful prayer of the cross.

So it is that the life of the Spirit is to unfold gently and steadily within us; till at the last the full stature for which God designed us is attained.  It is an organic process, a continuous divine action; not a sudden miracle or a series of jerks.  Therefore there should be no struggle, impatience, self-willed effort in our prayer and self-discipline; but rather a great flexibility, a homely ordered life, a gentle acceptance of what comes to us, and a still gentler acceptance of the fact that much we see in others is still out of our own reach.  The prayer of the growing spirit should be free, humble, simple; full of confidence and full of initiative too.  The mystics constantly tell us, that the goal of this prayer and of the hidden life which shall itself become more and more of a prayer, is union with God.  We meet this phrase often: far too often, for we lose the wholesome sense of its awfulness.  What does union with God mean?  Not a nice feeling which we enjoy in devout movements.  This may or may not be a by-product of union with God; probably not.  It can never be its substance.  Union with God means such an entire self-giving to the Divine Charity, such identification with its interests, that the whole of our human nature is transformed in God, irradiated by His absolute light, His sanctifying grace.  Thus it is woven up into the organ of His creative activity, His redeeming purpose; conformed to the pattern of Christ, heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Each time this happens, it means that one more creature has achieved its destiny; and each soul in whom the life of the spirit is born, sets out towards that goal.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Twelve — Jesus Dies on the Cross, by Henri Nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

Death, destruction, and annihilation surround us on all side.  Much, if not most, of the Earth’s resources are used in the service of death.  The war industries eat up huge amounts of the national income of many countries.  The stockpile of conventional and nuclear weapons increases day by day, and whole economies have become dependent on the ever-increasing production of lethal materials.  Many universities, research institutions, and think-tanks receive their financial support from warmakers.  Millions of people earn their daily living by turning out products which, if ever used, could only produce death.

But the power of death is much more subtle and pervasive than these explicitly brutal forces of destruction.  Not only are there death forces visible in the violence within families and neighborhoods, they are also part of the ways in which people look for relaxation and entertainment.  Many sports are tainted by a fascination with death.  The possibility of serious injury and death creates an unusual excitement.  People like to watch people who risk their very lives and are drawn into the darkness of the Russian roulette.  Many forms of entertainment, such as movies, TV series, and novels, also exploit people’s fascination with death.  The world is, indeed, ruled by the powers of death, powers that want every human being to be in their service.

Jesus died.  The powers of death crushed him.  Not only the fear-ridden judgments of Pilate, the torture by the Roman soldiers, and the cruel crucifixion, but also the powers and principalities of this world.  The world’s death powers destroyed him.  But the death of Jesus is the death of the Word “through whom all things came into being,” and “what has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of people, and the light shines in the darkness, and darkness could not overpower it,” (John 1:3-5).

Jesus was crushed by the powers of death, but his death removed death’s sting.  To those who believe in him he gave the power to become children of God, that is, to participate in the life where death can no longer reach.  By his death, Jesus was victorious over all the powers of death.  The darkness in our hearts that makes us surrender to the power of death, the darkness in our society that makes us victims of violence, war, and destruction, has been dispelled by the light that shines forth from the One who gave his life as a complete gift to the God of life.  Paul says: “Our Savior Christ has abolished death and he has brought to light immortality and life through the Gospel,” (2 Timothy 1:10).

It is hard to affirm life in the face of the rampant powers of death.  Every time we open a newspaper with all its stories of war, murder, kidnapping, torture, battering, and countless other tragedies that lead to sickness and death, we are faced with the temptation to believe that, after all, death is victorious.  And still, time and time again the death of Jesus, the Holy One, calls us to choose for life.  The great challenge of the Christian life is to say, “Yes,” to life even in the smallest and, seemingly, unimportant details.  Every moment there is a choice to be made: the choice for or against life.  Do I choose to think about a person in a forgiving or in an accusing way?  Do I choose to speak a word of acceptance or a word of rejection?  Do I choose to reach out or to hold back, to share or to hoard, to yield or to cling, to hurt or to heal?  Even the deeper emotions of our heart are subject to such choices.  I can choose to be resentful or grateful, despairing or hopeful, sad or glad, angry or peaceful.  Many of these emotions can come to us as waves over which we have no control.  Still. . . there is a place in us where we can choose a direction and stop the forces of death from pulling us deeper and deeper into the pit of darkness.

We often live as if the great powers of darkness that can bring us to the verge of a nuclear holocaust are completely separated from what we think and feel in our hearts.  That separation is an illusion.  The tiniest inner fascination with death and the most horrendous forms of human destruction are intimately connected.  Jesus knew about this connection and, when his heart was pierced, it was the heart that embraces our most hidden thoughts and our most far-reaching actions.  The death of Jesus overcame all the forces of death and “set free all those who had been held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death,” (Hebrews 2:15).

LENT: Forgiveness, by Evelyn Underhill

From Abba

There is no lesson Christ loves better to drive home, than this disconcerting fact of our common human fragility: which, when we have truly grasped it, kills resentment and puts indulgent pity in its place.  Let the man, the group, the nation that is without sin cast the first stone.  God’s forgiveness means the compassionate recognition of the weakness and instability of a man; how often we cannot help it, how truly there is in us a “root and ground of sin,” an implicit rebellion against the Holy, a tendency away from love and peace.  And this requires of us the constant compassionate recognition of our fellow-creatures’ instability and weakness; of the fact that they too cannot help it.  If the Christian penitent dares to ask that his many departures from the Christian norm, his impatience, gloom, self-occupation, unloving prejudices, reckless tongue, feverish desires, with all the damage they have caused to Christ’s body, are indeed to be set aside, because – in spit of all – he longs for God and eternal life; then he too must set aside and forgive all that impatience, selfishness, bitter and foolish speech, sudden yieldings to base impulse in others have caused him to endure.  Hardness is the one impossible thing.  Harshness to others in those who ask and need the mercy of God sets up a conflict at the very heart of personality and shuts the door upon grace.  And that which is true of the individual soul, is also true of the community; the penitent nation seeking the path of life must also conform to the law of charity.

This principle applied in its fullness makes a demand on our generosity which only a purified and self-oblivious love can hope to meet.  For every soul that appeals for God’s forgiveness is required to move over to His side, and share the compassionate understanding, the unmeasured pity, with which He looks on human frailty and sin.  So difficult is this to the proud and assertive creature, that it comes very near the end of our education in prayer.  Indeed, the Christian doctrine of forgiveness is so drastic and so difficult, where there is a real and deep injury to forgive, that only those living in the Spirit, in union with the cross, can dare to base their claim on it.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Eleven — Jesus is Nailed to the Cross, by Henri Nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

ASudanese man is dying.  He is alone.  He has no name.  He is one of the many dying in a large hospital.  He is number 42.  The intravenous tube is like his last lifeline.  But it won’t save him.  All his strength is gone.  His thin arms and emaciated shoulders reveal how far spent he is.  Everyone around him knows that his last hours have come.  He, too, knows it, but he is not afraid.  Life has not been easy for him.  It has been a life of poverty, many battles, and few victories. He was afraid of sickness and pain.  But he is at peace with the knowledge that it soon will be over.

People are dying every day, every hour, every minute.  They die suddenly or slowly.  They die on the streets of big cities or in comfortable homes.  They die in isolation or surrounded by friends and family.  They die in great pain or as if falling asleep.  They die in anguish or in peace.  But all of them die alone, facing the unknown.  Dying is indeed a reality of daily life.  And yet, the world generally goes about its business disowning this reality.  Dying is often a hidden event, something to ignore or deny.  The Sudanese man, however, expresses the truth of life.  All of life comes to an end.  Dying belongs to living.

Jesus was nailed to the cross, and for three hours he was dying.  He died between two men.  One of them said to the other: “We are paying for what we did.  But this man has done nothing wrong,” (Luke 23:41). Jesus lived his dying completely for others.  The total exhaustion of his body, the abandonment by his friends, and even of his God, all became the gift of self.  And as he hung dying in complete powerlessness, nailed against the wood of a tree, there was no bitterness, no desire for revenge, no resentment.  Nothing to cling to.  All to give.  “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the Earth and dies.  It remains only a single grain, but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest,” (John 12:24).  By being given away for others, his life became fruitful.  Jesus, the completely innocent one, the one without sin, without guilt, without shame, died an excruciatingly painful death in order that death no longer would have to be ignored, but could become a gateway to life and the source of a new communion.

As we look at the dying Jesus, we see the dying world.  Jesus, who on the cross drew all people to himself, died millions of deaths.  He died not only the death of the rejected, the lonely, and the criminal, but also the death of the high and powerful, the famous and the popular.  Most of all, he died the death of all the simple people who lived their ordinary lives and grew old and tired, and trusted that somehow their lives were not in vain.

We all must die.  And we all will die alone.  No one can make that final journey with us.  We have to let go of what is most our own and trust that we did not live in vain.  Somehow, dying is the greatest of all human moments because it is the moment in which we are asked to give everything.  The way we die has not only much to do with the way we have lived, but also with the way that those who come after us will live.  Jesus’s death reveals to us that we do not have to live pretending that death is not something that comes to all of us.  As he hangs stretched out between Heaven and Earth, he asks us to look our mortality straight in the face and trust that death does not have the last word.  We can then look at the dying in our world and give them hope; we can hold their dying bodies in our arms and trust that mightier arms than ours will receive them and give them the peace and joy they always desire.

In dying, all of humanity is one.  And it was into this dying humanity that God entered so as to give us hope.

LENT: Abasement And Adoption, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Golden Sequence

His Spirit comes to us, as Caussade said, in “the sacrament of the present moment.”  Joy and pain, drudgery and delight, humiliation and consolation, tension and peace – each of these contrasting experiences reaches us fully charged with God; and does, or should incite us to an ever more complete self-giving to God.  But each experience, as such, is neutral when seen only in natural regard.  It is then merely part of that endless chain of cause and effect of which our temporal lives are made.  It can only touch our deepest selves, help or hinder the growth of the spirit, in so far as we do or do not direct our wills through it in love and reverence to Him.  There is only one life – the “spiritual” life consists in laying hold on it in a particular way; so that action becomes charged with contemplation, and the Infinite is served in and through all finite things.  The twofold experience of Spirit, as a deeply felt inward presence and as the ocean of reality and life, must be actualized in a twofold response of the soul: a response which is at once “active” and “contemplative,” outgoing and indrawing, an adoring gaze on the splendor over against us, and a humble loving movement towards the surrendered union of will and Will.

Thus total abasement before the transcendent Perfect is one side of the spiritual life.  Adoption into the supernatural series – divine sonship, with its obligation of faithful service within the divine order – is the other side.  The Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision, who veiled their faces before the unmeasured glory, were yet part of the economy through which that glory was poured out on the world: and the experience of reality which begins with the prophet’s awestruck vision and utter abasement before the Holy, ends on the words, “Send me!”

The double action of the soul, standing away from the perfect in contemplation and seeking union with it in love, and this double consciousness of the Holy as both our home and our father, are the characters of a fully developed Christian spirituality.  But these characters are not found in their classic completeness in any one individual.  We only discern their balanced splendor in the corporate life of surrendered spirits; the communion of saints.  Not the individual mystic in his solitude, but the whole of that mystical body, in its ceaseless self-offering to God, is the unit of humanity in which we can find reflected the pattern of the spiritual life.  And as regards to the individual, the very essence of that life is contained in a docile acceptance of his own peculiar limitations and capacities, a loyal response to vocation – a response which, though it may sometimes be passive in appearance, is ever charged with the activity of God.  “I see no difference,” said Bérulle, as he bade farewell to his brethren before setting forth upon an onerous mission, “between those who go and those who stay at home.  In one sense all are sent; for there is a double mission, one interior and the other exterior.  And it is on the interior mission of grace, of mercy, and of charity, that I declare all to be sent.”

LENT: Cross And Church, by Evelyn Underhill

From The School of Charity

In his letter to the Romans, we find Saint Paul asking his converts if they realize what it means to be part of the church.  It means, he says (and we can imagine their surprise when they heard it), being received into the death of Christ – the unconditional sacrifice of the cross – in order to walk in newness of life: transformed through self-loss into a bit of that body which is indwelt and ruled by the Spirit of Divine Charity.  No easy application for membership, then, fulfills the demands of real Christianity.  It is a crisis, a radical choice, a deep and costly change.  When we judge our own lives by this standard we realize that full entrance into the church’s real life must for most of us be a matter of growth.  There are layers of our minds, both personal and corporate, still untransformed; not indwelt by charity, resisting the action of God.  There are many things the Spirit could do through us, for the healing and redeeming of the world, if it were not for our cowardice, slackness, fastidiousness, or self-centered concentration on our own jobs.

“Present yourselves to God as alive from the dead,” says Saint Paul; and your members – all you have, every bit of you – as instruments, tools of righteousness.  That is his standard of churchmanship.  That is the kind of life into which he conceives his converts are baptized; and there is something desperately vigorous and definite about it.  What he seems to envisage in the church is a vast distributing system of the Divine Charity.  As we were slaves of “sin” – that is, held tight in a life which is alien from the real purposes of God, off the track, and uses its great energies for its own ends – so, that taking a new direction which is involved in becoming a Christian, means the turning over of all that energy to God’s purposes; using it for him, cooperating with the Spirit working within life for the redemption and hallowing of the whole world.  That is what the church is for; and the sacraments are there to help those who are prepared to pull their weight.

LENT: Meekness, Temperance, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Fruits of the Spirit

“Though I give my body to be burned,” said Saint Paul, “and have not love, I am nothing.”  I do not as a supernatural being exist.  And now he gives us another and much more surprising test of spiritual vitality.  Though you feel an unconquerable love, joy, and peace, though you are gentle, long-suffering, good in all your personal relationships, though you are utterly faithful in your service of God – in the end the only proof that all this is truly the fruit of the Spirit, Christ in you and not just your own idea, is the presence of the last two berries on the bunch: not showy berries, not prominently placed, but absolutely decisive for the classification of the plant.  Meekness and Temperance says the Authorized Version or, as we may quite properly translate, Humility and Moderation.  That means our possession of the crowning grace of creatureliness: knowing our own size and own place, the self-oblivion and quietness with which we fit into God’s great scheme instead of having a jolly little scheme of our own, and are content to bring forth the fruit of His Spirit, according to our own measure, here and now in space and time.

Humility and Moderation – the grace of the self-forgetful soul – we might almost expect that if we have grasped all that the Incarnation really means – God and His love, manifest not in some peculiar and supernatural spiritual manner, but in ordinary human nature.  Christ, first-born of many brethren, content to be one of us, living the family life and from within His church inviting the souls of men to share His family life.  In the family circle there is room for the childish and the imperfect and the naughty, but the uppish is always out of place.

We have got down to the bottom of the stairs now and are fairly sitting on the mat.  But the proof that it is the right flight and leads up to the Divine Charity, is the radiance that pours down from the upper story: the joy and peace in which the whole is bathed and which floods our whole being here in the lowest place.  How right Saint Paul was to put these two fruits at the end of his list, for as a rule they are the last we acquire.  At first we simply do not see the point.  But the saints have always seen it.  When Angela of Foligno was dying, her disciples asked for a last message and she, who had been called a Mistress in Theology and whose visions of the being of God are among the greatest the medieval mystics have left us, had only one thing to say to them as her farewell: “Make yourselves small!  Make yourselves very small!”

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Ten — Jesus is Stripped, by Henri Nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

The woman in a hospital ward in Kathmandu has nothing but a blanket to cover her aging body.  Her long life of work in the fields and caring for her husband and children has come down to a naked, anonymous existence.  Her life, once filled with joyful sounds and colorful movements, now has fallen silent.  Where is the husband who honored her, and the children who gave her joy and pleasure?  Where are the neighbors who came for her advice?  Where the rivers with their sonorous rapids and the hills bedecked with greens and flowers in the spring?  Everyone and everything has been stripped away from her.  One day some strangers came to her village and brought her to the city hospital and locked the door of the psychiatric ward behind her.  They called her mad.  There was no one to defend her, no one to speak in her name, no one to protect her dignity.  Her mind has become confused.  Sometimes memories of long ago emerge, names from years past cross her lips, scenes of youth and adulthood appear, and no one responds.  Here is the true nakedness.  All human dignity is gone, and she, who once was so lovely to see, now hides her nakedness under a blanket.  Countless are the old men and women who live their stripped-down existences hidden away from the fast-moving world of our century.  Their growing old has left them with nothing but their naked existence, completely dependent on the randomly bestowed favors or rejections of their milieu.

Jesus was stripped.  The soldiers threw dice to decide which of them would have his garment, (see John 19:24).  Nothing was left to him.  He, the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, in whom all things were created in Heaven and on Earth, everything visible and everything invisible, thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers – he it was, being stripped of all power and dignity and exposed to the world in total vulnerability.  Here the greatest mystery of all time was revealed to us: God chose to reveal the divine glory to us in humiliation.  Where all beauty is gone, all eloquence silenced, all splendor taken away, and all admiration withdrawn, there it is that God has chosen to manifest unconditional love to us.  “Many people were aghast at him – he was so brutally disfigured that he no longer looked like a man – so will many nations be astonished and kings will stay tight-lipped before him. . . .  He had no charm to attract us, no beauty to win our hearts, he was despised, the lowest of men, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering one from whom, as it were, we averted our gaze, a despised man for whom we had no regard,” (Isaiah 52:14-15, 53:2-3).

Jesus bore our suffering.  The stripped body of Jesus reveals to us the immense degradation that human beings suffer all through the world, at all places and in all times.  Often I think of life as a journey to the mountaintop where I will see at last the full beauty of my surroundings and where I will experience myself in full possession of all my senses.  But Jesus points in the other direction.  Life is an increasing call to let go of desires, of success and accomplishment, to give up the need to be in control, to die to the illusion of greatness.  The joy and peace that Jesus offers is hidden in the descending way of the cross.  There lie hope, victory, and new life, but they are given to us where we are losing all.  “Those who lose their life will gain it,” (Luke 9:24).

I should not be afraid to lose, nor afraid for those who have lost much, if not all.  Jesus was stripped so that we would dare to embrace our own poverty and the poverty of our humanity.  In looking at our impoverished selves and the poverty of our fellow human beings, we come to discover the immense compassion that God shows to us.  And there we will know how to give and forgive, how to care and to heal, how to offer help and create a community of love.  In the solidarity of poverty, we find the way to grow closer to each other and joyfully to claim our common humanity.

LENT: Goodness, Faithfulness, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Fruits of the Spirit

This time we have two quite positive qualities.  If on one hand the Spirit brings forth a quiet and patient acquiescence in God’s purpose, on the other hand it brings forth a quality of personal fitness of His service.  Goodness, of course, does not merely bear our cheap modern meanings of either goodness or pleasantness; the “good woman” or the “good fellow.”  It has no special reference to correct moral behavior.  It is a word that denotes perfection of quality: a good run, good cheese, good vintage, good stuff, good garden soil – the opposite number to every kind of imperfection, shoddiness, and cheapness.  The fruit of God’s presence and action in the soul is an enhancement of our quality.  It is better stuff right through than it was before.  The Greek word carries with it a certain character of perfection, nobility, rightness, even beauty.  The Good Shepherd is not just the very kind, devoted, attentive, conscientious shepherd: He is the classic pattern of all shepherds, had a total quality of beauty and completeness.

Faithfulness is consecration in overalls.  It is the steady acceptance and performance of the common duty and immediate task without any reference to personal preferences – because it is there to be done and so is a manifestation of the will of God.  It is Elizabeth Leseur settling down each day to do the household accounts quite perfectly (when she would much rather have been in church) and saying, “the duties of my station come before everything else.”  It is Brother Lawrence taking his turn in the kitchen, and Saint Francis de Sales taking the burden of a difficult diocese and saying, “I have now little time for prayer – but I do what is the same.”

The fruits of the Spirit get less and less showy as we go on.  Faithfulness means continuing quietly with the job we have been given, in the situation where we have been placed; not yielding to the restless desire for change.  It means tending the lamp quietly for God without wondering how much longer it has got to go on.  Steady, unsensational driving, taking good care of the car.  A lot of the road to Heaven has to be taken at thirty miles per hour.

The first step taken towards Calvary was the worst: but in the first step all was achieved.  Be thou faithful unto death – and I will give thee the Crown of Life.  Faithfulness is one of the sturdy qualities most dear to the heart of God.  Peter was offered just the same chance of the same royal virtue.  Jesus was victorious on the cross.  Peter was defeated, warming himself by the fire, for the night was cold.  I wonder how we should act if the same sort of crisis, charged with fear and quite devoid of consolation, came our way?  It is a crisis which in some form all the saints have had to face.

You remember the noble figure of Faithful in the Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian’s best friend.  How he started from the City of Destruction some time after Christian, but soon passed him on the road because he never thought it necessary to linger, to ask for help or explanations in the House of the Interpreter, or worry about dangers in the way.  He just plodded steadily on.  Christian, who is the sort of excellent man who gets full value out of all obstacles, worries constantly and leaves nothing to chance; he is surprised to find how well Faithful has got on and says, “But what about the lions in the path?”  Faithful said he had never noticed any lions, he thought they must have been having their after-dinner snooze.  And when he got to the Valley of Humiliation, he was attacked by two temptations, one to shame and one to discontent, but made short work of both.  After that he went all the way in sunshine through the Valley of Humiliation and the terrible Valley of the Shadow of Death.

That, I think, is one of Bunyan’s loveliest bits.  Faithful is the least self-occupied of all the pilgrims.  We hear nothing about his burden or fatigue or difficulty or the poor state of the road.  Christian makes a good deal of the Valley of Humiliation, tells us about how horrible it was and feels it very remarkable that he ever got through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  There is none of that in Faithful.  He is not thinking about saving his soul.  He is thinking about God.  And so he goes in sunshine all the way.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Nine — Jesus Falls For the Third Time, by Henri Nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

A man stumbles and falls to the ground.  He is so weak and filled with pain that he cannot get back on his feet without help.  As he lies there powerless, he reaches out and opens his hands, hoping that another hand will grasp his and help him to stand again.  A hand waits for the touch of another hand.  The human hand is so mysterious.  It can create and destroy, caress and strike, make welcoming gestures and condemning signs; it can bless and curse, heal and wound, beg and give.  A hand can become a threatening fist as well as a symbol of safety and protection.  It can be most feared and most longed for.

One of the most life-giving images is that of human hands reaching out to each other, touching each other, interconnecting and merging into a sign of peace and reconciliation.  In contrast, one of the most despairing images is that of a hand stretched open, waiting to be touched with care, while people walk heedlessly by.  This is not only an image of the loneliness of the individual person, but of the loneliness of a divided humanity.  The hand of the poor world reaches out to be touched by the hand of the rich world, but the preoccupations of the rich prevent them from seeing the poor, and humanity remains broken and fragmented.

When Jesus fell for the third time, he lived in his body all the loneliness of a despairing humanity.  He could not get up again without help.  But there was no one reaching out to him and offering him the support to stand again.  Instead, his open hands were struck with a lash, and cruel hands pulled him back to a standing position.  Jesus, God-made-human, falls so that we can bend over to him and show him our love and compassion, but we are too busy with other things even to notice.  God, whose hands molded the universe, gave shape to Adam and Eve, touched every suffering person with tenderness, and who holds all things in love, became a human person with human hands asking for human hands.  But those very hands were left open and pierced with nails.

Ever since I came to know God’s hand – not as the powerful hand controlling the course of history, but as the powerless hand asking to be grasped by a caring human hand – I have been looking differently at my own hands.  Gradually, I have come to see God’s powerless hand reaching out to me from everywhere in the world, and, the clearer I see it, the closer these outstretched hands seem to be.  The hands of the poor begging for food, the hands of the lonely calling for simple presence, the hands of the children asking to be lifted up and held, the hands of the sick hoping to be touched, the hands of the unskilled wanting to be trained – all these hands are the hands of the fallen Jesus waiting for others to come and give him their hand.

There is always in me the temptation to think about the begging hands of the people in Calcutta, Cairo, or New York, far, far away, and not to see the open hands reaching out right into my own living space.  Every night I go to rest and look at my hands.  And I have to ask them: “Did you reach out to one of the open hands around you and bring a little bit of peace, hope, courage, and confidence?”  Somehow I sense that all human hands asking for help belong to the hands of our fallen humanity and that wherever we reach out and touch, we participate in the healing of the whole human race.

Jesus falling and seeking help to get up again to fulfill his mission, opens up for us the possibility of touching God and all of humanity in every human hand and experiencing there the true grace of God’s saving presence in our midst.

LENT: Long-Suffering, Gentleness, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Fruits of the Spirit

The next fruit of the Spirit, says Saint Paul, is long-suffering gentleness – much patient endurance as regards what life does to us, much loving-kindness, care, consideration in all contacts with other lives.  Here another region is submitted to God’s influence and in consequence another source of strain taken away.  If the first three fruits form a little group growing up at the soul’s very center, gentleness and long-suffering are borne on the branches that stretch out towards the world.  They are the earnest of what Ruysbroeck calls the wide-spreading nature of love, giving itself to all in common, kind to the unjust as well as the just.

Consider first the long-suffering of God, the long-suffering and gentleness of Absolute Perfection and Absolute Power, and how the further we press into the deeps of spiritual experience, the more those qualities are seen.  How God looks past the imperfections of men (as we look past those of children), with what unexacting love He accepts and uses the faulty.  See how Christ deliberately chooses Peter; while completely realizing Peter, his unreliable qualities, his boasting and cocksureness, his prompt capitulation to fear.  Peter’s family must have thought, “Thank Heaven! a chance for the tiresome creature now,” when he joined the apostolic band.  But Christ did not just put up with him.  He offered him a continual and special friendship, knowing what was in the man.  He took Peter into the inner fastness of Gethsemane and asked for his prayer and did not get it.  (Is that the way we handle our tiresome and unreliable friends?  Because it is with personal contacts we have always got to begin.)  It was to Peter Christ addressed His rare reproach, “What!  Could you not watch one hour?” and it was from this that Peter went to the denial.  Yet in spite of all, the long-suffering love and trust of Christ won in the end and made Peter the chief of the Apostles – the Rock – what irony! – on which He built the church.  He was right, for here the church is now.  In Peter’s care and to Peter’s love Christ left the feeding of the sheep: a remarkable sequel.  Who shines in that series of events?  Christ or Peter?  Christ shines – but Peter is transformed.  Christ’s attitude and action are only possible to holiness and they are justified by results.  Here is a standard set for us in our dealings with the faulty.  The fruit of the Spirit is never rigorism but always long-suffering.  No startling high standard.  No all or nothing demands.  But gentleness and tolerance in spiritual, moral, emotional, intellectual judgments and claims.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Eight — Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem, by Henri Nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

The Nicaraguan women weep over the destruction of their people, their land, and their homes.  Their children, whom they nursed and brought up with tenderness and affection, suddenly lie dead before them.  Their husbands, with whom they shared life’s hardness and beauty, are suddenly taken away to unknown destinations.  Their land is ruined, their crops burned, their houses bombed.  And so they weep.  Their tears are tears that well up from their innermost being.  There are no words, no explanations, no arguments, no meaningful reflections.  War, violence, murder, and destruction need tears, many tears.  The questions, “Why?  By Whom?  For what purpose?” have no answers.

The world would be better with more such tears and fewer answers.  They well up from a place beyond bitterness, resentment, and vengefulness.  They are shed as an offering of “useless” love, as an expression of solidarity, as a true act of nonviolence.

Our world does not mourn much, even when there are so many reasons to mourn.  As wars explode; as people die from violence and starvation, natural disasters, and technical failures; as works made by human hands with great skill and devotion are stolen, damaged, or destroyed; and as our planet becomes an increasingly threatened place in the universe, we begin to worry about solutions, but we seldom stop to mourn the loss of what was dear to us.  But, if we have not first mourned our loss, can any solution we arrive at be a real gain?

As Jesus was led to his execution, women mourned and lamented for him.  These women were accustomed to cry for condemned criminals and offer them sedative drinks.  They were official mourners, and their mourning was considered a work of mercy.  But Jesus says to them: “Do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children,” (Luke 23:28).  Jesus points to the destruction of Jerusalem and to all the war and violence that will come upon humanity: “The days are surely coming, when people will say: ‘Blessed are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne children, the breasts that have never suckled'; then they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us'; to the hills, ‘Cover us.’  For if this is what is done to the green wood, what will be done when the wood is dry?” (Luke 23:29-31)

If we want to mourn for Jesus, we have to mourn for the suffering humanity that Jesus came to heal.  If we are truly sad because of the suffering and pain which he suffered, we will include in our sadness all of the men, women, and children who suffer in our present world.  If we cry over the death of the innocent Holy One of Nazareth, our tears must be able to reach the millions of innocents who have suffered over the long history of the human race.

Weeping and mourning are considered by many people as signs of weakness.  They say that crying will not help anybody.  Only action is needed.  And still, Jesus wept over Jerusalem; he wept also when he heard that his friend Lazarus had died.  Our tears reveal to us the painful human condition of brokenness; they connect us deeply with the inevitability of human suffering; they offer the gentle context for compassionate action.  If we cannot confess our own limitations, sin, and mortality, then our well-intended actions for the making of a better world easily backfire on us and become expressions of an undirected anger and frustration.  Our tears can lead us to the heart of Jesus who wept for our world.  As we weep with him, we are led to his heart and discover there the most authentic response to our losses.  The tears shed by the women of Nicaragua and the millions who mourn their dead throughout the world, can make our soil rich with the fruits of compassion, forgiveness, gentleness, and healing action.  We, too, must weep and so become more and more humble people.

LENT: Love, Joy, Peace, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Fruits of the Spirit

“The fruit of the Spirit,” says Saint Paul, “is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance” – all the things the world most needs.  A clear issue, is it not?  To discover the health and reality of our life of prayer, we need not analyze it or fuss about it.  But we must consider whether it tends, or does not tend, to produce just these fruits, because they are the necessary results of the action of God in the soul.  These are the fruits of human nature when it has opened itself to the action of the eternal love: what the “new creature in Christ” (which if we are really Christians, we are all in process of becoming) is to be like.  So they are very good subjects for meditation.  A good gardener always has an idea of what he is trying to grow; without vision even a cabbage patch will perish.

I do not think that Saint Paul arranged his list of the fruits of the Spirit in a casual order.  They represent a progressive series from one point and that one point is love, the living, eternal seed from which all grow.  We all know that Christians are baptized “into a life summed up in love,” even though we have to spend the rest of our own lives learning how to do it.  Love therefore is the budding point from which all the rest come: that tender, cherishing attitude; that unlimited self-forgetfulness, generosity, and kindness which is the attitude of God to all his creatures and so must be the attitude towards them which his Spirit brings forth in us.  If that is frost-bitten we need not hope for any of the rest.  “Whoso dwelleth in charity dwelleth in God and God in him.”  To be unloving is to be out of touch with God.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace – that threefold formula of blessedness.

First comes love, charity; pure, undemanding, generous love of God in himself and of his creatures, good and bad, congenial and uncongenial, for his sake; a certain share in his generous, loving action, the way he cares for all life.  Each Christian soul who learns that in prayer and teaches it in everyday life, has made a contribution to the peace of the world.  He who loveth not knoweth not God.  In hard, ungenerous hearts, the Spirit cannot grow and increase.  We can understand that bit even though we cannot always practice it.  But then Saint Paul suddenly ascends to the very summit of the Spirit and says, not that the Spirit of Love shall bring forth such suitable qualities as penitence, diligence, helpfulness, unworldliness, good social and religious habits, but that the real sign that God the Giver of Life,has been received into our souls will be joy and peace: joy, the Spirit of selfless delight; peace, the Spirit of tranquil acceptance; the very character of the beatitude of Heaven, given here and now in our grubby little souls, provided only that they are loving little souls.  If, in spite of all conflicts, weakness, sufferings, sins, we open our door, the Spirit is poured out within us and the first mark of its presence is not an increase of energy but joy and peace.

We should not have guessed that.  Yet real love always heals fear and neutralizes egotism, and so, as love grows up in us, we shall worry about ourselves less and less, and admire and delight in God and his other children more and more, and this is the secret of joy.  We shall no longer strive for our own way, but commit ourselves, easily and simply, to God’s way, acquiesce in his will and in so doing find our peace.  And bit-by-bit there grows up in us a quiet but ardent spiritual life, tending to God, adoring God, resting in God.  Peace and joy are necessarily permanent characteristics of true spiritual life, the signs of God’s abiding presence in the soul.  They are not something we achieve in the end, but are there at the very beginning, in our soul’s deeps, long indeed before our restless surface-minds are ready to perceive them.  “He shall have peace whose mind is stayed on thee.”

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Seven — Jesus Falls For the Second Time, by Henri Nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

The poor farmer in Brazil is completely exhausted.  He has worked on the land for hours, days, weeks, and months to earn enough for himself and his family to have a decent meal.  But after many years of hard labor nothing has improved.  The crops are poor because of the exhausted soil he has to work.  He cannot compete with those who can afford modern agricultural techniques to improve the land.  The money he receives for his produce is so little that he cannot even pay off the debt he has incurred to keep his wife and children alive.  And every year the situation gets worse.  He faces the possibility of having to leave his little farm and join the millions of poor in the slums around the large cities.  There was a time when he dreamed of having paid off his debts and being able to give his children an education, and maybe even to earn enough money to buy a piece of more productive land.  But all these dreams are scattered now.  He and his horse have become old and very tired.  In every part of his body he feels the pain of hard labor, and, as he closes his eyes and holds his hand before his face, he sees nothing but an empty future.  His heart becomes very dark.  He wonders why he goes on living when all his efforts come to nothing.  He sees himself as a failure, and he blames himself for not being the husband, the father, and the friend he had hoped to be.

This desperate farmer is only one out of the millions of people who have become victims of great economic forces over which they have no control.  They find themselves unable to continue the work of their parents and grandparents, and they have little or no understanding of the national and international movements that have taken them from a life of simple farming to a life of poverty and fear and from a life in poverty and fear to a life of misery and destitution.

When Jesus falls for the second time, it is not now because the cross he carries is too heavy, but because in his whole body he experiences complete exhaustion.  He is totally spent.  The years of work in his home town, the time of preaching, of going from town to town with his disciples followed by large crowds, have all taken a heavy physical toll.  And more recently, he has had to bear the increasing resistance to his call to conversion: personal threats on his life, the defection of many followers, the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter, the scourging, the ridicule, the complete lack of understanding on the part of Herod and Pilate, and the screaming of hostile crowds.  It is too much for any one person to carry.  And so, he stumbles and falls.  Where are his dreams of starting a new age of love and forgiveness?  At first it seemed that many shared his vision.  Now he is completely alone, wondering why he no longer hears that voice that spoke to him at the Jordan River and on Mount Tabor.  Did he make a mistake, or was he the victim of powers he could not control?

Jesus knows so well that moment in which we no longer want to go on, in which we want to give up and let despair take its destructive course.  It is not only in the poverty-stricken parts of Brazil and other developing countries that people suffer under these emotions.  The rich and prosperous are as much tempted to despair as are the poor and destitute.  From my own struggles I know what the Brazilian farmer feels in his inner soul.  I, too, even when my economic future seems secure, can suddenly become subject to very disturbing feelings of guilt and shame, fear and despair.  And as I look around me into the eyes of the people who have lived a long life and worked hard, I often see that same question: “Is my life worth anything?”  There can arise in our hearts a deep fatigue that makes it seem impossible to go on.  Everything looks like one big failure.  All our efforts seem to have come to nothing.  Dreams are scattered, hopes are dashed, aspirations are ripped away.  Depression takes over, and nothing seems to matter any more.

Jesus suffered this with us as he fell.  He calls us now to trust that both his and our falling are a true part of the way of the cross.  Maybe all that we can do when we fall is to remember that Jesus fell and is falling now with us.  That remembrance may become the first inkling that there is hope.  And that hope may bind together in a new way the world of the Brazilian farmer and our world, and show us the direction to a more just and loving society.

LENT: Food, by Evelyn Underhill

From Abba

The symbolism of food plays a large part in all religions, and especially in Christianity.  As within the mysteries of the created order we must all take food and give food – more, must take life and give life – we are already in touch with the “life-giving and terrible mysteries of Christ,” who indwells that order; for all is the sacramental expression of his all-demanding and all-giving life.  We accept our constant dependence on physical food as a natural and inevitable thing.  Yet it is not necessarily so: there are creatures which are free from it for very long periods of time.  But perhaps because of his border-line status, his embryonic capacity of God, man is kept in constant memory of his own fragility, unable to maintain his existence for long without food from beyond himself; his bodily life dependent on the humble plants and animals that surround him, his soul’s life on the unfailing nourishment of the life of God.  “I am the Bread of Life that came down from Heaven.  He that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”  Eternal life is the gift, the self-imparting of the Eternal God.  We cannot claim it in our own right.

The Biblical writers make plain to us how easily and inevitably men have given spiritual rank to this primitive truth of life’s dependence on food, and seen in it the image of a deeper truth which concerns the very ground of our being.

Throughout his ministry, our Lord emphasized the idea of feeding as something intimately connected with his love and care for souls.  The mystery of the Eucharist does not stand alone.  It is the crest of a great wave; a total sacramental disclosure of the dealings of the transcendent God with men.  The hunger of the four thousand and five thousand are more than miracles of man is the matter of Christ’s first temptation.  The feedings of practical compassion; we feel that in them something of deep significance is done, one of the mysteries of eternal life a little bit unveiled.  So too in the supper at Emmaus, when the bread is broken the Holy One is known.  It is peculiar to Christianity, indeed part of the mystery of the Incarnation, that it constantly shows us this coming of God through and in homely and fugitive things and events; and puts the need and dependence of the creature at the very heart of prayer.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Six — Jesus Meets Veronica, by Henri Nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

Bring him home!”  That is the cry of the Filipino woman who holds in her hands a photograph of her “disappeared” husband.  Her eyes plead for compassion.  Her lips express deep grief.  Her face is full of expectation.  She says, “Do you see my pain, my anguish?. . .  The one I most love has disappeared.  There is no second of my days or nights that is not filled with the anguish created by his sudden going.  Where is he?  In prison?  Being tortured?  Dead or alive?  Please answer me!  If he is dead, tell me where his grave is so that I can go and weep there.  You people of world!  Listen to me!  Look at me!  Please answer!”

This Filipino woman represents thousands of anguished women whose husbands or sons suddenly disappeared and were never seen again.  They live in Argentina and Guatemala, but also in the United States and Canada.  They reveal to us the deepest wounds of humanity, the cruelly sundered bonds between humans, parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters.  The catastrophic displacement of large groups of people, the overcrowded refugee camps, the wars raging between nations and parts of nations have dislocated more people than ever before in human history.  We can indeed speak of a dislocated humanity.

Veronica had been with Jesus as he taught, cured the sick, and announced the kingdom.  Jesus had become the center of her life.  Now she saw him cruelly pulled away from her.  She was overwhelmed with grief and agony and wanted to do something.  When she saw him coming close, she broke through the crowds and covered his sweat- and blood-stained face with her veil.  Jesus responded to this act of love and mourning by leaving there the image of his face – the face of a dislocated humanity.  Jesus’s face is the face of every man and woman who suffers separation, segregation, and displacement.  Veronica is the woman of sorrow; a sorrow that pierces the heart with immense pain; a sorrow that is being suffered all over the world by women of countless nationalities, races, and social conditions.  The agonizing question: “Why have they taken my child, my husband, my friend away?” can be heard as a scream resounding in all the corners of our world.

Can I hear that cry also in my own innermost self?  The walls of my room are covered with photographs of friends and family and with icons of Jesus, Mary, and the saints, but deep in my heart there is unspeakable pain – the pain caused by absence.  The one I most want to be with is not with me, and, even if we could be together, we would not be able to reach each other’s deepest need.  Veronica’s pain is my pain too.  I so crave for communion, for a deep sense of belonging, for intimacy, but wherever I go, whomever I meet, there is ever and again that experience of absence, disconnectedness, and isolation.  It seems as if a sword is piercing all communion and adding pain to every intimacy.  The pictures on my wall reveal my thirst for communion, but as I gaze at them with great love, I feel an immense pain rising up in me: “Why can’t I speak with him?  Why will she never write?  Why did they die before we were ever reconciled?  Why can’t we feel safe with each other?”  And as I light a candle in front of my icon of Jesus and look into the eternity of his eyes, I say, “When, when, Lord, will you come and fulfill the deepest longing of my heart?”  The thirst for communion is evoked every time I look at Veronica’s veil with the face of Christ on it and the faces of all whom I love. . . and the pain deepens as I grow older.

I know that I have to lose my life to find it – to let go of my pictures and to meet the real person – to die to my sentimental memories and trust that a new communion will emerge which is beyond all my imagining.  But how can I trust in a new life when I see the blood- and sweat-stained life of Jesus and of all those who suffer in prisons, refugee camps, and torture chambers?  Jesus looks at me and seals my heart with the imprint of his face.  I will always keep searching, always waiting, always hoping.  His suffering face does not allow me to despair.  My sorrow is a hunger, my loneliness a thirst.  As we meet, we know that the love that causes us pain is the seed of a life where pain cannot abide.

LENT: The Kingdom, by Evelyn Underhill

From Light of Christ

It is a great thing for any soul to say without reserve in respect of its own life, “Thy kingdom come!” for this means not only the acknowledgement of our present alienation, our fundamental egoism and impurity, but the casting down of the will, the destruction of our small natural sovereignty; the risk and adventure which accompany an unconditional submission to God, a total acceptance of the rule of love.  None can guess beforehand with what anguish, what tearing of old hard tissues and habits, the kingdom will force a path into the soul, and confront self-love in its last fortress with the penetrating demand of God.  Yet we cannot use the words unless we are prepared to pay this price: nor is the prayer of adoration real, unless it leads on to this.  When we said, “Hallowed be thy name!” we acknowledged the priority of holiness.  Now we offer ourselves for the purposes of holiness: handing ourselves over to God that his purposes, great or small, declared or secret, natural or spiritual, may be fulfilled through us and in us, and all that is hostile to his kingdom done away.

There will be two sides to this: passive and active.  The passive side means enduring, indeed welcoming, the inexorable pressure of God’s transforming power in our own lives; for the kingdom comes upon Earth bit by bit, as first one soul and then another is subjugated by love and so redeemed.  It means enduring the burning glance of the holy, where that glance falls on imperfection, hardness, sin.  The active side means a self-offering for the purposes of the kingdom, here and now in this visible world of space and time; the whole drive of our life, all our natural endowments, set towards a furtherance of the purposes of God.  Those purposes will not be fulfilled till the twist has been taken out of experience, and everything on Earth conforms to the pattern in Heaven – that is to say, in the mind of God: wide-spreading love transfiguring the whole texture of life.  Here we have a direct responsibility as regards our whole use of created things: money, time, position, the politics we support, the papers we read.  It is true that the most drastic social reform, the most complete dethronement of privilege, cannot of themselves bring the kingdom in; for peace and joy in the Holy Spirit can only come to us by the free gift of the transcendent.  But at least these can clear ground, prepare the highway of God; and here each act of love, each sacrifice, each conquest of prejudice, each generous impulse carried through into action counts: and each unloving gesture, hard judgment, pessimistic thought or utterance opposes the coming of the kingdom and falsifies the life of prayer.

LENT: Cross And Sacrament, by Evelyn Underhill

From Light of Christ

To look at the Crucifix – “the supreme symbol of our august religion” – if we do that honestly and unflinchingly we don’t need any other self-examination than that, any other judgment or purgation.  The lash, the crown of thorns, the mockery, the stripping, the nails – life has equivalents of all these for us and God asks a love for himself and his children which can accept and survive all that in the particular way in which it is offered to us.  It is no use to talk in a large vague way about the love of God; here is its point of insertion in the world of men.

What about the dreadful moment when a great test of courage, great suffering, a great bereavement faced us and we knew we were for it and found the agony was more than we could face?  The revelation that someone we trusted could not be trusted any more, that someone loved profit better than they loved us?  How do we feel when we have to suffer for someone else’s wrongdoing?  How do we bear mockery and contempt, especially if it is directed at our religious life or at the unfortunate discrepancy between our religious life and our character?  What about the sting, the lash, or humiliation or disappointment, the unfortunate events that stripped us of the seamless drapery of self-respect and convention and left us naked to the world; the wounds given by those we loved best; the loneliness inseparable from some phase of the spiritual life?  All this happens over and over again.  Can we weave it all into the sacrifice of love?

There is a type of ancient picture which shows all the sacraments centered in and dependent from the cross: the love self-given there giving itself forever to men, the undying source of grace and purification and truth.  It is a wonderful image of what the Christian church and Christian life really are, a continuation of the incarnation.  It reminds us that the Spirit of Christ is now living and truly present with and in his church, his family, his mystic body, and, because of his one eternal sacrifice ever giving us his life, and that we are utterly and entirely dependent on that life as branches on the vine, his touch still cleansing us, his hand still feeding us.  Either secretly or sacramentally all living Christians are perpetual penitents and perpetual communicants, there is no other way of carrying on.  The Eucharist represents a perpetual pouring out of his very life to feed and enhance our small and feeble lives.  Think only of that as we kneel before the window of his passion and a wonderful joy and gratitude tempers our shame.

POETRY: Gethsemane, by Mary Oliver

The grass never sleeps.

Or the rose.

Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.

Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.

The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,

and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,

and heaven knows if it even sleeps.

Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe

the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,


the lake far away, where once he walked as on a

blue pavement,

lay still and waited, wild awake.

Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not

keep that vigil, how they must have wept,

so utterly human, knowing this too

must be a part of the story.


LENT: A Fish In The Sea, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Golden Sequence

Mystics, trying to tell us of their condition, often say that they feel “sunk in God like a fish in the sea.”  We pass over these phrases very easily, and forget that they are the final result of a long struggle to find the best image for an admittedly imageless truth.  Yet prayer is above all the act in which we give ourselves to our soul’s true Patria; enter again that ocean of God which is at once our origin and our inheritance, and there find ourselves mysteriously at home.  And this strange, home-like feeling kills the dread which might overcome us, if we thought of the unmeasured depth beneath us, and the infinite extent and utter mystery of that ocean into which we have plunged.  As it is, a curious blend of confidence and entire abandonment keep us, because of our very littleness, in peace and joy: content with our limited powers and the limitless love in which we are held.  Nothing in all nature is so lovely and so vigorous, so perfectly at home in its environment, as a fish in the sea.  Its surroundings give to it a beauty, quality, and power which is not its own.  We take it out, and at once a poor, limp dull thing, fit for nothing, is gasping away its life.  So the soul sunk in God, living the life of prayer, is supported, filled, transformed in beauty, by a vitality and a power which are not its own.  The souls of the saints are so powerful because they are thus utterly immersed in the Spirit: their whole life is a prayer.  The life in which they live and move and have their being gives them something of its own quality.  So long as they maintain themselves within it, they are adequate to its demands, because fed by its gifts.  This re-entrance into our origin and acceptance of our true inheritance is the spiritual life of prayer, as it may be experienced by the human soul.  Far better to be a shrimp within that ocean, than a full-sized theological whale cast upon the shore.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Five — Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross, by Henri Nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

Two men are working together in Bangladesh to build their small huts.  These huts are very simple, made of mud, bamboo, rocks, and jute sticks, but they are places where poeple can have a sense of home and live together under a protective roof.  As I look at these two men carrying together their heavy load of rocks, I am struck by the harmony of their bodies.  It seems almost as if they are dancing.  Their heavy load seems to become a light burden, a basket of fruit.

As I think of the highly competitive society in which I live, in which land gets more expensive day by day and in which developers build rows of houses to be sold for half a million dollars each, I feel a certain envy toward these “dancers.”  Their houses will be simple.  There may not be a cement or wooden floor; there may not be any tables, chairs, or dressers.  But there will be a safe place for family and friends, and there will be a deep sense of having made something together that is precious and sacred.

Rich people have money.  Poor people have time.  We are always busy running from one place to the other, doing one thing after the other, keeping track of all the things that money can buy.  But seldom do we feel that we are truly together.  Among many poor people, however, I have seen the art of working, eating, playing, and praying together.  I have seen broad smiles, and I have heard wild laughter and many words of thanks.  There always seemed to be plenty of time and a deep trust that even when there are few things to hold onto there are always many people to love.

When Jesus was carrying his cross to Golgotha, the soldiers came across a man from Cyrene, called Simon, and they enlisted him to carry the cross because it had become too heavy for Jesus alone.  He was unable to carry it to the place of his execution and needed the help of a stranger to fulfill his mission.  So much weakness, so much vulnerability.  Jesus needs us to fulfill his mission.  He needs people to carry the cross with him and for him.  He came to us to show us the way to his Father’s home.  He came to offer us a new dwelling place, to give us a new sense of belonging, to point us to the true safety.  But he cannot do it alone.  The hard, painful work of salvation is a work in which God becomes dependent on human beings.  Yes, God is full of power, glory, and majesty.  But God chose to be among us as one of us – as a dependent human being.  To his followers who wanted to defend him with their swords Jesus said: “Put your sword back. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to my defense?  But then, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this is the way it must be?” (Matthew 26:52-54)  Jesus’s way is the way of powerlessness, of dependence, of passion.  He who became a child, dependent on the love and care of Mary and Joseph and so many others, completes his Earthly journey in total dependency.  He becomes a waiting God.  He waits, wondering what others will do with him.  Will he be betrayed or proclaimed?  Executed in abandonment or followed?  Will he be nailed to the cross with no followers near him or will someone help him to carry the cross?  For Jesus to become the savior of the world, he needs people willing to carry the cross with him.  Some do it voluntarily; some have to be “enlisted”; but once they feel the weight of the wood, they discover that it is a light burden, an easy yoke that leads to the Father’s home.

I feel within me a strong desire to live my life on my own.  In fact, my society praises the self-made people who are in control of their destinies, set their own goals, fulfill their own aspirations, and build their own kingdoms.  It is very hard for me to truly believe that spiritual maturity is a willingness to let others guide me and “lead me even where I would rather not go,” (John 21:18).  And still, every time I am willing to break out of my false need for self-sufficiency and dare to ask for help, a new community emerges – a fellowship of the weak – strong in the trust that together we can be a people of hope for a broken world.  Simon of Cyrene discovered a new communion.  Everyone whom I allow to touch me in my weakness and help me to be faithful to my journey to God’s home will come to realize that he or she has a gift to offer that may have remained hidden for a very long time.  To receive help, support, guidance, affection, and care may well be a greater call than that of giving all these things because in receiving I reveal the gift to the givers and a new life together can begin.  These two men of Bangladesh are not just working together.  They are celebrating their shared humanity and so preparing a new home.  That is Jesus’s call to all people, a call that often comes to us through the poor.

LENT: God, Acknowledged Or Not, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Inside of Life

Six hundred years ago Saint Francis, praying alone when he thought himself unobserved, found nothing to say but this: “My God and All!  What art Thou?  And what am I?”  And in spite of the modern knowledge we are so proud of, the human soul is saying that still.

As a matter of fact, those remarkable changes that strike us so much when we observe the modern scene are mostly on life’s surface.  There are very few changes at life’s heart.  That is why great literature, however ancient, always moves us and is always understood.  It has to do with the unchanging heart of life.  And it is in the heart, not on the surface, that the world of religion makes itself known.  “With Thee is the well of life, and in Thy light we see light.”  Does the theory of relativity really make any difference to that?  I do not think so.  We do not, after all, reconstruct our married life every time we move into a new and larger flat.  The old, sacred intimacies remain.  So too, the move-out of the human mind into a new and larger physical world, which is, I suppose, the great fact of our time, does not make any real difference to the soul’s relation to God; even though it may make some difference to the language in which we describe Him.  And the reason in both cases is surely the same.

The reason is that the deepest and most sacred relationships between human creatures – man and wife, parent and child, teacher and disciple, friend and friend – and the yet deeper relationship between the human creature and its keeper and creator, God: these are real facts, which go on, and will go on, quite independently of what we think of them, or the degree in which we understand or feel them.  If we treat these deep things with contempt, we merely cheapen our own lives.  We do not make any difference to truth.  If we leave them out, then we get a very incomplete picture of reality; the picture of a world which has an outside but no inside.  But we do not alter reality.  Clever as we are, we cannot manage that.  Just as, if we choose to shut all our windows, the room certainly gets stuffy; but we do not alter the quality of the fresh air outside.  So the reality of God, the living atmosphere of Spirit, maintains its unalterable pressure; whether we acknowledge it or not.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Four — Jesus Meets Mary, by Henri Nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

ANicaraguan woman who lost her son in the war is filled with deep sorrow, but she does not faint.  She looks me straight in the eyes with an immense confidence that there is victory beyond death.

I vividly remember meeting the mothers of slain Nicaraguan farmers in Jalapa, a small town close to the Honduran border.  I was with a group of North Americans who felt co-responsible for the war whose victims these farmers had become.  One of us asked them, “Can you forgive us for the violence you and your family have suffered?”  There was a long silence. . . but then one of the women said with a strong voice, “Yes, we forgive you,” and the others repeated her words, “Yes, we forgive you.”  Another one of us said, But can you also forgive us for the years of suffering and anguish caused by the economic boycott our country imposed on you?”  Again there was the answer, “Yes, we forgive you.”  Still another voice was raised.  “What about all the years in which we treated you as our backyard and exploited you for cheap labor and cheap fruit?”  The answer was the same, even stronger, “Yes, we forgive you, and we want you to work with us for a better world so that the deaths of our children will not prove useless.”  As I heard this litany of guilt and forgiveness and looked into the eyes of these women of faith, I realized that these women represented thousands of women all over the world who keep offering peace instead of war, hope instead of despair, forgiveness instead of revenge.  They are the women of Leningrad, Belfast, Teheran, and countless other cities and villages whose sorrow for their dying children becomes the fertile ground of compassion and healing.

Jesus met his mother as he was being led to his execution.  Mary did not faint; she did not scream in rage or despair; she did not try to prevent the soldiers from torturing him more.  She looked him in the eyes and knew that this was his hour.  In Cana, when she had asked his help, he had put some distance between them and said: “Woman, my hour has not yet come,” (John 2:4).  But now his sorrow and her sorrow merged in a deep knowledge of the hour in which God’s plan of salvation was being fulfilled.  Soon Mary will stand under the cross and Jesus will give her to John, his beloved disciple, with the words: “This is your mother,” (John 19:27).  Mary’s sorrow has made her not only the mother of Jesus, but also the mother of all her suffering children.  She stood under the cross; she stands there still and looks into the eyes of those who are tempted to respond to their pain with revenge, retaliation, or despair.  Her sorrow has made her heart a heart that embraces all her children, wherever they may be, and offers them maternal consolation and comfort.

As I look at Mary and all the mothers of sorrow, a question rises up from the center of my being: “Can you remain standing in your pain and keep forgiving from your heart?”  I am wounded, wounded by experiences of betrayal and abandonment, wounded by my own self-rejection, wounded too by my inability to reach out to those around me, whether near or far away, and take away their pain.  But I am constantly tempted to escape it all – to hide away in complaints or accusations, to become a victim of despair or a prophet of doom.  My true call is to look the suffering Jesus in the eyes and not be crushed by his pain, but to receive it in my heart and let it bear the fruit of compassion. I know that the longer I live, the more suffering I will see and that the more suffering I see, the more sorrow I will be asked to live.  But it is this deep human sorrow that unites my wounded heart with the heart of humanity.  It is in this mystery of union in suffering that hope is hidden.  The way of Jesus is the way into the heart of human suffering.  It is the way Mary chose and many Marys continue to choose.  Wars come and go, and come again.  Oppressors come and go, and come again.  My heart knows this even when I do whatever I can to resist the oppressor and struggle for peace.  In the midst of it all, I have to keep choosing the ever-narrowing path, the path of sorrow, the path of hope.  The sorrowful women of this world are my guides.

LENT: God And Understanding, by Evelyn Underhill

From The House of the Soul

“The utmost that we know of God,” says Saint Thomas, “is nothing in respect of that which He is.”

Such an outlook on the Unchanging redeems our prayer from pettiness, discounts our worries, brings a solemn selfless peace.  Everything drops away except awe, longing, and humility.  “Whom have I in Heaven, but thee? and there is none upon Earth that I desire beside thee.”  The soul stands over against the eternal reality of the universe, and finds there a friend and not a void, Deus Meus!  My God!  We have, in our creaturely weakness, a personal hold upon infinite reality.  The Psalms are full of this exultant certitude.  “O God, thou art my God! early will I seek thee!”  Saint Augustine is ever recurring to such thoughts: isolating, gazing at, the fact of God.  Thus to dwell upon the great keywords of religion gives depth and width to human prayer; clarifies the sight with which we look out upon the sky.

We turn to the window on the other side of Faith’s tower.  That looks out upon our homely, natural, changeful world.  It shows us human life, conditions, problems, from the angle of faith; and the mystery of the eternal self-revealed in human ways.  That too is a wonderful and inspiring sight, enlightening the understanding.  Though clouds pass over that landscape, storms come, seasons change, it is yet seen to be full of God’s glory.  The same unchanging light and life bathes the world we see out of each window.  Jungle and city, church and marketplace, the mostly homely and the most mysterious aspects of creation, are equally known as works of the wisdom of God.

From this window the Earth with its intricate life is perceived in the light of the Incarnation; God self-disclosed in and with us, as well as God over against us.  The depth and mystery of reality, its stern yet loving action, are revealed within the limitations of history, and in the here-and-now experience of men.  We pierce the disconcerting veil of appearance, and discern that Holy Creativity, making, rectifying, and drawing all things to itself.  At times a lovely glint transfigures even the smallest living things.  We see the kitten play in Paradise.  The humble inhabitants of the hedgerows suddenly reveal their origin, their kinship with God.  At other times a deeper secret, the little golden rill of holiness welling up from beyond the world of visible life, is glimpsed by us in the most unexpected situations.  Yet there is the ever-present evil, the baffling pain, the conflict and apparent failure and inequality of life.  But from the angle of faith these are seen in proportion, as material for the self-imparting of God; and for man’s self-giving to God truly tabernacled among us.  Through the clatter of the world, faith hears an insistent call to purity and sweetness; and discerns in the tangle of life the perpetual emergence of an other-worldly beauty, which has its source and end in Him alone.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Three — Jesus Falls For The First Time, by Henri Nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

Alittle Vietnamese boy is left behind.  Why?  Maybe his parents were killed, abducted, or put in camps.  Maybe they tried to escape from the enemy and got caught in an ambush.  Maybe they were boat people who drowned,.  Maybe, maybe. . . but their child is left alone.  As I look into these eyes gazing into an empty future, I see the eyes of millions of children crushed by the powers of darkness.  This small, tender child needs to be held, needs to be hugged, kissed, cuddled.  He needs to feel the strong, loving hands of his father, hear the tender words of his mother, and see the eyes of those who say: “How beautiful you are.”  Where will this boy be safe?  Where will he know that he is truly loved?  Where can he run to when he gets scared and confused?  Where can he let his tear flow freely, his pain be received, his fearful dream be dispelled?  Who tickles his feet?  Who squeezes his hand?  Who rubs his cheeks?  He sits there, vulnerable, lonely, forgotten.  He is left behind by a humanity that can no longer hold on to its future.

All over the world, children fall under the weight of violence, war, corruption, and human anguish.  They are hungry, hungry for affection and food.  In the cold halls of institutions, they sit. . . waiting for someone to pay attention.  They sleep with strangers who use them to satisfy their own desires.  They roam the streets of the big cities, trying to survive alone or in small bands.  There are thousands, yes, millions of them all over the world.  They have not heard the voice that says: “You are my beloved, on you my favor rests,” (Luke 3:22).

Nowhere is our fallen humanity so painfully set before us as in these children.  They reveal our sins to us.  Abandoned and alone, they tell us that we have lost the grace to love our own.

What will become of these children when they grow older and become the men and women of the future.  Will they grab the gun in a desperate search for revenge?  Will they withdraw into lifelong silence in the wards of mental hospitals, or be locked behind bars as dangerous criminals?  Will they become terrorists, gangleaders, drug smugglers, pimps, or prostitutes?  Or will they discover that beyond and behind all human manipulations there are hands that hold them safe and offer a love that has no conditions?

Jesus fell under his cross.  He continues to fall.  Jesus is not the conquering hero who undergoes suffering with staunch determination and an iron will.  No, he who was born as a child of God and a child of Mary, adored by shepherds and wise men, never became the proud self-possessed leader who wanted to lead humanity to the great victory over the powers of darkness.  When he had grown into maturity, he humbled himself by joining penitent men and women and receiving baptism in the river Jordan.  It was then that he heard that voice deeply entering his heart: “This is my Son, the Beloved, my favor rests on Him,” (Matthew 3:17).  That voice carried him through life and shielded him from bitterness, jealousy, resentment, and revenge.  He always remained a child and said to his followers: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven,” (Matthew 18:3).  Jesus is the innocent child falling under the heavy burden of the cross of human anguish – powerless, weak, and very vulnerable.  But there we can touch the mystery of the compassionate heart of God that embraces all children, around as well as within us.

I know that I am a child, a child who, underneath all my accomplishments and successes, keeps crying out to be held safe and loved without conditions.  I also know that losing touch with my child is losing touch with Jesus and all who belong to him.  Each time I touch my own child, I touch my powerlessness and my fear of being left alone with no one to give me a safe place.  Jesus falls beneath the cross to allow me to reclaim my child, that place in me where I am out of control and in desperate need of being lifted up and reassured.  The abandoned children of the world are in me.  Jesus tells me not to be afraid, to face them in my heart and suffer with them.  He wants me to discover that beyond all emotions of rejection and abandonment there is love, real love, lasting love, love that comes from a God who became flesh and who will never leave his children alone.

LENT: Worship And The Saints, by Evelyn Underhill

From Worship

Christian worship is never a solitary undertaking.  Both on its visible and invisible sides, it has a thoroughly social and organic character.  The worshiper, however lonely in appearance, comes before God as a member of a great family; part of the Communion of Saints, living and dead.  His own small effort of adoration is offered “in and for all.”  The first words of the Lord’s Prayer are always there to remind him of his corporate status and responsibility, in its double aspect.  On one hand, he shares the great life and action of the church, the Divine Society; however he may define this difficult term, or wherever he conceives its frontiers to be drawn.  He is immersed in that life, nourished by its traditions, taught, humbled, and upheld by its saints.  His personal life of worship, unable for long to maintain itself alone, has behind it two thousand years of spiritual culture, and around it the self-offerings of all devoted souls.  Further, his public worship, and commonly his secret devotion too, are steeped in history and tradition; and apart from them, cannot be understood.  There are few things more remarkable in Christian history than the continuity through many vicissitudes and under many disguises of the dominant strands in Christian worship.  On the other hand the whole value of this personal life of worship abides in the completeness with which it is purified from all taint of egotism, and the selflessness and simplicity with which it is added to the common store.  Here the individual must lose his life to find it; the longing for personal expression, personal experience, safety, joy, must more and more be swallowed up in charity.  For the goal alike of Christian sanctification and Christian worship is the ceaseless self-offering of the church, in and with Christ her head, to the increase of the glory of God.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Two — Jesus Carries His Cross, by Henri Nouwen

From Walk With Jesus


young Guatemalan carries a heavy load of wood.  The wood is for coffins to bury the Indian men who have been kidnapped, murdered, and found dead on the side of the road, or to bury the children who could not survive the diseases that touched them as soon as they were born.  It happened many years ago when the international press reported it with great indignation.  It happens still today when the subject is no longer newsworthy and remains hidden from the eyes of the world.

Young men are murdered with guns, knives, and electric prods.  Small children die from malnutrition, dehydration, and lack of care.  Day after day, violence and poverty bring death to the little villages of Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, Ethiopia, the Sudan, Bangladesh, and countless other countries.

I am haunted by the face of the young Indian with the heavy burden on his head and shoulders.  His eyes are almost shut, his brow furrowed by deep sorrow, his face already old.  Death is very close to him, and still there is such dignity, such serenity, such deep knowledge of who he is.  His mouth does not utter many words; his heart is silent.  His bony body has already lived more than I ever will, even though I may reach old age.  He carries the cross of humanity: “a man of sorrow, familiar with suffering,” (Isaiah 53:3).  He knows that soon a car may stop, armed men may bind him and drag him off to be cruelly tortured and thrown naked into the street.  He knows it, but he keeps walking, carrying the wood for the coffins of his friends.

Pilate handed Jesus over to be scourged.  The soldiers “stripped him and put a scarlet cloak around him, and having twisted thorns into a crown, they put this on his head and placed a reed in his right hand.  To make fun of him they knelt to him saying: ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’  And they spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head with it.  And when they had finished making fun of him, they took off the cloak and dressed him in his own clothes and led him away to crucifixion,” (Matthew 27:28-31).  Jesus undergoes it all.  The time of action is past.  He does not speak any more; he does not protest; he does not reproach or admonish.  He has become a victim.  He no longer acts, but is acted upon.  He has entered his passion.  He knows that most of human life is passion.  People are being starved, kidnapped, tortured, and murdered.  People are being imprisoned, driven from their homes, separated from their families, put into camps, and used for slave labor.  They do not know why.  They do not understand the cause for it all.  Nobody explains.  They are poor.  When Jesus felt the cross put on his shoulders, he felt the pain of all future generations pressing on him; he saw the young Guatemalan man and loved him with an immense compassion.

I feel very powerless.  I want to do something.  I have to do something.  I have, at least, to speak out against the violence and malnutrition, the oppression and exploitation.  Beyond this, I have to act in any way possible to alleviate the pain I see.  But there is an even harder task: to carry my own cross, the cross of loneliness and isolation, the cross of the rejections I experience, the cross of my depression and inner anguish.  As long as I agonize over the pain of others far away but cannot carry the pain that is uniquely mine, I may become an activist, even a defender of humanity, but not yet a follower of Jesus.  Somehow my bond with those who suffer oppression is made real through my willingness to suffer my loneliness.  It is a burden I try to avoid, sometimes, by worrying about others.  But Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28).  I might think that there is an unbridgeable gap between myself and the Guatemalan wood carrier.  But Jesus carried his cross for both of us.  We belong together.  We must each take up our own cross and follow him, and so discover that we are truly brothers who learn from him who is humble and gentle of heart.  In this way only can a new humanity be born.

LENT: Worship And Christ, by Evelyn Underhill

From Worship

Since the Christian revelation is in its very nature historical – God coming the whole way to man, and discovered and adored within the arena of man’s life at one point in time, in and through the humanity of Christ – it follows that all the historical events and conditions of Christ’s life form part of the vehicle of revelation.  Each of them mediates God, disclosing some divine truth or aspect of divine love to us.  Here lies the importance of the Christian year, with its recurrent memorials of the birth, the manhood, the death, and the triumph of Jesus, as the framework of the church’s ordered devotion.  By and in this ancient sequence, with its three great moments of Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost, its detailed demonstration in human terms of the mysteries of incarnation and redemption, the Christian soul is led out through succession to a contemplation of the eternal action of God.  In Christ, and therefore in all the states and acts of Christ, history and eternity meet.  Here, in One “who lived and died and is alive evermore” the worshiper adores the abiding God, self-revealed among men.  “His resplendent figure lights up the whole liturgy.”  Moreover, since in Christ the Christian sees God acting, each phase of his life is to be regarded as a theophany, and has a sacred significance.  It is the expression of an interior state directly produced by God, a necessary part of the redemption action of God, and so invites a particular acknowledgment in worship.

So, in that devout commemoration of the successive mysteries of the life of Jesus, from Christmas to Easter and to their consummation in Pentecost, on which the liturgical year of the church is based, all the phases of human experience are lit up by the radiance of eternity and brought into relation with the inexhaustible revelation of God in the flesh: giving the Christian a model he can never equal but a standard to which he must ever seek to conform.  The helplessness and humility of infancy, the long hidden period of discipline and growth, the lonely crisis and choice of the temptation, above all the heart-shaking events of Holy Week, Easter, and the Forty Days – all these become disclosures of the supernatural made through and in man, and therefore having a direct application of man’s need and experience.  Each shows the divine self-giving from a different angle; and so asks from man a humble gratitude and a generous response.


PRAYER: A Few Thoughts On The Lord’s Prayer

Author unknown

I cannot pray, Our, if my faith has no room for others and their need.

I cannot pray, Father, if I do not demonstrate this relationship to God in my daily living.

I cannot pray, who art in Heaven, if all of my interests and pursuits are in Earthly things.

I cannot pray, hallowed be thy name, if I am not striving, with God’s help, to be holy.

I cannot pray, thy kingdom come, if I am unwilling to accept God’s rule in my life.

I cannot pray, thy will be done, if I am unwilling or resentful of having it in my life.

I cannot pray, on Earth as it is in Heaven, unless I am truly ready to give myself to God’s service
here and now.

I cannot pray, give us this day our daily bread, without expending honest effort for it, or if I would
withhold from my neighbor the bread that I receive.

I cannot pray, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, if I continue
to harbor a grudge against anyone.

I cannot pray, lead us not into temptation, if I deliberately choose to remain in a situation
where I am likely to be tempted.

I cannot pray, deliver us from evil, if I am not prepared to fight evil with my life and my prayer.

I cannot pray, thine is the kingdom, if I am unwilling to obey the King.

I cannot pray,  thine is the power and the glory, if I am seeking power for myself
and my own glory first.

I cannot pray, forever and ever, if I am too anxious about each day’s affairs.

I cannot pray, Amen, unless I honestly say, “Cost what it may, this is my prayer.”

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: One — Jesus is Condemned, by Henri Nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

A man behind bars. He is condemned to death. He is put in the category of the “damned.” He is no longer considered worthy to live. He has become the enemy, the rebel, the outsider, a danger to society. He has to be put away, cut out of the communal life.

Why?  Because he is different.  He is black, and blacks are dangerous.  He is gay, and gays are perverts.  He is a Jew, and Jews cannot be trusted.  He is a refugee, and refugees are threats to our economy.  He is an outsider, saying what we do not want to hear, and reminding us of what we would rather forget.  He upsets our well-ordered lives.  He tears aside the veil that covers our impurities and breaks down the walls that keep us safely separated.  He says, “We belong to the same humanity, we are all children of the same God; we are all loved as God’s favorite sons and daughters; we are all destined to live in the same home, with the same father, and eating together at the same table.”  He says, “Apartheid is not according to God’s plan.  Unity and communion are.”

That voice has got to be silenced.  It upsets the way we do things here.  It disturbs our family life, our social life, our business life.  It creates disorder, yes, even chaos.  Life is complex enough as it is.  We do not need prophets who destroy the delicate web of relationships we have so carefully worked out.  Let us stick to the motto: Everyone for himself and God for us all.  That way there is a minimum of pain and a maximum of comfort.

Jesus stands before Pilate.  He is silent.  He does not defend himself against the many charges made against him.  But when Pilate asks him, “What have you done?” he says, “I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice,” (John 18:35-38).  The truth of which Jesus speaks is not a thesis, or a doctrine, or an intellectual explanation of reality.  It is the very relationship, the life-giving intimacy between himself and the Father of which he wants us to partake.  Pilate could not hear that, nor can anyone who is not connected to Jesus.  Anyone, however, who enters into communion with Jesus will receive the Spirit of truth – the Spirit who frees us from the compulsions and obsessions of our contemporary society, who makes us belong to God’s own inner life, and allows us to live in the world with open hearts and attentive minds.  In communion with Jesus, we can hear the Spirit’s voice and journey far and wide, whether we are in prison or not.  Because the truth – the true relationship, the true belonging – gives us the freedom that the powers of darkness cannot take away.  Jesus is the freest human being who ever lived because he was the most connected to God.  Pilate condemned him.  Pilate wanted to make him one of the damned.  But he could not.  Jesus’s death, instead of being the execution of a death sentence, became the way to the full truth, leading to full freedom.

I know that the more I belong to God, the more I will be condemned.  But the condemnation of the world will reveal the truth.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness, the kingdom of Heaven is theirs,” (Matthew 5:10).  I have to trust these words.  Precisely there where the world hates me, where I am not taken seriously by the powers that be, where I am pushed aside, laughed at and made marginal, there precisely I may discover that I am part of a worldwide community that is barred, fenced in, and locked away in isolated camps.

I hunger for the truth, for that communion with God that Jesus lived.  But every time that hunger is satisfied, I will be condemned again and given a heavy cross to bear.  It is the story of Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas, James and Andrew, and most of all of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Their joy and sorrow became one because they chose to live the truth in the world.  That cannot happen without our being given a cross to bear, but also not without the immense joy of being already now part of the divine life that reaches beyond any barred fence or gallows.

Yes, there is fear in the eyes of the man behind the bars, but also conviction, trust, hope, and a deep knowledge of freedom.  His eyes and mine are eyes that see what the world cannot see: the face of a suffering God who calls us far, far beyond our fears into the land of a love that lasts.