MYSTICISM: See, by John of Ruysbroeck

From The Spiritual Espousals

Our Heavenly Father wishes us to see, for he is the Father of light, (cf. James 1:17).  Accordingly, in the hidden depths of our spirit he eternally, ceaselessly, and without intermediary utters a single, fathomless word, and only that word.  In this word he gives utterance to himself and all things.  This word, which is none other than, “See,” is the generation and birth of the Son, the eternal light, in whom all blessedness is seen and known.

If our spirit is to contemplate God with God without intermediary in this divine light, three things are necessary.  The first is that a person must be exteriorly well ordered, interiorly unhindered, and as empty of all his exterior works as if he were not even performing them, for if he is interiorly disturbed through any virtuous work he will be troubled by images, and as long as this lasts he will not be able to contemplate.  Secondly, he must interiorly cleave to God with devoted intention and love, just as if he were a burning, glowing fire which can never be extinguished.  As long as he feels himself to be in this state, he will be able to contemplate.  Thirdly, he must lose himself in a state devoid of particular form or measure, a state of darkness in which all contemplatives blissfully lose their way and are never again able to find themselves in a creaturely way.

In the abyss of this darkness in which the loving spirit has died to itself, God’s revelation and eternal life have their origin, for in this darkness an incomprehensible light is born and shines forth; this is the Son of God, in whom a person becomes able to see and to contemplate eternal life.  This divine light is shed upon a person in the simple being of his spirit, where the spirit receives the resplendence which is God himself above and beyond all gifts and creaturely activity in the empty idleness of the spirit, where the spirit has lost itself in blissful love and receives God’s resplendence without intermediary.  The spirit ceaselessly becomes the very resplendence which it receives.  See, this hidden resplendence, in which a person contemplates all that he desires in accordance with his spirit’s mode of emptiness, is so great a resplendence that the loving contemplative neither sees nor feels in the ground of his being, in which he is at rest, anything other than an incomprehensible light.  In the simple bareness which envelops all things, he feels and finds himself to be nothing other than the same light with which he sees.

This is the first point, describing how a person is made capable of seeing in the divine light.  Blessed are the eyes that see in this way, for they possess eternal life.

 

JESUS: The Resurrection Of The Flesh, by Thomas Aquinas

The Holy Spirit not only sanctifies the church with regard to its soul, but by its power our bodies will arise: “to those believing in him who raised up Jesus Christ Our Lord from the dead” and so forth, (Romans 4:24). And “Because just as through a human being death came about, so through a human being the resurrection from the dead,” (1 Corinthians15:21). Therefore we believe according to our faith in the future resurrection of the dead.

About this resurrection there are four thoughts that should be considered: (1) the usefulness that comes from faith in the resurrection; (2) the quality of life of those who arise with regard to everyone in general; (3) with regard to good men and women in particular; and (4) with regard to evil men and women in particular.

One

About the first, we should know that faith and hope in the resurrection is helpful to us for four reasons: (a) It takes away the sadness which we bear for those who died. It is impossible that someone not grieve over the death of a friend; yet, insofar as they hope their friend will arise, the sorrow of death is much assuaged: “We do not wish you to be ignorant of,” and so forth.

(b) The resurrection of the flesh takes away the fear of death. If a human being were not to hope in another and better life after death, without doubt death would be excessively feared. One would rather have to do any evil deed than to incur death. But, because we believe there is another and better life to which we shall attain after death, it stands that no one ought to fear death, nor commit any sin on account of the fear of death: “that through death he might destroy him who had the empire of death, that is, the devil,” and so forth, (Hebrews 2:14).

(c) The resurrection of the flesh renders us solicitous and studious for behaving well. If the life of a human being were only what we now experience, there would not be any great effort among humankind for behaving well. Whatever a human being would do might seem trivial, since it would be a determinate good measured in time, rather than in eternity.  However, since we believe that through this resurrection of the flesh we will receive eternal goods in the resurrection for what we do here and now, we will strive to lead a good life: “If in only this life we are people hoping in Christ, we are more pitiable than everybody else,” and so forth, (1 Corinthians 15:19).

(d) The resurrection of the flesh draws us away from evil. Just as the hope of a reward entices us to live well, so fear of pain that we believe is reserved for the wicked, draws us away from evil: These will rise up, “and those who accomplished good things will enter into the resurrection of life; those who worked evil into the resurrection of judgment,” and so forth (Matthew John 5:29).

Two

We should know that with regard to everyone [in general] a fourfold condition in the resurrection can be noted.

(a) With regard to the identity of the bodies of those who arise. The same body that now exists, both in its flesh and in its bones, will rise, although some will say that not this body which is now corrupted will rise. This is false, because sacred Scripture says that by the power of God the same body will rise to life: ‘And once my skin has been undone, I will see my God once more in my flesh,” and so forth, (Job 19:26).

(b) With regard to the condition of those who rise. The risen bodies will be in another condition than they now are. With regard to good men and women in particular and evil men and women in particular their bodies will be incorruptible, because the good will always be in glory, but the evil will be always in pain: “This corruptible nature must clothe itself with incorruption, and this mortal nature clothe itself with immortality,” and so forth, (1 Corinthians 15:53). And because the body will be immortal and incorruptible, there will be no use for food or sex after the resurrection: “In the resurrection they will neither marry nor be married; but they will be as the angels of God in Heaven,” and so forth, (Matthew 22:30). The Saracens [Muslims] and the Jews hold to the contrary. But we read in Job: “He will no longer go back into his home, nor will his place know him any further,” and so forth, (7:10).

(c) With regard to the integrity of those who rise in the flesh. All the good people and all the evil people will rise in all their integrity which belongs to the perfection of humankind. There will be no deafness nor blindness, nor anyone defective: “In a moment, in the blink of an eye, in the last sounds of the trumpet; the trumpet will sing, and the dead will rise up incorruptible, and we will be changed,” (1 Corinthians 15:52).

(d) With regard to age of those who rise in the flesh. Everyone will rise in a perfect state, i.e., thirty-two or thirty-three years of age.

The reason is because those who have not yet come to this age have not achieved a perfect state, and older people already have lost it. Therefore to children and to youth [age] is added, but to old folks it is restored: “Until we all attain to the unity of faith, and the recognition of the Son of God, to perfect manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” and so forth, (Ephesians 4:13).

Three

We should know that with regard to good people, there will be a special glory, because the saints will have glorified bodies in which a fourfold condition will obtain.

(a) Clarity: “Then the just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” and so forth (Matthew 13:43).

(b) Invulnerability: “What is sown in deterioration, will rise up in glory. What is sown in weakness, will rise up in strength,” and so forth, (1 Corinthians 15:43). And, “God will dry every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, nor mourning, nor weeping, nor will there be any more sorrow, because the former things have passed away,” and so forth, (Revelation 21:4).

(c) Agility: “The just will shine forth, and they will leap forth like sparks in tinder,” and so forth, (Wisdom 3:7).

(d) Soulfulness: “An animal body is sown, a spiritual body will rise up,” (1 Corinthians 15:44). The body will not be altogether spirit, but it will be totally subject to the spirit.

Four

We should know that the condition of the damned will be the opposite of the condition of the blessed, because eternal pain will be theirs. A fourfold condition will obtain.

(a) Their bodies will be darkened: “Pangs and sorrows will grasp them, just as a woman suffers in labor; everyone will be astonished at their neighbor; burnt faces their looks,” (Isaiah 13:8).

(b) Their bodies will be vulnerable, because always on fire: “And they will go forth and look upon the body of those men who plotted against me; their worm will not die, and their fire will not be extinguished; and they will be so unto the satiation of the sight of all flesh,” and so forth, (Isaiah 66:24).

(c) Their bodies will be weighed down. The soul will be as if chained in the torpor of bodies: “For binding their kings in foot chains, and their nobles in iron manacles,” and so forth, (Psalm 149:8).

(d) They will be carnal, both in body and in soul: “The barn animals rot in their own dung; the barns are torn down; the storehouses are wasted, because the grain is not viable,” and so forth, (Joel 1:17)

Let us pray to the Lord, and so forth.

 

 

POETRY: On Angels, by Czesław Miłosz

All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe you,
messengers.

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a martinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at the close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for humans invented themselves as well.

The voice—no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightning.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:
day draws near
another one
do what you can.

 

 

POETRY: Ascension, by Denise Levertov

Stretching Himself as if again,
through downpress of dust
upward, soil giving way
to thread of white, that reaches
for daylight, to open as green
leaf that it is. . .
Can Ascension
not have been
arduous, almost,
as the return
from Sheol, and
back through the tomb
into breath?
Matter reanimate
now must relinquish
itself, its
human cells,
molecules, five
senses, linear
visions endured
as Man—
the sole
all-encompassing gaze
resumed now,
Eye of Eternity.
Relinquished, earth’s
broken Eden.
Expulsion,
liberation,
last
self-enjoined task
of Incarnation.
He again
Fathering Himself.
Seed-case
splitting,
He again
Mothering His birth:
torture and bliss.

 

LIFE: Death, by Thomas Merton

From Love and Living

“Death is the end of life.”

This statement seems at first sight quite obvious.  It appears to say everything essential about death.  Yet merely to declare that when a living being ceases to live, it “dies,” is perhaps to say nothing of any importance at all.  If we reflect on the implications of “life” and “death” and the “end of life,” we become uneasily aware that to make purely casual statements about these realities – a statement which turns out to say “nothing of importance” – is a frivolous abuse of speech.  This reveals an incapacity to face the reality of life, death, and the end of life.  Death is treated with frivolity because life itself is treated with frivolity.

Life comes into being without any invitation of our own: we suddenly find ourselves in it.  And as soon as we recognize ourselves as alive we become aware that we tend toward inevitable death.  If we do not gain some adequate understanding of our life and our death, during the life-span that is ours, our life will become nothing but a querulous refusal, a series of complaints that it must end in death.  Then the fear of death becomes so powerful that it results in a flat refusal of life.  Life itself becomes a negation, a neurosis, a frivolity.

When life and death lose their proper meaning, that is to say, when they are no longer experienced as what they really are, then the awful and empty power of death creeps into everything and sickens everything.  So when death becomes most trivial, it also becomes most pervasive.  It is only “the end of life.”  So all life ends.  All is death.  Why live?

To take death seriously is not, by any means, to seek to avoid it always and at all costs, but to see that it must come as part of a development, as part of a living continuity that has an inner meaning of its own.  Death contributes something decisive to the meaning of life.  Therefore, death does not simply “intervene” or “supervene” and spring upon life as upon its prey, in order to devour it.  To hypostatize death, to give it an objective and autonomous reality of its own, a “power” of its own, and set it over against life, makes death not serious but trivial.  And yet this way of thinking does, in fact, give death a kind of power over life, at least in our own minds.  Thus, we live as if death were always ready to exercise this inescapable power over us.  We take to living mouse lives that are always waiting for the cat, death.   Yet there is no cat, and we are not mice.  If we do, in fact, “die,” it is not because a monster has caught up with us and pounced on us at last.  If we become obsessed with the idea of death hiding and waiting for us in ambush, we are not making death more real but life less real.  Our life is divided against itself.  Death then operates in the midst of life, not the end of life, but rather, as the fear of life.  Death is life afraid to love and trust itself because it is obsessed with its own contingency and its own ending.

That we inevitably take this wrong attitude toward life and death (we cannot help it) is, according to the Bible, the sign and the effect of sin.  Sin and death go together, for when our attitude toward life becomes infected with sin (and every man’s attitude is so infected), then life is seen as something that must inevitably be ambushed by death.  But when is life seen in such a light?  This is the important question, for on this depends our notion of the end of life.  And when we pause to reconsider this fact, we see that the word, “end,” is ambiguous.  This ambiguity is close to the heart of that ignorance of life (and consequent fear of death) which is, in its turn, such an important element in what we call “sin.”

The “end”: that is to say, the termination, abrupt and arbitrary conclusion.  The Greeks thought of the thread of life being cut off by the scissors of the Fates.  Death is, then, the destruction of something that need not end.  The termination of the interminable.  This brings us to a better idea of the sinful concept of life: the word “interminable” is quite suggestive.  Though there is no real reason why life should simply go on and on and on, we feel that this interminability is nevertheless due to life.  We find that life is, therefore, an incomprehensible datum, something thrust upon us, something that wants to continue, something that even though meaningless declares itself, in its inmost strivings and aspirations, to be “interminable.”  This experience of life which we are now characterizing as that which is born of sin, is therefore completely ambiguous and, in fact, very distressing.  Life is something meaningless that seeks to perpetuate itself without reason and to be simply and arbitrarily interminable.  Over against this is death, which is life’s enemy, and seeks, always with ultimate success, to terminate it.  Two arbitrary forces meet in this unreasonable conflict and death always wins.  Something which for no reason wants to be interminable is, in fact, terminated.  An essentially meaningless life-drive demands to continue in spite of everything, and we choose to adjust our lives to this demand.  But the situation itself seems fatally unjust.  Therefore, we tend, as sinners, to meet it equivocally.  We know that death cannot be turned aside by deceit, yet nevertheless we try to live lives that will at least outwit death as long as possible.  The sinful life is one which for no reason, except that we seek to outwit death, becomes a hectic and desperate drive to assert life’s own interminability.  This compounds all the inner ambiguities of life and death.  For one thing, in seeking to convince themselves of their own power to survive, men seek to destroy others who are weaker than themselves.  In destroying others, the victors strive to feel themselves interminable, since in the presence of another’s suffering and death they themselves go on more lustily than before.  They go home and celebrate their new lease on life – which has, however, come from the experience and spectacle of death.  In the society of men who are exclusively intent on their own pleasure and survival, even though it has no meaning, just because they are convinced that their life ought to be interminable, death begins to play a very important part.  Death is called upon to nourish and to stimulate the “sense of life.”

This immediately begets another and far worse ambiguity.  A “sense of life” that is habitually fed on death is corrupt and pathological.  It is not life at all.  In seeking to escape death, man becomes fatally attracted by the death he seeks to escape.  His obsession with avoiding death becomes a fascinated and hypnotized flirtation with death.  Thus, death in fact comes to be the “end” of life, not in the sense of its termination only, but more especially as its goal.  

Psychoanalysis has taught us something about the death wish that pervades the modern world.  We discover our affluent society to be profoundly addicted to the love of death, and most of all when it seems to be carried away by the celebration of life.  Erich Fromm has pointed out how obsession with power and wealth inevitably means obsession with death.  The death-oriented mind not only directs its energies to obviously destructive uses of power (such as nuclear stockpiling) but even its apparently productive work is, in fact, a work of death, a work centered on reducing life to “dead things” and depersonalizing men, reducing them to objects, to commodities for use.  The love of money is, in fact, the love of a “dead” product (which is nevertheless endowed with magic life), and we know how psychoanalysis explains this.  The anal character is a death-loving character, and he expresses his love of death not only in avarice, in the accumulation of power, but also in legalism (the deadening of life and impulse by the hand of law), technologism (the substitution of mechanical order for the fertile unpredictability of life), as well as by the direct cult of violence for its own sake.

Thus, we see that in a death-oriented society, even though it may seem very dynamic and powerful, death becomes the end of life in the sense of its goal, and this is made at least symbolically evident by the fact that money, machines, bombs, etc., are all regarded as a more important than living people.  In such a society, though much may officially be said about human values, whenever there is, in fact, a choice between the living and the dead, between men and money, or men and power, or men and bombs, then the choice will always be for death, for death is the end or the goal of life.

Nevertheless, this idea of death as goal, fruit, or fulfillment is not completely false or misleading, once the context of sin is understood and accepted.  But now death as “end” must be seen in a totally different light – the light not of sin and selfishness but of love and grace.

All created life is limited.  Living beings come into existence and begin at once to develop, for growth is one of the essential functions of life.  In the beginning of its growth, the living being must continually receive from others.  The human infant, totally helpless and dependent on its parents, shows this clearly enough.  In this state of vulnerability and limitation, the human heart already faces the problem of death, and it is here that infantile man, whose very nature it is to regard himself as interminable, as one for whom others have to live and sacrifice themselves, forms his cunning idea of death.  But man’s ideas must grow as he grows.  The infantile concept of survival at any cost is a kind of absolute.  It must be outgrown.  As man grows into other stages of human development, he realizes that there are ways in which life affirms itself by consenting to end.  For example, the youth begins to discover that by bringing to an end some egoistic satisfaction, in order to do something for another, he can discover a deeper level of reality and of life.  The mature man realizes that his life affirms itself most, not in acquiring things for himself, but in giving his time, his efforts, his strength, his intelligence, and his love to others.  Here a different kind of dialectic of life and death begins to appear.  The living drive, the vital satisfaction, by “ending” its trend to self-satisfaction and redirecting itself to and for others, transcends itself.  It “dies” insofar as the ego is concerned, for the self is deprived of immediate satisfactions which it could once claim without being contested.  Now it renounces these things, in order to give to others.  Hence, life “dies” to itself in order to give itself away, and thus affirms itself more maturely, more fruitfully, and more completely.  We live in order to die to ourselves and give everything to others.  This concept of “dying” is, in fact, altogether different from the death-loving attitude we have sketched above, for, in point of fact, this is not death-loving or death-centered at all.  The “dying” to self in order to give to others is nothing more or less than a higher and more special affirmation of life.  Such dying is the fruit of life, the evidence of mature and productive living.  It is, in fact, the end or the goal of life.

But since contingent lives must end – they are not interminable and there is nothing whatever in their constitution that justifies us in thinking that they are – it is important that the end of life itself should finally set the seal upon the giving and the sacrifice which has marked mature and productive living.  Thus, man physically and mentally declines, having given everything that he had to life, to other men, to his love, to his family, and to his world.  He is spent or exhausted, not in the sense that he is merely burned out and gutted by the accumulation of money and power, but because he has given himself totally in love.  There is nothing left now for him to give.  It is now that in a final act he surrenders his life itself.  This is “the end of life,” not in the sense of a termination, but in the sense of a culminating gift, the last free perfect act of love which is at once surrender and acceptance: the surrender of his being into the hands of God, who made it, and the acceptance of the death which in its details and circumstances is perhaps very significantly in continuity with all the acts and incidents of life – its good and its bad, its sins and its love, its conquests and its defeats.  Man’s last gift of himself in death is, then, the acceptance of what he has been and resignation of all final judgment as to the meaning of his life, its worth, its point, its ultimate destiny.  It is the final seal his freedom sets upon the love and the trust with which it has striven to live.

For a Christian, this sublimation of death by freedom and love can only be the result of a free gift of God in which our personal death is united with the mystery of Christ’s death on the cross.  The death of Christ is not simply the juridical payment of an incomprehensible ransom which somehow transformed the sinful death of man into a liberating and victorious death, a supreme act of faith and love, because it also transforms the death of man into an act of glad acceptance and of love which transcends death and carries him over into eternal life with the Risen Christ.

It is, of course, understood that, for Christian theology, death “in Christ” is not merely a matter of external forms but of interior grace, and this grace can be and is given to every man, Christian or not, whose death is, in fact, the last free culminating gift in a fruitful life oriented to ultimate truth in God (whether known or unknown, but at least implicitly loved and sought).

Without the cross of Christ, his love, freedom, and grace, death grinds down upon the last despairing spark of life and triumphs over it, because the spark, still clinging to its own illusion of interminability, refuses to give itself back to that from which it came.  Hence, various religious illustrations of this defeat: for Hinduism and Buddhism, the man who clings to interminability must in fact go on being born over and over again, since that is what he does in fact want.  In the Christian tradition, this “interminable” loveless and meaningless existence is called hell.  (We must, of course, remember that the graphic descriptions of hell’s torments are more or less literary and are not expected to be taken literally just as they stand.  Sartre’s idea of hell in No Exit is, in fact, much closer to Christian theology than are the lurid pictures of devils with pitchforks pitching sinners into the hottest flame.)

The life of Heaven, eternal life in Christ, is not simply a life without end.  It is not interminable joy – even joy, if interminable, would become dreadful.  The suggestive word “interminable” contains a hint that something that would be better terminated cannot, in fact, be put to an end.  It never ceases!  It goes on forever.  Who would want a joy that he could never get rid of?  Eternal life, on the other hand, has nothing in it which would be better if it were ended.  The very concept of an end is no longer relevant, for the goal is attained.  There is, then, no more goal, there is no end.  All is present and all is actual.  All is pure reality, the total compact fulfillment of man in love and in vision, not measured out in infinitely extended time, but grounded in the depths of the personal life of God and the inner dynamic of love: from the abyss of the Father, in the light of the Son, through the love of the Holy Spirit.

Death is the point at which life, by freely and totally giving itself, enters into this ground and this infinite act of love.  Death is the point at which life can, if we so choose, become perfectly real, not because it “demands to be interminable,” but because it can receive the gift of pure actuality in the love of God, in the Trinitarian life, the circumincession of Persons.  Death is, then the point at which life can attain its pure fulfillment.  Death brings life to its goal.  But the goal is not death – the goal is perfect life.

 

MEDITATION: Heart Of Jesus, Our Life And Resurrection, by John Paul II

From Angelus Meditations on the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

One

This invocation from the Litany of the Sacred Heart, strong and persuasive as an act of faith, contains the entire mystery of Christ the Redeemer in a terse phrase.  It recalls the words of Jesus addressed to Martha, crushed by the death of her brother, Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, shall live,” (John 11:25).

Jesus is the life which spring eternally from the divine wellspring of the Father: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men,” (John 1:1-4).

Jesus in himself is life: “For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted his Son also to have life in himself,” (John 5:26), he declares.  In the intimate being of Christ, in his Heart, divine life and human life are harmoniously joined in total and inseparable unity.  However, Jesus is also life for us.  The purpose of the mission which he, the Good Shepherd, has received from the Father is “to give his life”: “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10).

Two

Jesus is also the resurrection.  Nothing is so radically opposed to the holiness of Christ, the Holy One of the Lord, (Luke 1:35; Mark 1:24), as sin: nothing is so opposed to him, source of life, as death.

There is a mysterious bond between sin and death, (Wisdom 2:24; Romans 5:12, 6:23; etc.); both are realities which are essentially contrary to God’s plan for man, who was not made for death but rather for life.  In the face of every expression of death, Christ’s Heart was deeply moved, and for love of the Father and mankind, his brothers and sisters, he made his life a “combat stupendous,” (Roman Missal, Easter Sequence), against death.  With a single word he restored physical life to Lazarus, to the son of the widow of Nain, and to the daughter of Jairus; by the strength of his merciful love he gave spiritual life back to Zacchaeus, to Mary of Magdala, to the adulterous woman, and to all those who acknowledged his saving presence.

Three

Brothers and sisters, no one experienced that the Heart of Jesus is “life and resurrection” as Mary did:

From him, the life, Mary received the life of original grace and by listening to his word and attentively observing his salvific actions she was able to preserve and nourish it;

• From him, the resurrection, she was associated in a singular way to his victory over death.  The mystery of her assumption – body and soul – into Heaven is the consoling proof that Christ’s victory over sin and death is extended in the members of his Mystical Body, first of all in Mary, the “most eminent member” of the church (Lumen Gentium, No. 53).

Glorified in Heaven, with her motherly heart the Virgin is at the service of the redemption effected by Christ.  “Mother of life,” she is close to every woman who brings a child into the world, and is near every baptismal font where Christ’s members are born of water and the Spirit, (John 3:5); “Health of the sick,” she is present wherever life is languishing, stricken by suffering and illness; “Mother of mercy,” she calls those who have fallen under the weight of guilt to return to the fountains of life; “Refuge of sinners,” she shows those who have strayed from it the way that leads to Christ: “Sorrowful Virgin,” near her dying Son, (John 19:25), she is to be found wherever life is drawing to a close.  Let us invoke her now with the church: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

 

PRAYER: Litany Of The Sacred Heart

Author unknown

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God,
Have mercy on us.

1. Heart of Jesus, Son of the eternal Father,
Have mercy on us.
2. Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mother,
Have mercy on us.
3. Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God,
Have mercy on us.
4. Heart of Jesus, of infinite majesty,
Have mercy on us.
5. Heart of Jesus, sacred temple of God,
Have mercy on us.
6. Heart of Jesus, tabernacle of the Most High,
Have mercy on us.
7. Heart of Jesus, house of God and gate of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.
8. Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity,
Have mercy on us.
9. Heart of Jesus, abode of justice and love,
Have mercy on us.
10. Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love,
Have mercy on us.
11. Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues,
Have mercy on us.
12. Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise,
Have mercy on us.
13. Heart of Jesus, king and center of all hearts,
Have mercy on us.
14. Heart of Jesus, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,
Have mercy on us.
15. Heart of Jesus, in whom dwells the fullness of the divinity,
Have mercy on us.
16. Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father was well pleased,
Have mercy on us.
17. Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received,
Have mercy on us.
18. Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills,
Have mercy on us.
19. Heart of Jesus, patient and most merciful,
Have mercy on us.
20. Heart of Jesus, enriching all who invoke you,
Have mercy on us.
21. Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness,
Have mercy on us.
22. Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our sins,
Have mercy on us.
23. Heart of Jesus, loaded down with opprobrium,
Have mercy on us.
24. Heart of Jesus, bruised for our offenses,
Have mercy on us.
25. Heart of Jesus, obedient unto death,
Have mercy on us.
26. Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance,
Have mercy on us.
27. Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation,
Have mercy on us.
28. Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection,
Have mercy on us.
29. Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation,
Have mercy on us.
30. Heart of Jesus, victim for sin,
Have mercy on us.
31. Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who trust in you,
Have mercy on us.
32. Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in you,
Have mercy on us.
33. Heart of Jesus, delight in all the saints,
Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
Spare us, Lord.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
Make our hearts like unto thine.

Almighty and eternal God, look upon the Heart of your dearly beloved Son and upon the praise and satisfaction he offers you in the name of sinners, and being appeased, grant pardon to those who seek your mercy, in the name of the same Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end.

Amen.

 

SATURDAY READING: Christos Mystikos — Jesus Christ and the New Millennium, by Lawrence S. Cunningham

From Who Do You Say That I Am? 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. (Colossians 3:16)

Karl Rahner once wrote, famously, that the Christian of the future would either be a mystic “who has experienced something or will cease to be anything at all.”  The burden of Rahner’s argument was that the day when Christians (he was speaking of his own experiences as a European) would simply be born into, and assimilated by, the Bavarian piety of his youth and young adulthood had passed, eroded by the traumas of the century, the rapid rise of urbanization, and the decline of insulated islands of traditional Catholic culture.  His statement, in short, reflected a sober judgment about the de facto situation in Europe, a situation that had been described by many commentators both within and outside of Germany in particular and Western Europe in general.  His words may have appeared alarmist to believers on the other side of the Atlantic, at least in North America, but they were received without quarrel in Western Europe since Rahner was talking about a religious phenomenon at least as old as the warnings found in Henri Perrin’s path-breaking book, Is France Pagan? published during the Second World War.

When Rahner wrote that the Christians of the future had to “experience something” he used a kind of shorthand to describe what elsewhere he called the “church in the diaspora” – those communities of believers who exist along with a secularized culture which views the believing community either with benign indifference or outright hostility.  To be a believer in post-war Germany or in a banlieue [suburb] of Paris or in the de-Christianized cultures from Scandinavia to the Iberian peninsula was only possible if those who lived in such communities actually believed in something.  There would be nothing substantially nourishing found in the culture itself that would support belief; belief could only be sustained and nurtured by authentic religious experience.  In other words, the Christians of the future would have to accommodate themselves to being minority communities in largely unbelieving societies.

One can enlarge Rahner’s observation by thinking about those believers who live as a distinct minority in an alien culture (in Pakistan, the Sudan, large parts of India, in the Middle East, Northern Africa, etc.) or in one that is aggressively hostile to believers such as the People’s Republic of China.  Or, to calibrate the matter somewhat differently, to think of those believers who live in cultures which are nominally Christian but whose political climate is such that deeply committed believers become the object of murderous impulses as the recent lugubrious history of several Latin American and Central American countries testify.  What is rather new about martyrdom in those latter countries is, as Javier Limón has written, that “people are not being killed through hatred of the faith or by a militantly unbelieving or atheist world.  They are being murdered in culturally Catholic countries belonging to Western civilizations, apparently secular and tolerant.”

Whether the country is secularized or shaped by a quite different religious history or hostile or even benignly tolerant, the same question occurs: How is Christ present to that situation?  There was a time not too far distant when the answer was simple enough: use the energy, the resources, and the purported superiority of Western culture to make Christ present, i.e., to evangelize with aggressive enthusiasm.  That attitude, among certain strains of fundamentalist Christianity, is still regnant as monies, advanced media, and social services blanket the world with one or other particular version of the Gospel.  Such a muscular approach to mission does carry with it more than a hint of superiority not unlike the old concept of a colonialism – the mission civilitrice – where the Gospel and capitalist expansion went hand in hand.  Given the ubiquity of the media today there is more than a suspicion in some countries that aggressive evangelization is another cover attempt at the Mcdonaldization of the entire world.

The whole issue of mission in a pluralist world is a topic that has engaged the attention of theologians who have addressed a whole spectrum of topics.  That spectrum runs from issues about inculturation at the most benign level to the vexatious topic of the degree to which one must preach salvation through Christ as the one way to salvation.  That spectrum is so broad and the topics within it so neuralgic that it would be beyond the capacities of this essay to even list them.

My reflections will be much more modest since they will focus on only one fundamental issue: Who is Jesus Christ for today and how is the presence of that Christ instantiated in the contemporary world especially in those parts of the world where Christ is either not known or only understood as a kind of cultural artifact belonging to an age long gone?  To put it bluntly: what think ye of the Christ in Oslo or Karachi or Bogota or Chicago or even here in the Middle East?  I ask this question as a Christian to Christians since I am not expert enough to ask it in tandem with other religious traditions as the comparative theologian might do.  I ask simply how a believing Christian thinks of the presence of Jesus Christ in places and situations where such belief looks either odd or even hostile to the best of the culture.

Some Fundamental Assertions

We might begin with a fundamental truth: Jesus is a person with a history.  His life story as a public person does not begin “once upon a time,” but, “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,” (Luke 3:1).  Furthermore, this historical person had a history succinctly summed up in an economic phrase written by an ardent follower: Jesus was born at the right time; he was born of a woman; and, finally, he was born into the culture of the Jews [“In the fullness of time God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law,” (Galatians 4:4)].  Not to parse that phrase too carefully we can stipulate that (1) Jesus cannot be understood except against the background of the long history of the Jewish people; (2) from the perspective of his followers, his coming was the culmination of a long period of expectation; (3) he was not an angel or a demiurge but one born of a woman – a man who was understood to be both the son of his mother and the Son of God.  (4) Finally, he was born at a particular moment in history and in a particular place so that, humanly speaking, there is a long period “before” and “after” Jesus.

To insist that Jesus was a man with a history does not mean that his meaning is exhausted by grasping him solely as a person who lived at a particular moment in time; in other words, the believing community of Christians has never held that the center and wellspring of their belief derives from the mere fact of his historical reality pace some popular interpretations of contemporary scholarship on the historical Jesus.  The fact that Jesus is a historical person does not mean that his meaning is totally bound to his historical moment.  For the Christian community Jesus has a meta-historical significance.  To recover Jesus as a historical person only takes us so far.  Paul Tillich got it exactly right when he wrote something over fifty years ago that is true both of theological method and the dynamics of belief:

The historical foundation of theological method does not mean that the theologian has to wait, in fear and trembling, for the next mail which may bring him a new, more critical, or more conservative statement about some important facts of the “life of Jesus” according to which he has to change his faith and his theology.  But it does mean that his theology is determined by the advent of the appearance of the new reality in history, as reflected in the full biblical picture of Jesus as the Christ and as witnessed by all biblical writers and the whole tradition of Christianity. (Tillich’s emphasis)

Resistance to a reduction of the significance of Jesus to the results of historical scholarship does not mean that such research is without value.  To the contrary, such scholarship is a gift to the believing community.  Resistance however should reflect an unwillingness to limit the significance of faith as a result of such work.  When Tillich spoke about the full biblical picture and the witness of the whole tradition of Christianity, he was writing, in effect, about the ceaseless attempt on the part of believers to answer the question which is our theme: “What think ye of the Christ?  Whose Son is he?”

It is not to oversimplify to say that the struggle to answer that question at a very deep level involves an attempt to do justice to the historicity of Jesus as a fellow member of the human race and the evolving understanding of his followers from the beginning to reach up to the significance of what the full biblical witness had to say about him.  The canonical scriptures themselves reflect that struggle for understanding – the articulation, in other words, of a theologia that does full justice to the deepest meaning of that word.

A Historical Perspective

Let me put the issue before us into some kind of perspective.  Christians today make up about a quarter of the world’s population.  To take comfort in that fact is to elide over the other fact that in large parts of the world the Christian presence is minimal.  That minimal presence must be set against the universalist claims which Christian faith makes.  Not far from this place where we meet, Christians honor the birthplace of Jesus.  Our tendency is to think of the message of Jesus radiating out from ancient Palestine toward the North and toward the West following the map of, say, Paul’s journeys around the Mediterranean world.  That bias toward the West derives, of course, because of the facile identification of Christianity with the West, but, as we should know, that is only one way of looking at matters.

Permit me, however, to turn your eyes to the East in order to do a thought experiment.  If one were to travel East through Iraq at the time of the birth of Jesus one would pass through ancient Persia already wedded to a religious dualism which would provide in time both Zoroastrian, Mandean, and Mithraic impulses.  Voyaging from Persia in an easterly direction one passes through the vast reaches of Central Asia.  By taking the southern silk route one would arrive, eventually, in the subcontinent of India.  At the time of the birth of Jesus, India had a millennial history of religious practice reflected first in teh liturgical texts known collectively as the Rig Veda and later in the philosophical corpus of the Upanishads.  In the time roughly coinciding with the times of Jesus the epic tradition of India was taking shape in the form of both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in which is found the exquisite Bhagavad Gita.  By following the Northern silk route of central Asia one would eventually end up in China at a time when the tradition of both court Confucianism and Taoism were being tempered or challenged by an emergent Buddhism, a religious tradition which already had five hundred years of history behind it.

These ancient religious traditions were vibrantly alive at the precise time when Paul was writing to a minuscule community in Corinth (or perhaps a hundred people?) about Jesus making claims that on the face of it seemed outlandish.  This Jesus was Lord, Son of God, Power of God, the Wisdom of God, our righteousness sanctification, redemption, and pledge of eternal life.  Those titles, gleaned from a cursory glance at the epistle, had an added dimension when Paul further stipulates that the Christ who is Wisdom is identified as the hidden wisdom of God which existed before the foundations of the world.  Those claims seem so outsized when one considers the actual religious traditions of the day.  What would the sages of India make of such claims?

The claims of Paul are not only audacious but they are all the more so because they were taken with such utter seriousness both in the Pauline churches and by the later generations of believers.  Some of these claims were vigorously rejected by the Jewish world in which Paul was at home but the rejection of the Synagogue would be based on an intelligibility rooted in a common grammar as well as familial resemblances.  The Jews who heard Paul knew what the word “messiah” meant.  What sense did these claims make, however, when set against quite different and radically incommensurable religious claims coming from traditions which did not have a similar common vocabulary?

I raise this question simply because we live in a world quite different from Paul.  Both modern travel and easy communications via the various forms of media make us acutely aware of our global reality.  These new realities, in turn, seem to make the universal claims of Christian faith easy to relativize.  It is only a matter of perspective to juxtapose Pauline claims and the exigent fact of different ancient religious traditions in Paul’s day with the claims of Christianity today against a more vivid awareness of competing religious claims in the contemporary world as well as the claims of a nonreligious bias deeply rooted in those culture which are loosely described as postindustrial and postmodern.  What had Jerusalem to say to Karachi or Beijing or Jakarta – to name just three cities of whose existence even an early modern like Martin Luther would not have known?

MYSTICISM: What True Devotion Is, by Francis de Sales

From Introduction to the Devout Life

You aim at a devout life, dear child, because as a Christian you know that such devotion is most acceptable to God’s Divine Majesty.  But seeing that the small errors people are wont to commit in the beginning of any undertaking are apt to wax greater as they advance, and to become irreparable at last, it is most important that you should thoroughly understand wherein lies the grace of true devotion; and that because while there undoubtedly is such a true devotion, there are also many spurious and idle semblances thereof; and unless you know which is real, you may mistake, and waste your energy in pursuing an empty, profitless shadow.  Arelius was wont to paint all his pictures with the features and expression of the women he loved, and even so we all color devotion according to our own likings and dispositions.

One man sets great value on fasting, and believes himself to be leading a very devout life, so long as he fasts rigorously, although the while his heart is full of bitterness; and while he will not moisten his lips with wine, perhaps not even with water, in his great abstinence, he does not scruple to steep them in his neighbor’s blood, through slander and detraction.  Another man reckons himself as devout because he repeats many prayers daily, although at the same time he does not refrain from all manner of angry, irritating, conceited, or insulting speeches among his family and neighbors.  This man freely opens his purse in almsgiving, but closes his heart to all gentle and forgiving feelings toward those who are opposed to him; while that one is ready enough to forgive his enemies, but will never pay his rightful debts save under pressure.  Meanwhile all these people are conventionally called religious, but nevertheless they are in no true sense really devout.  When Saul’s servants sought to take David, Michal induced them to suppose that the lifeless figure lying in his bed, and covered with his garments, was the man they sought; and in like manner many people dress up an exterior with the visible acts expressive of earnest devotion, and the world supposes them to be really devout and spiritual-minded, while all the time they are mere lay figures, mere phantasms of devotion.

But, in fact, all true and living devotion presupposes the Love of God; and indeed it is neither more nor less than a very real Love of God, though not always of the same kind; for that Love, while shining on the soul we call grace, which makes us acceptable to His Divine Majesty; when it strengthens us to do well, it is called Charity; but when it attains its fullest perfection, in which it not only leads us to do well, but to act carefully, diligently, and promptly, then it is called Devotion.  The ostrich never flies, the hen rises with difficulty, and achieves but a brief and rare flight, but the eagle, the dove, and the swallow are continually on the wing, and soar high.  Even so sinners do not rise toward God, for all their movements are Earthly and Earthbound.  Well-meaning people, who have not as yet attained a true devotion, attempt a manner of flight by means of their good actions, but rarely, slowly, and heavily; while really devout men rise up to God frequently, and with a swift and soaring wing.

In short, devotion is simply a spiritual activity and liveliness by means of which Divine Love works in us, and causes us to work briskly and lovingly; and just as charity leads us to a general practice of all God’s Commandments, so devotion leads us to practice them readily and diligently.  And therefore we cannot call him who neglects to observe all God’s Commandments either good or devout, because in order to be good, a man must be filled with love, and to be devout, he must further be very ready and apt to perform the deeds of love.  And forasmuch as devotion consists in a high degree of real love, it not only makes us ready, active, and diligent in following all God’s Commands, but it also excites us to be ready and loving in performing as many good works as possible, even such as are not enjoined upon us, but are only matters of counsel or inspiration.

Even as a man just recovering from illness walks only so far as he is obliged to go, with a slow and weary step, so the converted sinner journeys along as far as God commands him but slowly and wearily, until he attains a true spirit of devotion, and then, like a sound man, he not only gets along, but he runs and leaps in the way of God’s Commands, and hastens gladly along the paths of Heavenly counsels and inspirations.  The difference between love and devotion is just that which exists between fire and flame – and what devotion adds to the fire of love is that flame which makes it eager, energetic, and diligent, not merely in obeying God’s Commandments, but in fulfilling His Divine Counsels and inspirations.

 

JESUS: The Ascension, by Thomas Keating

From The Mystery of Christ

After speaking with them, the Lord Jesus was taken up into Heaven and took his seat at God’s right hand.  The Eleven went forth and preached everywhere. (Mark 16:19-20)

By becoming a human being Christ annihilated the dichotomy between matter and spirit.  In the Person of the Divine-Human Being, a continuum between the divine and the human has been established.  Thus, God’s plan is not only to spiritualize the material universe, but to make matter itself divine.  This he has already done in the glorified humanity of his Son.  The grace bestowed on us by the Ascension of Jesus is the divinization of our humanity.  Our individuality is permeated by the Spirit of God through the grace of the Ascension and more specifically through the grace of Pentecost.  Thus we, in Christ, are also annihilating the dichotomy between matter and spirit.  Our life is a mysterious interpenetration of material experience, spiritual reality and the divine Presence.

The key to being a Christian is to know Jesus Christ with the whole of our being.  It is important to know his sacred humanity through our senses and to reflect upon it with our reason, to treasure his teaching and example in our imagination and memory, and to imitate him by a life of moral integrity.  But this is only the beginning.  It is to the transcendent potential in ourselves – to our mind which opens up to unlimited truth, and to our will which reaches out for unlimited love – that Christ addresses himself in the Gospel with particular urgency.

Not only is it important to know Jesus Christ with the whole of our being; it is also important to know Jesus Christ in the whole of his being.  We must know Christ, first of all, in his sacred humanity and historical reality and, more precisely, in his passion, which was the culminating point of his life on Earth.  The essential note of his passion is the emptying of his divinity.  We enter into his emptying by accepting the emptying process in our own life, by laying aside our false self and by living in the presence of God, the source of our being.

We must know Christ, however, not only in his human nature – his passion and emptying – but also in his divinity.  This is the grace of the resurrection.  It is the empowerment to live his risen life.  It is the grace not to sin.  It is the grace to express his risen life in the face of our inner poverty without at the same time ceasing to feel it.

The grace of the Ascension offers a still more incredible union, a more entrancing invitation to unbounded life and love.  This is the invitation to enter into the cosmic Christ – into his divine person, the Word of God, who has always been present in the world.  And he has always been present in a saving way because of God’s foreknowledge of his incarnation, death, and resurrection.  Christ is “the light that enlightens everyone,” (John 1:9) – the God who is secretly at work in the most unexpected and hidden ways.  This is the Christ who disappeared in his Ascension beyond the clouds, not into some geographical location, but into the heart of all creation.  In particular, he has penetrated the very depths of our being, our separate-self sense has melted into his divine Person, and now we can act under the direct influence of his Spirit.  Thus, even if we drink a cup of soup or walk down the street, it is Christ living and acting in us, transforming the world from within.  This transformation appears in the guise of ordinary things – in the guise of our seemingly insignificant daily routine.

The Ascension is Christ’s return to the heart of all creation where he dwells now in his glorified humanity.  The mystery of his Presence is hidden throughout creation and in every part of it.  At some moment of history, which prophecy calls the Last Day, our eyes will be opened and we will see reality as it is, which we know now only by faith.  That faith reveals that Christ, dwelling at the center of all creation and of each individual member of it, is transforming it and bringing it back, in union with himself, into the bosom of the Father.  Thus, the maximum glory of the Trinity is achieved through the maximum sharing of the divine life with every creature according to its capacity.  This is “the mystery hidden for ages in God,” (Ephesians 3:9).

The grace of the Ascension is the triumphant faith that believes that God’s will is being done no matter what happens.  It believes that creation is already glorified, though in a hidden manner, as it awaits the full revelation of the children of God.

The grace of the Ascension enables us to perceive the irresistible power of the Spirit transforming everything into Christ despite any and all appearances to the contrary.  In the misery of the ghetto, the battlefield, the concentration camp; in the family torn by dissension; in the loneliness of the orphanage, old-age home, or hospital ward – whatever we see that seems to be disintegrating into grosser forms of evil – the light of the Ascension is burning with irresistible power.  This is one of the greatest intuitions of faith.  This faith finds Christ not only in the beauty of nature, art, human friendship, and the service of others, but also in the malice and injustice of people or institutions, and in the inexplicable suffering of the innocent.  Even there it finds the same infinite love expressing the hunger of God for humanity, a hunger that he intends to satisfy.

Thus, in Colossians, Paul does not hesitate to cry out with his triumphant faith in the Ascension: “Christ is all and in all” – meaning now, not just in the future.  At this very moment we too have the grace to see Christ’s light shining in our hearts, to feel his absorbing Presence within us, and to perceive in every created thing – even in the most disconcerting – the presence of his light, love, and glory.

 

LIGHT: Candle Prayers For Reflection

From the website Barnabas in Schools

Introduction

The use of candles in worship has a long history. Both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions have always made use of candles in their liturgies, whereas the Protestant Church has tended to rely less on candles as a visual aid in worship, reserving their use for the altar table or for special festivals such as Easter. In recent years candles have become more common, as part of an Advent Crown, as night-lights for prayers, or in candle-lit services. However, Christians of all traditions and today many others in our society increasingly welcome the beauty and stillness that a candle’s light can generate. Schools often use the focus of a candle for their time of quiet in an assembly/collective worship.

Preparation

You will need a tall pillar candle on a stand and some matches. Place the candle in the centre of the circle of children. Remind them that matches and candles can be dangerous and that only an adult should light the candle. They must keep well away from the flame. Depending on which of the reflections below you decide to use, you may need other candles to help illustrate what you say (see 2, 3, 5, and 8 below).

Development

Any or all of the following reflections could be used alongside the lighting of the candle and as you watch its flame burn. The use of candles as part of a prayerful meditation like this is very powerful and children just like adults will respond to the quietening effect that the candle flame brings. Each reflection opens up a whole area of wondering and can be a stimulus for prayer. In the silence that follows each thought give space for the children to pray quietly and/or use the short prayer suggestions below.

1. A candle cannot light itself. It needs to receive light from another.

Father God, thank you for the light that Jesus brings to us and the light we can pass on to others.

2. A candle when lit can give away its light without losing the light it has.

(perhaps you could demonstrate this by lighting a small tea light from the central candle)

Father God, thank you that you give us so much love that we can give away love to others without losing what we already have.

3. A candle burns as bright when it is new, as when there is only a small amount of the original candle left.

(perhaps you can demonstrate this by lighting another pillar candle that is not as tall because it has already burned lower)

Father God, thank you that whatever age we are, we can still be used by you to be a light for you to each other.

4. A candle’s light is sensitive, reacting to the slightest movement of the air around it.

(you could demonstrate this by blowing gently – though beware, this will encourage the children to do the same and maybe less gently!)

Father God, thank you that you pick up every little thought and feeling that we have because you care about us. Help us to be sensitive and kind to others.

5. A candle’s light is the same whatever the size, shape or color of the candle.

(introduce some other candles, of different shapes and colors)

Father God, thank you that we all matter to you and are of equal value to you even though we are each very different. Help us to see the light of your love burning in everyone we meet.

6. A candle’s light is designed to be seen and is best placed high up so that it can give light to all; it is not for hiding away.

(demonstrate this by carefully lifting up the pillar candle higher)

Father God, help us not to hide our light away, keeping it to ourselves. You want us to be lights that bring light to as many people as possible.

7. A candle’s flame burns upward while it sheds its light outward.

Father God, help us to put you first every day and in every situation so the light from our flame grows tall, sending out more light to others.

8. Unless the candle’s light is passed on, that light dies when the candle itself comes to an end.

(light some more tea lights from the central candle, maybe one for each child in the circle. Watch how the light grows bigger and bigger, all from the one light)

Father God, you wanted your light to be passed on to others. You are the light of the world and you call us to be lights to the world.

9. At the heart of the candle’s light there is a death happening, as the wick is burnt up and the wax around it melts and evaporates; just as the light of Christ came only from the death of Jesus on the cross.

Father God, thank you for sending Jesus to die for us on the cross so that we can be forgiven and come to share in your light.

10. When eventually the candle or candles are snuffed out, draw the group’s attention to the spreading smoke, which like incense fills the room. This is even more powerful if it is a perfumed candle. It may be helpful to liken this to the invisible presence of Jesus that goes off with us everywhere, even when we cannot see a candle burning to remind us he is there.

Father God, thank you that even when we cannot see you, you are still with us. May your invisible light shine brightly in and through us wherever we go in the days ahead.

 

Suggested Readings:

Jesus said: I am the light of the world. Follow me and you won’t be walking in the dark. You will have the light that gives life. (John 8:12)

Jesus said: You are like light for the whole world. No one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot. A lamp is placed on a lamp stand, where it can give light to everyone in the house. Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

POETRY: In The Library, by Charles Simic

There’s a book called
A Dictionary of Angels.
No one had opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She’s very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.

POETRY: The Pillar Of Cloud, by John Henry Newman

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

JESUS: A Divine And Supernatural Light, by Sam Storms

From A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ

2 Corinthians 4:5-6

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

If Satan is actively blinding the minds of unbelievers to compound and perpetuate their bondage in spiritual darkness, (2 Corinthians 4:3-4), what possible hope is there?  We seem left only to despair of unsaved loved ones.  What, if anything, can bring the unregenerate into life?  What, if anything, can dispel the darkness of unbelief and awaken the heart to the beauty of Christ?   What, if anything, can we do in the face of such Satanic opposition?

The answer, Paul said, is to proclaim the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord, (2 Corinthians 4:5)!  Through the gospel, and only the gospel, is the light that brings life to be found.

In August of 1734, Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) preached one of his most famous sermons, rather cumbersomely titled, A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to be Both Scriptural and Rational Doctrine.  In this sermon, among other things, he explained the essence of the saving experience.  What is it, precisely, that occurs when God causes new life to erupt from within the depths of a spiritual corpse?

The apostle Paul’s answer is that, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness [shines] in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” (2 Corinthians 4:6).  “You cannot go beneath this,” John Piper says.  “There is no deeper reality and no greater value than the glory of God in Christ.  There is no prize and no satisfaction beyond this.  When you have this, you are at the end.  You are home.  The glory of God is not a means to anything greater.  This is ultimate, absolute reality.  All true salvation ends here, not before, and not beyond.  There is no beyond.  The glory of God in Christ is what makes the gospel gospel.” (A God Entranced Vision of All Things)

Seeing this light and knowing this knowledge and relishing the beauty of God’s glory as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ are utterly impossible for fallen and depraved people unless God sovereignly shines his regenerating and saving mercy into our hearts, thereby dispelling the darkness of unbelief and hostility and bringing to us a new sense of the sweetness and majesty of Jesus.

The contrast between 2 Corinthians 4:6 and 4:4 is shocking.  Unbelievers are blinded by Satan.  Believers are enlightened by God.  Satan takes one from unbelief into total darkness.  God takes one from total darkness into the brilliance of Christ’s light!

The obvious background for Paul’s language is Genesis 1:2-3, (cf. Acts 26:12-18).  The original, primeval darkness that enshrouded the creation was dispelled by the divinely creative command: “Let there be light!”  Likewise, by way of analogy, in sovereign, creative mercy, God fixes his gaze upon the darkness of sin, death, and blindness in the human soul and says, “Let there be light!”

We must not miss the emphasis Paul places on the glory of the gospel as it is proclaimed and what it means to those who believe.  Paul himself literally saw the glory of God revealed in the literal face of Jesus when he was on the Damascus road.  That which Paul saw, he now sets forth by means of “the truth,” (v. 2), of the gospel addressed to the ears of his hearers, (i.e., to the Corinthians, to you and me).

When we by grace respond in faith, light from the glorified Christ shines into our darkened hearts, (v. 6).  As Paul Barnett points out, “such ‘seeing’ of ‘the light. . . of the glory’ is, of course, metaphorical for hearing.  The gospel of Christ comes first not as an optical but as an aural reality, (see Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:2, 5; cf. 3:1).  Nonetheless, his words are not merely figurative.  The intensity of Paul’s language suggests that he is appealing to shared spiritual experience, his own and his readers.’  When the gospel is heard and the hearer turns to the Lord, the veil is removed so that he now ‘sees’ the glory of the Lord.” (The Second Epistle to the Corinthians)

Don’t miss this: the glory of God is present in the proclamation of the gospel, (4:4-6)!  This is why Paul is so offended by the “peddlers of God’s word,” (2:17), in Corinth and those who “tamper with” the gospel, (4:2).  This is not a matter of mere words or a routine speech or a competitive attempt to appear more powerful or persuasive or verbally impressive than the other guy.

The proclamation of the truth of the gospel is not entertainment.  It is not a platform for a preacher to enhance his reputation or pad his pocketbook or impress people with his eloquence.  A preacher or teacher much never open the Scriptures flippantly or casually, as if setting forth the truths of the gospel were no different from any other form of communication.

The same applies anytime anyone shares the gospel with a passing stranger in a restaurant or distributes a tract to a friend.  Just think of it: when you speak or write or share the message of the cross, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [as revealed] in the face of Jesus,” (v. 6), is shining forth.  What an awesome calling we have!  What an exquisite treasure we carry, (4:7)!

Edwards referred to this phenomenon as the shining forth of a divine and supernatural light.  This experience, he argued, is not to be identified with the conviction of sin that unregenerate people experience.  The Spirit can act upon the soul of an unbeliever without communicating himself to or uniting himself with that person.  Nor is it to be identified with “impressions” made upon the “imagination.”  It has nothing to do with seeing anything with one’s physical eyes.

The divine and supernatural light, said Edwards, does not suggest or impart new truths or ideas not already found in the written Word of God.  It “only gives a due apprehension of those things that are taught in the Word of God.”

We must also be careful not to identify it with those occasions when the unregenerate are deeply and profoundly affected by religious ideas.  One may be moved or stirred or emotionally impacted by a religious phenomenon without believing it to be true (consider, for example, the widespread popular reaction to Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion).

So what is this “divine and supernatural light” that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 4:6?  Edwards defined it as “a true sense [or “apprehension”] of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the Word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them, thence arising.”  This is a profoundly supernatural experience in which a person doesn’t “merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but. . . has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart.”

If you are wondering what the difference is between “rationally” believing that God is glorious and having a “sense of the excellency” of God’s glory, it is the difference between knowing that God is holy and having a “sense of the loveliness” of God’s holiness.  It is not only a “speculatively judging that God is gracious” but also “a sense [of] how amiable God is upon that account” or sensing the “beauty” of God’s grace and holiness.

An unregenerate person may have a cognitive awareness or knowledge of the terms of the gospel of Christ.  But to recognize and relish the beauty or amiableness or sweetness of that truth and feel pleasure and delight in it are due wholly to the regenerating work of the Spirit.

As Edwards said, “there is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.”  In other words, “when the heart is sensible of the beauty and amiableness of a thing, it necessarily feels pleasure in the apprehension.

How does God shine this light into our hearts?  He first “destroys the enmity, removes those prejudices, and sanctifies the reason [or a person], and causes it to lie open to the force of arguments for their truth.”  He also causes the gospel to be more lively and enables the mind to focus and think and concentrate with more intensity on what is known.  But this divine and supernatural light also enables the mind and heart, by “a kind of intuitive and immediate evidence,” to be convinced of the truth of the superlative excellency of what is proclaimed in the gospel of Christ as Lord.  Said Edwards:

Men have a great deal of pleasure in human knowledge, in studies of natural things; but this is nothing to that joy which arises from this divine light shining into the soul.  This light gives a view of those things that are immensely the most exquisitely beautiful, and capable of delighting the eye of the understanding.  This spiritual light is the dawning of the light of glory in the heart.

It’s hard to put into words the enjoyment, delight, and sense of the sweetness of God that the Spirit imparts to the soul of man!  Paul calls it “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,” (1 Peter 1:8).  What a marvelous blessing, indeed, with which nothing else in Heaven or Earth can compare, that hell-deserving sinners have imparted to them a “new sense of the heart” that consists in delight and enjoyment and an intuitive awareness or apprehension of the sweetness of God’s beauty as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.

Let us by all means, “praise God from whom all blessings flow,” and in doing so remember that this, dear friend, is the greatest blessing of all.

JESUS: I Am The Light Of The World, by Robert H. Smith

From Wounded Lord

John 8:12-59

 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

The Pharisees therefore said to Him, “You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true.”

Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.  You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.  And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true.  I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.”

Then they said to Him, “Where is Your Father?”

Jesus answered, “You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.”

These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.

Then Jesus said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come.”

So the Jews said, “Will He kill Himself, because He says, ‘Where I go you cannot come’?”

And He said to them, “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

Then they said to Him, “Who are You?”

And Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning.  I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.”

They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father.

Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.  And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”  As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.  And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.  Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.  I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.”

They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.”

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.  But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this.  You do the deeds of your father.”

Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father — God.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me.  Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word.  You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.  But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.  Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?  He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”

Then the Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.  And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges.  Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”

Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’  Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?”

Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.  Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.  Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”

Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?”

Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

Debate between Jesus and the authorities was joined already in the aftermath of the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethzatha, (5:2-18).  Those sharp exchanges resumed in the temple at the Feast of Tabernacles, (7:1-52), and now intensify as Jesus exclaims, “I AM the light of the world,” (8:12).

Primordial life-giving light resides deep in God’s Word and that light erupted in the midst of human history, not for the first time but with unique power and clarity when the Word became flesh.  Ever under attack, the light yet shines in the darkness.  The perennial struggle announced in the prologue takes on historical dimensions in the opposition between Jesus and his adversaries.

Light is more than a benign warming agent or welcome illumination for our path on dark nights.  In the Fourth Gospel light shines on human beings and exposes who and what they really are, (3:19-21).

This Jesus seems so unheeding of the law of Moses, (5:9-10; 7:19-24), and speaks so easily of his intimacy with God that he looks to his opponents more like a blasphemer and deceiver, (5:18; 7:12, 47), than “the prophet,” (7:40, 52), or “the Christ,” (7:26, 40-42).  Can this Jesus wherever he comes from, really be the embodiment of divine light, the source of true life, the judge of humanity?

To his adversaries Jesus is making outrageous claims with no warrant besides his own singular assertion.  But Jesus responds once again that he enjoys the testimony of powerful witnesses.  Previously he had called to the witness stand John the Baptist and the works that he, Jesus, was performing, (5:31-36), as well as Moses and all of sacred scripture, (5:39-47).

Now Jesus fixes all attention on the testimony of “the Father who sent me,” (vv. 16-19).  For one reason only, the adversaries cannot fathom the truth that Jesus’s words and deeds are in closest harmony with God and all those other witnesses: they “judge according to the flesh,” (v. 15).

Mark records a similar judgment of Jesus upon Peter who rebuked Jesus for affirming the divine necessity of the cross.  Jesus said to Peter, “You have your mind set not on the things of God but on human things,” (Mark 8:33, my translation).

In parallel fashion the foes of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel reject him because he travels the way of the cross, even though the language differs from that of Mark’s gospel.  After all, who is this “I” who declares “I AM the light of the world”?  This “I” is the resurrected and exalted Jesus who still bears the marks of his wounds, (John 20:25-27).  In the rhetoric of the Fourth Gospel, Jesus offends because he insists that his wounds are integral to the identity of God.

As offensive as his words prove to be, “no one arrested him for his hour had not yet come,” (8:20).

PRAYER: Official Prayer of the XLVII International Eucharistic Congress

Rome 2000

Lord God, Father of mercy
and source of life,
you call us from the whole world
to celebrate with renewed fervor
the great mystery of the Eucharist,
memorial for all time
of the Passover of your Son.
With gratitude in our hearts
for the salvation which has been given us,
we ask you confidently
at the beginning of the third millennium:
By our sharing
in the one bread and the one cup,
make us one body in Christ,
and may we live of the divine life
which he obtained for us
at the price of the Blood.
Brought to life by his Holy Spirit,
we will proclaim to the world
the wonders of your love.
Through Jesus Christ your Son,
who was born of the Virgin,
and who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

Amen.

REFLECTION: The Soul Of Sunday, by Benedict XVI

From Heart of the Christian Life

“Sine dominico non possumus!”  Without the gift of the Lord, without the Lord’s day, we cannot live: That was the answer given in the year 304 by Christians from Abitene in present-day Tunisia, when they were caught celebrating the forbidden Sunday Eucharist and brought before the judge.  They were asked why they were celebrating the Christian Sunday Eucharist, even though they knew it was a capital offense.  “Sine dominico non possumus!”: in the word dominicum/dominico two meanings are inextricably intertwined, and we must once more learn to recognize their unity.  First of all there is the gift of the Lord – this gift is the Lord himself: the Risen one, whom the Christians simply need to have close and accessible to them, if they are to be themselves.  Yet this accessibility is not merely something spiritual, inward and subjective: the encounter with the Lord is inscribed in time on a specific day.  And so it is inscribed in our everyday, corporal, and communal existence, in temporality.  It gives a focus, an inner order to our time and thus to the whole of our lives.  For these Christians, the Sunday Eucharist was not a commandment, but an inner necessity.  Without him who sustains our lives, life itself is empty.  To do without or to betray this focus would deprive life of its very foundation, would take away its inner dignity and beauty.

Does this attitude of the Christians of that time apply also to us who are Christians today?  Yes, it does, we too need a relationship that sustains us, that gives direction and content to our lives.  We too need access to the Risen one, who sustains us through and beyond death.  We need this encounter which brings us together, which gives us space for freedom, which lets us see beyond the bustle of everyday life to God’s creative love, from which we come and toward which we are traveling.

Of course, if we listen to today’s Gospel, if we listen to what the Lord is saying to us, it frightens us: “Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has and all links with his family cannot be my disciple.”  We would like to object: What are you saying, Lord?  Isn’t the family just what the world needs?  Doesn’t it need the love of father and mother, the love between parents and children, between husband and wife?  Don’t we need love for life, the joy of life?  And don’t we also need people who invest in the good things of this world and build up the Earth we have received, so that everyone can share in its gifts?  Isn’t the development of the Earth and its good another charge laid upon us?  If we listen to the Lord more closely, and above all if we listen to him in the context of everything he is saying to us, then we understand that Jesus does not demand the same from everyone.  Each person has a specific task, to each is assigned a particular way of discipleship.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus is speaking directly of the specific vocation of the Twelve, a vocation not shared by the many who accompanied Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem.  The Twelve must first of all overcome the scandal of the cross, and then they must be prepared truly to leave everything behind; they must be prepared to assume the seemingly absurd task of traveling to the ends of the Earth and, with their minimal education, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world filled with claims to erudition and with real or apparent education – and naturally also to the poor and the simple.  They must themselves be prepared to suffer martyrdom in the course of their journey into the vast world, and thus to bear witness of the Gospel of the Crucified and Risen Lord.  If Jesus’s words on this journey to Jerusalem, on which a great crowd accompanies him, are addressed in the first instance to the Twelve, his call naturally extends beyond the historical moment into all subsequent centuries.  He calls people of all times to count exclusively on him, to leave everything else behind, so as to be totally available for him, and hence totally available for others: to create oases of selfless love in a world where so often only power and wealth seem to count for anything.  Let us thank the Lord for giving us men and women in every century who have left all else behind for his sake, and have thus become radiant signs of his love.  We need only think of people like Benedict and Scholastica, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Elizabeth of Hungary and Hedwig of Silesia, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, and in our own day, Mother Teresa and Padre Pio.  With their whole lives, these people have become a living interpretation of Jesus’s teaching, which through their lives becomes close and intelligible to us.  Let us ask the Lord to grant to people in our own day the courage to leave everything behind and so to be available to everyone.

Yet if we now turn once more to the Gospel, we realize that the Lord is not speaking merely of a few individuals and their specific task; the essence of what he says applies to everyone.  The heart of the matter he expresses elsewhere in these words: “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:24f)  Whoever wants to keep his life just for himself will lose it.  Only by giving ourselves do we receive our life.  In other words: only the one who loves discovers life.  And love always demands going out of oneself, it always demands leaving oneself.  Anyone who looks just to himself, who wants the other only for himself, will lose both himself and the other.  Without this profound losing of oneself, there is no life.  The restless craving for life, so widespread among people today, leads to the barrenness of a lost life.  “Whoever loses his life for my sake. . .”, says the Lord: a radical letting-go of our self is only possible if in the process we end up, not by falling into the void, but into the hands of Love eternal.  Only the love of God, who loses himself for us and gives himself to us, makes it possible for us also to become free, to let go, and so truly to find life.  This is the heart of what the Lord wants to say to us in the seemingly hard words of this Sunday’s Gospel.  With his teaching he gives us the certainty that we can build on his love, the love of the incarnate God.  Recognition of this is the wisdom of which today’s reading speaks to us.  Once again, we find that all the world’s learning profits us nothing unless we learn to live, unless we discover what truly matters in life.

“Sine dominico non possumus!”  Without the Lord and without the day that belongs to him, life does not flourish.  Sunday has been transformed in our Western societies into the weekend, into leisure time.  Leisure time is something good and necessary, especially amid the mad rush of the modern world; each of us knows this.  Yet if leisure time lacks an inner focus, an overall sense of direction, then ultimately it becomes wasted time that neither strengthens nor builds us up.  Leisure time requires a focus – the encounter with him who is our origin and goal.  My great predecessor in the see of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Faulhaber, once put it like this: Give the soul its Sunday, give Sunday its soul.

Because Sunday is ultimately about encountering the risen Christ in word and sacrament, its span extends through the whole of reality.  The early Christians celebrated the first day of the week as the Lord’s day, because it was the day of the resurrection.  Yet very soon, the church also came to realize that the first day of the week is the day of the dawning of creation, the day on which God said: “Let there be light,” (Genesis 1:13).  Therefore Sunday is also the church’s weekly feast of creation – the feast of thanksgiving and joy over God’s creation.  At a time when creation seems to be endangered in so many ways through human activity, we should consciously advert to this dimension of Sunday too.  Then, for the early church, the first day increasingly assimilated the traditional meaning of the seventh day, the Sabbath.  We participate in God’s rest, which embraces all of humanity.  Thus we sense on this day something of the freedom and equality of all God’s creatures.

In this Sunday’s Opening Prayer we call to mind firstly that through his Son God has redeemed us and made us his beloved children.  Then we ask him to look down with loving-kindness upon all who believe in Christ and to give us true freedom and eternal life.  We ask God to look down with loving-kindness.  We ourselves need this look of loving-kindness not only on Sunday but beyond, reaching into our everyday lives.  As we ask, we know that this loving gaze has already been granted to us.  What is more, we know that God has adopted us as his children, he has truly welcomed us into communion with himself.  To be someone’s child means, as the early church knew, to be a free person, not a slave but a member of the family.  And it means being an heir.  If we belong to God, who is the power above all powers, then we are fearless and free.  And then we are heirs.  The inheritance he has bequeathed to us is himself, his love.  Yes, Lord, may this inheritance enter deep within our souls so that we come to know the joy of being redeemed.

Amen.

SATURDAY READING: Bread And Mission, by Wolfgang Vondey

From People of Bread

The multiplication of bread illustrates the central mission of the disciples of Jesus in the world.  The distribution of bread embodies the emphasis of the Old Testament on providing companionship and hospitality to the stranger, the outcast the poor, and the hungry.  Jesus personified this task in his own life and teaching.  In the Gospels we find Jesus consistently “eating with sinners and tax collectors,” (Mark 2:16).  The sharing of companionship with sinners and the offer of hospitality to the poor and outcasts of society was a hallmark of his life.  In fact, his ministry might be summed up in the phrase, “welcoming sinner and eating with them,” (Luke 15:1 and 2).  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus himself describes his ministry as an anointing addressed to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed, (see Luke 4:18-19), and passes on the principles of this ministry to the disciples.

Go on your way.  See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.  Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.  Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”  And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.  Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide. (Luke 10:3-7)

The radical companionship with people at the margins of society was clearly perceived by the people and provided a frequent ground for criticism, (see Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34).  Hospitality to sinner marked Jesus and the disciples a “stranger” in the world, ignored, dismissed, and often actively opposed.

Jesus passed on the radical principles of his ministry without reservation to his disciples, his guests, and his critics.  Luke records the following response of Jesus to a man who had invited him to dinner.

When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:12-14)

In this statement, Jesus imparts to his host a mission of hospitality with the unfortunate, the unprivileged and the oppressed.  He calls the world to share bread with the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed at the cost of withholding one’s bread from family, relatives, or friends who might return the favor.  This task identifies the hallmark of companionship in the New Testament.  Those who emulate Jesus are called to invite the unknown the unfamiliar, and unwelcome guest.  Jesus identifies the true guest as the unwanted stranger, the marginalized who live at the fringes of society, the unwanted we avoid, and the poor who are not able to reward our hospitality.

In addition to the command to extend hospitality to those who cannot repay the host, Jesus connects companionship on Earth with a reward by God at the final judgment.  This relationship is also evident in Jesus’s teaching about the kingdom of God.  Chapter 25 of Matthew contains one of Jesus’s parables on the final judgment.  Separating the nations into two groups, the Son of Man pronounces a verdict of eternal life on those standing to his right, and of eternal punishment on those standing to his left.  The reason for this judgment is again given in the unambiguous terminology of hospitality and companionship.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”  Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”  And the king will answer them, “Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:34-40)

In his explanation of the final judgment, Jesus uses the emphasis of the Old Testament on the commission of Israel to share bread with the whole world as a framework for his own teaching.  Yet he takes the notion further by relating the display of hospitality to his own person.  Jesus identifies himself as the stranger who is, or is not, invited into companionship.  Those who do not share food, drink, clothes, and shelter with strangers in fact neglect Jesus himself.  On the other hand, those who invite the poor, the hungry and thirsty, the prisoners and strangers of the world actually receive Jesus.  The sharing of companionship with the poor is not merely a ministry to those who are representatives of Christ but an interaction with those who are identical with Christ.  Those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, or imprisoned do not receive food, drink, clothes, and shelter on behalf of Christ; it is Christ himself who receives these things in a concrete and real manner.

A similar identification is found in the commission of the disciples who are sent out into the world with the explanation that those who invite them actually receive Jesus, and by receiving the Son, also receive the Father: “Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives me receives him who sent me,” (John 13:20; see Matthew 10:40).  In Jesus’s perspective, the sharing of bread and companionship is inextricably linked with the expectation that God will play a role in every display of hospitality.  More important, however, in the Gospels this relationship to God can only be understood in light of the relationship between Jesus, as Son, to the Heavenly Father.  The image of bread in the Gospels repeats the emphasis of the Hebrew scriptures that God is seen as both host and guest.  Moreover, the Gospels show that the relationship between the Son and the Father plays a central role in understanding God’s involvement in human companionship.

The Gospel of John places particular weight on the relationship of the Son to the Father for an understanding of the disciples’ mission in the world.  In his prayer to the Father, Jesus anticipates the sending of his disciples: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world,” (John 17:18).  After the resurrection, Jesus uses the same words to commission his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” (John 20:21).  The disciples are sent into the world by the Son who himself was sent by the Father.  The purpose of this relationship is stated clearly: Those who receive the Son also reject the Father, (see John 12:45; 13:20; 15:23).  In turn, those who receive or reject the disciples also receive or reject the disciples also receive or reject the Son and with this decision solidify their relationship to the Father.  The affirmation of Jesus as the Son places him into a decisive position within the human relationship to God.  The significance of this position is even more evident when we consider that the commission of the disciples is to Israel first, and only then to the nations.  The mission of the disciples is the proclamation that companionship with the Son is companionship with God.  For the disciples this also means that those who have companionship with them participate in their companionship with the Son and through the Son with the Father.  This extension and realization of companionship with God forms the heart of the disciples’ mission and self-understanding.  The followers of Christ are commissioned to invite the world into companionship, so that the world may have fellowship with them and through this fellowship may participate in the disciples’ companionship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, (see 1 John 1:3).

The image of bread continues to remain a central figure in the understanding of this relationship.  In fact, in John’s Gospel, Jesus offers a further explanation of God’s companionship with the world in light of the multiplication of bread.  The day after the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus voices his disappointment over the fact that the disciples failed to understand the miracle.  Like Israel in the wilderness, the disciples sought him “not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves,” (John 6:26); their focus was only on the bread itself but not on the ultimate significance of the event.  The disciples continued to question their own role in the work of God epitomized in Jesus’s command, “You give them something to eat.”  However, taking on Jesus’s command at the beginning of the multiplication of bread, in John 6:28, the disciples now apply it to themselves and ask the definitive question: “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

Jesus admonishes them not to look for “food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,” (v. 27).  The food that they are to give to the people is food that he will “give” to them.  Jesus’s explanation leads to the perplexing climax of the story of the multiplication of bread:

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ (John 6:32-58)

The words of Jesus reiterate the emphasis of the Old Testament that the image of bread points beyond itself to God.  Jesus places particular emphasis on the explanation of Moses in Exodus 16 that the manna “is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat,” (v. 15).  The explanation that the manna was bread from God (not from Moses) is clearly directed at Jesus’s audience.  He provides not an interpretation of an Old Testament passage but rather an application of an event in Israel’s past to his audience in the present.  The reference to God’s provision of bread in the past is followed by a contrasting statement of God’s action in the present: God continues to give the bread from Heaven, (John 6:32).

At the same time, Jesus’s application of Israel’s understanding of bread to the present situation is accompanied by a number of significant qualifications.  He refers to the bread not only in its Old Testament equivalent as “bread from Heaven,” but moreover designates this bread as “true bread,” (v. 32), “bread of God,” (v. 33), “bread of life,” (vv. 35, 48), and “living bread,” (v. 51).  Jesus paints a clear contrast between the bread of the past and the bread of the present: the Israelites ate the bread in the wilderness and yet they died.  The bread God gives in the present, on the other hand, is bread that leads to eternal life.  Moreover, the bread in the wilderness was given to Israel alone.  The bread God gives in the present gives life to the whole world.

Jesus continues to explain that not only the recipient of the bread has changed but also the giver of the bread.  Whereas the bread of the exodus comes from the Lord (Yahweh), Jesus identifies the source of bread in the wilderness repeatedly as the “Father,” (vv. 32, 37, 44, 45, 46, 57).  More precisely, the designation “Father” (pater) does not primarily refer to God’s relationship with Israel but emphasizes God’s relation to Jesus: the provision of bread for Israel in the wilderness came from the Father of Jesus Christ.  In turn, Jesus applies to himself the title, “Son,” (vv. 40, 53), and thereby emphasizes again that the relationship between the Father and the Son is fundamental for a proper understanding of the image of bread in light of the mission of the disciples in the New Testament.  The perplexing climax of the episode is the revelation that the Son of God is the bread of the Father.

MYSTICISM: Margery And Richard Caister, by Margery Kempe

From The Book of Margery Kempe

I.

One day long before, whilst this creature was still bearing children, and when she was newly delivered of a child, our Lord Christ Jesus said to her that she should bear no more children, and He therefore commanded her to go to Norwich.  And she said: “Oh, dear Lord, how can I go?  I am both sick and weak.”  “Do not be afraid: I shall make you strong enough.  I command you to go to the Vicar of St. Stephen’s, and tell him that I greet him, and say that he is one of My exalted chosen souls, and tell him that he pleases Me much by his preaching, and reveal your secrets and My counsels to him as I have revealed them to you.”

So she made her way to Norwich, and came into his church one Thursday, a little before noon.  And the Vicar was walking up and down with another priest, who was his confessor, and who was still alive when this book was made.  And this creature was at that time dressed in black.  She greeted the Vicar, and asked if she might speak to him that afternoon when he had eaten, for an hour, or perhaps two hours, about the love of God.  He lifted up his hands, and blessed himself, and said, “Bless my soul!  How could a woman spend one hour or two hours talking about the love of God?  I shall not eat my dinner till I hear what you have to say about our Lord God which takes an hour to tell.”

So he sat down in the church, and she, sitting a little distance away, showed to him all the words which God had revealed to her in her soul.  Then she told him all her manner of life, as well as she could remember it, from her childhood on: how cruel she had been towards our Lord Jesus Christ, how proudly and vainly she had behaved, how stubbornly she had sinned against God’s laws, how she had envied her fellow Christians; and then, when it had pleased our Lord Jesus Christ, how she had been chastised with many tribulations and horrible temptations, and how afterwards she was nourished and comforted by holy meditations, and especially by recollection of our Lord’s Passion.  While she reflected upon the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, she heard a melody so hideous that she could not bear it.  Then this creature fell down as if she had lost her bodily strength, and she lay still for a long while, wishing to overcome it, but she could not.  Then she knew well by her faith that there was great rejoicing in Heaven, where the least bliss surpasses beyond comparison all the joy which could ever be imagined or felt in this life.  She was greatly strengthened in her faith, and the more bold to tell the Vicar what feelings she had about her revelations concerning both the living and the dead, and concerning himself.

She told him how sometimes the Father of Heaven held loving converse with her soul, as plainly and as truly as when one friend speaks with Earthly speech to another: sometimes it was the second Person of the Trinity: sometimes all three Persons in Trinity, who are in Their divinity one substance, spoke lovingly to her soul, and instructed her in her faith and in God’s love, teaching her how she ought to love Him, honor Him, and fear Him, teaching her this so excellently that she had never heard a book, not Hilton’s book, not St. Bridget’s book, not the Incendium Amoris or any other which she had listened to, which spoke so exaltedly of the love of God that she had not felt it as exaltedly working in her soul, if she had had the knowledge or power to reveal what she felt.

Sometimes our Lady spoke to her recollection, sometimes St. Peter, sometimes St. Paul, sometimes St. Katherine, or any other saint in Heaven to whom she had a devotion appeared to her soul and taught her how she ought to love our Lord, and how she ought to please Him.  Their conversation was so sweet, so holy, and so devout that often this creature could not endure it, but fell down, with paroxysms of the body, and behaved and looked strangely, with violent sobbing and great abundance of tears, sometimes saying, “Jesu, mercy!”, sometimes, “I am dying.”  And therefore many people slandered her, not believing that this was the work of God, but that some evil spirit afflicted her in her body, or else that she had some physical disease.

Yet in spite of these rumors and complaints by people against her, this holy man, the Vicar of St. Stephen’s Church at Norwich, whom God has exalted and showed and proved by miracles to be holy, always took her side and supported her against her enemies with all his might, after the time when by God’s command she showed him her form of rule and living, for he firmly believed that she was well instructed in the law of God and endowed with grace of the Holy Spirit, to Whom it is proper to inspire whom He will.  And though His voice may be heard, it is not known by the world whence it comes or where it goes.

After this, the holy Vicar was always this creature’s confessor when she came to Norwich, and he gave her Holy Communion with his own hands.  And when on one occasion she was summoned to appear before certain of the Bishop’s officials, to answer to certain charges which had been brought against her through the malice of envious people, the good Vicar, putting the love of God before any worldly shame, went with her to hear her be interrogated, and he delivered her from the malice of her enemies.  And then it was revealed to this creature that the good vicar should live for another seven years, and should then pass hence with great grace, and so he did as she had. . . . [The end of this sentence is lost in the original.]

II.

The good priest about whom something had already been written, who used to read aloud for her, fell into great sickness, and she was moved in her soul to take care of him on God’s behalf.  When she lacked what was necessary for him, she went around begging from good men and good women, and obtained such things as he needed.  He was so ill that no-one expected him to live, and his sickness lasted for a long time.  Then once, when she was in church hearing Mass, as she prayed for the priest, our Lord told her that he would live and be completely cured.  Then she was moved to go to Norwich, to St. Stephen’s Church, where the good Vicar, who had only died a short time before, is buried, by whose merits God showed His mercy to the people, so that she might thank Him for curing the priest.  She obtained leave from her confessor, and set off for Norwich.  When she came into St. Stephen’s churchyard, she cried, she shouted, she wept, she fell down on the ground, so ardently did the fire of love burn in her heart.  Then she got up again, and went, weeping, into the church, up to the high altar, and there she fell down, sobbing violently, weeping and crying aloud beside the good Vicar’s grave, completely transported by the spiritual consolations which she had in the goodness of our Lord, Who caused such great grace to come by the merits of His servant, who had been her confessor and had many times heard her confess the sins of her whole life, and often administered to her the precious Sacrament of the altar.  And her devotion was so much more increased because she saw how our Lord caused so special a grace to come through the merits of one of His creatures whom she had known in his lifetime.  She could not restrain her weeping or her crying.  And the people were therefore greatly astonished at her, thinking that some carnal or Earthly affection caused her to weep, and they said to her: “What is the matter with the woman?  Why are you carrying on like this?  We knew him as well as you.”  There were priests there who knew about her spiritual life, and they most charitably took her to a tavern and gave her something to drink and looked after her most hospitably.  There was also a lady who wished to invite this same creature to a meal; and therefore, as courtesy required, she went to the church which the lady attended for her, and there this creature saw a lovely image of our Lady, called a “Pity.”  And as she looked at that Pity her recollection was completely occupied by the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the compassion of our Lady St. Mary, and this forced her to cry very loudly and to weep very grievously, as if she were dying.  Then the lady’s priest came to her, saying: “Damsel, it is a long time now since Jesus died.”  When her crying was over, she said to the priest: “Sir, His death is as new to me as if He had died this very day, and so I think it ought to be to you and to all Christian people.  We ought always to be mindful of His love to us, and always think of the bitter death which He died for us.”  Then the good lady, hearing her conversation, said: “Sir, the grace which God sends into her soul is a good example both to me and to others”; and so the good lady spoke up for her and took charge of her, and took her home with her for a meal, and entertained her very well as long as she would stay there.  And soon afterwards she returned to Lynn, and the priest of whom we have spoken, on whose especial account she had gone to Norwich, he who had read to her for some seven years, recovered and went about freely, thanks be to Almighty God for His goodness.

EXPOSITION: The Lord Is Signified By Bread, by Gregory the Great

From The Books Of The Morals

As if he were to say in so many words; A mind under affliction believes that everything which used easily to satisfy, and give it pleasure, is turned into bitterness. For by bread is understood in Holy Scripture sometimes the Lord himself, sometimes spiritual grace, sometimes the instruction of divine teaching, sometimes the preaching of heretics, sometimes sustenance for this present life, sometimes the agreeableness of worldly pleasure. The Lord is signified by bread, as he himself says in the Gospel, I am the living bread, who came down from Heaven. (John 6:51)

Again, by bread is understood the grace of spiritual gifts, as is said by the Prophet, who stoppeth his ears, that he should not hear of blood, and shutteth his eyes that he should not see evil, he shall dwell in high places, his high place shall be the munitions of rocks, bread is given to him, (Isaiah 33:15-16). For what is to close his ears, not to hear blood, except to refuse consent to those persuasive sins which spring from flesh and blood? or what to close his eyes, not to behold evil, but to disapprove of everything which is contrary to uprightness? Such an one will dwell in high places; for though the flesh still confines him to things below, he has already fixed his mind on things above. His high place is the munitions of rocks, because he who tramples beneath his feet his longings for worldly conversation, raises himself to his Heavenly country by the patterns of the fathers who have gone before. And because he is satisfied with spiritual grace through the gift of contemplation, it is rightly subjoined, bread is given him; that is, he enjoys the refreshment of spiritual grace, because he has raised himself above the goods of the world, by hoping for those of Heaven. Hence also the Lord says of Holy Church by David, I will satisfy her poor with bread, (Psalm 132:15), because the humble-minded who dwell therein are filled with the refreshment of spiritual gifts. Again, by bread is set forth the instruction of Heavenly doctrine, as is said by the Prophet, Ye who dwell in the land of the South, meet with bread him that is flying away, (Isaiah 21:14). For they dwell in the land of the South who, placed within Holy Church, are breathed upon by the love of the Spirit from on high. But he is flying, who is wishing to escape from the evils of this world. He then who dwells in the land of the South, should meet with bread him that is flying; that is, he who is already full of the Holy Spirit within the Church, should console with words of instruction the man who is endeavoring to escape from his evil ways. To meet with bread him that is flying, is surely to offer the food of sound doctrine to one who is in fear of eternal punishments, and at one while to restrain his pride by fear, and at another to comfort his fears by encouragement. But because by bread is not unfitly understood the refreshment of Holy Scripture, it is said by the same Prophet to the Jews who looked only to the letter, Wherefore do ye spend your money, but not in bread, (Isaiah 55:2)? As though he were saying, Ye consider the holy words, but not for refreshment, because while ye carefully guard the outward letter alone, ye lose that richness of inward refreshment which results from the spiritual meaning. Whence it is properly subjoined in that passage, And your labor for that which satisfieth not.

But again by bread is designated the preaching of heretics; as by Solomon the woman who typifies the congregation (‘ecclesiae’) the heretics, and calls together the foolish, says, Eat ye gladly bread in secret. Or, as is written in our translation, Stolen waters are sweeter, and hidden bread is more pleasant, (Proverbs 9:17). For there are some heresies which are afraid to preach their views openly, and give a greater flavor (‘condiunt’) to their words in the minds of the weak the more they keep them back, as if through greater reverence. Whence it is not improperly said, Eat ye gladly bread in secret. For the secret words of the heretics are more relished by miserable hearts, the more they are not possessed by them in common with other people.

But again, by bread is understood the support of this present life; as Jacob, on his way to Laban, says, O Lord God, if thou shalt have given me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, (Genesis 28:20). And as the Lord says in the Gospel to the crowds which were following him, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled, (John 6:26). For they had been filled of the seven loaves. And in their persons the Lord expresses his detestation of those within Holy Church, who approaching to the Lord by holy ministrations, do not by those ministrations seek to gain higher virtue, but only sustenance for this present life: nor do they think what example they should imitate in their conduct, but what gains they may obtain so as to be satisfied. For to follow the Lord from being filled with the loaves, is to have gained temporal support from Holy Church. And to seek the Lord not for the miracles’ sake, but for bread, is for people to be eager for religious offices, not for the sake of increasing their virtues, but of acquiring a means of support.

Again, by bread is understood the agreeableness of human pleasure. Whence the Prophet Jeremiah said, while lamenting the abandoned habits of the congregation: All her people sighs and seeks for bread; they have given all their precious things for food to revive the soul, (Lamentations 1:11). For the people sighs and seeks for bread, whilst the wicked multitude of men is afflicted, because it is not satisfied, to its heart’s desire, with the pleasantness of the present life. And it gives all its precious things for food, because it bows down the virtues of its mind to the desire of transitory pleasure. And it endeavors to revive the soul: because it strives to satisfy its own perverse desires. And hence he immediately well adds in the words of that elect multitude, See, O Lord, and consider, that I am become vile. For the people of God becomes vile, when, as the number of the ungodly increases, it engages, in their persons, not in high and Heavenly employments, but in worthless and worldly pursuits.

POETRY: The Wind, One Brilliant Day, by Antonio Machado

Translated from the Spanish by Robert Bly

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.

“In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odor of your roses.”

“I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.”

“Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.”

The wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
“What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”

POETRY: Eat My Flesh, by William Baer

(John 6:55)

“I am the living bread,” he claimed, out loud,
and all were stunned. But their silences were brief;
soon fearful murmurs raced throughout the crowd:
concerns, confusion, even disbelief.
But Jesus was firm. He didn’t equivocate,
of mollify, or cleverly intermesh
his metaphors. He didn’t hesitate:
“If you crave eternal life, then eat my flesh.”
But many, disillusioned, walked away,
for this was not a “Christ” with a sword of fire,
not even a new King David who would slay
his foes and satisfy our earthly desire.
So who will choose to humble himself and stay,
when Jesus asks: “Will you also walk away?”

JESUS: I Am The Bread That Came Down From Heaven, by Ronald P. Byars

From The Sacraments in Biblical Perspective

I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.  My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.
(John 6:51, 55)

John’s Gospel records that the crowds whom Jesus has fed continue to pursue him even after he has left the scene.  Jesus teaches them after the miracle, after the fashion of meal-symposium, rather than before the meal, as in Mark.  He proceeds to make a sharp distinction between ordinary food, such as they have received at his hands, and a different sort of food.  He exhorts them to work for the latter, “the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal,” (v. 27).  The “seal” refers to the Spirit, given in Jesus’s baptism, and authoritative sign that in him God is represented and made present.

Jesus continues in dialogue with people in the crowd, who ask him what they must do, “to perform the words of God,” (v. 28).  He replies, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent,” (v. 29).  The motif of belief is of primary importance in the Gospel of John.  The Fourth Gospel is written in such a way as to make explicit what is more often implicit in the Synoptics.  All four evangelists write from a postresurrection point of view, but John is more likely than the others to portray Jesus speaking of himself during his ministry in terms that have become familiar to the postresurrection church.

John refers to the feeding miracle as a “sign,” in line with other actions reported as signs in his Gospel.  The sign indicates that, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world,” (v. 14), recalling Moses’s having said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet,” (Deuteronomy 18:15; but also see vv. 18-22).  Believers will know how to interpret the sign, but people who are only interested in free food will not.  It is unfortunate that when the circumstances of the moment cause us to focus on whatever problem is immediately at hand, we can become so fixed on it that we lose track of other important things.  Contemporary society tends to be impatient with the need to look at the larger picture, with the result that our vision is narrowed to whatever is demanding our attention right now.  Those in the crowd who are able to imagine how their hunger might be satisfied in ways beyond their need of the moment are more likely to recognize Jesus’s gift of bread (a “sign”) as a signal that God is in it, addressing some larger purpose, and calling them to participate in it.

Jesus’s dialogue partners, as sketched by John, seldom understand what he is talking about, even though his meaning is clear to the insiders, the postresurrection believers.  In this text, Jesus calls the people in the crowds to believe, “in him whom God has sent,” (v. 29), making use once again of “sent” language, so familiar in the fourth Gospel.

John pictures the crowd as pressing Jesus for some sign that will justify their believing in him.  After all, they declare, quoting the book of Exodus, that their ancestors were given manna to eat in the wilderness – “bread from Heaven,” (v. 31).  The crowd believes that Jesus is talking about ordinary bread.  In midrashic style, Jesus probes these words, reminding them that it was not Moses who provided bread from Heaven, but the Father.  “For the bread of God is that which comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world,” (v. 33).  Upon hearing this, they say, no doubt imagining a constant supply of food, “Sir, give us this bread always,” (v. 34).  In Jewish teaching, bread serves as a symbol for the Torah: “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

In John, bread represents Jesus’s teaching.  The feeding miracle was a sign of Jesus’s power to give life through the bread of his teaching.

At this point, Jesus says for the first time, “I am the bread of life,” (v. 35).  It is one of several, “I am,” statements in the Gospel of John, and the evangelist uses the Greek egõ eimi (“I am”) to send a subtle signal to those who know the Jewish scriptures.  In Moses’s encounter with God at the burning bush, God revealed his identity to Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” (Exodus 3:6).  Moses pressed for a specific name, in case the people asked him the name of the God he had encountered: “‘What shall I say to them?’  God said to Moses, ‘I Am Who I Am.’  He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you,'” (Exodus 3:13-14).  John employs the “I am” statements intentionally, clearly linking Jesus to the God revealed to Moses.

“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,” (v. 35).  While the later church may have intuited what Jesus intended by these words, it should not be surprising if the words seemed puzzling to those who were reported to have been present on the scene.  Describing himself as having, “come down from Heaven,” (v. 38), he links the gift of eternal life with believing in the Son, (v. 40).  The phrase, “comes down from Heaven,” evokes the gift of manna, “bread from Heaven,” nourishment provided by God.  The phase, used seven times in John 6, found a place in the Nicene Creed: “For us and our salvation he came down from Heaven.”

When Jesus says again, “I am the bread that came down from Heaven,” they complain.  (Note the similarity with Exodus 16:2-4, which records the people of Israel complaining about the lack of food in the wilderness.)  People speaking for the skeptics know Jesus’s parents, and familiarity with his Glilean family makes them skeptical: “How can he now say, ‘I have come down from Heaven’?” (v. 42)  In an echo of Jesus’s encounter with Nicodemus in the “born from above” narrative in John 3, Jesus declares, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me,” (v. 44).

Jesus contrasts himself with the manna in the wilderness.  The manna nourished the people and sustained them for a time, but they were hungry again the next day, and eventually, like all mortals, they died.  By contrast, “whosoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” (v. 51).  Raymond Brown cites the church fathers as having contrasted Jesus’s words with respect to the bread of life with forbidden fruit in Genesis, which God warns must not be eaten, “or you shall die,” (Genesis 3:3).  Jesus says, “This is the bread that comes down from Heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die,” (v. 50).  Drawing on Jewish sources from a later period, Brown comments further:

We have evidence in later Jewish documents of a popular expectation that in the final days God would again provide manna – an expectation connected with the hopes of a second Exodus.  The Midrash Rabbah on Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “As the first redeemer caused manna to descend so will the latter redeemer cause manna to descend.”  The homiletic Midrash Tanhuma is of particular interest when it speaks of the manna in a sapiential way: “It has been prepared for the righteous in the age to come.  Everyone who believes is worthy and eats of it.” (John 1)

A common expectation of the time was that the Messiah would come on Passover.  John has set the multiplication miracle and the subsequent teaching at a time when “Passover was near,” (6:4).  John is juxtaposing Jesus’s talk about a new kind of manna now, “come down from Heaven,” with the Passover context in order that those who pay attention may make the connections and believe.

Most interpreters understand verses 25-51a as having to do primarily with believing in the revelation given in Jesus, with an interpretation of the Eucharist providing a sort of continuo embedded in it.  Quoting scripture, Jesus says, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God,'” (v. 45).  It is a call for faith in Jesus, come down from Heaven, whose teaching is bread for the spiritually hungry.  God reaches out to draw people to Godself, and when those who hear God’s call in and through Jesus believe, they have “eternal life,” (v. 47).  “Eternal life” is not just living on and on for eternity.  Eternal life is a quality of life that takes root in the believer even now.  Many have attempted to describe it, including Diogenes Allen, who writes,

Eternal life is a life utterly free of the burdens we now bear.  It is free of failure, guilt, and sorrow; it is free of rivalry, gossip, and boasting; it is free of envy, jealousy, and strife; it is free of boredom, depression and addiction; it is free of unfaithfulness, deceit, and fraud; it is free of foolishness, violence, destruction, and war.  Eternal life is a life filled with the love, peace, and joy that come from above. (Theology for a Troubled Believer)

If that sounds too good to be true, at least for most of us as we attempt to make our way in this world, then let it be taken both as a promissory note and also as a state of being that does in fact touch us, lift us, and transform us and gain a foothold in us now and then, as we await the consummation of all things.

John 6:51b-58 marks a shift, bringing into the foreground eucharistic themes that are already present in verses 35-50 but in the background.  It may be that these verses belonged originally to the Last Supper scene and were recast to expand the Bread of Life discourse that now precedes them.  Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” (v. 51).  The saying both refers to the incarnation and alludes to the cross: “came down from Heaven,” / “I will give for the life of the world.”  Verse 51 appears to be John’s version of the words of institution, which he has not included elsewhere in his Gospel, paralleling the Synoptics’, “This is my body, which is given for you,” (Luke 22:19).  Brown notes that in neither Hebrew nor Aramaic is there a word for “body,” so that John’s use of “flesh” may be nearer to the original eucharistic language of Jesus.

In response to critics, Jesus escalates his realistic speech, saying, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you,” (v. 53).  This sort of language would have been shocking to Jews, for whom the law forbade the drinking of blood, (e.g., Leviticus 3:17), and it is jarring for many twenty-first-century people.  The references to “flesh” and “blood” are not meant to separate Jesus into distinct biological or spiritual entities, but the two taken together simply indicate the whole person.  What Jesus gives in the Eucharist is not a supernatural substance, but himself.

Eating and drinking bread and wine in the eucharistic meal embody something that is beyond the power of mere words to express or achieve.  In the communal action of eating and drinking, we internalize the living Christ, enjoying a communion, or koinõnia, with him and the Father, in the Spirit.

The vividness of this language no doubt represents John’s concern that Christians not spiritualize either the Eucharist or Christ himself, thus denying the reality of the incarnation.  At the time of his writing, there were various gnostic and docetic communities for whom the material world was considered evil, in contrast to the spiritual world, which was ostensibly free from the contamination of the physical.  That dualistic distinction reappears throughout the history of Christianity and has not disappeared today.  Christian Science, for example, provides only for “spiritual communion,” in which there is no physical element, either of bread or of wine.  Sometimes even mainline Christians become embarrassed about the physicality of the sacraments, having been influenced more by the Neoplatonist elevation of the spiritual, with its accompanying suspicion of the body, than by classical biblical and incarnational perceptions that it contributes to the marginalization of the sacraments.  Over against this spiritualization, the church continues to testify to the incarnate Lord as its takes, gives thanks for, breaks bread, and gives it along with the cup to the faithful so that, as they consume this real, substantial nourishment, they may be nourished by the whole Christ in the eucharistic meal.

Alexander Schmemann, from the Orthodox tradition, articulates the eucharistic theology common to the early church and to the churches of the Reformation and others when he writes that, in the Eucharist, some sort of sacramental “conversion” happens,

but this conversion remains invisible, for it is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, in the new time, and is certified only by faith.  So also the conversion of the bread and wine into the holy body and blood of Christ is accomplished invisibly.  Nothing perceptible happens – the bread remains bread, and the wine remains wine.  For if it occurred “palpably,” then Christianity would be a magical cult and not a religion of faith, hope, and love. (Eucharist)

Even members of Jesus’s circle found his teaching difficult.  In fact, “because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him,” (v. 66).  When Jesus asks Peter whether it is his choice to walk away, Peter responds as have many people of faith who struggle to understand deep and mysterious things.  He says, “Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life,” (v. 68).  Having come to know something of God’s welcoming, nourishing love and grace in Jesus Christ, how can we turn away?  Even when we find matters beyond our ability to understand, what little we have understood is too dear to be abandoned.  “To whom else shall we go?”

JESUS: On The Bread Of Life, by Richard Rohr

From Eucharist as Touchstone 

I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from Heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
(John 6:58)

I am the living bread that came down from Heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
(John 6:51)

The mystery of Eucharist clarifies and delineates Christianity from the other religions of the world. We have many things in common, but Christianity is the only religion that says that God became a human body; God became flesh, as John’s Gospel puts it, (1:14). Our fancy theological word for that is the Incarnation, the enfleshment.  It seems that it is much easier for God to convince bread of what it is than for God to convince us. Incarnation is scandalous, shocking – cannibalistic, intimate, sexual!

He did not say, “Think about this,” “Fight about this,” “Stare at this;” but He said “Eat this!”

A dynamic, interactive event that makes one out of two.

If we did not have the Eucharist, we would have to create it; sometimes it seems that outsiders can appreciate it more than Christians.

As Gandhi said, “There are so many hungry people in the world that God could only come into the world in the form of food.” It is marvelous, that God would enter our lives not just in the form of sermons or Bibles, but in food.

God comes to feed us more than just teach us. Lovers understand that.”

§

When we start making the Eucharistic meal something to define membership instead of to proclaim grace and gift, we always get in trouble; that’s been the temptation of every denomination that has the Eucharist.

Too often we use Eucharist to separate who’s in from who’s out, who’s worthy from who’s unworthy, instead of to declare that all of us are radically unworthy, and that worthiness is not even the issue. If worthiness is the issue, who can stand before God?

Are those who receive actually saying they are “worthy”? I hope not. It is an ego statement to begin with.

The issue is not worthiness; the issue is trust and surrender or, as Thérèse of Lisieux said, “It all comes down to confidence and gratitude.”

I think that explains the joyous character with which we so often celebrate the Eucharist. We are pulled into immense gratitude and joy for such constant and unearned grace.

It doesn’t get any better than this! All we can do at Eucharist is kneel in gratitude and then stand in confidence. (Actually, St. Augustine said that the proper Christian posture for prayer was standing, because we no longer had to grovel before such a God or fear any God that is like Jesus.)

§

Christ is the bread, awaiting hunger.
(Saint Augustine)

Eucharist is presence encountering presence – mutuality, vulnerability. There is nothing to prove, to protect, or to sell. It feels so empty, naked, and harmless, that all you can do is be present.

The Eucharist is telling us that God is the food and all we have to do is provide the hunger.

Somehow we have to make sure that each day we are hungry, that there’s room inside of us for another presence.

If you are filled with your own opinions, ideas, righteousness, superiority, or sufficiency, you are a world unto yourself and there is no room for “another.”

Despite all our attempts to define who is worthy and who is not worthy to receive communion, our only ticket or prerequisite for coming to Eucharist is hunger. And most often sinners are much more hungry than the “saints.”

PRAYER: Jesus, The Bread Of Life

From The Word of God Lutheran Church for the Deaf

Lord Jesus, you are the bread of life.
You feed and support our spiritual life.
Without you, we have no strength, no life, nothing.
Please teach us to come to you often to see that you are our Savior.
Help us to not trust things in this world, but only trust you for life.
We pray in your name,

Amen.

MYSTICISM: The Fourth Letter To Blessed Agnes Of Prague, by Clare of Assisi

To her who is the half of her soul and the special shrine of her heart’s deepest love, to the illustrious Queen and Bride of the Lamb, the eternal King: to the Lady Agnes, her most dear mother, and, of all the others, her favorite daughter: Clare, an unworthy servant of Christ and a useless handmaid of His handmaids in the monastery of San Damiano of Assisi: health and a prayer that she may sing a new song with the other most holy virgins before the throne of God and of the Lamb and follow the Lamb wherever He may go.

O mother and daughter, spouse of the King of all ages, if I have not written to you as often as your soul and mine as well desire and long for, do not wonder or think that the fire of love for you glows less sweetly in the heart of your mother.  No, this is the difficulty: the lack of messengers and the obvious dangers of the roads.  Now, however, as I write to your love, I rejoice and exult with you in the joy of the Spirit, O bride of Christ, because, since you have totally abandoned the vanities of this world, like another most holy virgin, Saint Agnes, you have been marvelously espoused to the spotless Lamb Who takes away the sins of the world.

Happy, indeed, is she to whom it is given to share this sacred banquet,
to cling with all her heart to Him
Whose beauty all the Heavenly hosts admire unceasingly,
Whose love inflames our love,
Whose contemplation is our refreshment,
Whose graciousness is our joy,
Whose gentleness fills us to overflowing,
Whose remembrance brings a gentle light,
Whose fragrance will revive the dead,
Whose glorious vision will be the happiness of all the citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem;

Inasmuch as this vision is the splendor of eternal glory, the brilliance of eternal light and the mirror without blemish, look upon that mirror each day, O queen and spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually study your face within it, so that you may adorn yourself within and without with beautiful robes and cover yourself with the flowers and garments of all the virtues, as becomes the daughter and most chaste bride of the Most High King.  Indeed, blessed poverty, holy humility, and ineffable charity are reflected in that mirror, as, with the grace of God, you can contemplate them throughout the entire mirror.

Look at the parameters of this mirror, that is, the poverty of Him Who was placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes.  O marvelous humility, O astonishing poverty!  The King of the angels, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, is laid in a manger!  Then, at the surface of the mirror, dwell on the holy humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labors and burdens which He endured for the redemption of all mankind.  Then, in the depths of this same mirror, contemplate the ineffable charity which led Him to suffer on the wood of the Cross and die thereon the most shameful kind of death.  Therefore, that Mirror, suspended on the wood of the Cross, urged those who passed by to consider, saying: “All you who pass by the way, look and see if there is any suffering like My suffering!”  Let us answer Him with one voice and spirit, as He said: Remembering this over and over leaves my soul downcast with me!  From this moment, then, O queen of our Heavenly King, let yourself be inflamed more strongly with the fervor of charity!

As you contemplate further His ineffable delights, eternal riches and honors, and sigh for them in the great desire and love of your heart, may you cry out:

Draw me after You!
We will run in the fragrance of Your perfumes
O Heavenly Spouse!
I will run and not tire,
until You bring me into the wine-cellar,
until Your left hand is under my head
and Your right hand will embrace me happily
and You will kiss me with the happiest kiss of Your mouth.

In this contemplation, may you remember your poor little mother, knowing that I have inscribed the happy memory of you indelibly on the tablets of my heart, holding you dearer than all the others.

What more can I say?  Let the tongue of the flesh be silent when I seek to express my love for you; and let the tongue of the Spirit speak, because the love that I have for you, O blessed daughter, can never be fully expressed by the tongue of the flesh, and even what I have written is an inadequate expression.

I beg you to receive my words with kindness and devotion, seeing in them at least the motherly affection which in the fire of charity I feel daily toward you and your daughters, to whom I warmly commend myself and my daughters in Christ.  On their part, these very daughters of mine, especially the most prudent virgin Agnes, our sister, recommend themselves in the Lord to you and your daughters.

Farewell, my dearest daughter, to you and to your daughters until we meet at the throne of the glory of the great God, and desire this for us.

Inasmuch as I can, I recommend to your charity the bearers of this letter, our dearly beloved Brother Amatus, beloved of God and men, and Brother Bonagura.

Amen.

FORGIVENESS: The Prodigal Son Comes Home

I could see him from the path.  Up there, on the hill.  Waving at me as though I were old Aunt Bertha coming back from attending some childbirth or something.

How did he know that I was coming back?  Who tipped him off?

Of course, he may have thought I was someone else.

Someone he would be glad to see.

Not me.

Surely.

I can’t believe how he treated me.

He cried all over my tunic.  As though on top of everything else I’ve been through – and in – I needed that on my clothes too.

What a wimp.

Crying over me like I’d just come back from the dead, or something.

And there was my brother, Joseph, waddling around, nodding and nodding that fat head of his.  I wonder when the last time he could poke himself and find a rib.

Asshole.

Daddy’s little marionette.  Yes, Father.  Yes, Father.  Yes, Father.

It is kind of funny, though, now.  He’s not Yes, Fathering, at all.  He looks kind of put out with the old man.

Oh, well.

Just one look at Joseph’s face and I wish I had the money to leave again.

That’s not right, really.

I wouldn’t even have to see anyone’s face to wish I had the money so I could leave again.

Except Mama’s.

Where is her face anyway?

I dreamed of seeing her crossing the yard, dabbing at her eyes with the corner of her apron, half-running, half-fainting at the joy.

But she’s not out here with us.

Maybe she hasn’t heard.

But, of course, she’s heard.

I’m the big news.

I’m The Big News.

Imagine that.

Not much to imagine, really.

In this town.

I’ll be the only news for the next century.

Except maybe for the calf that was born blind or something.

Except no one will cry for me except my stupid father.

Blubber-puss.

No.  The neighbors won’t even talk about it.  They’ll just do what they always do with really bad news: look at one another and shake their heads and shrug their shoulders.

Oh, well.  They’ll think.  This is the way with life.  You can never get the bad out of your life for good.

That’s me: the bad.

That’s me: the snake.

The snake in the Garden of Perfection.

Just look around, why don’t you?

Look at how nice things are.  The house.  The barn.  The animals.

You’d think you were in a fairy story.

Except this isn’t a fairy story.

It’s a story all right.  Just not that kind.

And right now, I get to be a sheep.

A lost sheep that’s been found and brought home again.

The perfect fold.  The perfect shepherd.  The perfect everything.

Except for me.

I guess I could expand that storyline and make myself the black sheep.

That’s not a character in this or that story.

But I’ll make it so.

I’ll be the snake in the perfect lush farmyard.  I’ll be the black sheep in the story that ends happily ever after.

Funny that.  That kind of ending.  Here and now.  In this story.  Or even in that one.

Oh, how I hate my father.

Standing there, beaming at me.  All I had to do was kneel at his feet and say, “I sorry, Father,” – tears in my eyes, of course – and I didn’t just get a job in his barn.  I got a feast in my honor!

How stupid can he be?

If I could I would pull all this perfection down around his ears, and let him sit in the wreckage with boils all over him.  Just like Job.

Just to show him that his love – all his love – all this perfection – really amounts to nothing.

But that’s not the real horror of this.

The real horror is that this really isn’t real.

It is a story in a book.

And I’m not even sure that I have any dimension in that story.  In that book.

I mean, the book itself has dimensions.  Height.  And width.  Depth.

You can touch the book.  You can touch the individual pages.

But you can’t touch me.

I’m nothing more than a symbol.

An icon, really.

An icon of The Forgiven.

Just think.  This story is really a retelling of the first story in the Bible.

The snake is forgiven.

Judged.  Sentenced to punishment.

But ultimately, let off the hook.

And here I am: redeemed.

Except I’m not —

I’m just a character in a story in a book that people can close and put on the shelf when they want to take their kids to the park and push them on the swings.

I am who they can carry in their hearts when they think, Why, yes, even if I do really bad things, I can be forgiven.

Well, whoopee.

A role model for losers.

Because, in the end, just who is hell is The Forgiven anyway?

All I get to be is the mirror that reflects the greatness of The Forgiver.

That’s where it’s at, really.

In the forgiving.

The Forgiver gets to be the hero.

The Forgiven gets to stay the schmuck.

I get to do the dance of the fool: Hey, Look At Me!  I violated my father, and now I get to be sorry, and he gets to be my savior.

I suppose I could ring some bells while I dance.

So.  Here I am.

Back where I started.

I was going to be so grand.  So big.  Friends in all the “right” places.  Money in my pocket.  Girls willing for me to do anything I wanted with them.

And now I get to take care of the sheep.  And the pigs.  And the cows.  And the chickens.

I guess that makes me a shepherd.

Huh.

Imagine that.

From a black sheep to a shepherd.  And all because of an, “I’m sorry, Father.”

Perhaps it won’t be so bad if I learn to nod my head like Joseph and say, Yes, Father.

Perhaps one day I’ll even stop being The Forgiven, and just be a regular person again.

No longer the bright, shining symbol of the one who fucked up and had to come home again just to get a chicken bone to suck on.

Perhaps even one day I’ll have someone of my own to forgive.

Perhaps one day I’ll say to my own son, Welcome home.  I’m so happy you are here.  I love you.

And the meat does smell mighty delicious.

I wonder.

Should I offer to help in some way?

JESUS: The Vine, by Wendy M. Wright

From The Rising

In the fourteenth century Catherine of Siena, an Italian holy woman, composed her masterpiece, The Dialogue, in response to a significant mystical experience in which “such a clarity of Truth was revealed to her from Heaven that Catherine was constrained to spread it abroad by means of writing.” (Friend and confessor, Raymond of Capua)  The dialogue she recorded was between herself, a soul “restless with tremendous desire for God’s honor and the salvation of souls,” and God, who communicated in response to four petitions she had entreated.  The result was a masterful theological exposition on all the central Christian themes, an exposition that richly utilized the vast and varied imagery of tradition.  In the segment of the dialogue in which God as Truth shows her that humans have full freedom to pursue virtue, she employs the image of the vineyard to describe the church and the workers in the vineyard to describe the members of the church.

You are the workers I have hired for the vineyard of holy Church.  When I gave you the light of holy baptism I sent you by my grace to work in the universal body of Christianity.

Each of you has your own vineyard, your soul, in which your free will is the appointed worker during this life.

So you have this knife [the love of virtue] for your free will to use, while you have time, to uproot the thorns of deadly sin and to plant the virtues.

Indeed I am the gardener, for all that exists comes from me.  With  power and strength beyond imagining I govern the whole world: Not a thing is made or kept in order without me.  I am the gardener, then, who planted the vine of my only-begotten Son in the Earth of your humanity so that you, the branches, could be joined to the vine and bear fruit.

Therefore, if you do not produce the fruit of good and holy deeds you will be cut off from this vine and you will dry up.

But that is not how my servants act, and you should be like them, joined and engrafted to this vine.  Then you will produce much fruit, because you will share the vital sap of the vine.

Catherine goes on to develop the metaphor in an arresting way.

You, then, are my workers.  You have come from me, the supreme eternal gardener, and I have engrafted you onto the vine by making myself one with you.

Keep in mind that each of you has your own vineyard.  But every one is joined to your neighbors’ vineyards without any dividing lines.  They are so joined together, in fact, that you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbors.

All of you together make up one common vineyard, the whole Christian assembly, and you are all united in the vineyard of the mystic body of holy Church from which you draw your life.  In this vineyard is planted the vine, which is my only-begotten Son, into whom you must be engrafted.

The Diologue‘s specific theology is consonant with the time and place from which it comes, yet through its imagery vistas that refresh us are opened today.  “Each of you has your own vineyard but everyone is joined to your neighbor’s vineyard without any dividing lines.”  What a striking vision of our interconnectedness on levels of which we generally remain only dimly aware.

Catherine, of course, is extending the scriptural image found in the Book of John, (15:1-8), which is highlighted during this week of Easter and in which Jesus refers to himself as the vine apart from which no fruitfulness is possible and God as the vinedresser who prunes away those branches that bear no fruit.

Although the metaphor has frequently been used to justify excluding from church community those whose theological perspectives differ from those holding decision-making power at a given time (Catherine, in fact, in the spirit of her era, suggests this), I prefer to give a more generous reading to the metaphor, seeing it as a statement about our mutual dependence and responsibility.

It is very much part of the Easter message that together we are not simply a collection of individuals striving for personal salvation (although our being saved is a uniquely personal and particular happening).  There is in the Easter message the insistent refrain that it is together we go to God.  Catherine’s elaboration of the vine and branches imagery from scripture gives us a visual picture with which to contemplate this truth.

The Particularity of Love

Another image featured during this week of Easter stresses this same truth but focuses on the uniqueness of each of our personal encounters with God.  It comes from the Book of John as well, as do most of the Gospel readings proclaimed during the great fifty days.

[Jesus said to his followers:] “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.  In God’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

The idea of the many rooms, many mansions, found in God’s house has intrigued generations of Christians.  That each has his or her own specially prepared quarters (as it were) in the fullness of the Christ event, appeals greatly.  What I find touching in the scriptural promise is that it is precisely in our uniqueness and our particularity that we are called forth.

I have for some time turned over in my heart the concept that there is no generic holiness.  While this may seem a self-evident statement at first glance, my sense is that much of the effort we make in the Christian life has to do with conforming ourselves to models of discipleship or virtue or sanctity that have an ideal quality.  We are not like them.  We strive to be.  Even if we are of a theological bent that would reject all striving as essential for our redemption (feeling God’s grace to be all-sufficient), we still tend to see the fruits of grace manifest in ideal if not stereotypical ways.  For some time now I have entertained the notion that God’s grace and our fulfillment (or sanctification) really are most clearly manifest only in the very concrete, idiosyncratic realities of our pesonalized, culture-bound, limited stories.  What holiness or grace looks like from one of us to the other may be very different.  If we take seriously the idea of incarnation, that God is really with us, then God can only meet us where we are, in the specificity of our personalities and cultural moment.  God cannot meet us where we think we ought to be.  To follow this line of thinking, I do not think the Resurrection is most fruitfully conceived as human particularity being sloughed off for something nonhuman.  That Christians hold to that rather peculiar notion of the ultimate resurrection of the body would make this latter conception untenable.  No, we go to God in and through the embodied, concrete, unrepeatable uniqueness of who we are.  That is the delightful scandal of it.

One fascinating experiment in Christian community born in our present century in France embodies this insight of the Easter season wonderfully well.  The community is known as L’Arche (French for ark) and was begun in 1964 by a Roman Catholic priest named Jean Vanier.  Vanier had worked with individuals who were mentally and physically challenged and gradually came to see them not primarily as the recipients of his ministry but as the bearers of God’s grace to him.  He conceived of a new sort of community that would be made up of both the challenged and those whom society deemed normal all living together as brother and sister engaged in worshiping and serving God.  They were to be inspired by a spirit of loving acceptance that would help all members develop to their fullest potential as human beings.  Vanier believed that if the church and society do not embrace these and other rejected people, neither can be whole.  He believed that such communities could bridge the gap between the “rich” and the “poor” of all kinds and thus work toward uniting a divided world.

The deep interdependence that we share as well as the particularity of the gifts and graces we bring to the whole is highlighted in this unique experiment in Christian life.  Today there are L’Arche communities in dozens of countries throughout the world.  Their members learn to expand their concepts of love as they live into the reality of the other whose daily dilemmas are so different from and yet complementary to their own.

Clearly, scripture indicates to us that the Easter mandate, the new command, is to love one another as we have been loved.  We heard it proclaimed at the Holy Thursday liturgy, during the reenactment of the Last Supper.  During this fifth Easter week we again hear this truth proclaimed.  The texts of John over and over again repeat this refrain, as do the letters attributed to John that are read during this season.

Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.  By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything.  Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and we receive whatever we ask, because we keep God’s commandments and do whatever is pleasing to God.  And this is God’s commandment, that we should believe in the name of God’s Chosen One, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as we have been commanded.  All who keep God’s commandments abide in God, and God in them.  By this we know that God abides in us, by the Spirit which God has given us. (1 John 3:18-24)

To love in deed, not just in word, is to love in particulars.  How easy it is to be sympathetic for some far-away poor people in a distant land; how difficult to sympathize with the repellent transient who loafs on your street corner.  How easy to romanticize the life of love.  How hard to live it out with the in-laws, children, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow parishioners we have been given.

I can claim no great personal gift for loving in the particular, but I am challenged to do so constantly, especially by my children.  It is no secret that teenagers can be challenging, and my eldest daughter is no exception.  Despite the fact that her behavior is documentably predictable for her age, the fact that such thoughtlessness and cavalier arrogance appears at my own doorstep in the guise of my own flesh and blood makes it especially tedious to accept and to love.  Yet love I must, not necessarily the passing “queen-of-the-universe syndrome” but the dormant child, fledgling adult with my daughter’s particular name hidden beneath the bravado and terminal boredom.  To love in the particular is to love the whole of a person, to confront what needs changing, to bear patiently what cannot change, to cherish the gifts that only one person brings into the world.  It is to love the way we have been loved.

[Jesus said to his followers:] “As God has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept God’s commandments and abide in God’s love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what the householder is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from God who sent me I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask of God in my name, God may give it to you.  This I command you, to love one another.” (John 15:9-17))

POETRY: On Foot I Had To Walk Through The Solar Systems, by Edith Södergran

Translated from the Swedish by Stina Katchadourian

On foot
I had to walk through the solar systems,
before I found the first thread of my red dress.
Already, I sense myself.
Somewhere in space hangs my heart,
sparks fly from it, shaking the air,
to other reckless hearts.

POETRY: Only A Branch, by Freda Hanbury

I am the vine, ye are the branches.
(John 15:5)

“Tis only a little Branch,
A thing so fragile and weak,
But that little Branch hath a message true
To give, could it only speak.

“I’m only a little Branch,
I live by a life not mine,
For the sap that flows through my tendrils small
Is the life-blood of the Vine.

“No power indeed have I
The fruit of myself to bear,
But since I’m part of the living Vine,
Its fruitfulness I share.

“Dost thou ask how I abide?
How this life I can maintain?—
I am bound to the Vine by life’s strong band,
And I only need remain.

“Where first my life was given,
In the spot where I am set,
Upborne and upheld as the days go by,
By the stem which bears me yet.

“I fear not the days to come,
I dwell not upon the past,
As moment by moment I draw a life,
Which for evermore shall last.

“I bask in the sun’s bright beams,
Which with sweetness fills my fruit,
Yet I own not the clusters hanging there,
For they all come from the root.”

A life which is not my own,
But another’s life in me:
This, this is the message the Branch would speak,
A message to thee and me.

Oh, struggle not to “abide,”
Nor labor to “bring forth fruit,”
But let Jesus unite thee to Himself,
As the Vine Branch to the root.

So simple, so deep, so strong
That union with Him shall be:
His life shall forever replace thine own,
And His love shall flow through thee.

For His Spirit’s fruit is love,
And love shall thy life become,
And for evermore on His heart of love
Thy spirit shall have her home.