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.


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