The strength of hope

Just to underline what Pope Benedict said in his meditation on Ps 136 this past Wednesday: “Remembering becomes the strength of hope.  Remembering tells us: God is; God is good, and His mercy is eternal.”  This is so important for us to cultivate, this art, this habit of remembering.  Life can move too fast, and we fail to remember all that God has done, especially the little things: laughing at the table, the winter sun on the river, bluebirds, St. Therese’s eyes looking at me, my dentist’s generosity, my middle name that means “full of grace.”  I would easily have forgotten all of those things except for my list–the list I started 8 months ago–my list of things to be thankful for each day.  I’m now on #476.  (I really should be farther along than that!)  And when I look back over this list, I remember the good things the Lord has done and I have hope for tomorrow.  “Remembering becomes the strength of hope.  Remembering tells us: God is; God is good, and His mercy is eternal.”

(If you want to learn more about making a list, go here.)

Remembering

From Benedict XVI’s reflection on Psalm 136:

[W]e can say: The liberation from Egypt, the time in the desert, the entrance into the Promised Land and then the other problems are very distant from us; they are not part of our history. But we must be attentive to the fundamental structure of this prayer [of this psalm]. The fundamental structure is that Israel remembers the Lord’s goodness. In its history, there are so many dark valleys, so many passages through difficulty and death, but Israel remembers that God is good, and they can overcome in the dark valley — in the valley of death — because they remember. Israel remembers the Lord’s goodness and His power; that His mercy endures forever.

And this is also important for us: remembering the Lord’s goodness. Remembering becomes the strength of hope. Remembering tells us: God is; God is good, and His mercy is eternal. And thus, remembering opens the road to the future — even in the darkness of a day, of a moment in time, it is the light and star that guides us. Let us, too, remember the good; let us remember God’s eternal, merciful love. Israel’s history is already part of our memory as well, of how God revealed Himself, of how He created for Himself a people to be His own. Then God became man, one of us: he lived with us, suffered with us, died for us. He remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament and in the Word. It is a history, a remembrance of God’s goodness that assures us of His goodness: His love is eternal.

You can read his entire meditation here.

Building up a memory for the good

As I have mentioned before, Pope Benedict is doing a marvelous series on the psalms during his Wednesday audiences.  Here is part of his address yesterday on Psalm 126:

Dear brothers and sisters, in our prayer we should look more often at how, in the events of our own lives, the Lord has protected, guided and helped us, and we should praise Him for all He has done and does for us. We should be more attentive to the good things the Lord gives to us. We are always attentive to problems and to difficulties, and we are almost unwilling to perceive that there are beautiful things that come from the Lord. This attention, which becomes gratitude, is very important for us; it creates in us a memory for the good and it helps us also in times of darkness. God accomplishes great things, and whoever experiences this — attentive to the Lord’s goodness with an attentiveness of heart — is filled with joy.

You can read the entire thing here.

“We need have no fear”

Pope Benedict’s address yesterday as he completed his visit to Germany is a word for us as well:

On Mary’s “Yes”

“In All Our Cares We Need Have No Fear, God Is Good”

FREIBURG, Germany, SEPT. 25, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered before praying the midday Angelus with those gathered at the Freiburg airport, and after celebrating the last public Mass of his four-day state visit to his native Germany.

* * *

Dear Sisters and Brothers!

At the end of this solemn celebration of holy Mass we now pray the Angelus together. This prayer constantly reminds us of the historical beginnings of our salvation. The Archangel Gabriel presents God’s plan of salvation to the Virgin Mary, by which she was to become the Mother of the Redeemer. Mary was fearful, but the angel of the Lord spoke a word of comfort to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” So Mary is able to respond with her great “yes”. This “yes”, by which she accepts to become the handmaid of the Lord, is the trusting “yes” to God’s plan, to our salvation. And she finally addresses her “yes” to us all, whom she received as her children entrusted to her at the foot of the Cross (cf. Jn19:27). She never withdraws this promise. And so she is called happy, or rather blessed, for believing that what was promised her by the Lord would be fulfilled (cf. Lk 1:45).

As we pray this Angelus, we may join Mary in her “yes”, we may adhere trustingly to the beauty of God’s plan and to the providence that he has assigned to us in his grace. Then God’s love will also, as it were, take flesh in our lives, becoming ever more tangible. In all our cares we need have no fear.

How many are my foes!

How many of you are saying (shouting) that phrase right now in your lives? “How many are my foes!”  Well, you are in good company.  David began Psalm 3 with those very words.  Three times he uses the word “many” in reference to those who were attacking him . . .

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that Pope Benedict has begun a new series on prayer in his weekly Wednesday audiences.  I thought I would share with you part of his meditation on the beginning of Psalm 3.  I hope you find it as encouraging as I did.

Ps 3.1-2 O Lord, how many are my foes!  Many are rising against me; many are saying of me, there is no help for him in God.

“The prayer’s description of his situation is marked by strongly dramatic tones. Three times he repeats the idea of the multitude — ‘numerous,’ ‘many,’ ‘how many’ — which in the original text is said with the same Hebrew root, in order to underline even more the immensity of the danger in a repeated, almost relentless way. This insistence on the number and greatness of the foe serves to express the psalmist’s perception of the absolute disproportion there is between himself and his persecutors — a disproportion that justifies and forms the basis of the urgency of his request for help; the aggressors are many; they have the upper hand, while the man praying is alone and defenseless, at the mercy of his assailants.
“And yet, the first word the psalmist pronounces is ‘Lord’; his cry begins with an invocation to God. A multitude looms over and arises against him a fear that magnifies the threat, making it appear even greater and more terrifying; but the man praying does not allow himself to be conquered by this vision of death; he remains steadfast in his relationship with the God of life, and the first thing he does is turn to Him for help.
“However, his enemies also attempt to break this bond with God and to destroy their victim’s faith. They insinuate that the Lord cannot intervene; they maintain that not even God can save him. The assault, then, is not only physical but also touches the spiritual dimension: ‘The Lord cannot save him’ — they say — even the core of the psalmist’s soul is attacked.
“This is the great temptation to which the believer is subjected — the temptation to lose faith, to lose trust in the nearness of God. The just man overcomes this ultimate test; he remains steadfast in the faith, in the certainty of the truth and in full confidence in God, and it is precisely in this way that he finds life and truth. It seems to me that here the psalm touches us very personally; in so many problems we are tempted to think that perhaps not even God can save me, that He doesn’t know me, that perhaps it is not possible for Him; the temptation against faith is the enemy’s final assault, and this we must resist — in so doing, we find God and we find life.”

Tomorrow I will post his comments on the next couple of verses of Psalm 3.  Or you can read his whole meditation here.

Remembering all that God has done for us

Pope Benedict XVI has been giving a series of talks on prayer recently in his Wednesday audiences.  I am including an excerpt below from August 17 in which he spoke about Mary as a model for us of a woman who truly pondered God in all things.  (If you are interested in hearing a talk that I gave recently on remembering God throughout the day, go to the Talks tab above.  Click on “Other Talks” and then on “A Thousand Times a Day.”)  Continue reading “Remembering all that God has done for us”

“This is eternal life . . .”

What do you think when you hear the words: “eternal life”?  Life after death, I presume.  That’s what I thought until I read this thought-provoking piece by Pope Benedict (from his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week).  I have to say I kept thinking of Bl. John Paul as I read it . . .

“Eternal life” is not–as the modern reader might immediately assume–life after death, in contrast to this present life, which is transient and not eternal.  “Eternal life” is life itself, real life, which can also be lived in the present age and is no longer challenged by physical death.  This is the point: to seize “life” here and now, real life that can no longer be destroyed by anything or anyone.

This meaning of “eternal life” appears very clearly in the account of the raising of Lazarus: “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25-26).  “because I live, you will live also”, says Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper (Jn 14.19), and he thereby reveals once again that a distinguishing feature of the disciple of Jesus is that he “lives”: beyond the mere fact of existing, he has found and embraced the real life that everyone is seeking.  On the basis of such texts, the early Christians called themselves simply “the living” (hoi zōntes).  They had found what all are seeking–life itself, full and, hence, indestructible life.

Pope Benedict then goes on to describe how, in fact, we obtain this life:

The high-priestly prayer gives an answer that may surprise us, even though in the context of biblical thought it was already present.  “eternal life” is gained through “recognition”, presupposing here the Old Testament concept of recognition: recognizing creates communion; it is union of being with the one recognized.  But of course the key to life is not any kind of recognition, but to “know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17.3). . . .

“Eternal life” is thus a relational event. . . .

Man has found life because he adheres to him who is himself Life.  Then much that pertains to him can be destroyed.  Death may remove him from the biosphere, but the life that reaches beyond it–real life–remains.  This life, which John calls zōē as opposed to bios, is man’s goal.  The relationship to God in Jesus Christ is the source of a life that no death can take away.

Isn’t this what we witnessed in Bl. John Paul in his latter days, this zōē that so clearly sprang from his relationship with the living Christ?

A personal feast day

We all have personal feast days, days that we celebrate for different reasons, usually because of a saint we’re named after or one to whom we have great devotion. Over the last few years I have come to look at Holy Saturday as a personal feast day.  Ever since my brother, Tim, died, it has taken on great meaning: this day during which it looks like nothing is happening, when, in fact, great and “terrible” things are happening.  Jesus is setting the captives free. Christ has descended into our loneliness,  into our grief, into those spaces in our lives–and of those we love–where darkness seems to reign. And that is Good News.  We are no longer alone.  He is, indeed, God-with-us.  That is the wonder and consolation of this day.  That was so true for me as I walked through those dark days after Tim took his life.  Christ gave me such an assurance of His being with my brother during those dark, dark moments in his life. . . and an assurance of the same for myself.  “Though I walk through the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Ps 23.4)

Christ is there with us, whether we perceive Him or not.

Holy Saturday is the day of the ‘death of God,’ the day which expresses the unparalleled experience of our age, anticipating the fact that God is simply absent, that the grave hides him, that he no longer awakes, no longer speaks, so that one no longer needs to gainsay him but can simply overlook him . . . Christ strode through the gate of our final lonelienss; in his passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment.  Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he.  Hell is thereby overcome, or, to be more accurate, death, which was previously hell, is hell no longer.  Neither is the same any longer because there is life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it.

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 being unleashed within man, the light shines victorious: suffering–without ceasing to be suffering–becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise.  (Benedict XVI, Spes Salvi)

For further reading on the significance of this day, see these posts: “Where is Christ today?” and “Why Saturday is Mary’s Day”

Where is Christ today?

This is the day when everything is silent.  We can go about the day not giving much of a thought to it–just seeing it as the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yet monumental things were happening in the spiritual realm.  Christ descended to hell to set captives free.

This still has meaning for us.  So often we think nothing is happening in our own spiritual lives, yet God is about monumental things.  Have hope in the Unseen.

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. (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi)

And for those of you who feel that you are living “in darkness and in the shadow of death”, take heart, for you are exactly who he desires to visit.  From an ancient homily on Holy Saturday:

Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives . . .

True adoration

One of my main purposes in writing this blog is to try to enkindle hope in others.  And, as I say in the sidebar, I’m usually writing for myself!  The last couple of days I have been going back through my journal, re-reading the many quotes I have collected therein, for the purpose of lifting my heart.  I treasure this one from Pope Benedict.  It has redefined for me the meaning of spending an hour in adoration:

Why do we not truly lay our life before Him, including our incapability to believe and to pray?  This is already an act of worship: when we truly say, “Kyrie eleison,” when we truly cry out to God from the depth of our wickedness, this is acknowledgment of what we are, and who He is; it shte adoration of His glory.  (translated from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dogma and Verkundigung, p. 123f.)

God asks us only for what we can give Him?  And much of the time it is just our emptiness and incapabilities, but that is “already an act of worship.”