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 on Mesena, but also on Calabria; and not only on 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.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Super Hanc Petram (Poem)

"Καὶ ἐκπορευομένου αὐτοῦ ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ, 
λέγει αὐτῷ εἷς τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ: 
διδάσκαλε, ἴδε ποταποὶ λίθοι καὶ ποταπαὶ οἰκοδομαί."
They took the City, they took her. They took Thessalonika, they took even Hagia Sophia. Do you see these stones? When the Romaios passed through those lands, Clad in bright mail, gleaming with gold and precious stones, The little people, οἷ πολλοί, asked him, βάρβαροι, their speech broken: “Where are you going?” But he only said: “Eις τήν πόλιν.“ Not one stone will be left on another They did not understand. Our citadel is broken; It has become The citadel of our enemies. Nam Divus Titus vicit. “God has spoken!” The man said, his voice pompous, but his cheeks hollow. They raised him up from the pit Where he had lain So many days. “You are the Christ.” He said. “To you God has given Power without end.” And though he was afraid, deep in his heart, the Divine Titus rejoiced. “It is the Temple of the Lord!” They shouted in the street, all together, as one. “The temple! The temple of the Lord!” It is the God-protected city, bastion of the Virgin. It shall not fall εἰς αἰῶνα.
There is the Pious Emperor, Father of the Faithful, King and Priest He is seated on a throne set high above the world. Forever he will rule, For he is nothing but an image of stone. Amen, amen, I say unto you: The City shall fall. Sed dico tibi: I am in Jerusalem in the desert, high on the walls of Constantine: In the distance, the dust of the Saracens rises, And I know it is the end. Tu es Petrus All the stones have fallen, fallen Every stone that once stood Proud against the sky And said that it would stand forever. “God has given you into our hands.” the chamberlain said. Then he cut off his pallium, and the laces on his sandals. Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam The statue speaks, his lips stiff and swollen: “I am both Emperor and Priest. I the Restrainer, I the Image. I will not fail εἰς αἰῶνα.” Down at his feet, there is a little stone. He grinds it beneath his feet Perpetually: “You have betrayed the Emperor.” The statue is anointed with oil, sacred Chrism from the hands of God. He is greater than the small stone, Greater than the heavens and the earth, For he is made of many stones, and great foundations Set one upon another. The City will stand forever, For God protects it. Forever it will stand, For God protects it. “You have abandoned God, and he has abandoned you.” And I saw a beast coming up from the sea It had many heads And many crowns. Look, teacher! See the stones. The kingdoms of this earth Have become the kingdoms of God And his anointed one. For the beast has been anointed With the sacred oil. Divus Titus vicit, nam Christus est. “What hope have you?” Et portae inferni non praevalebunt adversus eam. “The City has fallen, and I am still alive.” And so I must die. And I looked, and behold, the great image, That all the earth served, Crumbled into dust before my eyes And the walls were encircled, And the abomination of desolation was set up in the holy place Until the consummation, and the end. And the city of the Virgin became The city of her enemies And the small stone endured Compacted, without seam and division And it became a great mountain And filled the whole world. Nam is est Petrus. I give thanks for all things To the only immortal King.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Lenten Meditation #5: The Trial of God

"Pilate said to him: 'You do not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you, and authority to crucify you?'" (John 19:10)

"Pilate, seeing that this was not advantageous, but rather a riot was happening, took water and, facing the crowd, washed his hands." (Matthew 27:24)

Pontius Pilate may be my favorite character in the Gospels. Most of the people we encounter in the Gospels are fairly similar to the Evangelists themselves: ordinary people, of no great status or significance or responsibility, transformed over time and with great difficulty by the grace of God into disciples of the truth. In this conflict of grace and nature, nature offers its share of difficulties, but little determined opposition. Peter may stammer and swear and shout and betray, but he loves Jesus nonetheless; blind men and lepers may disobey or lack faith or be confused, but in the end they want to be healed; the poor and the great of Israel may not understand what the Kingdom of God consists of, or like the one who preaches it very much, but they do want God's Kingdom to come.

Pilate, though, never shows any such desire for the Kingdom of God, or any particular respect for it; he is, after all, the representative of another kingdom. He represents nature not in its weakness and receptivity to grace, but in the fullness of its strength and pride.

Like very many of us, though, his part in human society, in the fallen order in opposition to grace, is in truth a very small and difficult one. Americans prize individual freedom and power over just about anything--yet in reality, almost no human being who has ever lived has ever actually been free and independent and strong in any remotely meaningful sense. Power and freedom resides in kingdoms, not in men; and most of us, most of the time, get whatever power and whatever freedom we have (or pretend we have) merely by consenting to be one small cog in a much larger machine. America is the leader of the free world; and I am a citizen of America. Rome is the head of the world; and I am the representative of Rome. 

Pilate's career, as we get it not only from the Gospels but also from the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus, was not a wildly successful or fortunate one; given charge of a backwater full of religious fanatics, he was undercut and opposed at every turn, his brutal and unsubtle tactics usually ending in failure and embarrassment for both Rome and himself. A long, miserable career, with plenty of dead bodies but very little glory, pursued more for the imagined proximity of success and power than any tangible presence thereof: if we do not, all of us, see much of ourselves in such a man, then we are hardly being very honest with ourselves. 

Still, in the end, Pilate receives his reward for all those years of fruitless toil: he gets to be the judge of God.

Let us take a moment to appreciate just what an extraordinary privilege, what an extraordinary gift, this really was, to Pilate and to ourselves. Is this not, truly, what he had always wanted, what all of us have always wanted, and fruitlessly sought, in so many labors?

For this is, in truth, the one thing pride, in its heart of hearts, most desperately desires: to be the one whose thought and word and will stands alone and unquestioned, entirely apart from and above all others. What bitterness, what resentment, we suffer, whenever any other human person, whenever any other reality, whenever even God himself, takes away from this blissful power, this all-encompassing freedom. At some time in our lives, another human person, whether by word or deed or merely by their existence, has stood as an obstacle to our will or our knowledge or our desire; at some time in our lives, another human person has even dared to set out their own thought and will and existence as equal to, or perhaps even more important than, our own; at some time in our lives, another human person has even dared to sit in judgment over our thoughts, over our wills, to tell us that this is good and that bad--or even had the audacity to command us, to demand that we submit our desires to their desires, our thoughts to their thoughts, our will to their will. At some point in our lives, faced with this intolerable reality, with this crushing and hateful presence, everything in us has risen up in rebellion, and and we have longed to see this other crushed, humiliated, annihilated, ceasing to exist or else subjected totally and beyond hope of recovery to our thoughts and desires, our will.

If this is true with another human person, is it not true a hundred, a thousand-fold with God himself? Is he not, after all, the one whose thought and will really does stand unquestioned and above all others, is he not the one who dared to create us with his will, to sustain us with that will, and even to redeem us by his love? Is he not the one who beyond all others claims the right to command us, who demands that we to submit our own thoughts and desires and wills, totally and beyond all hope of recovery, to his? Is he not the one, finally, who has dared to judge us, to declare this deed of ours good, and that evil? Is it not God that we have hated in every person whose existence and thoughts and will and judgment and commands we have hated, God we have longed to see crushed and humiliated and subjected to us totally? 

This, then, is the gift Pilate received, in recompense for a whole lifetime spent fruitlessly bending and submitting, flattering and scheming, murdering and torturing and toiling: to look into the face of God himself, and tell him that you are his judge.

To be the one--the one--to see God standing before you, in chains, to be the one to examine God, question him, parse his conduct, decide without question whether he is guilty or innocent, whether he has acted wrongly or rightly, whether he will live or die: this is, in truth, the perfect fulfillment of all our human pride.

Still, as the Gospel account shows, sitting in judgment over God is no easy task; and in doing it, Pilate's pride, like our own, hardly achieves a perfect victory. Pilate is in turn frightened, overawed, annoyed, overcome, even humiliated, by the Jewish priests, their crowds of supporters, and Christ himself. For Christ Jesus is not impressed at all by Pilate's power, his status, his accomplishments, or the vast human systems that underly all these things; nor is he any more impressed with ours. Christ claims to be Truth itself, utterly beyond and utterly indifferent to all power and all knowledge; and he demands that Pilate, and we, acknowledge him, submit ourselves to him, be judged by him, and be, cruellest of all, loved by him.

Against this divine calling, it is very difficult for any human being to remain strong in his own pride; yet Pilate succeeds nonetheless, and it is this that is his real triumph, his only success, as it is so often ours. "What is truth?" he asks, not a question at all, but a final declaration of indifference, of rejection, of Truth standing before him and offering himself to him. "God is innocent," he declares, as he nevertheless asks the priests and the crowd what their preference might happen to be on this matter; a gesture of the most superb indifference to justice, to truth, to each and every single person present. Finally, though, the most glorious moment of his triumph, and ours, comes at last: when he as presiding judge declares God guilty and hands him over to be scourged and mocked and tortured and humiliated and be utterly broken and die in agony; and in so doing washes his hands publicly in front of all his enemies, in front of the entire human race, and declares himself innocent.

Contemplate, if you will, the greatness of this human pride, his and ours! To wash our hands entirely of God and the priests and the people, guilt and innocent, truth and falsehood, life and death: is this not the greatest and most potent declaration of our independence, our freedom, the absoluteness of our own thoughts and our wills?

Perhaps God, who is innocent, is indeed being tortured to death and dying in agony under my orders, before my face; but what is truth? I am innocent of this man's blood.

In the face of God, the only real power of man is in indifference, in simple and final rejection of other persons, truth, and God. This choice of Pilate we have made, each one of us, and this same choice we make daily. We see good and evil, truth and falsehood, we see other human persons and ourselves, we see God: and we are indifferent to and reject them all.

Justice is violated before our eyes, the poor are oppressed and tormented and forgotten, the weak and the innocent are bought and sold, corrupted and led astray, God himself is insulted in his Church and his representatives, and we do nothing, perhaps indeed we even take delight in it, because it is so powerful, so free to be and to do such things.

Does not each and every single one of us daily take delight in such indifference, in such freedom? How many of the deeds we do are done, truly, for its sake? How many even of the deeds we claim to do for God are done, in truth, for the sake of pride, for the humiliation and subjection of other persons, and God himself, to our thoughts, our wills?

Pilate is not at all the most evil character in the Gospels, as Christ himself, not without pity, declared; he had less knowledge of God than others, and so less power to wound him in his heart. We, though, to the degree that we claim to, and truly do, know God and love him, are like Pilate and yet far, far worse than him in every way, whenever we imitate him in his indifference and pride.

Daily God is brought before us to be judged, in the guise of our neighbor, in the guise of the Church and her Pope and priests and bishops and teachings, in the guise of the poor and the weak and the sinful and the oppressed and each and every single one of our brothers and sisters. Let us, if we claim to be Christians, not act the part of Pilate; let us not crucify God in pride and indifference, but in humility and love let us acknowledge God in whatever guise he comes to us, submit our desires to his desires, our thoughts to his thoughts, our will to his will. Let us acknowledge him, and him alone, as the judge of every person, of every deed of others and ourselves, and submit ourselves and all things to his justice.

When we have laid aside all the glory of our earthly knowledge and strength, our status in every earthly system and every power that comes from it, every power to judge and to decide and to will: only then can we receive from Christ the Eternal Kingdom he would offer to us in his Cross. If we can accept this Cross, we will be blessed indeed, and will no more be forced to spend our lives standing in judgment over God, declaring him innocent or guilty, trying desperately and in vain to wash his blood from our hands. We will, rather, live in peace, sustained by his love, submitting to and seeking the justice he has declared, in and through his Church, to the whole world.

This, then, is the judgment: that only when every last shred of our pride has been utterly destroyed, only when we have become, like God, entirely truth and entirely love, can we enter into the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world, and delight in the fullness of joy forever.

Let us see to it, then.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, I acknowledge before you the greatness of my pride, and the great and willful indifference with which I have stood in judgment over you and my neighbor, and delighted in being free of you and your love. Grant, I beseech you, that I may truly repent of this pride, and truly and in all things submit my desires to your desires, my thoughts to your thoughts, my will to your will: first in your Church, her Pope and bishops and priests, then in all those set in authority over me by God, and lastly in each and every single one of my brothers and sisters, especially those who are most treated, like you, with indifference.

Amen.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Lenten Meditation #4: The Weakness of God

"And carrying the Cross for himself Jesus went out to the place called 'of the Skull,' which is called in Hebrew Golgotha." (John 19:17)

Third Station of the Cross: Jesus falls the first time.

Seventh Station of the Cross: Jesus falls the second time.

Ninth Station of the Cross: Jesus falls the third time.

"And they conscripted some passerby, Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming from the countryside, to take up Jesus' Cross." (Mark 15:21)

We are human beings, and so we are weak.

This is not in the least an evil; for weakness and strength are both relative things, valueless except in relation to God or human beings or time or space or some other created thing. God is strong in relation to us, because in relation to him we are nothing at all, and exist at each moment only because he wills it; but in himself, in relation to himself, God is properly neither strong nor weak. The Father does not need strength to beget the Son or to exist in relation to him; nor does the Son need weakness to be loved by the Father and love him in return, and with him spirate the Holy Spirit.

In relation to God and others and ourselves, there are times when it is good for us to be strong; and times when it is good for us to be weak. Sometimes we must help; sometimes we must be helped. Sometimes we must direct; and sometimes we must be directed. Sometimes, and in some things, we must act as though we existed, to accept the gifts of being and goodness which God offers to us, and use them as he wishes, offering to God his own offerings; but in many other things, and in the most fundamental heart of our being, we must be very weak indeed, existing in relation to God very simply as what we truly are: that is, nothing at all. In this humility is the only possible hope of our union with God.

Likewise, the real relations we have to our neighbors, and the genuine love that arises in them, are made possible in this life as much by our weakness as our strength. To love is to submit our own desires and fears and wishes to the good of another; and to be loved is to accept this submission and this will in another, for our good. This is a task that requires, often, all of our strength to fulfill; yet without weakness, we would rarely if ever even attempt it. In our fallen state, strength all too often does little more than make us proud, secure in a false illusion of self-sufficiency, while weakness reveals to us our own dependency and relatedness, and opens us to love.

Still, we are creatures to whom God has given intellects, to know the good, and wills, to seek it; and it is terribly vexing for us to be weak, to be unable to do what we will. We have bodies, which require food and desire pleasure, and hearts that seek always to love and be loved; and it is painful for us to not have what we desire, or to possess what we fear. To be weak, for us, is very often to suffer: to suffer the lack of some things we would have, and the presence of others we would escape.

Certainly it pleases us to be strong; to be able to do what we will, to have what we desire, to avoid what we fear. Yet here is another burden, another gift of God: that through our very strength we soon grow weak and weary, our bodies wearing away, our minds slipping from us, until we must seek nonbeing again in rest and in sleep.

Then, too, however strong we may be in body or mind, the utter failure of all our strength awaits us all in death. In the end, whether we will it or no, our bodies will fail and not be renewed, our minds will break and be torn from us and not return, and we will fall back into the feeble dust from which we came.

The Athenians, in the brief moment of their power, declared that the strong do what they will, while the weak suffer what they must. In the end, all of us, strong or weak, do what we do not will, and suffer what we must.

In becoming man, then, God became for the first time weak--and also for the first time strong, as we know strength. Christ Jesus in the body was a strong man, who overturned the moneychangers' tables and wandered the earth with no place to call his home. Day and night, he toiled and preached and argued and fought for the sake of sinners. Day and night, he did as strong men do, and carried out his will, which was to do the will of the one who sent him, in all things and at every moment, for the salvation of the world.

Even in his Passion, Christ Jesus was, as a man, strong; strong in the will and the desire that drove him to take up the burden of the sins of the world, to fight and to suffer and to die for the sake of his beloved. Christ Jesus, as man, knew each one of us, and as man he willed to seek us out and to save us, even through the pain and torment of the Cross.

Still, if Christ was strong, he was also weak; weak as we are weak, in the created nothingness of his humanity and ours. As he became strong out of love for us, to save us, so too he became weak for our sakes, to love us and be loved by us. He was weak when he came into the world as an embryo in the body of his Mother and at her will, when he was born to her and carried by her and nursed at her breast, when he cried aloud in the night for her to come to him and receive him and love him. He was weak when he wept over Jerusalem, because he willed to heal it, and his beloved willed not; he was weak when he sweated blood in the garden, because he willed that cup of sin and death pass from him, and it did not pass, since his own divine will must be done. As he became strong for the sake of love, so too did he make himself terribly, dreadfully weak, as weak as us and far weaker, so that we might recognize his love for us, and love him in return.

In the fullness of his human strength, for the sake of his great love for us, Christ Jesus our Lord took on himself the burden of the Cross, the burden of all of our sin and shame and misery; and in the fullness of his human weakness, for the sake of his great love for us, he was not able to bear it.

Christ Jesus willed to bear the Cross, to carry it until the end, and yet his body failed, his mind slipped, and he fell three times into utter darkness. In the end, he required the help of a human person to carry it with and for him.

Let us recognize the mystery and the glory of what we are saying: God required the help of a human person to bear the Cross. He required our help.

For the sake of his love, God did not will that he alone should save us; he willed rather that we should love him and one another, and with him and through him carry the Cross of salvation to the end. We are saved not merely through and by Christ, but in him also through and by one another; even through and by ourselves. Christ Jesus, as God, could have made his human body and soul strong enough to bear the Cross until the end; he did not. For our sakes he made himself very weak, so that we might help him, as he helped and helps us in all things. So great was his love for us that he desired that he should need our help to bring his love to completion.

In and through the grace of God, in the power of his Spirit, we too are called to offer ourselves for the salvation of the world; and without our cooperation neither the world nor ourselves will be saved. This is the responsibility, the burden, the Cross, which Christ Jesus lays upon us all. He has given into our hearts his own Divine Love, laid upon our backs his own Cross, and asked us to bear it until the end. So great is his love for us that he wills that we possess his love as our own, and fulfill it in ourselves.

There is no intimacy with the Lord closer than this, no divinization more blessed than this, than that we should possess as our own the Love of God, and in our own works and prayers and sufferings and lives fulfill it.

Still, if we would bear the Cross of Christ, we cannot bear it in our own human strength; far from it. We can only bear it by acknowledging, and living in, our own absolute nothingness, our own absolute dependence on God and his grace. Only by our own human weakness can we be strong with the strength of God. Only the Divine Love of Christ can allow us to will the Cross, and bear it faithfully until the end; every other love is only a counterfeit, a deception, and will fail the moment it is put to the test.

If we would bear the Cross of Christ, we must bear it not in our own strength, but through the strength of Christ; and if we would love, finally, as Christ loves, we must do so not through our own weakness, but through the weakness of Christ.

This is the deepest and most blessed mystery of all: to bear in ourselves, in our own bodies and souls and minds and hearts, the weakness of God. When Christ Jesus fell to earth beneath the Cross, he was weak with a weakness that saves and has saved us all; when he cried out in agony nailed to that same Cross, he was weak with a weakness that has torn the veil and revealed to us the very inner life of God himself, the Eternal and unbreakable love of the Trinity.

The lives we live, and the Crosses we bear, are full of suffering, and of weakness, and of failure. We will, and do not do what we will. We desire, and do not have what we desire. We fear, and have what we fear. By all this, we are made weary, and waste away, and fall into darkness. Christ Jesus, too, for our sake, was weak in just this way, and fell to the earth beneath the weight of the Cross; and by this he redeemed us all from everlasting death.

Let us, then, run to offer to him upon the Cross all our weaknesses, all our failures, all our nothingness and helplessness and lack. He will receive it all as his own, for he has indeed claimed it for his own. By it, far more than by our own vain strength, he will unite us ever more deeply with his own helplessness, his own failure, his own nothingness and weakness on the Cross. By it, he will lead us into the fullness of his Love, the Love by which he himself exists as Father, Son, and Spirit, far beyond all our weakness and all our strength, forever.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, weak and fallen Savior, take pity on us, and give us always the strength to accept your love, so that in us and our weakness the mystery of your own divine weakness may be completed, for the salvation of all the world.

Amen.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Lenten Meditation #3: Stabat Mater

"By the Cross stood the mother of Jesus." (John 19:25)

There is a great paradox to be found in the Passion of Christ; that in suffering the sins of the world, Christ was alone, and yet not alone:

"Behold, the hour is coming, and has come, when you all scatter, each returning to what is his own, and leave me alone: and I am not alone, because my Father is with me." (John 16:32)

In a most important sense, Christ in his Passion suffered alone; for he alone could at once, as man, suffer for the sins of the world, and at the same time, as God, overcome them through the power of the Resurrection. Still, there is a far more terrible aloneness which Christ bore in his Passion; a loneliness and isolation that is the cruelest of all human evils, the most terrible of all human sufferings.

The greatest suffering of Christ in his Cross was his abandonment by those who were dear to him, those whom he loved; first his disciples, then all of us. They, and we, could not watch with him one hour; we, and they, would not drink of the cup of which Our Lord drank. For many reasons, fear and pride and greed and lust and, cruelest of all, simple indifference, we returned to what is our own, leaving the things of God, the things of Eternal Love, and leaving him all alone. As Saint Faustina Kowalska taught, all that we can call finally our own is our lack, our nothingness, our misery, and all that we choose to keep apart from God and his love: in other words, Hell. In his Passion, Christ was abandoned by the souls of the damned, whom he loved and for whom he died, yet who chose instead to return to what was their own, forever. This is, in some measure, the choice we make each and every time we commit a mortal sin.

In this sense, then, Christ in his passion was most profoundly and terribly alone--or rather, he was abandoned, betrayed: his Heart was broken. We all like sheep scattered, each to his own path, and left him alone.

There is and has been only one who did not share in the wandering common to our fallen condition; only one who faithfully followed the path laid out for her by God, not by her own knowledge or strength but entirely by his grace. This is the Immaculate Conception, the Mother of God, the only truly human person to have ever lived free from the stain of our inhumanity.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is usually, and naturally, connected to the conception and birth of Jesus: since it was indeed fitting that the woman who gave flesh to the Son of God, who bore him in her body and nursed him at her breast, should be, like the Ark of the Covenant, entirely pure and free of defilement. Still, it is well to remember that Christ was born to die; he took on created life in order to lay it down for us. In the same way, Mary was made pure by God not merely so that she might be pure for Christ's conception and birth, but far more so that she might be pure for his suffering and death. It was fitting that she be without sin in giving him flesh; but it was far more fitting that she be without sin in accompanying him to offer that flesh as a sacrifice.

That which Christ bore on his Cross could only be borne by one without sin. Christ was pure, and so saw sin as it is, and suffered it; we are corrupt, and so see sin as we wish it to be, and choose it. Mary, though, like Christ, was pure; and like Christ, and with him, she suffered to the end.

Imagine our life, then, as it truly is, as one long Passion, one long Way of the Cross. We are all set on the road towards the Cross, together with Christ; our love for him, and his for us, keeps us with him, and he with us, and unites us ever closer to him, and he with us, as we journey towards our common goal. Each and every sin of ours, though, is a straying from that path, an abandonment of Christ carrying and dying on the Cross, leaving him alone.

It is manifest, then, that only the Immaculate Conception, only the one entirely without sin, could truly follow and remain with Christ, in every part of his Passion, from the very first step to the very last, from the beginning to the consummation. This is the eternal glory of the Mother of God, that she most perfectly of all mankind loved God as man, as a human being, as her son, and loved him faithfully until the end. She alone did not leave him alone.

In and through Mary, though, we too can accompany Christ carrying in the Cross; we too can remain with him and not leave him alone. Inasmuch as we repent of our sins, inasmuch as we accept the Crosses that God lays upon us, in union with the Cross which Christ bears, inasmuch as we seek with all our heart and all our strength to follow after him, we follow in the path of Mary, and stand by his Cross, to console his heart. This is, in truth, the sum of our calling as human persons: to remain with Christ until the end.

Christ's heart was broken by our sins, by the terrible loneliness of his abandonment by us all. It was consoled, and is consoled, by each step we take to love him and to accept his love, as Mary did. As a mother accepts the smallest and clumsiest gesture of love by her child, so Christ accepts the smallest and clumsiest signs of our love. He requires no great deeds, no prideful and self-willed labors on his behalf; he desires only our presence with him, standing by the Cross with Mary, so that we may likewise stand by him in Eternity.

Here, though, is one of the most terrible things by which Christ's heart is broken, one of the most terrible and unspeakable of our many betrayals and abandonments; that we have not merely abandoned and forgotten Christ in himself, but also in those whom he loves. It is not Christ alone who is abandoned; it is not Christ alone who is alone, and forgotten. In each and every one of our brothers and sisters who suffers from loneliness, who has been betrayed or abandoned, who in any way and for any reason suffers alone, without consolation, Christ is once again made to be alone. And what do we do for these our brothers and sisters, what do we do for Christ abandoned and suffering before our eyes? Do we follow, accompany, remain, console, suffer with and for, until the end? Or do we scatter, each to what is our own, and leave Christ, once again, alone?

That even Christ, in the depths of his Passion, was not left alone, but that we have left all alone souls for whom he died: how can we hear this, and not tremble? By our indifference and lack of love, we have made his Passion vain.

Still, Christ is not mocked. Although a human person should be abandoned by all, although he should be entirely alone, yet there is one who is with him: Christ himself, who was abandoned and made to be alone for his sake. Let us never forget this, and let us pray to be made worthy to accept and to participate in this great love, which is for each and every one of us.

In and with and for each and every human person who is abandoned or betrayed or alone, who suffers without consolation, Christ is crucified alone: and Mary is with him. Let us not forget it.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, lonely and abandoned and forgotten by all, give to me the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so that I may no more leave you alone, but faithfully follow, with her, on the path of your Cross until the end.

Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, give me your heart, that in you I may be found worthy to accompany and console Christ crucified and alone in the hearts of my brothers and sisters.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Amen.