Thursday, May 24, 2018

Vagueness and Compassion

It's a mistake to see vagueness and compassion as equivalent. They're not. As our society shows quite well, vagueness breeds bigotry as surely as a carcass flies.
The problem with relativism in practice is that when people stop absolutizing absolute things, they instead just absolutize themselves. In the absence of universal standards & authorities personal likes and dislikes become absolute. And by the standards of the absolutized individual personality, no one is deserving of mercy and compassion. You did *that*? I can't imagine doing that. You don't know *that*? I can't image not knowing that. The people my feelings tell me to love I will love, and the people my feelings tell me to hate I will hate: Amen, so be it. Those I like are justified, those I dislike are cast into the outer darkness, where is wailing and gnashing of teeth--how could it be otherwise?
No one has ever had to be taught to not understand another person, no one has ever had to be taught to be indifferent to another person, no one has ever had to be taught to dislike another person--it's loving and compassion that has to be laboriously drilled into people by authority and reason and dramatic leaps of faith. Take away that authority and that reason and that faith, and you infallibly get hatred.
I'm not sure there has ever been a group of people as collectively pitiless and devoid of compassion as modern Americans--and it is for this, first and foremost, that we will be judged. And we, most of us, most of the time, are pitiless and merciless not because we have any reason to be, but because we don't have any reason not to be. We have only ourselves--a God not of mercy, but wrath.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Technology & Madness

Most of the problems in our day and age are based on the utterly nonsensical idea that the "progress" of technology is some kind of natural force or trajectory implying a moral imperative to accept and make use of every form of technology possible. Can we make cellphones? Then we all must get cellphones, and use them. Can we make an atom bomb? Then we must make one, and use it. Can we make biological weapons? Torture devices and techniques? Elaborate data-collection algorithms? Sex robots?
Technology is nothing but the extension and partial reification of the human will, the will, ultimately, of some person or persons. The idea of a "morally neutral" technology is thus not just wrong, but self-contradictory. All technology is, by its very nature, ethical, since it is, again, a reification & extension of the choices of the human will, and since ethics is nothing other than the science of understanding and judging the choices of the human will. There is no other conceivable way to judge or even understand technology *except* ethically. And if you judge technology ethically, it must be possible to judge it negatively; to decide that this particular technology is, as an extension and reification of human choices, bad and ethically inadmissable.
If we cannot do this, then we are in a very fundamental and inescapable way simply insane, as insane as we would be if we simply refused to judge or even understand any human action, including our own. If our society cannot do this, then it is simply a very large and technologically advanced insane asylum.

Monday, May 14, 2018

I Went to Wal-Mart


I went to Wal-Mart today, with the goal of buying a pair of earbuds and a bottle of lemon-juice.

Wal-Mart is, in its essence, a deeply unpleasant thing for a human being to come into contact with; huge space unbounded by any human scale, order, or decoration, white ceilings and omnipresent flourescent lights, like an asylum or prison, looking down upon every type of evanescent merchandise capable of being manufactured by slaves in Malaysia and China, piled haphazardly on shelves or lying forgotten on the floor, everywhere surmounted by careless images and placards declaring low prices, and everywhere ignored by the underpaid, bored employees wandering vaguely about like inmates in purgatory, never busy, but never available for help or conversation either.

At the height of its power, when it advanced by leaps and bounds from coast to coast and across the sea, singlehandedly gobbling up and annihilating the economies of entire towns and regions, Wal-Mart was, no doubt, a terrifying thing; now, though, the institution has fallen on harder times, and evokes pity more than terror. Faced with competition from Amazon and other online retailers, the company is closing stores at a terrible rate; and even the open stores are often understocked. As I walked gaily through the electronics section, searching for my desideratum, at least half the shelves I passed were simply empty, with no sign of what was supposed to go on them. There were not too many customers, either, for such a day, and those that were there were poorer, older, minorities. The wealthier customers, I knew, were no doubt shopping at the newer, cleaner Target down the road--Target, that so well exemplifies the preferred consumerism of the middle class American of today, no less oppressive, no less ugly, no less fundamentally alienated an institution and an experience than Wal-Mart, but nonetheless painted red and ostentatiously supportive of LGBTQ rights.

I, however, was not shopping at Target and basking in the barest suggestion of an aesthetic and a social consciousness; I was walking through a Wal-Mart visibly in decline, and musing on time and decay and the beauty that is found it. That day, I found Wal-Mart, for the first time, lovely.

This really should not seem so strange; for things much more fundamentally ugly and evil than Wal-Mart have been rendered beautiful and nostalgic by the passage of time. Some have been rendered so fundamentally harmless and frivolous that they have become, not even poetry, but Internet and convention aesthetics. Thousands of "steampunk" enthusiasts every year elaborately dress up in and criticize clothing based on the deliberately ugly and practical garb of British industrialists and colonial administrators of the 19th century, rulers of the world's first capitalist Empire. The very appearances of the machines to which men were chained, and by which they were chewed up and worn out by the tens of thousands, the machines for whose sake boys of 10 were given stiff drinks of whiskey at the beginning of each workday, to dull the pain, have become, for most people, little more than a quaint aesthetic of a bygone age.

This kind of nostalgism, this kind of romanticization of the past, however objectionable some of its results may be, represents, in itself, a fundamentally sound instinct of humanity. It is hard to really appreciate a tiger while it is alive and threatening to eat you; for real aesthetic appreciation, for real poetic inspiration, it is better to wait until the beast has been turned into a rug, and then weep over it. The Antebellum South was, in most ways that matter, a fundamentally wicked society, that deserved to be smashed into powder; it was only once it was gone with the wind that it could be a romantic temple of vanished beauty. No one would really want to see the Colosseum when it was actually the Colosseum, a vulgar monument to spectacle in service to an overpowering state; now, though, centuries of rain have washed it clean of its bloodstains, and left nothing but the quiet majesty of stone.

These were the things I thought of in Wal-Mart today, and this is what I felt; Wal-Mart, the white walls and the vast, cavernous space and the empty shelves and the bored employees, fading away into the night, a sign and emblem of the whole society in which it thrived, the American Empire of cheap merchandise stacked haphazardly on shelves and then thrown away and endless armies of men bound to machines producing garbage. It all seemed, suddenly and overwhelmingly, as ephemeral and as sad and as beautiful as anything I had ever seen: seemed, indeed, already vanished from the earth, and in that vanishing to be lovely, like the monuments of Rome and Athens and the British Empire before it.

I drove out of the vast parking lot, ugly asphalt and careless yellow lines, and onto the freeway that already seemed to be falling to pieces around me. I wondered: what would we do with these vast, overwhelming buildings, these vast empty spaces, once all this had passed away? The Catholics of Rome had, with unerring common sense, turned the Pantheon into a Church, and put a statue of St. Peter atop the Column of Trajan. Perhaps, I thought, one day this huge, bare white cavern would be re-consecrated as a Cathedral, like the Parthenon; and I remembered, not without amusement, that in California the Crystal Cathedral, that great monument to the excesses of capitalist religiousity, had already been bought from its bankrupt owners and turned into a real Cathedral of the Catholic Church. I laughed at this, and in my heart I entirely approved it. Yes; just like Rome, the glories of this faded civilization should belong to God and his Church. Perhaps one day we would put statues of St. Peter or the Virgin on top of the shells left by abandoned McDonalds.

These thoughts were not entirely undirected; for I was driving to a little Adoration chapel at a Catholic Church, not far away, where I found a little room, smaller than that in which I am now sitting, in which there were a few middle-aged people and statues of Joseph and Mary and a few candles and God Almighty under the appearance of a piece of bread. And sitting in this room, reflecting on what I had just seen and done, I realized rather abruptly what it is that divides me, and has always divided me, from so many other people, from so many Catholics of past generations and my own: that for me, it was simply obvious that Wal-Mart, and the great Empire and society it represented, was fading away and falling into ruin before my eyes, and the Church was permanent and would outlast it--and for them it was not.

This, I reflected, was not at all due simply to lack of faith on the part of such people; for they lived at times when America and the American Empire of economic power and cultural production and military might seemed natural and large and permanent as the world itself, while the Church seemed ever smaller and older and destined to vanish like the mists at dawn, while I lived at a time when everyone, even the most piously American and secular, despaired of the future of the American Empire, and recognized the signs of its dissolution.

I realized that while for me, the overwhelming vision was of the world fading and falling into ruins and the Church remaining strong and upright, for so many Catholics, for so many Catholics far better and more faithful and holier than I, the vision, the overwhelming vision which they could not help but see, with and against which they fought all their lives, was of the Church falling into ruins and vanishing beyond recovery, and above her the world looming ever more permanent and powerful and unquestionable. I realized how much of the work and efforts and ideologies of both progressive and conservative Catholics over the past one hundred years and more had really been, at its base, responses to this vision: some good, some evil, and some merely foolish. I realized, too, that there was another vision which I lacked as well, one that possesses and frightens and drives many people not so much older than me, or even younger, to do and say and fight many things: a vision of growing up in a Church already little more than ruins, beautiful but obsolete and forgotten. I realized that I lacked this vision, too, that I have never for even one instant felt the Church to be in ruins, never felt the Church to be weak and failing or already failed, never in any real sense feared for the Church, its present, or its future. I realized that this is really what divides me from many Catholics far better and holier than I, and that this is no glory to me.

Sitting in that Chapel, though, I tried, for a little while, to see my surroundings in the light of these visions, thinking in a new light of the oldness of the few assigned adorers, the smallness and shabbiness of the room, the apostasy of so many young people from the Faith, the overwhelming force of the world in so many forms over and against human souls and the Church. As I came out from the Chapel, I got in my car, and drove through a tunnel, and when I came out there was a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market where there had not been one before, and I saw, for a moment, how all this could still seem powerful, inevitable, could still seem to have a future, while the Church did not.

As soon as I saw that, though, even as I saw it, I saw also very clearly that, in the end, these fortunes of history made no difference at all; that both while waxing and waning, Wal-Mart was nothing but an empty shell, ugly and meaningless and powerless and without a future, while in that little Chapel there was God himself, in the form of a weak and vanishing bit of bread, and souls whose virtue and fidelity were glorious and unconquerable even through the age and fading strength of their bodies.

When I saw this, I saw simply the world, in which God was made Incarnate; a world both of passing things, and of eternal things, of time and decay and resurrection.

Even when the Colosseum was full of gladiators and revelers, it was still empty; even when the Plantation House was full of ladies in gowns and the fields of groaning slaves, it was still an ugly and meaningless sham; and even when the Church has been at its weakest and most corrupt, in every place and time where it has seemed to fade away beneath the triumphant forces of this world, it has been strong with the strength of the Cross, and glorious with the glory of God, and possessed of an eternal future.

I came away from this experience, then, both saddened and comforted. I do not know whether America will endure for a year or a decade; but it will not endure. I do not know whether the Church in this place or time will conquer, or be conquered; but it will live forever. That is, really, all I need to know.

Anyway, I did get the earbuds and the lemon juice, and that was nice too.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Vignettes of Conversion

Today marks the 7th anniversary of my Confirmation and acceptance into the full communion of the Catholic Church. I've been planning to write something about it for a while, but found myself hitting the same wall that is always hit in such matters: the difficulty of writing about oneself.

People don't like to write about themselves as they actually are, for the same reason they don't like to hear their own voices on tape: which is one reason why most of the time, writing about oneself consists mostly of fairly elaborate methods of evading the topic, or else even more elaborate constructions of "brands" and fictionalized versions of the self. To avoid this, I finally decided to describe the process of life and of conversion more as it actually happened: that is, in small moments, in little broken-up narratives, and, as much as possible, using words I wrote during the times in question, intended not for public consumption, but for my own purposes, and mostly addressed to God. We'll see. What follows, then, may or may not add up to a consistent narrative, or a good story, or anything of the sort. I have tried to make it as true as possible, though no doubt I have failed at that, too.


Wake Up

My first memory, so far as I can reasonably tell, is of singing songs in church: the church I grew up in, that is, which for a long while bore the name of Reformed Heritage Presbyterian Church and which for most of the time I was in it consisted of less than a hundred persons. It is thanks to my membership in this church that I was baptized as an infant, and so began the life of grace.

I have many memories of God as a small child, though most are not very explicit; but they are all memories of presence and love, a presence and love I was never to entirely forget.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Pope St. Martin I, Epistola XV

The feast day of Pope St. Martin I, the last Pope to be honored as a martyr by the Catholic Church, was a few days ago. He was deposed and martyred by the Byzantine Emperor Constans II for his opposition to the Monothelite heresy. In honor of that day, here is a quick translation of a letter (XV in Migne) from the early days of his imprisonment, before he reached Constantinople, describing the events of his arrest. 

Martin to Theodore: Your dear love wished to know in what way I was snatched from the See of Saint Peter the Apostle, like a single solitary sparrow from a building. And I wonder that you wished to inquire about this, since Our Lord spoke beforehand about wretched times to his disciples: ‘For in those days there will be tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world even til now; and unless those days were shortened, all flesh would not be able to endure. But the one who perseveres until the end will be saved.’ (Matt 24:22). For also Saint Paul according to the grace of the Spirit given to him announced beforehand those days to Timothy his disciple: ‘In the last days men will fall from the Faith, and will turn their hearing away from the truth, loving themselves, avaricious, etc,” (1 Tim 4:1, 3:4). And believe me, my very longed-for son, since our Lord predicted the coming of Antichrist, we must see no other time except clearly this one, in which are the beginnings of sorrows.

And it seemed necessary to me to speak briefly, before judgment prevails in the whole world and I come to the end of the race, since I have judged that this is expedient for me, and in this, although others are preparing evils for me, I will exalt rather than weep. And so, that you may know how I was taken and led away from the Roman city, you will hear nothing false about what has happened. I knew everything which they were planning beforehand through that whole time, and at my own expense with my whole body of clergy I was staying privately in the Church of Our Savior Jesus Christ, which is named ‘Constantinian,’ which was constructed and founded first in the whole world by the Emperor Constantine of blessed memory, and is near the episcopal residence. There we all were resting separately on the Sabbath day, when Calliopas, with the army of Ravenna and Theodore the chamberlain, entered the city. Therefore I sent to meet him certain men from among the clergy: when these were received in the palace, he thought that I also was with them. But when he had asked them, and had not found me, he said to the leading men of the clergy: ‘We wanted to do homage to him; but tomorrow, which is the Lord’s Day, we will meet him, and will salute him, because we did not succeed today.’ Furthermore, when on the Lord’s Day he sent gifts to us in that holy Church of God, that man, because he suspected that a great crowd had come together there because of the day, announced: ‘We are very fatigued by the journey, and are not able to meet with you today, but tomorrow we will certainly meet with you, and will pay homage to your Holiness.’ But I myself had been severely ill from the month of October all the way to that time, that is, all the way to the sixteenth from the Kalends of July. Therefore on Monday in the morning he sent his Chartularius, and some men from his retinue, saying: ‘You have prepared arms, and are keeping armed men inside, and have collected many stones for fighting; and this is not necessary, nor should you allow something like this to happen.’ And when I had listened to these things in their presence, I judged it good not to make them certain myself but to send them to wander at will through the whole episcopal residence, so that if they had seen any weapons or a stone, they themselves might bear witness. But when they had gone, and found nothing, I told them that never at any time had it been otherwise, but they were always attacking us with lies and false accusations, since even they confessed that at the arrival of the infamous Olympius, a certain vain man, he had been able to drive me away with arms. I then was keeping my little bed, in which I was lying, before the altar of the Church; and when noon was not yet past, behold an army came with them into the Church, all armored and holding their lances and swords, and their bows made ready with their shields: and there were done there things which should not be spoken. For just as in the wintertime leaves struck by a strong wind fall from the trees, so the candles of the Holy Church were being struck with arms, and cut down were falling to the pavement. And a sound was heard in that Church, like some horrible thunder, from the striking of their arms, from the multitude of candles broken by them. And while they were entering in crowds, a message was given by Calliopa to the Priests and Deacons, in which was contained my humility's deposition, because, they said, I had taken the episcopacy irregularly and against the law, and was not worthy to be installed in the Apostolic See, but it would be transmitted to this royal city when a bishop had been substituted in my place. This has not yet happened, and I hope that it will never happen, because in my absence the Archdeacon and Archpriest and Primicerius keep the place of the Pontiff. Even while, then, these things are happening, since they have been done about the Faith, I have made them clear to you. But indeed we were not prepared to fight, since I have judged it better to die a thousand times than to allow the blood of even one person, anyone, be shed onto the earth. War, indeed, is waged, even without danger, with not a few evil things done which do not please God. Thus at the same hour I gave myself over to obeying the Emperor and not resisting. Furthermore (that I may speak the truth), although certain men from the clergy were shouting to me not to do this, I gave my ear to none of them, so that men would not be killed. But I said to them: ‘Let some from the clergy come with me, who are necessary for me, bishops, priests, and deacons, and whoever seems good to me.’ Callopias responded: ‘However many want to come, let them come. We lay a necessity on no one.’ I responded: ‘The clergy is in my power.’ But certain men from the priests, shouting, were saying: ‘We live with him, and we die with him.’ After these things Calliopas began to say, and those who were with him: ‘Come with us to the Palace.’ Nor did I refuse to do this, but I went with them to the palace on the same Monday. And on Tuesday the whole clergy came to me, and there were many who had prepared to sail with me, who then had put their property on those things which are called levamenta [small boats]; and also some others, clergy and laity, were preparing and were hurrying to come to us. Then on the same night, which dawned on Wednesday, the thirteenth from the Kalends of July, about the sixth, as it were, hour of the night, they took me from the palace, thrusting aside all those who were with me in the palace, and also the various things which were necessary for me on the road and here, and they led us from the city with nothing but six servants and one drinking-vessel; and when they had put us into one of those boats which are called levamenta, about the fourth hour of the day, more or less, we came to the port. In that hour in which we went out from the city of Rome, the gates were immediately bolted, and they also guarded them, and remained there, lest anyone should go out of the city and come to us in the port, until we had sailed from there. For this reason it was necessary that we send away from the port the property of all those who had put their property into the levamenta, and then depart on the same day. And we came to Mesena on the Kalends of July, where there was a ship, which is my prison. But not only in Mesena, but also in Calabria; and not only in Calabria, which is subject to the great city of the Romans, but also on very many islands, on which our sins have impeded us for three months, I have obtained no compassion, except only on the island of Naxos, because I spent a year there, I merited to bathe two or three times, and in the city I stayed in a certain inn. And behold it is now the forty-seventh day since I have merited to wet myself with hot or cold water, and I have wasted away and have been cold all over, because the flowing of my stomach both on the ship and on land has given me no rest even to the present hour; and even in the very hour of my necessity, when I am about to eat, I am shaken in my whole body, I do not have those things which are necessary to enjoy for the comforting of nature, because what I have disgusts me to receive, since it causes me nausea within. But I believe in the power of God who sees all things, that when I will be led out from the present life, these things will be required of those who persecute me, so that at least in this way they may be led to repentance, and converted from their iniquity. [Signature] May God keep you unharmed, most sweet son.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Lenten Meditation #7: The Joy of Christ Jesus Upon the Cross

"And now you yourself glorify me, Father, with yourself, in the glory which I had, with you, before the world existed." (John 17:5)

"And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice: 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' Which, translated, means: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Mark 15:34)

The mystery of the Christian Faith is the Paschal mystery, the mystery of the death and resurrection of God. This mystery itself contains many mysteries, mysteries concerned with the nature of God and of man, of Incarnation and redemption and sin and death and justice and suffering. Indeed, there is, in a true sense, nothing either of earth or of heaven that is not contained in this one mystery. When we eat the Body of the Lord, and drink his Blood, we make ourselves a participant in the union of all of God with all of creation: and this is the purpose of our existence, of all our lives, and all our desires, thoughts, words, and deeds.

Here, though, is one small part of this mystery that has for many years been perhaps the central object of my meditation: the joy of Christ Jesus upon the Cross.

On the Cross, Jesus knew and tasted all the sin and suffering and evil of all mankind, from the beginning of time to the end of it. On the Cross, Jesus knew and tasted betrayal by those closest to him, including all of us, the mockery of his enemies, who we are and have been, and the loss of his only beloved. On the Cross, Jesus knew and tasted abandonment by God, the subjection of his body and soul to suffering and helplessness and torment without any consolation.

Still, on the Cross, Jesus remained God, remained united to God in an unbreakable bond, the bond of the hypostatic union and of the Most Holy Trinity.

Many saints and doctors of the Church have taught that, because of the hypostatic union, Jesus knew and saw God not only in his divinity, but in his humanity as well; that is, that he experienced in his earthly life, from the moment of conception to the moment of death, the Beatific Vision of the essence of God that all of us, by the grace of God, will experience only in heaven. While all men know God only by Faith, that is, the man Jesus knew him by sight, as completely and as intimately as it is possible for the created to know the uncreated. He was Son, and knew his Father not only in his eternal divinity, but in his chosen humanity as well.

It is in this divine sight that Christ Jesus on this earth preached and healed, prayed and lived and suffered, rejoiced and wept, for the love of his Father and of us all. It is in this divine sight, likewise, that he suffered and died.

This, though, is a question that has vexed many doctors and many saints: how is it that Christ Jesus could, while seeing the essence of God, suffer all that he suffered in the Cross? How could Christ Jesus, while seeing the essence of God, experience abandonment by God? Perhaps, we must say, the suffering must have been lessened, or else the vision must have been lost.

Nevertheless, the greatest doctors and mystics of the Church have affirmed both, without contradiction: that Christ Jesus on the Cross saw God, experienced what we feebly call Heaven, the ineffable and eternal union with God--and that Christ Jesus on the Cross saw only death and torment, betrayal and abandonment, by man and by God. Saint Therese of Liseux, in her last days of torment, spoke of this mystery; so, too, did St. Edith Stein, in the last days before her martyrdom. Both affirmed the double mystery of Christ Jesus' union and abandonment upon the Cross; and so too have many others.

The key to this mystery, I am convinced, lies in the teachings of the mystics and theologians, concerning the transcendence and ineffability of the essence of God. As St. John of the Cross teaches, the essence of God which we know in heaven, and in the merest shadows even on earth, in itself cannot be seen or heard, tasted or touched; in itself, it infinitely transcends every capacity of the body, mind, and soul, made, as they are, for the knowledge of creatures; in itself, it bears no proportion to, and no resemblance to, any created thing or any created experience. It is for this reason that knowledge of God and union with him so often comes to us not as light but as darkness, a darkness into which we are plunged, blinding us and removing us far from all pleasure and pain, all sight and hearing and all understanding. To know God as he is is to transcend all things, to be taken entirely away from all things.

Still, in heaven, we will see not only the essence of God, but also his glory, and show that glory in ourselves; that is, we will see not only God himself, but the effects he has on creatures, the participation of creatures in him. This may be expressed, however feebly, by images of joy and light, of power and honor and wisdom. In the last day, we will be raised from the dead, and all creation will be remade in him, transformed into a most perfect participation in his supernatural grace and love. All the saints will be united in a single bond of charity, of mutual love and honor. None of this is God, but it is his glory.

Likewise, even on this earth, the knowledge of God often brings us peace, light, joy, healing, reconciliation, and many other good things--even, perhaps, experiences of God that transcend our nature. On earth, too, we know and see the glory of God.

Still, none of this is, in itself, the essence of God; none of it is what we seek. The sight of the essence of God is not itself joy, or peace, or healing, or light, or any of these things; it is something far greater, and far more good, than any of them. In Christ Jesus, this knowledge of God frequently overflowed in him, to bring joy, to bring peace, to bring healing, to show forth the glory of God made flesh; but all this glory could be taken away, and he would still remain God.

So it was, then, on the Cross; Christ Jesus did experience abandonment by God, not because he ceased to see God, but because that sight ceased to bring anything at all except itself. As St. Edith Stein expressed it, all sensible joy of the indestructible union was taken away, so that he saw and felt and experienced nothing but the absence of God. In himself, he knew truly all our suffering, all our sin, all our fear and pain and torment and betrayal and abandonment; and the sight of God's essence did not lessen this, but rather increased it. The one who knew God, the Son of God, God in human flesh, was abandoned by him totally to suffering and torment and death. He drank our cup to the dregs.

Still, there is one other thing that must be remembered, through all of this; that in the Cross of Christ, God was glorified far more perfectly than at any other time in the life of the Christ. In St. John's Gospel, in fact, the hour of the crucifixion is frequently expressed not as the hour of abandonment, but as the hour in which the Father glorifies the Son. How is this possible?

Deus caritas est: God is love, and we are all saved, not through pleasure or pain, not through joy or anguish, not through consolation or abandonment, but solely and only through love. The love of God that dwells within us is the Holy Spirit, God himself; and this love is glorified in all that we do and say and experience that is from that love and for it. As St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross both teach, as every mystic and doctor of the Church has taught, it is not any mystical experience that makes us holy, not even a mystical experience of the darkness of God: it is simply and solely the love of God that dwells in us, and works itself out through us.

If we understand this, we understand why the Cross of Christ was not only abandonment by God, but far more his glorification: for in it, and through it, the love of God has been revealed in all its fullness, has flowed out in all its fullness into the whole world, and into our hearts. Christ Jesus was abandoned by God, and suffered all things; yet this is, in truth, for those with eyes to see, the greatest glory of God and of Man: that God should, as Man, suffer abandonment by himself, that God should, as Man, die in torments and in agony, for the sake of his love.

Christ Jesus came into the world to reveal to us God as love; and this he did upon the Cross. On the Cross, the Son was, truly, glorified by the Father with the very same love which he has known in eternity, the divine love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God.

In all our life on this earth, then, in both joy and suffering, consolation and abandonment, let us never fail to remember that Christ Jesus upon the Cross saw the Face of God, and revealed it to us; that he knew the essence of God, and was abandoned by God, and so glorified him.

There is no greater joy than the joy of Christ Jesus on the Cross.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, grant us, we pray, a true participation in that divine and eternal love which you glorified upon the Cross, so that in all our deeds, words, thoughts, joys, and sufferings, we may likewise, in you, glorify God. Grant that in all our experiences of abandonment by God, we may likewise possess him and glorify him, as you did; and grant that as we have suffered with you on the Cross, we may experience with you forever the joy of the Resurrection.

Amen.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Lenten Meditation #6: The Consolation of the Cross

"There was a vessel there full of vinegar, and putting a sponge soaked with vinegar onto a hyssop rod, they brought it to his mouth. When Jesus had accepted the vinegar, he said: 'It is consummated.'" (John 19: 28-9)

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, because your embraces are sweeter than wine." (Song of Songs 1.1)

We should never allow ourselves to forget that the Cross is, fundamentally, an act of love, and that we are the intended recipient of that love.

Christ Jesus loves us; that is, he wills our happiness. The Cross is thus the means to our happiness, first and foremost and before all else.

Of course, this, like all love, requires something of us. The happiness which Christ desires to give us is himself, his own Divine Nature, which is the source and summit of all perfections and delights, infinitely transcending every created good. It is a good, too, that transcends also our own natures, and every capacity of our bodies and souls; and so to receive it, we must be transformed into something infinitely more than ourselves, must become God, so that we may know and possess God by means of himself.

The means to this happiness is the Cross of Love. The Cross of Christ Jesus is the perfect act of self-giving, of self-sacrifice, of that fiery and consuming charity that is God. It is not possible to come to God without the Cross, on which God himself died. Only be accepting it entirely can we be entirely transformed into Love, and so receive the gift of perfect and eternal happiness.

Still, it is good for us to remember that the Cross is God's love for us, not a love that comes from us. It is, in the end, neither our task nor our burden; it is the Lord's.

The only task, the only yoke, which God lays upon us is the acceptance of his love, which is the Cross. This is a light burden, and an easy yoke to bear.

We all desire love, to console and to heal and refresh and to delight in; and in comparison to the love of God, every earthly love is dust and ashes. It is a very sweet and delightful thing to be loved by God, infinitely sweeter than every sweetness of this earth.

The love of the Lord is strong wine, rich food, the embrace of lovers, the stillness of the starlight sky, the depths of the ocean. The Cross of the Lord is the Tree of Life, full of fruit good to look upon and to eat. It is fulfillment, peace, security, consolation, rest, not of a moment or a place or a part, but wholly and in eternity.

Here is but one sweetness of the Cross, one of the many consolations and pledges of love which the Lord, as our lover, offers to us; that for the sake of love, he has shared in all our sufferings and sins, drank the cup of our nothingness and misery to the very dregs.

We do not merely suffer because God calls us to something beyond us; we suffer because we are created things, nothingness sharing in existence; because we live in a material creation that is good but full of death, of many creatures indifferent to our good; because we are incomplete in ourselves, and full of desire for what we hope will complete us; and because we are ignorant, and imperfect, and so sin, choosing what harms others and ourselves, and suffering in ourselves the consequences of others' sin.

In all this we are very pitiable, but this is the consolation which the Lord, in the fullness of his love, offers to us through the Cross; that he, who suffers in himself nothing, should take pity on us, and make himself one of us, to share in our suffering; that he, who knew not sin, should make himself sin for us, should take on himself each and every one of our sins and our sufferings, desiring to know and share in intimately each and every one of our pains and disappointments, our errors and our failures and our wounds; that he should make our sufferings his, and his ours, and use them redeem the whole world.

All in us that is weakest and worst and most wounded, the Lord has made his own. There is nothing we need fear, there is nothing we need be ashamed of, since there is nothing in us that does not share in this consolation, this healing, this peace. Whatever it is we suffer, fear, are wounded by, it is the Lord's, and by it he has loved us.

Whatever burdens we bear, which are our own, are no longer ours, but the Lord's. It is he who shall bear them, in us, it is he who has borne them already on the Cross. Whatever evils come to us, they are not ours to suffer, but the Lord's. It is he who shall suffer them, with us, in love.

This is a great mystery, and very hard for us, weak as we are, to accept. Very often, indeed, we find it far easier to accept our own sufferings, which we know and possess intimately, than to accept the Lord's love, which comes from outside and leads to a happiness unknown to us, beyond all our control and knowledge. Alone, we gladly bear our own wounds, and it is difficult for us to allow the Lord to take them from us, and make them his own. It is difficult for us to be loved by the Lord.

To accept the Lord's love, to accept his gifts and consolations and blessings, to accept his Cross, is a difficult thing, possible only by his grace; and we ought to ask for it, always.

In all this, though, let us never allow ourselves to grow anxious, never fearful, never distrustful, in anything. The Lord has loved us, made himself small for us, died for us. He offers us himself, and with himself a thousand thousand consolations, ten thousand thousand graces. Allow him to reassure your heart, and he will do so. Allow him to give you himself, who is above and beyond every created thing, beyond all sight and hearing and knowledge, all pain and all pleasure, and every created thing: and he will do so.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, sweet lover of my soul, give to me the grace to accept from you all that you wish to give me; consolations, assurances, signs and means of your love, and in and through and beyond all these things the Cross of your love, and by it your own self.

Amen.