Choosing the better part

Choosing the better part

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Food of the Soul


As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, it seems fitting that we should consider Newman's meditation on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. What we find in this meditation is not a developed theological treatise so much as a soul longing for what the Lord has given to sustain it.  Newman understands the mystery into which we are drawn and that the sacrifice of the Cross is not a mere event in world history but the most sublime reality perpetuated until the end of all things. Our Lord places Himself into our hands and it should create within us a longing to remove every impediment that would prevent this gift from enabling us to enter into the Life to which we have been called.

Newman understands and is overwhelmed by what such a gift means. In Mary, God had prepared for Himself a holy habitation.  Yet, Newman reflects: "how can this be so for us?"  God sees us and knows everything about us and so the heart exclaims: "Lord, I am not worthy!" The sheer magnitude of the sins and infirmities, past and present, shake the soul. God Himself will have to provide the grace necessary for it to be possible for us even to receive Him.  And so with Newman we must pray that God free us from our sin; indeed, remove all memory and recollection of sin within us. We must approach the altar with courage and humility, ever mindful of His mercy.

For this is the most adorable of mysteries and stupendous of mercies. God nourishes us upon Himself to eternal life.  How can one go forward except with the knowledge that it is this Food of the Soul alone that saves us? May God provide the grace that makes up for the failure of our nature and increase our thirst for what He alone offers!


    - The Holy Sacrifice

I adore you, O Lord God, with the most profound awe for your Passion and Crucifixion, in sacrifice for our sins. You suffered incommunicable sufferings in your sinless soul. You were exposed in your innocent body to ignominious torments, to mingled pain and shame. You were stripped and fiercely scourged, your sacred body vibrating under the heavy flail as trees under the blast. You were, when thus mangled, hung upon the Cross, naked, a spectacle for all to see you quivering and dying. 

What does all this imply, O mighty God! What a depth is here which we cannot fathom! My God, I know well, you could have saved us at your word, without yourself suffering; but you chose to purchase us at the price of your blood. I look on you, the victim lifted up on Calvary, and I know and protest that that death of yours was an expiation for the sins of the whole world. I believe and know that you alone could have offered a meritorious atonement; for it was your divine nature that gave your sufferings worth. Rather than I should perish according to my deserts, you were nailed to the tree and died. 

Such a sacrifice was not to be forgotten. It was not to be — it could not be — a mere event in the world’s history, which was to be done and over and was to pass away except in its obscure, unrecognized effects. If that great deed was what we believe it to be, what we know it is, it must remain present, though past; it must be a standing fact for all times. Our own careful reflection upon it tells us this; and therefore, when we are told that you, O Lord, though you have ascended to glory, have renewed and perpetuated your sacrifice to the end of all things, not only is the news most touching and joyful, as testifying to so tender a Lord and Savior, but it carries with it the full assent and sympathy of our reason. Though we neither could, nor would have dared, anticipate so wonderful a doctrine, yet we adore its very suitableness to your perfections, as well as its infinite compassion for us, now that we are told of it. Yes, my Lord, though you have left the world, you are daily offered up in the Mass; and, though you cannot suffer pain and death, you still subject yourself to indignity and restraint to carry out to the full your mercies toward us. You humble yourself daily; for, being infinite, you could not end your humiliation while they existed for whom you submitted to it. So you remain a priest forever. 

My Lord, I offer you myself in turn as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. You have died for me, and I in turn make myself over to you. I am not my own. You have bought me; I will by my own act and deed complete the purchase. My wish is to be separated from everything of this world; to cleanse myself simply from sin; to put away from me even what is innocent, if used for its own sake, and not for yours. I put away reputation and honor, and influence, and power, for my praise and strength shall be in you. Enable me to carry out what I profess.

    - Holy Communion

My God, who can be inhabited by you, except the pure and holy? Sinners may come to you, but to whom should you come except to the sanctified? My God, I adore you as the holiest; and, when you came upon earth, you prepared a holy habitation for yourself in the most chaste womb of the Blessed Virgin. You did make a dwelling place special for yourself. She did not receive you without first being prepared for you; for from the moment that she was at all, she was filled with your grace, so that she never knew sin. And so she went on increasing in grace and merit year after year, until the time came when you sent down the archangel to signify to her your presence within her. So holy must be the dwelling place of the Highest. I adore and glorify you, O Lord my God, for your great holiness. 

O my God, holiness becomes your house (cf. Ps. 93:5), and yet you make your abode in my breast. My Lord, my Savior, to me you come, hidden under the semblance of earthly things, yet in that very flesh and blood which you took from Mary. You, who first inhabited Mary’s breast, come to me. 

My God, you see me; I cannot see myself. Were I ever so good a judge about myself, ever so unbiased, and with ever so correct a rule of judging, still, from my very nature, I cannot look at myself, and view myself truly and wholly. But you, as you come to me, contemplate me. When I say, “Lord, I am not worthy,” you whom I am addressing alone understand in their fullness the words I use. You see how unworthy so great a sinner is to receive the one holy God, whom the seraphim adore with trembling. You see, not only the stains and scars of past sins, but the mutilations, the deep cavities, the chronic disorders they have left in my soul. You see the innumerable living sins, though they be not mortal, living in their power and presence, their guilt, and their penalties, which clothe me. You see all my bad habits, all my mean principles, all wayward lawless thoughts, my multitude of infirmities and miseries, yet you come. You see most perfectly how little I really feel what I am now saying, yet you come. O my God, left to myself should I not perish under the awful splendor and the consuming fire of your Majesty? Enable me to bear you, lest I have to say with Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). 

My God, enable me to bear you, for you alone can. Cleanse my heart and mind from all that is past. Wipe out clean all my recollections of evil. Rid me from all languor, sickliness, irritability, feebleness of soul. Give me a true perception of things unseen, and make me truly, practically, and in the details of life, prefer you to anything on earth, and the future world to the present. Give me courage, a true instinct determining between right and wrong, humility in all things, and a tender longing love of you.

    - The Food of the Soul

In you, O Lord, all things live, and you give them their food. Oculi omnium in te sperant — “The eyes of all hope in you” (Ps. 145:15). To the beasts of the field you give meat and drink. They live on day by day, because you give them day by day to live. And, if you give not, they feel their misery at once. Nature witnesses to this great truth, for they are visited at once with great agony, and they cry out and wildly wander about, seeking what they need. But, as to us your children, you feed us with another food. You know, O my God, who made us, that nothing can satisfy us but you, and therefore you have caused your own self to be meat and drink to us. O most adorable mystery! O most stupendous of mercies! You most glorious, and beautiful, and strong, and sweet, you knew well that nothing else would support our immortal natures, our frail hearts, but you; and so you took a human flesh and blood, that they, as being the flesh and blood of God, might be our life. 

Oh, what an awesome thought! You deal otherwise with others, but, as to me, the flesh and blood of God is my sole life. I shall perish without it; yet shall I not perish with it and by it? How can I raise myself to such an act as to feed upon God? O my God, I am in a strait — shall I go forward, or shall I go back? I will go forward: I will go to meet you. I will open my mouth and receive your gift. I do so with great awe and fear, but what else can I do? To whom should I go but to you? Who can save me but you? Who can cleanse me but you? Who can make me overcome myself but you? Who can raise my body from the grave but you? Therefore I come to you in all these my necessities, in fear, but in faith. 

My God, you are my life; if I leave you, I cannot but thirst. Lost spirits thirst in hell, because they have not God. They thirst, though they fain would have it otherwise, from the necessity of their original nature. But I, my God, wish to thirst for you with a better thirst. I wish to be clad in that new nature, which so longs for you from loving you, as to overcome in me the fear of coming to you. I come to you, O Lord, not only because I am unhappy without you, not only because I feel I need you, but because your grace draws me on to seek you for your own sake, because you are so glorious and beautiful. I come in great fear, but in greater love. Oh, may I never lose, as years pass away, and the heart shuts up, and all things are a burden, let me never lose this youthful, eager, elastic love of you. Make your grace supply the failure of nature. Do the more for me, the less I can do for myself. The more I refuse to open my heart to you, so much the fuller and stronger be your supernatural visitings, and the more urgent and efficacious your presence in me.


Newman, St. John Henry. Everyday Meditations. Sophia Institute Press. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

He Ascended into Heaven



In preparation for the for the Feast of the Ascension, it is fitting that we should consider Newman's reflection on the reality. He takes us to the heart of the mystery set before us.  This is, so to speak, our feast.  We see what we have become in Christ and the Life into which we in our humanity have been drawn. We see in this event the end point of the Incarnation.  Christ took on our flesh in order that we, in Him, might take on divinity.  What joy should be ours on this oft neglected Feast Day!  "O memorable day!", Newman exclaims. Triumph has come through tragedy.  The Cross has given way to glory: Earth rises to heaven. "The sinful race has now one of its own children there, its own flesh and blood, in the person of the eternal Son. Oh, what a wonderful marriage between heaven and earth! It began in sorrow; but now the long travail of that mysterious wedding day is over; the marriage feast is begun; marriage and birth have gone together; man is newly born when Emmanuel enters heaven." Like the angels we can fall down and adore the God-Man. Gazing upon our Lord our hearts become filled with the desire for supernatural life and there arises within us the realization that He alone is the Way.  All else in this world is vanity. And so with Newman let us cry: "I choose you then for my one portion, because you live and die not. I cast away all idols. I give myself to you. I pray you to teach me, guide me, enable me, and receive me to you."


My Lord, I follow you up to heaven; as you go up, my heart and mind go with you. Never was triumph like this. You appeared a babe in human flesh at Bethlehem. That flesh, taken from the Blessed Virgin, was not before you formed it into a body; it was a new work of your hands. And your soul was new altogether, created by your omnipotence, at the moment when you entered into her sacred breast. That pure soul and body, taken as a garment for yourself, began on earth, and never had been elsewhere. This is the triumph. Earth rises to heaven. I see you going up. I see that form which hung upon the Cross, those scarred hands and feet, that pierced side; they are mounting up to heaven. And the angels are full of jubilee; the myriads of blessed spirits, which people the glorious expanse, part like the waters to let you pass. And the living pavement of God’s palaces is cleft in twain, and the cherubim with flaming swords, who form the rampart of heaven against fallen man, give way and open out, that you may enter, and your saints after you. 


O memorable day! O memorable day! The Apostles feel it to be so, now that it is come, though they felt so differently before it came. When it was coming they dreaded it. They could not think but it would be a great bereavement; but now, as we read, they returned to Jerusalem “with great joy” (Luke 24:52). Oh, what a time of triumph! They understood it now. They understood how weak it had been in them to grudge their Lord and Master, the glorious captain of their salvation, the champion and first fruits of the human family, this crown of his great work. It was the triumph of redeemed man. It is the completion of his redemption. It was the last act, making the whole sure, for now man is actually in heaven. He has entered into possession of his inheritance. The sinful race has now one of its own children there, its own flesh and blood, in the person of the eternal Son. Oh, what a wonderful marriage between heaven and earth! It began in sorrow; but now the long travail of that mysterious wedding day is over; the marriage feast is begun; marriage and birth have gone together; man is newly born when Emmanuel enters heaven. 


I adore you, Son of Mary, Jesus Emmanuel, my God and my Savior. I am allowed to adore you, my Savior and my own brother, for you are God. I follow you in my thoughts, O you first fruits of our race, as I hope one day by your grace to follow you in my person. To go to heaven is to go to God. God is there and God alone: for perfect bliss is there and nothing else, and none can be blessed who is not bathed and hidden and absorbed in the glory of the divine nature. All holy creatures are but the vestment of the Highest, which he has put on forever, and which is bright with his uncreated light. There are many things on earth, and each is its own center, but one name alone is named above. It is God alone. This is that true supernatural life; and if I would live a supernatural life on earth, and attain to the supernatural eternal life which is in heaven, I have one thing to do: to live on the thought of God here. Teach me this, O God; give me your supernatural grace to practice it; to have my reason, affections, intentions, aims all penetrated and possessed by the love of you, plunged and drowned in the one vision of you. 


There is but one name and one thought above: there are many thoughts below. This is the earthly life, which leads to death: to follow the numberless objects and aims and toils and amusements which men pursue on earth. Even the good that is here below does not lead to heaven; it is spoilt in the selling; it perishes in the using; it has no stay, no integrity, no consistency. It runs off into evil before it has well ceased, before it has well begun to be good. It is at best vanity, when it is nothing worse. It has in it commonly the seeds of real sin. My God, I acknowledge all this. My Lord Jesus, I confess and know that you only are the true, the beautiful, and the good. You alone can make me bright and glorious and can lead me up after you. You are the way, the truth, and the life, and none but you. Earth will never lead me to heaven. You alone are the way; you alone. 


My God, shall I for one moment doubt where my path lies? Shall I not at once take you for my portion? To whom should I go? You have the words of eternal life (cf. John 6:68). You came down for the very purpose of doing that which no one here below could do for me. None but he who is in heaven can bring me to heaven. What strength have I to scale the high mountain? Though I served the world ever so well, though I did my duty in it (as men speak), what could the world do for me, however hard it tried? Though I filled my station well, did good to my fellows, had a fair name or a wide reputation, though I did great deeds and was celebrated, though I had the praise of history, how would all this bring me to heaven? I choose you then for my one portion, because you live and die not. I cast away all idols. I give myself to you. I pray you to teach me, guide me, enable me, and receive me to you.


St. John Henry Newman, C.O.

Everyday Meditations

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Repentance: The Continual Effort of Life


St. Isaac the Syrian once wrote that for the spiritual struggler in this world there is no Sabbath.  In other words, when it comes to spiritual warfare, the struggle with the passions and temptations, there is no time for rest.  Our vigilance as Christians, our watchfulness of heart, must be constant.  This includes repentance.  We must constantly be in a state of turning toward God - calling out to Him for His mercy and grace.  One of the unfortunate things today is that we have lost sight of this view of repentance.  In large part it is seen as an episodic reality - turning to God after committing grave sin or certain periods of time like Lent.  These are good and important of course.  Yet, they do not not speak of our desire and love for the Heavenly Bridegroom.  An urgent longing, as well as a humble recognition of our sin, should create a constant movement of the heart - ceaseless calling out to God for His grace and mercy. This urgency also is rooted in the reality of our mortality and the brevity of our lives.  St. Nilus of Sinai writes: "Always remain in a state of repentance, the foundation of our salvation, for we know not the day or the hour at which the Lord will come."   

Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov left us the following precious instruction: "In order to live spiritually and draw breath from grace, we must continually exhale the ashes of sin." We sin almost constantly, if not in our deeds, then in our thoughts and feelings. Therefore it is essential to continually cleanse our souls. In the language of asceticism (teaching on religious struggle) it is known as "internal activity" or "attentiveness." To continually repent is to pay unceasing attention to one’s spiritual life, to assess and remove from it all that is questionable and foolish. Bishop Theophanes the Recluse teaches us that one should do battle with sin at the moment it is born, i.e. when it is only in one’s thoughts. This is true battle, the "invisible warfare" as it is called by the Athonite struggler Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. This spiritual battle requires ability, God’s assistance, and constant prayer. As the holy Fathers of the Church write " It is pointless to weep over the sins of the past if we do not struggle with them in the present." Continual repentance or attentiveness is that poverty of spirit of which Christ speaks in the first Beatitude in His sermon on the mount. The call to such repentance is found throughout the Word of God and the texts of . . . worship.

In a sense, all of the teaching of the Church is a single call to repentance in the most profound sense of that term, i.e. it is a call to rebirth, to a complete reassessment of all values, to a new understanding and vision of life in the light of Christ.

It was not coincidentally that St. John the Baptist often repeated the words "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." The Christ began His sermon with these same words. According to the Venerable St. Ephraim the Syrian, "repentance is a field to be cultivated at all times. "Repentance is the tree of life, resurrecting those dead in sin." Elsewhere he states, "Through repentance, earth has become heaven, for it has become filled with saints."

In his book A Priest’s Observations, Fr. Alexander Elchaninov, an experienced spiritual director, writes, "Without our constant control over the spirit, confession, which takes place occasionally, is not successful. The eye of the spirit, conscience, demands exercise, and without it you will see neither yourself nor your sins. According to the Venerable St. Isaac of Syria, "He who has been able to see himself has accomplished more than one who has seen the angels." He also wrote "One who apprehends his sin is better than one who through his prayers raises the dead."

Sts. Ephraim and Isaac, and other spiritual strugglers after piety all recommend that in doing battle with sin, it is best to begin with the sin which most grievously attacks us. To the extent that we are rid of it, our conscience will see all the more. Moreover, it always behooves Christians to do battle against those sins which directly oppose love. The holy fathers of the Church teach that hatred, enmity, and condemnation utterly seal shut the gates of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of love. Thus, the first condition of true repentance is reconciliation with everyone. This is why in the Lord’s Prayer, the Christ included the words "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." This is why the Eastern Rites of the Church begin Great Lent with Forgiveness Sunday, when believers ask forgiveness of one another for personal insults and offenses, so that with a clear conscience they might begin Lent, their "invisible warfare." The Church teaches that true love is indivisible, and that dislike for a single person will ultimately poison all love. Theophan the Recluse writes: "In one who is at odds with anyone else, all friendship is fragile, and easily turns into enmity; of course, by bearing enmity, one cannot really love God. God is complete love, and tolerates nothing that is opposed to love."

The commandments in the Gospel, while easy, appear difficult, for human consciousness, having fallen out of sync with life and harmony, is clouded. For example, people consider the Gospel commandment to love friend and enemy alike, to be difficult. In the sermon on the mount, the Lord says: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you , do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). We see that no limits to good are imposed upon man in this commandment, one given to those who wish to rise above both their own and mankind’s selfishness, to be healed, and to depart from the state of sin.

Let us try to list those who have caused us some annoyance or insult, who have dealt with us poorly or spoken ill of us. In other words, let us recall those who are "not to our liking" and, forgiving each of them, let us sincerely pray for these souls. Let us drive out any grudge or irritation we bear them, and wish them well. Given the opportunity, let us say something nice about them to others. At every opportunity, let us help them.

Thus, as we will see for ourselves, fulfilling the commandment of love will engender a joyous feeling of spiritual freedom and profound peace. Many internal difficulties will depart from us, for we will have fulfilled the Christ’s words, believed in God, and given Him heed. The power of good will rejoice within us. Even if we do not immediately notice this peace within ourselves, it will certainly come to us as a reflection of our charity.

That a person is kind, honest, and generous always seems miraculous. Yes, it is a miracle, and a miracle far greater than moving a mountain. Something greater than a mountain is being moved - human selfishness. Such is the effect on man of our faith in God , our trust in the Lord, our repentance before Christ. When one who hates becomes one who loves, when a liar becomes truthful, when a vain person becomes modest, it is truly a miracle. Charity emanating from us first of all liberates us from our own evil; it opens within us the doors and windows through which flows the pure air of heaven. This is the rebirth born of repentance.

In repentance we see the operation not of natural forces but of supernatural grace-filled ones. And only one who believes in the Light can take into himself true love. According to biological law, men engage only in a "struggle for survival." But according to the law of the Spirit, the battle is for the resurrection of the world, a spiritual battle which conquers selfishness, spiritual death. The Christ calls us to overcome our evil will and animal nature, to become human in the full spiritual sense of the term. The human soul is immeasurably greater than matter. As the Apostle Paul tells the Philippians, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Such great, marvelous words: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Through the faith granted us, we are called to be centered internally, mentally, not on our little selfish personality, but on the power of the Living God, the True Christ Jesus Who dwells in us.

The Creator and Father who brought us into being granted to our souls the freedom to make a free moral choice, to turn to Him and to repent of our sins, which constitute a betrayal of God’s truth. Yes, man is sometimes unfaithful to God; even if we do not frankly renounce God, we sometimes obliquely become betrayers of Christ, of His love and truth. Let us all repent of that.

Let us reflect upon how imperfect is our consciousness, and let us repent before God. Through repentance, the pure path to God is opened. Moreover, let us not tarry, for no one knows when his final hour will come. There is nothing more important and more needed than repentance and God’s saving forgiveness.


Anonymous

Text from: St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Washington


Sunday, February 13, 2022

Behold the Man


Once again Newman invites us to meditate upon the Passion of our Lord; yet, not from a distance but as one ever so personally involved in it - not a bystander or observer but an active participant. We are to gaze upon the face and allow the image of it to be engraved upon our minds and hearts; for there we will convicted of our sin and consoled by the love and kindness that emanate from his visage.

Beyond this, Newman calls us likewise to see the hand raised against our Lord offering one blow after another and to ask ourselves: "Whose hand is it?" As David heard from Nathan the prophet so we shall hear our consciences cry out: "You are the man!" Do we think we are above such things?  We need only search back in our minds to see the many times we scoffed against sacred things, looked at others with hatred and resentment, filled our imagination with every impurity, rejected the voice of God beckoning us to prayer.  

Such a gaze seems to threaten us with despair. Yet in reality it holds the only promise of redemption.  We must allow our hearts to be moved to healing sorrow, to allow Him even now to call us back to Himself. We must not permit the gravity of our sin to be greater than His grace and mercy. We may seem stuck in the mire of our ingratitude. Let your gaze be locked upon His face and so the fire purifying fire of contrition to be lit within your heart.  

*******

Behold the Man I see the figure of a man, whether young or old I cannot tell. He may be fifty, or he may be thirty. Sometimes he looks one, sometimes the other. There is something inexpressible about his face that I cannot solve. Perhaps, as he bears all burdens, he bears that of old age too. But so it is; his face is at once most venerable, yet most childlike, most calm, most sweet, most modest, beaming with sanctity and with loving kindness. His eyes rivet me and move my heart. His breath is all fragrant and transports me out of myself. Oh, I will look upon that face forever and will not cease. 

And I see suddenly someone come to him and raise his hand and sharply strike him on that heavenly face. It is a hard hand, the hand of a rude man, and perhaps has iron upon it. It could not be so sudden as to take by surprise him who knows all things past and future, and he shows no sign of resentment, remaining calm and grave as before; but the expression of his face is marred; a great welt arises, and in a short time that all-gracious face is hidden from me by the effects of this indignity, as if a cloud came over it. 

A hand was lifted up against the face of Christ. Whose hand was that? My conscience tells me: “You are the man.” I trust it is not so with me now. But, O my soul, contemplate the awful fact. Fancy Christ before you, and fancy yourself lifting up your hand and striking him! You will say, “It is impossible: I could not do so.” Yes, you have done so. When you sinned willfully, then you have done so. He is beyond pain now: still you have struck him, and had it been in the days of his flesh, he would have felt pain. Turn back in memory, and recollect the time, the day, the hour, when by willful mortal sin, by scoffing at sacred things, or by profaneness, or by dark hatred of your brother, or by acts of impurity, or by deliberate rejection of God’s voice, or in any other devilish way known to you, you have struck the All-Holy One. 

O injured Lord, what can I say? I am very guilty concerning you, my brother; and I shall sink in sullen despair if you do not raise me. I cannot look on you; I shrink from you; I throw my arms round my face; I crouch to the earth. Satan will pull me down if you take not pity. It is terrible to turn to you; but oh, turn me, and so shall I be turned. It is a purgatory to endure the sight of you, the sight of myself — I most vile, you most holy. Yet make me look once more on you whom I have so incomprehensibly affronted, for your countenance is my only life, my only hope and health lies in looking on you whom I have pierced. So I put myself before you; I look on you again; I endure the pain in order to receive the purification. 

O my God, how can I look you in the face when I think of my ingratitude, so deeply seated, so habitual, so immovable — or rather so awfully increasing! You load me day by day with your favors and feed me with yourself, as you did Judas, yet not only do I not profit thereby, but I do not even make any acknowledgment at the time. Lord, how long? When shall I be free from this real, this fatal captivity? He who made Judas his prey has got foothold of me in my old age, and I cannot get loose. It is the same day after day. When will you give me a still greater grace than you have given, the grace to profit by the graces that you give? When will you give me your effectual grace, which alone can give life and vigor to this effete, miserable, dying soul of mine? My God, I know not in what sense I can pain you in your glorified state; but I know that every fresh sin, every fresh ingratitude I now commit, was among the blows and stripes that once fell on you in your Passion. Oh, let me have as little share in those your past sufferings as possible. Day by day goes, and I find I have been more and more, by the new sins of each day, the cause of them. I know that at best I have a real share of them all, but still it is shocking to find myself having a greater and greater share. Let others wound you — let not me. Let me not have to think that you would have had this or that pang of soul or body the less, except for me. O my God, I am so fast in prison that I cannot get out. O Mary, pray for me.


Newman, St. John Henry. Everyday Meditations 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Mental Sufferings of Christ


In this brief meditation, Newman draws us into mind and heart of Christ as our Lord enters into His Passion.  In His embrace of our humanity, Christ also embraces the mental anguish and darkness of the poverty of our sin. He freely surrenders to His fate in loving obedience. Satan seizes his opportunity and Christ is afflicted not only with the weight of impending death that He has foretold all along but with the betrayal love by those closest to Him.  The Evil One darkens the hearts of all of His apostles making them murmur amongst themselves about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom.  They maneuver for position not realizing that they are being manipulated by the great father of lies.  One directly betrays Him but all with their egos heavily weighted with pride would begin to abandon Him in His time of need. 

One alone stands among them who sees the Lord's anguish and seeks to sooth it. In a lavish gesture she pours out her precious ointment; both soothing his brow and pointing to the incomprehensible Love that will allow itself to be broken and poured out upon the Cross.  Yet this tender moment is interrupted by harsh and piercing words of the traitor who can only see such love and generosity as a waste.  Mercy would not have extended to Him even smallest act of tenderness. The Master is rebuked by the disciple.

It is a sad truth that those closest to Christ frequently betray Him the most.  The ingratitude of those called "friends" always pierces the deepest.  Such ingratitude, Newman tells us, is a daily occurrence and Christ who has taken on our humanity feels it in its fullness.  We who slake our thirst for love take up the Chalice of His blood and likewise receive His body often with no greater consciousness of the full measure of malice we return simply through our indifference.


 After all his discourses were consummated (Matt. 26), fully finished, and brought to an end, he said: The Son of Man will be betrayed to crucifixion. As an army puts itself in battle array, as sailors, before an action, clear the decks, as dying men make their will and then turn to God, so, though our Lord could never cease to speak good words, did he sum up and complete his teaching and then commence his Passion. Then he removed by his own act the prohibition that kept Satan from him and opened the door to the agitations of his human heart, as a soldier, who is to suffer death, may drop his handkerchief himself. At once Satan came on and seized upon his brief hour. 

An evil temper of murmuring and criticism is spread among the disciples. One was the source of it, but it seems to have been spread. The thought of his death was before him, and he was thinking of it and his burial after it. A woman came and anointed his sacred head. The action spread a soothing tender feeling over his pure soul. It was a mute token of sympathy, and the whole house was filled with it. It was rudely broken by the harsh voice of the traitor, now for the first time giving utterance to his secret heartlessness and malice: Ut quid perditio haec? “To what purpose is this waste?” (Matt. 26:8) — the unjust steward with his impious economy making up for his own private thefts by grudging honor to his Master. Thus in the midst of the sweet calm harmony of that feast at Bethany, there comes a jar and discord; all is wrong: sour discontent and distrust are spreading, for the Devil is abroad. 

Judas, having once shown what he was, lost no time in carrying out his malice. He went to the chief priests and bargained with them to betray his Lord for a price. Our Lord saw all that took place within him. He saw Satan knocking at his heart, and admitted there, and made an honored and beloved guest and an intimate. He saw him go to the priests and heard the conversation between them. He had seen it by his foreknowledge all the time Judas had been about him and when he chose him. What we know feebly about something to happen affects us far more vividly and very differently when it actually takes place. Our Lord had at length felt, and suffered himself to feel, the cruelty of the ingratitude of which he was the sport and victim. He had treated Judas as one of his most familiar friends. He had shown marks of the closest intimacy; he had made him the purse-keeper of himself and his followers. He had given him the power of working miracles. He had admitted him to a knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. He had sent him out to preach and made him one of his own special representatives, so that the Master was judged by the conduct of his servant. 

A heathen, when smitten by a friend, said, “Et tu, Brute!” What desolation is in the sense of ingratitude! God, who is met with ingratitude daily, cannot by his nature feel it. He took a human heart, so that he might feel it in its fullness. And now, O my God, though in heaven, do you not feel my ingratitude toward you?


Newman, St. John Henry. Everyday Meditations 


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Hope in God



We begin our Everyday Meditations  from St. John Henry Newman, CO with the virtue of Hope; a virtue often neglected or little understood.  Newman sees it as not only rooted in the goodness of God and His creation but also in God's personal desire for each of us to experience the happiness for which He has created us. It is not something abstract but rather unique to each of us as individuals; unique because each soul has its own needs.  Therefore, our paths through life are not only radically different from each other and but also seemingly strange.  Newman would have us understand that God alone knows what is best for us and it might not be what we think we need or desire.  He invites us to unhesitatingly place ourselves into the hands of God who has created us to do something or be something for which no one else has been created.  Trust Him, Newman tells us, because although we may see and understand nothing, God knows what He is about.  


What allows us to trust so unhesitatingly, Newman states, is the love that God has revealed to us in His Son and through His Spirit. God has expressed His desire and will for us to abide in Him eternally.  The exquisite mystery into which we are drawn is that God loves us as He loves His only Son whom He sent to die on our behalf.  How constant is God's affection, how willing He is to sacrifice what is most precious to Him in order to redeem us - this despite the fact that we are so obstinately set against Him!  We are left to wonder with the psalmist: "What is man, that thou are mindful of him?" God has loved us with an everlasting love and wills that all be saved. What firmer foundation for hope is needed?


Hope in God the Creator

 

 

God has created all things for good, all things for their greatest good, everything for its own good. What is the good of one is not the good of another; what makes one man happy would make another unhappy. God has determined, unless I interfere with his plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, he calls me by my name, he knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and he means to give it to me.

 

            God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. Thus God leads us by strange ways. We know he wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind. Left to ourselves we would take the wrong way; we must leave it to him. Let us put ourselves into his hands and not be startled even though he leads us by a strange way, a mirabilis via, as the Church speaks. Let us be sure he will lead us right, that he will bring us to that which is, not indeed what we think best, nor what is best for another, but what is best for us.

 

            Oh my God, I will put myself without reserve into your hands. Wealth or woe, joy or sorrow, friends or bereavement, honor or humiliation, good report or ill report, comfort or discomfort, your presence or the hiding of your countenance: all is good if it comes from you. You are wisdom and love—what can I desire more? You have led me in your counsel, and with glory have you received me. What have I in heaven, and apart from you what want I upon earth? My flesh and my heart fail: but God is the God of my heart, and my portion forever.

 

            God was all complete, all blessed in himself, but it was his will to create a world for his glory. He is almighty and might have done all things himself, but it has been his will to bring about his purposes by the beings he has created. We are all created to his glory; we are created to do his will.

 

            I am created to do something or to be something for which no one else is created. I have a place in God’s counsels, in God’s world, which no one else has. Whether I be rich or poor, despised or esteemed by man, God knows me and calls me by my name.

 

            God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission—I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for his purposes, as necessary in my place as an archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, God can raise another, as he could make stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught.

            I shall do good. I shall do his work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, though not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling.

 

            Therefore I will trust him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain. He may prolong my life; he may shorten it. He knows what he is about. He may take away my friend. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still he knows what he is about.

 

            O Adonai, O Ruler of Israel, you who guide Joseph like a flock, O Emmanuel, O Sapientia, I give myself to you. I trust you wholly. You are wiser than I—more loving to me than I am to myself. Deign to fulfill your high purposes in me whatever they may be—work in and through me. I am born to serve you, to be yours, to be your instrument. Let me be your blind instrument. I ask not to see. I ask not to know. I ask simply to be used.

 

 

  

Hope Inspired by God’s Love

 

 

            What mind of man can imagine the love which the eternal Father bears toward the only-begotten Son? It has been from everlasting, and it is infinite. So great is it that divines call the Holy Spirit by the name of that love, as if to express its infinitude and perfection. Yet reflect, O my soul, and bow down before the awesome mystery, that, as the Father loves the Son, so does the Son love you, if you are one of his elect, for he says expressly, “As the Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9). What mystery in the whole circle of revealed truths is greater than this?

 

            The love which the Son bears toward you, a creature, is like that which the Father bears toward the uncreated Son. O wonderful mystery! This, then, is the history of what else is so strange: that he should have taken my flesh and died for me. The former mystery anticipates the latter; the latter does but fulfill the former. If he did not love me so inexpressibly, he would have not suffered for me. I understand now why he died for me, because he loved me as a father loves his son—not as a human father merely, but as the eternal Father loves the eternal Son. I see now the meaning of that otherwise inexplicable humiliation: he preferred to regain me rather than to create new worlds.

 

            How constant is he in his affection! He has loved us from the time of Adam. He has said from the beginning, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6). He did not forsake us in our sin. He did not forsake me. He found me out and regained me. He made point of it; he resolved to restore me, in spite of myself, to that blessedness which I was so obstinately set against. And now what does he ask of me but that, as he has loved me with an everlasting love, so I should love him in such poor measures as I can show. O mystery of mysteries, that the ineffable love of the Father toward the Son should be the love of the Son toward us! Why was it, O Lord? What good thing did you see in me, a sinner? Why were you set on me? “What is man, that thou are mindful of him, and the son of man that thou should visit him” (Ps. 8:4)? This poor flesh of mine, this weak, sinful soul, which has no life except in your grace, you set your love upon. Complete your work, O Lord, and as you have loved me from the beginning, so make me to love you unto the end. 


Everyday Meditations

St. John Henry Newman, C.O.

            

 

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Mass and Christ's Return



In this final reflection, Guardini reminds us that the Gospel calls us to be vigilant, to remain spiritually awake and ready. We are to look for the signs of Christ’s coming, though we do not know exactly when he will come.

Our vigilance in preparation for this coming consists of worship. To remain spiritually awake is not first a matter of moral obedience to Christ, good and necessary as such obedience is. To prepare for this ultimate encounter with the All-Holy God, every Christian needs to encounter him in the context of worship, particularly in the ritual worship of the Church, and most especially in the Mass.

Our meeting with Christ our Judge will be as sudden as it is intimate. Newman, like Guardini, once described this preparation to meet Christ as the “most momentous reason” we have for our worship. Worship provides the most direct mode of engagement we have with God, it has the most salubrious effect on us insofar as it prepares us for life after death, and it brings us into “sacramental communion” with God here and now. Human nature is not in itself prepared for the vision of God, but participation in the Church’s worship transforms and elevates our nature so that we might be able to come before him without being destroyed.

This worship is not first and foremost something we offer to God, but rather it is first his gift to us. Newman writes:

"Thus in many ways He, who is Judge to us, prepares us to be judged, - He who is to glorify us, prepares us to be glorified, that He may not take us unawares; but that when the voice of the Archangel sounds, and we are called to meet the Bridegroom, we may be ready."

The Real Presence makes possible an interpersonal encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, and this encounter makes possible our preparation to meet Christ at the end of our lives and at the end of time.

It is this liturgical and sacramental worship that fuels the spiritual vigilance to which Christ calls us.

BUT I say to you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father” (Matt. 26:29). Like the concept of the covenant, which we have just discussed, this word of Christ too has been strangely neglected. Before closing these meditations let us turn our attention to it. St. Luke places the passage after the offering of the last of the Passover cups and before the words that actually institute the Eucharist. Jesus seems to be gazing through and beyond the hour of the Last Supper to the coming of the kingdom. He is referring to the future eternal fulfillment that lies somewhere behind the inevitable death toward which, in obedience to His Father’s will, He now must stride. The passage tinges the whole memorial with a singular radiance which seems largely to have faded from the Christian consciousness.


It might be objected that this word was perhaps important to Jesus personally, but not for His Eucharistic memorial; that before His death the Lord’s vision, grave and knowing, reached across the future to the end of all things; that this thought was part of the subjective experience of the hour, but has nothing to do with the sacred act which henceforth is to stand at the core of Christian life. But what St. Paul writes of the establishment of the Eucharist overturns all such theories: “For I myself have received from the Lord (what I also delivered to you), that the Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks broke, and said, ‘This is my body which shall be given up for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In like manner also the cup, after he had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (I Cor. 11:23-26). Can anyone still speak seriously of a mere expression of Jesus’ passing mood? Specifically St. Paul connects the last things with the celebration of the Lord’s memorial, and we must not forget that the Apostle’s epistles are at least as early, some of them earlier, than the Gospels, and that they voice the powerful religious consciousness of the first congregations.

From all this it is apparent that when the Lord instituted the Eucharist things appeared before His inner vision more or less as follows: He knew that on the next day He would die. He knew, furthermore, that one day He would return; though “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but the Father only” (Matt. 24:36). For the period between these two events He was establishing the memorial of His redemptory death. This was to be the strength and comfort of the oppressed (indeed of all who looked forward to His coming), and a constant reminder of His glorious promise. Compared to that fulfillment, passing time with all its self-importance is really only a marking time before the essential. Holy Mass, then, is distinctly eschatological, and we should be much more concerned about our forgetfulness of the fact. But what is this “eschatological” that we meet so frequently in the newer literature? It is that which pertains to the last things, and it exists in a “natural” form in our consciousness of the fundamental uncertainty of existence. By this we do not mean any superficial uncertainty connected with our personal existence or with general existence, though this is of course part of it, but the underlying uncertainty of all existence. There are certain individuals who know nothing of this. In fact, it has been ignored by all in certain periods. For them the world is an unshakeable reality-the reality, essential and self-understood. Everything in it is regulated by a definite order of things, everything has its obvious causes and sure results, its clear, universally recognized value. But at certain periods all this changes. Usage seems to lose its validity. The whole structure of human society is shaken. Then accepted standards of work and propriety, the canons of taste and the rules of behavior grow uncertain. It is no longer possible to plan the future, for everything has be come fluent. A feeling of universal danger creeps into man’s consciousness and establishes itself there, resulting in forms of experience peculiar to persons of a certain sensibility. What seems self-understood to those firmly implanted in action and property appears to these singularly perceptive natures as thoroughly questionable. For them the existing order of things, indeed of life itself seems but loosely, precariously balanced across the chaos of existence and its uncontrollable forces. All rules seem temporary, and threaten to give way at any moment. Things themselves appear now shadowy, now ominous. Reality is by no means as substantial as it may seem, and personal existence, like all existence, is surrounded by and suspended over the powerful  and perilous void, from which at any instant the monstrous may rise to embrace us. To such natures revolution, catastrophe, Untergang are not distant possibilities, but an integral part of existence.

It is easy to reply that such feelings are typical of the emotional crises that accompany historical turning-points and periods of personal turmoil; or that they are the reactions of an unsound, if not abnormal nature. This is possible; but it is also possible that they express something completely “normal,” the truth. The sense of the uncertainty of existence is just as well-founded as that of its opposite, that of the certainty of existence. Only the two forms of experience together contain the whole truth. These vague sensations so difficult to express and still more difficult to interpret receive their clear significance from revelation, which warns us that all is certainly not well with the world; that on the contrary, human nature is profoundly disordered; that its seeming health and stability are questionable precisely because they conceal that disorder. It revealed itself openly when the Creator and Lord of the world “came unto His own; and his own received him not” (John 1:11). Instead, they did everything possible to destroy Him. True, His death did redeem the world; within His love a new, real protection and an eternally stable order did come into being; nevertheless, the stain of the world’s turning on its God and crushing Him remains. He whom the world attempted to destroy will come again, to end it and to judge it. No one knows when, but come He will. Though we cannot imagine such a thing, the world will perish, and not by its own folly or from any “natural” cause. Christ will put an end to it in the age and hour “which the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts. 1:7). Thus Christian existence must face the constant possibility of a sudden end, irrespective of life’s apparent security, order, and promise. Now we begin to see what those sensations of uncertainty really mean: threat from the periphery of time, from Christ, who will come “to judge the living and the dead,” as we say in the Credo. The memorial of His suffering and redemption, which He placed at the heart of our present existence is oriented toward that Coming. It reminds us how things really stand with us.

Early Christianity was acutely conscious of this situation. We see this in references to it in the Acts and feel it in the Epistles of St. Paul. Even the Apocalypse, written at the turn of the century, ends with the words of expectation: “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ . . . He who testifies to these things says, ‘It is true, I come quickly!’ ‘Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!'” In other very early Christian writings as well there is a great sense of expectancy. The Lord will return, and soon.


Then gradually the feeling that His coming is imminent disappears, and the faithful settle down for a longer period. However, while the persecutions lasted, in other words, well into the fourth century, existence was so precarious that the sense of the unreality of earthly things was kept very much alive. Then Christianity became the official state religion, the solid, accepted form of life, and the sense of general insecurity vanished. As we have seen, it reappears in periods of historical upset and in certain particular natures, but it no longer determines the Christian bearing as such. Thus Christian existence has lost its eschatological quality, very much to its detriment; because with that loss the sense of belonging to the world becomes more or less self-understood. Christianity’s intrinsic watchfulness and readiness are gone. It forgets that the words, “watch and pray” are meant not only morally, as a vital sense of responsibility to the divine will, but also essentially, as a manner of being. The Christian is never meant to settle down in the world or become “one with nature,” or with business or art. This does not mean at all negation of the world or hostility to life. The Christian is deeply conscious of earth’s grandeur and beauty; he accomplishes his given tasks here as efficiently and responsibly as anyone else. What it does mean is a certain attitude toward the world. Whatever his class, the Christian is never “bourgeois,” is never satiated and secure and smug. Essentially a soldier, he is always on the lookout. He has sharper ears and hears an undertone that others miss; his eyes see things in a particularly candid light, and he senses something to which others are insensible, the streaming of a vital current through all things. He is never submerged in life, but keeps his head and shoulders clear of it and his eyes free to look upward. Consequently he has a deeper sense of responsibility than others. When this awareness and watchfulness disappear, Christian life loses its edge; it becomes dull and ponderous.

Then too Holy Mass loses one of the marks which the Lord Himself impressed upon it, a mark which the early Christians were aware of. It becomes a firmly established custom, the accepted, Christ-given form in which to praise, give thanks, seek help, practice atonement and generally determine religious existence. Then the Mass becomes “that which is celebrated in every church.every day at a certain time, above all on Sunday.” This is of course correct, as far as it goes-certainly not very far. Something essential is lacking.

Perhaps it will find its way back into our lives and the Mass. The different aspects of God’s word have different seasons. At times the one will fade, retreat into the background, even vanish from the Christian consciousness. It is still there in Scripture and continues to be read in the liturgy, but the words are no longer “heard.” Then the direction of existence shifts, and the same words seem to ring out, suddenly eloquent. Today history is undergoing such a change. It is breaking out of its former impregnability into a period of revolutionary destruction and reconstruction. The old sense of stability and permanence is no longer strong enough to provide the mystery of existence with “the answers.” We have again become profoundly conscious of life’s transitoriness and questionableness. Thus even the natural situation helps us to understand St. Paul’s, “For the world as we see it is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31). Anything can happen. We begin to be aware of the magnitude of divine possibility, begin to sense the reality of Christ’s coming, that pressing toward us from the edge of time, “for I say to you that I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18).

Jesus’ words just before the institution of the Eucharist are not there by chance. The celebration of the Lord’s memorial binds the present moment not only to eternity-a thought we readily understand-but also to the future; a future, however, that lies not in time, but that approaches it from beyond and that will once abolish time. Christ’s promise teaches us to reevaluate the present, the better to persevere in it.

How well we understand the mood that must have prevailed in the early Christian congregations. Those people knew: everything around us is uncertain, alien, edged with danger. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. Now, however, we are here, celebrating the memorial of our Lord. He knows about us and we know about Him. He is the One who dictates the apocalyptical letters: “I know thy works . . . and thy patience . . . and thy tribulation and thy poverty . . . I know where thou dwellest.” The Lord “knows everything.” This knowledge is our refuge. Now, at the moment of sacred commemoration, He will come to us, will be with us, will fortify us . Whatever tomorrow may bring, it will be of His sending .

Through this sense of momentary uncertainty presses another profounder sense: awareness of the uncertainty of all human existence. This seemingly unquestionable world of ours actually carries with it a question mark. We are beginning to notice it again, and to understand the sign. At any hour the Lord may return to end the world. The celebration of the Mass should always be tinged by the feeling: the world “is passing away.” A temporal thing from the start, it spins before God’s eternity for as long as He permits it to do so. But its essential temporality is not all; it is seconded by an acquired temporality or mortality, the extreme disorder brought about by its disobedience and injustice. Once summoned before God’s judgment, the world will be unable to “stand.” When that summons is to come, we do not know, hence the admonition to watch and pray so as not to be found “sleeping.” All that is certain is that it will come “soon,” the word signifying no simple measure of time (tomorrow rather than a year, for instance, or thirty years rather than thousands) but an essential soon, applicable to all time, no matter how long it lasts. It is the sacred soon that comes to us from the quiet waiting of Christ, pressing terrible and blissful from the limits of time upon every hour, and belonging somehow in our own consciousness if our faith is to be complete.

All this seems strange to us. We must be honest and not pretend to something we do not really feel. Here is a task for our Christian self-education. We must feel our way into these thoughts; must gradually make this expectancy our own. Perhaps these meditations have at least cleared away our modern prejudices against the very terminology commonly used to express the thought. Now we must really acquire the truth of the world’s “passing,” must practice watching, waiting, persevering “until the Lord comes.” This implies nothing unnatural, but simply truth; nothing that could make us uncertain in the world, or less efficient, but only a certain accent without which our existence is incomplete.

With it Holy Mass will receive an entirely new significance. We will realize how essential it is for us, and it will become an hour of profoundest tranquility and assurance. Throughout the noise and tension of the day, thought of the Mass will sustain us. The mind will reach out to it like a hand stretched out-each time to receive new strength.

Romano Guardini

Meditations Before Mass