Empty Walls

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

It was oddly emotional when the realtor suggested I remove all the art from the walls before we show the house. With our bid accepted on a property with more space and more opportunities, I pressed her for details on how to prepare our current home for the market.

I felt I was putting my heart in a box. Turning my friends -my art- away and hiding them in the box. Evenings would pass without musing on that painting. Mornings pass without looking at those wedding photos. My eyes hold their own rituals traveling the well-known paths of my decor as I walk around the home. It is comforting, calming, and fills my heart with joy. Why was I stuffing all the things I find beautiful in a box? What would I do without these things?

Now, the walls are clear, much of the furniture removed, clutter cleared away. It is still my home, but now the home speaks for itself.

 

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Instead of resting my eyes on the antique frames and personal mementos, the scenery rolls by and from contemplating my surroundings, I turn inward and see what thoughts I can produce.

It is not much, to be honest. I mentally decorate our next home. I review what areas I can pack up next. And then I am stuck. After a day or so, the thought dawns on me, “oh, I could think about my writing.”

Distraction and stimulation come in different forms: sixteen computer tabs, message alert chimes, the screaming if bickering siblings. I learned to contemplate, to fix my mind on something and take it in, the ancient and non-denominational form of mindfulness when my thoughts would ruminate on thoughts too painful to bear.

Much of psychology draws on spiritual traditions. In ancient times, healthy practices developed that helped people. Without a psychological or scientific vocabulary, these were often defined and interpreted in a spiritual tradition. The practice now is to take the technique for its physical or psychological benefits and leave the religious aside. Thus, talk of mindfulness without Buddhism; yoga without Hinduism, meditation without Christianity. We ask how does this practice just on its own, apart from religion?

In the Christian tradition, there are three types of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, contemplation.

In the first, we find praise, thanksgiving, and petition. From petition, we extrapolate the power of naming our needs and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to ask for them. In thanksgiving, the practice of gratitude. In praise, the awareness of something greater than ourselves at work in the world, in the universe.

Meditation translates to actively using one’s imagination to explore a concept, an idea, or a story. It is mental work to discover some truth contained in the tale.

Contemplation, like mindfulness, lets the thing to be discovered come to me. I allow myself to just be, and in being, I become more open to that which there is to be discovered.

Although the three types are traditionally placed on a hierarchy, they ought not to exist in isolation. All three are necessary for wellbeing.

I listen to podcasts, then to artsy music. But can I sit in silence? Can I take the time to explore those conundrums presented, abstract ideas that are not pressing at all?

Someone presents an idea, as I saw happen on Facebook: government-sponsored home visits for new mothers, perhaps. Reactions abound. But sit and parse through it: my perspective, their perspective, my needs, needs of others who are not like me, practical concerns, how would it look, how would it work, if there was a better way- how would that work, what would it cost, would the powers-that-be be willing to adopt it.

The practically minded around us may say it is a waste of time to explore one idea so deeply. The busy among us will find little time to explore. But Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

It is the stuff of philosophers through the ages. It is the stuff of boredom. It is the stuff of empty walls.

Fitting thoughts for St. Patrick’s Day; Reflections from reading Strange Gods, Chapter 1: God Before Us

What follows are the fragments that stood out to me and my reflections on Elizabeth Scalia’s book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Every Day Life, Chapter 1: God before Us. Click here to read my other reflections on Scalia’s book.

I waxed poetic over Scalia’s introduction. It’s time to dive into the first chapter “God before us.” In order to diagnose the condition, we need a definition:

“To place anything—be it another deity or something more commonplace like romantic love, anger, ambition, or fear—before the Almighty is to give it preeminence in our regard. To become too attached to a thought or feeling or thing is to place it between God and ourselves.”

In order to treat the condition, let us look at the cause, as Scalia describes it.

Why do people allow their relationship with God to become disoriented? Sadly, the problem usually starts with love. The human heart craves attention and love—love is the common longing of our lives…Finding this kind of love can be difficult. Giving love can be more difficult still. Sometimes, discouraged or impatient in our search, we chase illusions and yearn not for the give-and-take of a lifetime of sacrificial love but the fifteen minutes of fame…

Of course, read the book for yourself to see these points fleshed out. Every bad or evil thing is a good thing twisted. Scalia recognizes this.

It’s not a bad thing to want to be loved…ego and pride can push us to achieve excellence…but left unchecked or knocked out of balance, they can enslave us.

With our vision bedazzled by our fears, insecurities, egos…out distractions cease to look like pale imitations of love, but instead, becomes reasonable facsimiles.

Convinced that what has enticed us unto obsession is about love, we gather it all unto ourselves.

This approach to things that are not God, idols, becomes a dangerous cycle because they can never fulfill us. Looking at the Ten Commandments, Scalia explains how the last seven reinforce the first overarching commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” If one follows the first, the others are “moot” because everything will fall into place. Taking the time to articulate the final seven, beginning with “honor thy mother and father” are meant to keep us on the road. If I am willing to kill (or defame), to commit adultery (or lust in my heart), than I see the signs that I have fallen from the first and greatest commandment.

The Ten Commandments

 

There are those who will object to this conversation all together. Scalia recognizes this.

What does it even mean, to put something “before God,” and why would it matter to God, anyway? He’s God! How insecure and needy and manipulative could God be to even make such a command?

But then we make an idol of God himself, fashioning him in our image, modeling him after our human love, which is so prone to the weaknesses of insecurity, neediness and manipulation.

In the later chapters, Scalia will explore some of the major idols of our lives: ideas, prosperity, technology, coolness and sex, and plans.

To frame this chapter, Scalia shared with us about a police officer who would ask God to be with him on dangerous calls. He would pray, “stand among them and subdue them; stand before them in majesty to that your peace and your truth are unimpeded as we work through this difficulty.”

We need to make a prayer of this in our daily life. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day today, let’s take a look at the Lorica of St. Patrick as an inspiration to keep us on track in following that first Commandment. This is but one verse of many amazing verses.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me

When you read aloud it in its entirety, the rhythm takes you deeper.

I could see this as a perfect morning prayer for a busy family, and I may propose this to my husband of adding this to our meager repetoire. For our family, the Consecration to the Holy Spirit has been our regular morning prayer/breakfast meal grace.

Consecration to the Holy Spirit

O Holy Spirit, receive the perfect and complete consecration of my whole being. In all my actions grant me the grace of being my light, my guide, my strength and the love of my heart. I surrender myself to you, and I ask of you the grace to be faithful to your inspirations. Transform me, through Mary and with Mary into a true image of Christ Jesus , for the glory of the Father and the salvation of the world. Amen.

What do you do to keep God on your mind or first in your heart?

Reflections from Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch.2 (Part 1)

Now regarding Chapter 2: The Annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist and the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, written by Pope Benedict XVI. Due to the length, I will publish it in two parts.

There are three aspects that stand out to me as I read this chapter, much longer than the first chapter. First, the juxtaposition of grandeur and humility. Second, the qualities of joy and hope present in, what we now call, the Christmas story. The third aspect is the deep portrayal Pope Benedict gives of Mary. To be honest, theology is not my favorite type of reading. For me, exegesis is very interesting, but on the drier side. Some of it is very inspiring and it certainly enriches my later reading of scriptures.

It was many years ago when I first studied the tenants of our faith. I admit the extreme limitations of my memory. I will likely never do a formal debate on matters of doctrine. But there was the time when I had my questions, I asked my questions, and I found deeply satisfying answers and explanations to those questions. Since then, the information I encounter now deepens what I already know, but it is not often that I am shaken by a new revelation. A part of me thinks that probably sounds terrible, or maybe terribly foolish (only fools are satisfied with their level of knowledge, right?) but I’m being honest.

That being the case, I stand by my previous statement that this information can deepen later reflection. So I apply the overarching aspects that stood out to me to my current mental fodder, which I will share with you now.

First, the idea of the temple and the mustard seed (p.21). The annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist takes place in the temple, as Zechariah, a priest, enters. This is the height of greatness, is it not? For a people who will not utter God’s name, the role of the priest is sacred. It is he who can enter the sanctuary. And the temple in Jerusalem must have been magnificent. Then we contrast this with our Lady, a young woman, traditionally portrayed as in her home, perhaps at prayer or in bed, when the angel appears. The number of paintings striving to capture the beauty of this moment is mind-boggling. My favorite is this, by Henry Ossawa Tanner:

Making the Whole World Kin

The temple versus the mustard seed. Pope Benedict’s highlights the incredible humility of the setting, the recipient and the reaction of Mary as she receives the angel’s message. She quietly ponders how it shall be, which is different from Zechariah’s doubt. The temple and the mustard seed. God chooses the mustard seed for his greatest gift.

I have to learn to accept the mustard seed. “We are lower class who live like middle class who want to be rich,” my husband said. And it’s true. It is a lesson I come back to time and again, accepting the gift I have with all its blessings and letting go of the greed for money, power and ambition. I won’t say I was groomed to be a career woman. My parents were ever supportive of whatever path I wanted to pursue. The role of motherhood and the work v. stay-at-home debate were never discussed. There were two temples in my childhood: a career or the convent. As of now, God had neither in mind for me and it has taken some doing for me to get used to that. Of course, it helps when we consider what the mustard seed is (Mt 13:31):  it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

In the smallness of our home, our life, the simplicity of raising children as one’s work we will find our fruit. And I have. That part is not difficult to see. But there are still times when I must quiet the ambition. There are still times I must sacrifice because this job or this ministry or this path are not options for me at this time. Yet this is precisely what the Lord wants me to see. In my story, A Girl and her King, the girl is taken from the battlefield, the place of glory, and asked by the king whom she loves, to return to her home inside the walls: a dusty, dry, plain place that lacks all the romance she experienced on the field. She has to talk herself into believing the challenges that exist in returning home have any merit at all. So whether worldly ambition or spiritual ambition, I had to learn to let it go.

And who is my saint? St. Therese of Lisieux, the author of the little way. Why was I drawn to her? Her desire for glory, her audacity before the Lord to ask for whatever she wanted. Never did I realize that God would take me the same little way as he did she. Desire for glory, ambition, he would turn it to his own direction. We must see the glory available to us in the little things, to make countless little sacrifices as a great offering to give him glory, not ourselves.

Stay tuned for part II.

Questions on suffering: why do we suffer?

We need it all. This is part of gradualism. Presentation of the Church as a haven. Heaven with angels and harps. But to some whose hearts have had to harden to survive, this is distasteful. They want reality. What is reality? Reality is a cross. Good Friday is reality. Mass is reality. If we go through life thinking every moment is not imbued with Christ’s passion than we are the one’s living in an illusion. Christianity without the cross is such an illusion.

It is the act of bringing the fear of suffering into the one place that makes suffering make sense.

lamentation_botticelli x

I am not consoled when I am told, everything is going to be okay. Well, I am a little consoled. But then the tribulation comes again…and again…and again. What then? When will it be okay? It is not okay now. When I have heard the legends of other mothers making it through. Then I am consoled. Hearing, “oh, it is awful, but it passes” then I am consoled. I am encouraged to advance, to hold strong. “This too shall pass” my English teacher said to me when with my drivers’ permit, I ran up on the curb with my mother’s car and the tire popped, on her birthday. This too shall pass.

We have to acknowledge the suffering, have to acknowledge that it is painful and hard.

So why do we try to escape the message of suffering. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Perhaps somewhere (maybe in the 1970’s and 1980’s) the message got out there that people will be attracted to Christianity by the witness of our joy. And perhaps joy was misunderstood as cheerfulness (God loves a cheerful giver, you know). And with the American can-do attitude, the emasculation of men in society and media, and the over-representation of women in the pews, maybe the concept of joy in the midst of suffering was lost. We were trying to sell something to the people outside of the pews.  “We welcome you to our Eucharistic Celebration.”

It’s true, but with a happy-go-lucky tune and few references to the unbloody re-presentation of Christ on the Cross during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the image is unfortunately skewed.

Gina Loehr has some important points in her article, “The Passion of Pregnancy.” Perhaps the media would not be so successful at spinning conservative efforts to protect the unborn as a war on women if more recognition was made of the suffering of women who become pregnant, planned or unplanned. Taking a more compassionate approach, walking with the person (as many pro-life groups do), might get us further in the effort to support all life.

I am moved by the articles I read from those who suffer, encourage those who are also suffering. Philip Johnson, a 29-year old seminarian writes an open letter to Brittany Maynard, another 29-year old, who announced her decision to end her life and committed suicide on November 1, Feast of All Saints, rather than go through the stages of cancer. Men like Fr. Benedict Groeshel were open about their suffering and the nature of the cross. With this honesty, he reached out to countless seekers seeking answers.

The Baltimore Catechism (Q. 636) recognizes two goods of suffering. “: (1) To remind us of the misery that always follows sin; and (2) To afford us an opportunity of increasing our merit by bearing these hardships patiently.” If we recognize where suffering comes from and the goods it entails, and live our Christian faith with lively, honest hearts, evangelizing by attraction and by mercy, than I think we can make progress. What is suffering? There is the suffering that is part of life (illness, death, severely cold or hot weather). The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (P. 385) puts it succinctly that these seem to be “linked to the limitations proper to creatures.” We are bodily creatures. These bodies have natural limitations. And so we suffer.

Then there is the suffering where we inevitably have the sense that it is unjust, “this should not have happened.” In Christ and in religion, we find some explanation: the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history (P. 386). Our actions ripple outward from ourselves and the consequences of one person’s sins, be they material consequences, physical, or psychological consequences, affects the generations that follow.

God is not the author of evil. “God is infinitely good and all his works are good” (P. 375). In the cross he suffered, and in the Resurrection he conquered suffering. We do not need to ignore the cross and have only images of the Resurrected Jesus. If we see images of what he endured, it provides comfort to those in agony, and we know, because we profess it that he lived, he rose from the dead. Each Passion message comes with the Resurrection message. With this understanding, our suffering can begin to make sense, and God-willing, a process towards healing our hearts.

Mary magdalene

The Arena

colosseum-at-sunset-christopher-chan

Ah, where was the battlefield? The two stood in the arena. The king removed her distractions, placed her  with his other soldiers and asked that she finish the battle here first. Each day in his service was different, but each day was good.  Motivated by her love for him she committed herself to the other soldiers. This was the arena.. It was filled with comradeship, but an arena no less. They would fight, even in this short time.  To work as a team was difficult. It was so much easier to fight against others. The king gave the description of the enemy. He was in not found in her team, though at times the did hurt one another.

She paused for a moment and looked around. It was cloudy. The hear remained.. The dirt at her feet was dry and loose. The arena was large and circular. Many filled the stands. She stood with the soldiers in the center and looked around. Those in the stands were all of the court. There were a few of the crowd from the outside, either outside the walls or even from the enemy’s side. Many filled the stands. His whispers cheered her on, cheered her team on. It was a different kind of battle. They were committed to finish.

 

The girl looked up. It was clear and warm, but not without feeling some cold inside, in her fingertips. Her heart was on such fire that it made her stomach hurt. She looked up and caught the gaze of her king as he sat in the stands. His queen was beside him. She was beautiful. She looked like a queen. There was a simple string of pearls around her head that came to a “v” on her forehead, fit for a queen.

The girl had worn similar pearls once. The were an indulgent gift from her loving king.

The battle in the arena was cutting deeper into her. The soldiers were meant to fight as a team, but occasionally someone would make a mistake or miss a signal from another soldier. In the intensity of it all they might lay out insults to each other rather than focusing on standing together against the common enemy. Although there were clear advantages to fighting here, being in the arena made them feel claustrophobic and stuck when the fight grew late into the day.   She neglected her duties yet, she was quicker to notice their squabbles against each other. The team was so deep into this battle, it was hard to correct recent or ongoing mistakes, but she had to. They would win, they must. The enemy raged. He shouted and screamed, but could not approach them until the king waved his hand for them to continue to battle. She saw his hand waved. In it lay the wound.

That wound. As she saw it waved, the girl saw the horror and torment he endured for her. She saw the agony, humiliations he suffered for her. That wound: whose blood she longed to catch from falling, that wound.

She would not be beaten. It was the sight of the wound that gave her courage. This was not a child’s love. This was the bloody reality that is love. His true presence remained with her. Her heart was caught up and burned in his fiery spirit. She drew her sword and stood waiting for the enemy.

“Remember that wound,” she heard, “remember, and draw on.”

 

As they fought the girl saw her king dressed in robes with a crown. She saw his glory and his love radiating. For the first time the girl really saw his face, both noble and full of suffering. The girl took him into her heart. She felt her heart pierced with love.

Even though the king was in the stands and the girl was in the arena, they were not too far apart. He was still looking over her, controlling the battle, allowing it to go and to stop. She pushed herself to remember his presence. Even though she could no longer feel his touch, she felt assured of his love. Before the battle of separation could even begin to rage, he gave her strength.

As the day wore on the stands emptied out. She stood with her fellow soldiers, her family, and waited. The King remained, smiling at their service, gave them a moment’s rest, and waved his hand. The fight continued. There were few were watching now. There remained only the court of the king and the court of the enemy. All other bystanders, as the king wished, were dismissed. That may be how every battle ended, without witnesses, only a girl, her fellow soldiers and the king  who protected them, against the enemy.

We need the Cross of Christ: making sense of suffering

We need it all, as Pope Francis’ has said. We need those who are holy and those who are very sick. This is part of gradualism. We need the presentation of the Church as a haven. Too often we see a picture of heaven with angels, clouds and harps. But to some whose hearts have had to harden to survive, this is distasteful. They want reality. What is reality? Reality is a cross. Good Friday is reality. Mass is reality. If we go through life thinking every moment is not imbued with Christ’s passion than we are the one living an illusion. Christianity without the cross is an illusion.

imageBonPAsteur

It is the act of bringing the fear of suffering into the one place that makes suffering make sense.

I am not consoled when I am told, everything is going to be okay. Well, I am a little consoled. But then the tribulation comes again…and again…and again. What then? When will it be okay? It is not okay now. When I have heard the legends of other mothers making it through. Then I am consoled. Hearing, “oh, it is awful, but it passes” then I am consoled. I am encouraged to advance, to hold strong. “This too shall pass” my English teacher said to me when with my drivers’ permit, I ran up on the curb with my mother’s car and the tire popped, on her birthday. This too shall pass.

We have to acknowledge the suffering, have to acknowledge that it is painful and hard. I love my job because I feel that so often adults do not acknowledge the suffering of teenagers because it is a sort of developmental suffering compounding some very serious trials they are undergoing. They trust me because I trust them and acknowledge that when they say they are suffering, what they are saying is true.

So why do we try to escape the message of suffering. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” Perhaps somewhere (maybe in the 1970’s and 1980’s) the message got out there that people will be attracted to Christianity by the witness of our joy. True. But perhaps joy was misunderstood as cheerfulness (God loves a cheerful giver, you know). And with the American can-do attitude, the emasculation of men in society and media, and the over-representation of women in the pews, maybe the concept of joy in the midst of suffering was lost. We were trying to sell something to the people outside of the pews. “Welcome to our Eucharistic Celebration” and all that.

It is a celebration, a wedding feast. But with a happy-go-lucky tune and few references to the unbloody re-presentation of Christ on the Cross during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the image is unfortunately skewed.

crucifixion

Gina Loehr has some important points in her article, “The Passion of Pregnancy.” Perhaps the media would not be so successful at spinning conservative efforts to protect the unborn as a war on women if more recognition was made of the suffering of women who become pregnant, planned or unplanned. Taking a more compassionate approach, walking with the person (as many pro-life groups do), might get us further in the effort to support all life.

I am moved by the articles I read from those who suffer, encourage those who are also suffering. Philip Johnson, a 29-year old seminarian writes an open letter to Brittany Maynard, another 29-year old, who announced her decision to end her life rather than go through the stages of cancer.

Men like Fr. Benedict Groeshel were open about their suffering and the nature of the cross. He did not hide the cross, his willingness to endure it, and his desire to be free of it. That is honesty, and he reached out to countless seekers seeking answers.

The Baltimore Catechism (Q. 636) recognizes two goods of suffering. “: (1) To remind us of the misery that always follows sin; and (2) To afford us an opportunity of increasing our merit by bearing these hardships patiently.”

What is suffering? There is the suffering that is part of life (illness, death, severely cold or hot weather). The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (P. 385) puts it succinctly that these seem to be “linked to the limitations proper to creatures.” We are bodily creatures. These bodies have natural limitations. And so we suffer.

Then there is the suffering where we inevitably have the sense that it is unjust: “this should not have happened.” In Christ and in religion, we find some explanation: the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history (P. 386). Our actions ripple outward from ourselves and the consequences of one person’s sins, be they material consequences, physical, or psychological consequences, affects the generations that follow.

God is not the author of evil. “God is infinitely good and all his works are good” (P. 375). In the cross he suffered, and in the Resurrection he conquered suffering. We do not need to ignore the cross and have only images of the Resurrected Jesus. If we see images of what he endured, it provides comfort to those in agony, and we know, because we profess it that he lived, he rose from the dead. Each Passion message comes with the Resurrection message.

crucifixion2

If a doctor ignores the infection in the wound and thinks only of the wound healed, he will not adequately heal the wound. He must focus on what is bad, always with the healed state in mind. The Catholic Church is a hospital. If we are so self-satisfied, like the Pharisee, than perhaps we avert our eyes from the Cross because we are guilty of sin and making others suffer by our sin. Let us recognize the temptations we fall into, recognize that evil exists and that we all suffer, and then only can can fully appreciate the Resurrection.

https://i0.wp.com/wp.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/tonyjones/files/2013/10/jesusresurrection_2.jpg?w=620

TRIDUUM (THREE): HE DRAWS ALL MEN TO HIMSELF

The girl felt far away, as though she could not reach him. She could not look. The girl did not dare look. If she looked she would see her beloved hung on the cross. She heard descriptions descriptions, but she could not picture it. This was pain incarnate. The king was there now. Her head was not turned away from him. She could hear his pain in her heart but the girl tried to absent her heart. His mother…where did his mother stand? She stood at the foot. The girl’s head stood only a little taller than where his feet were nailed.

Sorrowful mother

She had to look. This was her king. The past two years she had had so much to do on this day. The girl had walked all day; she did not have time to look. But here she was. The girl’s heart cried out, aching for her for her to only turn her eyes! He was right behind her, closer to the right side than to the left. The girl began to turn in that direction, slowly. Her shoulder first, her head last. She turned. Her head came slowly. Oh God!

Her head hung to the left and her eyes were closed. They opened a little, but squinted at the ground. She fixed her eyes on the foot of the cross. It was covered in his blood. Her eyes raised and she saw his feet with nails going through them. Looking up she saw him in the same agony. She forced herself to keep looking. She wanted to turn away. She wanted to close her eyes. She looked on his body, wracked with pain. The girl’s body shook. Her eyes rested on his arms, his hands, his chest, and finally…and finally, his face. Oh her king! She did not even recognize him!

And, as in that battle, the whole world stood still. He stood tall, bound against the wood, and he looked at her with love, not with a love of consolations but with a love of the cross. Her king was broken in body and in agony. His love was full of pain, but so much the fuller for it. Her king! He was still a king. He would always be, even though she could not recognize him. He would always be: yesterday, today, and forever. He was her king.

 

When it was finished, the girl was a better servant than before. She saw his great love, his service, his sacrifice, and she understood more than before. And she longed to be his, to love him, and be purified and live on. She was his beloved, his daughter, his sister, and his bride. She belonged to him. And in his love, he belonged to her.

TRIDUUM (THREE): AGONY

the-agony-in-the-garden-1655

That day they walked from the upper room to the garden. She waited for him there. The girl thought and as she thought it came to her. At that time, she could be in so many places. Maybe she should feel confused. The king told her what would take place. Had she listened? Had she understood? Perhaps the girl avoided understanding. But here she was. Here, the girl embraced what he embraced: the agony.

Tonight of all nights, she stayed and waited and loved him. Her mind began to wander in her thoughts. Then she remembered, tonight was all they had. At midnight, they would take the king away. He would go to trial. All those who said they loved him would run. He would be alone.

To imagine a king, hated and betrayed by his kingdom; to imagine his kingdom, all over the world, empty without his presence, when even the birds refuse to sing; to imagine all this, her chest hurt as she breathed in the thoughts. She did not need to imagine. The girl anticipated. Those terrible fantasies were about to happen. These were her last moments with him.

She did not matter. The angel consoling him did not matter. All that mattered was him. It had to be about him. What should the girl say to her king? He was going to die tomorrow.

The girl wishes she could cry. No tears came. Her chest ached and her stomach turned as she thought. It was time for her to go. Her legs stook as she stood. She had wanted to stay and see him till the end, to keep watch, but an act of obedience called her away. The girl had to say goodbye. This was it.

Her king! Her king! Tomorrow he would be gone. “Good bye.” The word did not mean she would to see him the next day. “Good-bye” meant “you will be on the cross and I cannot hold you; cannot be held by you! It means we will be separated and all for my sins, all for your love! My king. Oh my king! How many times can I call out your name and still I do not find peace or consolation!”

“Because it is not done,” the king told the girl. “When it is finished I will give you peace. Today, I must suffer. You cannot…can no longer walk beside me and hold me. I am not holding you up by words of consolation but by the cross. Embrace it with me. You must be like my mother now.”

She walked away and looked at him. They stood apart from each other. It was the same distance she remembered on the battlefield before the battle began. Here, the king suffered in a way she could not enter into. She wanted him not to be alone. Oh, her heart cried out. How it always cried out, every year! This year the cry was quieter than the first, but still the cry.

Tomorrow was the day. Her king would seem defeated and they would wait. She would hold hands with the Queen Mother at the foot of the cross. The girl could not cry in the agony. She would be like his Mother as he requested. She would love him; she would love him till the end as he loved his own.

How she loved him! How desperately!

Tomorrow he would walk and die and be lain down. It was not only a remembrance but he was asking her to take part in it. The king asked her ot walk with him, to be in his battle, and his victory. He asked this of her. She was to reply as love would reply, even without understanding, “yes.” He would keep her promise. One day she would suffer.

The Christian Mission

Since this devastating persecution of Christians and other non-radical-Islamic-terrorist/thinking persons began in the summer I’ve been posting a number is articles from Elizabeth Scalia, The Anchoress at Patheos.com. I’ve never gotten a comment on these articles. Perhaps it is because the topic is too gruesome or upsetting, perhaps it is because clicking a “like” button just isn’t the right thing to do, perhaps because people don’t want to think about it, like contemplating death.

St. Francis

I just don’t know the reason. More recently, I posted this:

“Is anyone hearing about the slaughter/exile of our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria from the pulpit? I feel like I’ve only heard about it twice and today the message was we should be more concerned with what’s happening here at home, which while that is important, with everyone plugged into their own personalized digital world, it seems like a little global awareness of our fellow man could be a good thing for us.”

Only one person responded. She wrote “I heard about it once.”

Next she posted this on my page as food for thought and I thought it was very good. To summarize: the internet floods us with news from the minute to the magnitude, from what happens in my no-stop-light hometown to New York to Nigeria to the Kardash ians. We can become so passionate of what’s happening over there that we fail to feel for what is happening here. Live locally he says. Do not be telescope Christians, as Peter Kreft says, with only our sights and sighs set on what happens far from neighbor. Here is my response:

I agree with what he says. I really do. I think we can live too much of our lives on the internet. However (if I could italicize that word I would) I think no matter where we hear about ISIS, internet/newspaper/pulpit, the awful thing is that as Christians are we suffering for our brothers and sisters? Do we hurt knowing the reality that they are dying in the name of Christ? Being exiled or sold as slaves? We should hurt for our fellow man, our local fellow man, we can’t bleed for every cause, but God help us, can we tear away from the leisure and entertainment to care that a massive persecution is taking place? Those places are relevant to us. The Church, the place of the ancient Church is relevant to us. We are one Body and all that jazz. Christ is being crucified, and nobody is talking about it (or so it seems). This is not the same thing as Cardinal Dolan or Fulton Sheen’s cause or celebrity gossip. It’s not even the same as Israel and Gaza. They are Christians! They are our people, our heritage. I heard more about the movie on the Mexican persecution than this one. Are they not just as much our people as the people who lived during through the Cristeros war are our people or the people of those whose families or are themselves from Mexico? We share the same Blood in Holy Communion. They are our people! And so my brother and my sister are being killed because they are in my family. Yes, there are people dying here, people on drugs, people committing suicide, and I care, I really really do, but this strange silence about ISIS…”

The author here makes some great point on a similar path as mine. She says “We must stand witness to these our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering and dying for Him. We must. It is our charge, our call and duty. It is our vocation before God. We must write about them and develop a literature for them as the Jews did for those who died in the Holocaust. Because this is another holocaust. It is the holocaust of Christians in an entire region of the world.”

So why the silence? What if it is because the question that arises is, what can I do about it? And quickly the devil answers, nothing!

Today I read this, Ephesians 3:13-21: Brethren: I pray you not to faint at my tribulations for you, which are for your glory.

If we are remotely alert to what is happening in Iraq and Syria, we should not be overcome. We should not held in fear for the fate of non-Muslims or Sunni Muslims or moderate thinking Muslims here in the US. We should not lose sleep. Our thoughts should not be consumed.

For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened by His Spirit with might unto the inward man.

We must pray for them. In all we do, we must pray for those suffering. Yes, those for suffering locally and those suffering in far off lands. We are called to pray for the innocent. Pray for strength, pray for endurance, pray for an end to this terrible, horrific thing.

That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height, and depth. To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge; that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.

In this old translation, these words sound so lofty. The Christians he writes to are shocked at his suffering, they are overcome and he tells them not to. He says to use the scandal of his sufferings to deepen their prayer, their faith, to find strength in what he endures. When we hear about someone enduring, somehow, it gives us to the strength to endure more. When we hear about them starving, we can be thankful for this meal we have. When I am home with my children I experience an acute awareness of their existence. They are always on my mind because I must be mindful of them for their well being. I can carry an awareness of my brothers and sisters in the Middle East in this way, praying for them, allowing it to deepen my gratitude and my charity towards my neighbor. Each man on the stret is Christ to us. If I want to help those suffering there, I can help those suffering here and offer that sacrifice as a prayer for the safety and survival of those persecuted.

Now to Him who is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand, according to the power that worketh in us: to Him be glory in the Church, and in Christ Jesus, unto all generations, world without end. Amen.

And it will not be in vain…

Le_Grand_Saint_Michel

Why not preach about that?