Yet the star of hope has risen

2009-10-03-the-morning-star-paradox“Christ descended into ‘Hell’ and is therefore close to those cast into it, transforming their darkness into light.  Suffering and torment is still terrible and well-nigh unbearable.  Yet the star of hope has risen–the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God.  Instead of evil becoming unleashed within man, the light shines victorious: suffering–without   ceasing to be suffering–becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise.”  (Benedict XI, Spes Salvi)

Now all creation rejoices

Do you not know what holy day this is?483662_450760328326093_1835904721_n
No? Then whence come you?
Among what heathen have you dwelt,
not to know that today
is the supremely holy Good Friday?
Lay down your weapons!
Do not offend the Lord, who today,
bereft of all arms, offered His holy blood
to redeem the sinful world!

It is the tears of repentant sinners
That today with holy dew
besprinkle field and meadow:
thus they make them flourish.
Now all creation rejoices
at the Savior’s sign of love
and dedicates to Him its prayer.

Richard Wagner, Parsifal

And this is our hope

Agony

In the hour of darkness the moon had hid her face,
And all the world was sleeping, save one who wept.
He left the meager comfort of well-meaning friends,
Charging them, Watch; and into the garden crept,

And heard the lie of the world;
That the darkness here is a fell and final thing:
And flesh will crumble for aye in the valley of bones,
And tongues that are parched will never find voice to sing.

And this is our hope: that he whose sweat was blood,
As the heavy droplets fell and his spirits sank,
Lifted his eyes and murmured Thy will be done;
Lifted cracked lips to the Father’s cup; and drank.

~Joseph Prever

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The courage and strength to press on

Today is the Triumph of the Cross.  May this from Blessed John Paul II encourage all of you:

The Way of the Cross . . . invites all of us, and families in particular, to contemplate Christ crucified in order to have the force to overcome difficulties.  The cross of Christ is the supreme sign of God’s love for every man and woman, the superabundant response to every person’s need for love.  At times of trouble, when our families have to face pain and adversity, let us look to Christ’s cross.  There we can find the courage and strength to press on . . . .

In times of trial and tribulation, we are not alone; the family is not alone.  Jesus is present with his love, he sustains them by his grace and grants the strength needed to carry on, to make sacrifices and to overcome every obstacle.  And it is to this love of Christ that we must turn when human turmoil and difficulties threaten the unity of our lives and our families.

Did you catch this sentence: ” The cross of Christ is the supreme sign of God’s love for every man and woman, the superabundant response to every person’s need for love.”  Remember that His cross will triumph in your life as you turn to Him for help.

Those thorns on Thy brow . . .

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;250px-Claude_Mellan_-_Face_of_Christ_-_WGA14764
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I love Thee because Thou has first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree.
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

William R. Featherstone

To hear it sung, you can go here.

“An unparalyzed faith”

This is such an astounding story–a great one for the Year of Faith:

On July 3, Robert Shelby wanted to show one of his children how to avoid belly-flops when diving. When Shelby demonstrated at a neighbor’s pool, he slammed his head on the bottom.

He tried to swim. He couldn’t.

“None of my body is moving,” he said. “So, I go through my feet, my toes, my legs and knees, go through my arms. I’m trying every single part of my body that I thought might get me there, tried dog paddling, but I’m absolutely paralyzed. There’s nothing moving.”

He could hear his children playing, apparently oblivious to his plight. Holding his breath, he realized they might not notice until it was too late, and he would drown.

About 10 years earlier, Shelby had become a Christian. In addition to his full-time job in industrial sales, Shelby is a pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. Suspended between the surface and the bottom of the pool, Shelby pondered how to handle his last moments on Earth.

“I prayed just a moment about it, and what came to me was that (since) I praised God for the last 10 years of my life, I should praise him now,” Shelby said. “So, I began praising him for his grace, for saving me, sending his son, those type things, praising him for the privilege of raising up a family and ministering to people. I prayed that he would watch over my family and provide for them.”

As he prayed, Shelby blacked out. When he regained consciousness, his life was radically altered.

You can read the rest here: “An Unparalyzed Faith”

“How are you doing?”

Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of my brother Tim’s death.  He would have been 60 this year.  As many of you know, he took his own life and the impact on all of us who loved him was devastating.  What I want to share here is a set of e-mails between me and my spiritual director from three years ago at this time of year.  Fr. Dan, remembering that Tim’s anniversary was coming up, had sent me a short e-mail, simply asking “How are you doing?”  My response is very frank.  I share this with you for a few reasons.

One: it means so much for people to remember, to remember anniversaries.  Every year since she found out, a friend always shows up on my brother’s anniversary with a plant.  I, of course, do not expect her to do that every year for the rest of my life, but she obviously knows enough about the pain of a suicide to know how much this touches me.  Just saying those four words: “How are you doing?” can make a world of differences.  Even if my answer is “I’m really doing fine,”  I am still so touched that you have remembered.

Two: Losing someone to suicide is a grief that never goes away and is very paimnful for years.  It is unlike any other grief.

Three: I hope that both my frankness and my sharing of how God meets me in my pain and Fr. Dan’s response to me may bring hope to someone out there who may be struggling in a similar way. . .

(I am editing some of this.)

Dear Fr. Dan,

How am I doing?  It really depends these days on when you ask.  But, if you have the time, I am going to try to verbalize a few things.  I am suffering.  I am suffering most acutely from Tim’s death, but also the many other losses in my life: at the end of my first of college: the tragic death in a car crash of a very close friend; my parent’s divorce and subsequent disintegration of my family; my brother Paul’s death in a car accident at the age of 24; my mother’s death; Tim’s violent death.  They all kind of rush in upon me sometimes. . . . Some days I want to run away.  Some days I just want to shout out: “My brother put a gun in his mouth and killed himself!” Most days I don’t even know how to pray.  I get irritated by stupid questions people ask me about things.  And I have to keep leading us [as Superior of our order] and making decisions and answering stupid questions with love and kindness.  I feel alone and afraid a lot.  Friends I have depended on are not there as they were.  I could cry at the slightest kindness shown me.

And yet in the midst of the suffering, there’s a desire to offer it up, to kiss this Hand from whom it all comes. . . . There’s also a slight hope that I will come to know Christ and His love through it in a way that I would never know otherwise.  There are pinpoints of light.  Last night as I was going to sleep and dealing with fear and pain, I starting thinking, I’m walking through the valley of the shadow of death, the valley of deep darkness.  And the words from Psalm 23 hit me: “I will fear no evil”–and I knew that Satan couldn’t touch me there.  And then this morning when I woke early and was encountering the same things, the rest of that verse came to me: “because You are with me.”  And that brought back to mind Dr. Regis Martin’s article on Christ’s descent into hell which, as you know, has spoken eloquently to my soul.  Paul of the Cross (among others) counsels us to join our sufferings to the different mysteries in Christ’ life: “I will try with all my strength to follow the footsteps of Jesus.  If I am afflicted, abandoned, desolate, I will keep him company in the Garden.  If I am despised and injured, I will keep him company in the Praetorium.  etc.” Perhaps Christ is inviting me to “live” in the mystery of His descent into Hell, to walk with Him through the valley of the shadow of death. I am once again re-reading Dr. Martin’s article, and once again it clarifies and strengthens me.  There’s some experience this morning of His having entered through the ‘barred doors” of my heart, my own little “hell.”  The pain is still there, but there”s also a knowledge that He’s there and I’m not alone.

I must thank you for your kindness in asking me how I’m doing.  Four small words, but when sincerely said can make such a difference for people. And I don’t mean to complain by anything I’ve said here.  Many people have been very kind to me these days, but the suffering continues.

It’s funny, isn’t it–when you’re in the middle of suffering and pain, it just seems like there’s no end, that it just has and always will be this way, and then a few little words: “You are with me” can open up a whole spiritual perspective that makes all the difference.  The wounds are still there, but there’s a little balm.  The mental torment can continue, but I don’t fear that I’m going crazy.  Hell becomes the place where Christ descends and meets me in the scariest places in my life, where one one else can really go but Him.

Fr. Dan’s reply:

Peace be with you.

As you tell of your experience in these days, Paul’s words in Rom 8:38-39 seem so apposite: “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Christ grasps you firmly.  He is walking with you, unobserved by your, through the valley of the shadow of death, and sustaining you by the banquet He has prepared for you.  The reality of the fear and terror of events you describe, which leave a remnant of their foul odor in your memory even long after the events themselves have passed, only prove the more the reality of what you hope for.  That hope is your anchor in Christ, which allows him–like a great heavenly winch!–to draw you through (not around!) those very terrors into the Kingdom.  The psalm says that the banquet is set for you, but “in the presence of my enemies.”  The greatness of these enemies is infinitely surpassed by the greatness of His mercy, which is always for you.  Keep doing what you know to do: relying on yourself for nothing, and on Him, and His infinite mercy, for everything.

Christ walks with each of you through whatever valley you are in right now.

“To suffer and to be happy although suffering . . .”

To suffer and to be happy although suffering, to have one’s feet on the earth, to walk on the dirty and rough paths of this earth and yet to be enthroned with Christ at the Father’s right hand, to laugh and cry with the children of this world and ceaselessly to sing the praises of God with the choirs of angels: this is the life of the Christian until the morning of eternity breaks forth.    ~St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us.