STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Thirteenth Station — Jesus Christ Is Laid In The Arms Of His Mother, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Path of Eternal Wisdom, written under the pseudonym, John Cordelier

The Eternal Wisdom Embraced by Human Love

It has been said by a great preacher that “Jesus dead in the arms of Mary is the central fact of the world’s tragedy.”  Here we see it at last in its results – what, left to ourselves, we would do to Perfection if he would let us: the foolish cruelty, the destructive instincts of the separated human will apart from grace, from God.

Yet poignant though this picture be, terrible in its revealing power, perhaps it were truer to say that this cradling of the dead Christ in the arms of his human mother is the “central fact” which brings to a point the highest honor that humanity has yet attained.

Upon my flowery breast,
Wholly for him and save himself for none,
There did I give sweet rest
To my beloved one;
The fanning of the cedars breathed thereon.
[The Obscure Night of the Soul, Arthur Symons]

Here at last our long-desired union with reality takes place.  This is the meeting place of matter and spirit, the worlds of nature and of grace: the higher synthesis of Earth and Heaven, of man and God.

Here, more truly and completely than at any other point in the mystic way, human love at its highest meets Divine Love at its highest.  Human love supremely hopeless, crushed beneath unutterable sorrows, yet never swerving from its office of ministry; never shirking the terrible and direct encounter with failure and death.  Divine Love in its hour of complete humiliation, spent with self-giving for a heedless and unworthy world.

“Mater Creatoris!  Mater Salvatoris!”  [Mother of our creator!  Mother of our savior!] says the Litany of Loreto, striving to find expression for the ecstatic gratitude of Christendom towards the human instrument which forged this, our closest link with Perfect Love.  The Creator is dead, the Savior who saved not himself is cast back now into the arms of his mother – open, when all else is closed against him, to receive the wreck of all that she had brought forth, nourished, and adored.

It is the supreme paradox, final mystery, of the cross that the Eternal Wisdom should thus seem to us to frustrate himself.  “If thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  He did come down at his own time, his work finished; to consecrate forever the loving ministries of the mourner by this sublime image of the Sacred Humanity lying helpless in his mother’s arms.

“It is finished!”  The true consummation of Calvary is here.  In this as in all else God treads unshirkingly the path of his creation.  He, who – as it seems to our dim vision – creates only to destroy; who strikes down heedlessly, who has so plaited death with life, weakness with strength, that we can hardly conceive a plane of being which lives and yet escapes the eternal strife, the sweeping storm of change – he offered himself to destruction, was willingly broken on the wheel of his own universe.  So broken, so slain, he found at last his home and refuge in the sheltering arms of human love.

The august figure of Mary sitting thus at the very gate of death, holding the maimed and broken body of her child and her God, demands our recognition – even in the face of this awful exhibition of God’s will for his sons and for his universe – as the mother of all hope and all beauty, no less than the mother of grief.  “Ego mater pulchrae delectionis et timoris, et agnitionis, et sanctae spei.  In me gratia omnis viae et veritatis; in me omnis spes vitae et virtutis” [I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.  In me is every grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. (Ecclesiasticus 24:24)]  It is a hard saying.  But look at me here where I sit, the slain body of my son upon my knees: the Mater Dolorosa, yet the help of Christians, health of sick souls, the veritable cause of all your joy.  I am the very symbol of life, patient maternal life, valiant in suffering, faithful in loss.”

“Gaudeamus omnes in Domino!” [Let us all rejoice in the Lord.] says the Catholic Church, celebrating the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption.  Let us all rejoice in the Lord of Life, because the faithful and sorrowing mother, the pure soul capable of receiving her God, is lifted up out of the ruck of humanity to become the Queen of Angels, the high-water mark of the race.

Thus Mary as well as Jesus is seen to be necessary to the elucidation of the total experience of the soul.  There is a sense in which each human spirit spares her supreme privilege, is destined to the high office of the mother of God.  In each, if we are ever to come to our full stature, achieve our inheritance, her son must be incarnate.  “Spiritus sanctus superveniet in te, et virtus Altissimi obumbrabit tibi.” [The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. (Luke 1:35)]  Under these auspices, quickened by this brooding and supernal love, each, according to their measure, may bring forth the striving Christ; the redeemer and repairer, Life of our life, whose birth within us is our initiation into the plane of reality.

Thus the prayer of the Angelus epitomizes the soul’s true history: the angelic invitation to us, the meek and willing acquiescence in the divine purpose, the result.  Mysteriously, in silence, without human intervention, the word is incarnate in the ground of the soul.  The divine child is confided to us, our share in God’s life, the starry spark which we may cherish if we will.  Nourished by our humanity, willingly dependent upon our love and sacrifice, – each soul in this sense is the guardian of God’s interests, the mother of divine grace.

It is then to us, to the totality of the world’s love and will, that – by a supreme act of divine humility – the care of the infinite is confided: the cherishing of his life in the world is left to the material instinct of the race.  In the wonderful moment of his coming to us, the child of Bethlehem is placed in our arms: in the terrible hour of spiritual darkness, when our faith and hope are tested to the uttermost, when Christ seems dead, his cause seems vanquished, we must still be there, steadfast in love, our arms held out for him.  When we do not seem to get anything from it, when nothing is given us but an opportunity for the free spending of our sorrow and our love – here, even at the sepulcher, to do what we can for him; this is the soul’s last and mightiest opportunity to show itself an adept of the true chivalry of God.

If we are to love deeply, there must be the divine appeal of helplessness in that which we love.  We are all of us children of Mary in this: our lowliness, our profound need of self-giving, is best met by the immense humility of a Creator who can condescend to our gentleness and pity as well as to our obedience and our awe.  To know him thus an instant dependent on us is surely our sweetest opportunity: our inalienable right, of which no one can deprive us, not even those who nailed him to the cross.  Now, when the world has done with him, he is given back to us.  Now at this moment “despised and rejected,” he is more utterly ours.

At such an hour the soul asks not what the world has thought of him.  The inebriation of the cross is on her: the ecstasy of ministering love.  “Gloriari in tribulation, non est grave amanti.” [To glory in tribulation is no hardship for a lover. (De Imitatione Christi)]  In the sorrow of our lady the intuition of the mystic finds the most secret symbol of her joy.  She would rather have grief of him than gladness of any other: rather be associated in his passion than free of all the riches of the world.  Here, in this place of weeping, is the paradoxical source of her happiness.  Hither she comes through the darkness to claim the most sacred of her rights.  “Amans Deum anima, sub Deo despicit universa.  Solus Deus aeternus et immensus, implens Omnia, solatium animae et vera cordis laetitia.” [The soul that loveth God despiseth all things that be inferior unto God.  God alone is eternal and infinite, filling all things: the soul’s one solace, and the heart’s true joy. (De Imitatione Christi)]  He who fills all things, infinite and eternal – the only joy of man’s craving heart, the only consolation of his pilgrim soul – has not disdained to give himself into the eager arms of human love.

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Twelfth Station — Jesus Christ Dies Upon The Cross, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Path of Eternal Wisdom, written under the pseudonym, John Cordelier

The Eternal Wisdom Declares His Plan to Men

The mediaeval illuminators were accustomed to draw the Tree of the Cross growing out of the Heart of God.  It bore seven roses; and in each rose was written the word, Love.  In the midst of this divine inflorescence, Perfect Love hung and suffered for the salvation of men: as he may be felt, seen, and known by his lovers, hanging, suffering, dying every day.  On every Christian altar we exhibit, not only the drama of faith, but this eternal process of the world.

It is plain, then, that this process must also be the process of the soul’s initiation.  It is a death process; and a death not of the body alone.  We are called to the paradox no less than to the folly of the cross.  “Scias pro certo,” says à Kempis, “quia morientem te oportet ducere vitam.  Et quanto quisque plus sibi moritur, tanto magis Deo vivere incipit.” [Know for certain that thou didst ought to lead a dying life.  And the more any man dieth to himself, so much the more does he begin to live unto God.]  The final death of this narrow self is the stern price of entrance into the heritage of the all: the soul’s invulnerable life in God.

All Christians lead a dying life; it is the secret of their strange vitality.  They die daily in respect of the unreal and mortal world; and are daily reborn to a new and intense existence in respect of real and eternal things.  But the mystical death, the true spiritual crucifixion to which the Inward Christ has urged us on, is a greater matter than this: it is a complete participation in the worst, the culminating agony of the passion – the loss and absence of God.

After long struggles, many bitter purifications, stripped of our every treasure, and completely surrendered to his will, we are lifted up at last – upon the cross that we have carried – towards the life of the spiritual world.  At this long-hoped-for moment, as it seems, our very spiritual life receives its death-blow; the vision of that world is taken away.  We have sought with courage and humility that uncreated light,

. . . che visible face
Lo Creatore a quella creatura
Che solo in lui vedere ha la sua pace.
[Which makes visible the Creator to that creature which only in beholding him hath its own peace. (Dante, Paradiso)]

But the Cloud of Unknowing broods upon the summit of the mystic Calvary: the light of sun and moon, divine and human radiance, is hidden by the thick darkness in which the cross is set.  Thus, when the sacrifice of the flesh is consummated, the altar still waits for our souls.  A desolating sense of the Divine Absence – of the withdrawal, the utter annihilation, of that for which we have agonized – here descends on us for the first time.  All the glorious certitude of the pilgrim, the Heavenly knowledge of Responsive Love, goes in this dreadful hour.  “Eloi!  Eloi! lama sabachthani?”  [My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?]  There is no sincere and virile seeker after God from whom this cry has not been wrung, and who has not tasted something of the crowning anguish which the pattern of all manliness endured.

“The top of the cross,” says Tauler, “is the love of God: it has no resting place, for at all times it is a pure bare going forth, forsaken of God and all creatures, so that thou canst truly say with Christ, ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’  The sacred head of our Lord Jesus Christ had no resting place: if a man experienced divine love and a sweet consciousness of God’s presence in his absolute surrender, what would it matter to him though the whole world were against him?”

But it is to matter.  There is to be no shirking: no easy slipping for us from this world to that.  No love-token meets the Bride upon the threshold: only a dark and open door through which she must pass alone.  All human love is left behind, puzzled and helpless, at this hour.  Divine love, which we thought to satisfy and longed to serve, is amazingly and inexplicably withdrawn.  Well might Dante say that only Poverty leapt to the cross: and she, not the glad giver of liberty whom Saint Francis knew, but the cruel bringer of spiritual destitution.

It is easy and pretty to embroider the mystical paradox that all must lose to find, and die to live: but a hard matter when we come to the cross and find that black despair as well as bitter suffering must be faced – that Hope has died, that the Charity in which we dwelt with God no longer glorifies the landscape, that only naked Faith remains.  It is the last, supremest test of heroic character: of the completeness of our abnegation, the generosity of our love.  Yet for the true lover of the infinite there is an austere joy even here; in this utter self-giving, this perfect consecration, with nothing given in return.  By such a sacrifice the Lamb of God repaired the broken image of the world.

It is said in The Privity of the Passion, “Our Lord Jhesu whilst He hung on the Cross, to the hour of His death He was nought idle, but He taught great perfection.”  What was the perfect that he taught?  Supreme and selfless courage.  The courage which faces the outer darkness, the terrible and empty spaces, risks the most awful desolation possible to the spirit of man: the selflessness which gives up the soul’s riches as easily as the riches of the world, surrenders its very vision to God’s will.  “Losing to find” – losing all that made religion seem worthwhile, all our self-found relations with eternity, our knowledge of God, our power of contemplation, the inner peace which carried us through wars and griefs: losing all “merit,” all “spirituality,” all our separate will, however pure.  Our very prayer taken from us, the horror of divorce from him made clear to us, till we can only cry in our extremity, “I thirst!”  This is to be the final test of our faith and our detachment: this alone frees the soul from the last bonds of selfhood, lets it fly back to God, respond to his attractive power.  The poor little human animal must be torn almost to pieces before Love, “half-angel and half-bird,” can spread its wings.

The valiant squire of the Eternal Wisdom must gladly face this call on his endurance.  It is the greatest honor that his master can do him: this call upon a virile, unrewarded, naked faith, on his difficult loyalty, his utter trust.  “Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea, quic timebo?” [The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1)] cries the enraptured soul upon the illuminative way; basking in its sense of spiritual security.  What, indeed, should it fear?  The little shadows of Earthly misfortunes are hardly, it thinks, noticeable in that “intellectual light informed with love.”  But when the light is put out, the vision of salvation withdrawn; then, what room is left for anything but fear – the blind, black terror of the little child in the dark?

This moment of blackness and horror, then, this dark night of the soul – “shade of his hand outstretched caressingly” – must be endured by all who would walk in the path of Wisdom, attain to the divine abyss of God.  It is our opportunity for the courageous and all-trusting step into utter emptiness; Nature’s benevolent dispensation over and done with, the beatific vision not yet attained.  This awful darkness, this “obscure silence where all lovers lose themselves,” is the last step upon the King’s Highway of the Holy Cross.  “He therefore who will not go into this dark night to seek the beloved,” says Saint John of the Cross, “who will not deny and mortify his own will, but seek him at his ease and in his bed. . . will never find him.  The soul says here that it found him, as the soul says of itself that it found him by going forth in the dark, and in the anxieties of love.”

Here too, then, Eternal Wisdom, facing the hardest conditions of his own universe, showed us what we must do.  By his sufferings he repaired the road, and bridged the gap between two worlds.  He showed us the drama of our salvation, as no eager appropriation by us of the divine good-nature, but as a heroic business to the last.  He showed death taken up to a higher term, endured in its completeness, spirit, soul, and body, and thus made the very instrument of life.  All must die: but it is within the power of everyone to be the martyr of ideals instead of appetites.

“Let us then die,” cries Saint Bonaventura, “and enter into the shadows; let us impose silence on all cares, all desires and all fancies; let us pass with Christ Crucified from this world to the Father, so that when the Father is shown to us, we may say with Philip, It is enough!”

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Eleventh Station — Jesus Christ Is Nailed To The Cross, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Path of Eternal Wisdom, written under the pseudonym, John Cordelier

The Eternal Wisdom Bound by Love to His World

The cross, says Traherne, “is a tree set on fire with invisible flame, that illuminateth all the world.  The flame is love; the love in his bosom who died on it.  In the light of which we see how to possess all the things in Heaven and Earth after his similitude.”
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BELIEF: It’s Okay To Be Childish, by Justin L. Barrett

From Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief

Is belief in God or gods infantile or childish?  In certain respects, the answer is clearly yes.  Belief in gods is likely to arise early in the development of a child.  Before mastering riding a bicycle, knowing the boiling point of water, or how to multiply, and even before learning how to read, children all over the globe already know about and believe in the supernatural beings talked about by their parents: ghosts, forest spirits, ancestor spirits, angels, devils, gods, or God.  The tendency to believe in at least one superpowerful, superknowing, superperceiving, morally concerned God appears to be part of normal human child development before age five.  Regarding a certain belief as infantile, however, bears little on whether we should continue to hold the belief in adulthood.
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FAITH: A Call For Mystics, by Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B.

From Nothing But Christ: A Benedictine Approach to lay Spirituality

Complacency is the sin of the rich, and because we are rich in faith and the sight of God we are all too often guilty of it.  Like all sins of omission it is an easy sin to commit; we just do nothing.  And at that we are all experts.  Saint John said that Christ “was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not.  He came into his own, and his own received him not.” (1:10,11)  This is intolerable, and we should never rest until we have righted the wrong.
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PRAYER: My God, I Don’t Believe, by Michel Quoist

Many sincere believers lack a proper understanding of God.  These people have caricatured his face.  The caricature is increasingly unacceptable to today’s men and women – and they are quite right to reject it because it represents the face of a false God.
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STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Tenth Station — Jesus Christ Is Stripped Of His Garments, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Path of Eternal Wisdom, written under the pseudonym, John Cordelier

The Mysteries of the Eternal Wisdom Given into the Hands of His Foes

“They parted his garments amongst them” – visible creation, which is the vesture of God.  The scientist and the artist snatched their share.  The lover took the inner-most garment for himself.  But they left the Eternal Wisdom, whose veils these things had been – who, robed in them, had gladly shared the meanest life of men – to sacrifice himself for them alone: unloved by them.
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SATURDAY READING: (from) Desert Hermits, by Sara Maitland

From A Book of Silence

 In her late forties, after a noisy upbringing as one of six children and an adulthood as a vocal feminist and mother, Sara Maitland found herself living alone in the country, and, to her surprise, falling in love with silence.

During these years in Weardale I grew deeply contented.  I lived in a place of extraordinary wild beauty.  I was fit and well.  I had all these fascinating things to think and learn about.  I was never lonely and never bored.  I had enough satisfying work to do.  I felt my prayer life and my theological understanding were developing, and moving forward in ways that seemed both natural and exciting.  I felt I was creating a way of living, freely and silently, that might be useful to a noisy world as well as to me personally.  Above all, I enjoyed the sense of exploration, and possibility.
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SILENCE: The Silence Of The Psalms, by Thomas Merton

From Bread In The Wilderness

One thing remains to be explained, we have emphasized, in this book, the truth that the Psalms most often become contemplation when, through them, we manage to unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ, so that he in turn lifts us up in his own triumph and raises us to a foretaste of his glory.  Why this emphasis on suffering?  Suffering is not the only theme in the Psalter.
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STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Ninth Station — Jesus Christ Falls For The Third Time

From The Path of Eternal Wisdom, written under the pseudonym, John Cordelier

The Eternal Wisdom Shares the Utmost Weakness of His World

There are four steps, says Richard of Saint Victor, upon that steep stairway of love by which the soul climbs up to its home in the heart of Reality.  Their ascent involves a transmutation of that soul: a purging and readjustment of its qualities, that it may live and breathe in the rarefied air of the heights.  Continue reading

POETRY: Poems From On The Blue Shore Of Silence, by Pablo Neruda

The Sea

I need the sea because it teaches me.
I don’t know if I learn music or awareness,
if it’s a single wave or its vast existence,
or only its harsh voice or its shining
suggestion of fishes and ships.
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POETRY: The Face Of Pontius Pilate, by J. Barrie Shepherd

From Faces at the Cross

I had no business going there today;
disastrous had I been recognized,
although in that beggar’s robe,
disheveled, dirt smeared look,
I doubt anyone would have believed
that I was the Roman Procurator—
not even if I bellowed my name—Pilate—
at the top of my lungs.
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STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Eighth Station — The Women Of Jerusalem Mourn For Our Lord, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Path of Eternal Wisdom, written under the pseudonym, John Cordelier

The Soul as a Spectator of the Divine Tragedy

Human Love in Our Lady, Contemplative Love in Saint John, Ministering Love in Veronica, Male Energy in Simon of Cyrene – all these, according to their several dispositions, trod faithfully and with courage the Way of the Cross.  But there was a group which watched: unwilling to be implicated in his sufferings, yet full of tearful sympathy when he passed by.
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SATURDAY READING: The Other Side of Despair, by Thomas Merton

From The Critic 24 (October-November 1965)

Ten years ago, conservative writers were already engaged in a definitive summing up of the “existentialist revolt.”  What had begun, they said, in the eccentric religiosity of Kierkegaard had ended in the open rebellion of Sartre against all that was decent and sane; and now it had even penetrated Catholic thought with the contagious of situation ethics.  Continue reading

STORY: A Fairy Tale — The Prodigal Daughter Returns, by Connie May Fowler

From Circling Faith

She had been drawn to the little sea shack nestled betwixt water and sky with the simple purity of a turtle whose true north is a singular spot of sand on an empty beach.  She was happy there.  The details of her life – errands into town, cleaning the house, writing her books – were timed in conjunction with the comings and goings of the Gulf because she loved to wander the beach at low tide and marvel over treasures the sea had momentarily left behind.  On this sandbar she called home, she felt in touch with the Goddess-spirit, with the eternal circle she viewed as sacred (life feeds death; death feeds life).  Troubles seemed less ponderous and joy less threatening in the presence of nature’s rhythms.
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THE PRODIGAL SON: The Prodigal Son And Reconciliation, by Joel W. Huffstetler

From Boundless Love

Then Jesus said,
“There was a man who had two sons.
The younger of them said to his father,
‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’
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STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Fourth Station — Jesus Christ Falls A Second Time, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Path of Eternal Wisdom, written under the pseudonym, John Cordelier

The Eternal Wisdom stoops to the limit of His Creature

All pagan peoples have thought, as it were by instinct, of serene and comfortable gods: holders of power, with none of power’s penalties: givers of grief, who knew nothing of pain.  Even those who most clearly manifested the Divine energy – as Apollo – did so by the easy and beautiful exhibition of strength without stress.
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POETRY: Return Of The Prodigal Son, by Léopold Sédar Senghor

(Senagalese; translated from the French by Melvin Dixon)

to Jacque Maguilen Senghor,
my nephew

I

And my heart once again on the threshold of stone under the portal of honor.
And a tremor stirs the warm ashes of the lightening-eyed Man, my father.
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THE PRODIGAL SON: To Belong

For me, the parable of the prodigal son stands out from all the other parables.  For me, it doesn’t belong to that category of stories Jesus told, inscrutable teachings from the master.  And it isn’t one of those Chinese finger traps, where you go into the story and then find no apparent way out again.

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THE PRODIGAL SON: Redefining Hope — Our Longing for Home, by Timothy Keller

From The Prodigal God

He set off for a far country.”

It is important to read Jesus’s parable of the lost son in the context of the whole of Luke, chapter 15, but the story has an even larger context.  If we read the narrative in light of the Bible’s sweeping theme of exile and homecoming we will understand that Jesus has given us more than a moving account of individual redemption.  He has retold the story of the whole human race, and promised nothing less than hope for the world.

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THE PRODIGAL SON: Walk With Me Into The Story, by Henri J. M. Nouwen

From Home Tonight

Read with a vulnerable heart.  Expect to be blessed in the reading.  Read as one awake, one waiting for the beloved.  Read with reverence. (From, A Tree Full of Angels, by Macrina Wiederkehr)

From the outset I encouraged you to allow the Scripture story of the return of the prodigal son to descend into you – to move from your mind into your heart – so that images in this story become etched in your spirit. Continue reading

PRAYER: Prayers Of Confession For Lent (Third through Fifth Weeks of Lent)

From Prayers for Lent and Holy Week, by David N. Mosser

Third Week in Lent

Prayer of Confession

As we move through Lent, O God who is gracious beyond our ability to conceive, help us, as we journey, to recognize those other people who are on their journey too.
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STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Sixth Station — The Face Of Jesus Christ Wiped By Veronica, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Path of Eternal Wisdom, written under the pseudonym, John Cordelier

Humanity’s Second Opportunity: Loving Receptivity

In Veronica and her action we have a singularly exact, as well as a beautiful, symbol of the receptive attitude in which we stand towards God’s image: the conditions under which it may be imprinted on our souls.  Continue reading