On Holy Thursday

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The Mystery of the Poor

 Dorothy Day

On Holy Thursday, truly a joyful day, I was sitting at the supper table at St. Joseph’s House on Chrystie Street and looking around at all the fellow workers and thinking how hopeless it was for us to try to keep up appearances. The walls are painted a warm yellow, the ceiling has been done by generous volunteers, and there are large, brightly colored icon-like paintings on wood and some colorful banners with texts (now fading out) and the great crucifix brought in by some anonymous friend with the request that we hang it in the room where the breadline eats. (Some well-meaning guest tried to improve on the black iron by gilding it, and I always intend to do something about it and restore its former grim glory.)

I looked around and the general appearance of the place was, as usual, home-like, informal, noisy, and comfortably warm on a cold evening. And yet, looked at with the eyes of a visitor, our place must look dingy indeed, filled as it always is with men and women, some children too, all of whom bear the unmistakable mark of misery and destitution. Aren’t we deceiving ourselves, I am sure many of them think, in the work we are doing? What are we accomplishing for them anyway, or for the world or for the common good? “Are these people being rehabilitated?” is the question we get almost daily from visitors or from our readers (who seem to be great letter writers). One priest had his catechism classes write us questions as to our work after they had the assignment in religion class to read my book The Long Loneliness. The majority of them asked the same question: “How can you see Christ in people?” And we only say: It is an act of faith, constantly repeated. It is an act of love, resulting from an act of faith. It is an act of hope, that we can awaken these same acts in their hearts, too, with the help of God, and the Works of Mercy, which you, our readers, help us to do, day in and day out over the years.

On Easter Day, on awakening late after the long midnight services in our parish church, I read over the last chapter of the four Gospels and felt that I received great light and understanding with the reading of them. “They have taken the Lord out of his tomb and we do not know where they have laid him,” Mary Magdalene said, and we can say this with her in times of doubt and questioning. How do we know we believe? How do we know we indeed have faith? Because we have seen his hands and his feet in the poor around us. He has shown himself to us in them. We start by loving them for him, and we soon love them for themselves, each one a unique person, most special!

In that last glorious chapter of St. Luke, Jesus told his followers, “Why are you so perturbed? Why do questions arise in your minds? Look at My hands and My feet. It is I Myself. Touch Me and see. No ghost has flesh and bones as you can see I have.” They were still unconvinced, for it seemed too good to be true. “So He asked them, ‘Have you anything to eat?’ They offered him a piece of fish they had cooked which he took and ate before their eyes.”

How can I help but think of these things every time I sit down at Chrystie Street or Peter Maurin Farm and look around at the tables filled with the unutterably poor who are going through their long-continuing crucifixion. It is most surely an exercise of faith for us to see Christ in each other. But it is through such exercise that we grow and the joy of our vocation assures us we are on the right path.

Most certainly, it is easier to believe now that the sun warms us, and we know that buds will appear on the sycamore trees in the wasteland across from the Catholic Worker office, that life will spring out of the dull clods of that littered park across the way. There are wars and rumors of war, poverty and plague, hunger and pain. Still, the sap is rising, again there is the resurrection of spring, God’s continuing promise to us that He is with us always, with his comfort and joy, if we will only ask.

The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for him. It is the only way we have of knowing and believing in our love. The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.

 

Go forth to meet Him

[taken from The Plough]

Tuesday

On the Tuesday of Holy Week, the Eastern Orthodox remembers the Parable of the Ten Virgins. It’s theme of expectant preparedness hints at Jesus’ request to his disciples to stay awake with him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Hymn to the Light

The Light of the just and joy of the upright is Christ Jesus our Lord.
Begotten of the Father, He manifested himself to us.
He came to rescue us from darkness and to fill us with the radiance of His light.
Day is dawning upon us; the power of darkness is fading away.

From the true Light there arises for us the light which illumines our darkened eyes.
His glory shines upon the world and enlightens the very depths of the abyss.
Death is annihilated, night has vanished, and the gates of Sheol are broken.
Creatures lying in darkness from ancient times are clothed in light.
The dead arise from the dust and sing because they have a Savior.
He brings salvation and grants us life. He ascends to his Father on high.
He will return in glorious splendor and shed His light on those gazing upon Him.

Our King comes in majestic glory.

Let us light our lamps and go forth to meet Him.
Let us find our joy in Him, for He has found joy in us.
He will indeed rejoice us with His marvelous light.

Let us glorify the majesty of the Son and give thanks to the almighty Father
Who, in an outpouring of love, sent Him to us, to fill us with hope and salvation.
When He manifests Himself, the saints awaiting Him in weariness and sorrow,
will go forth to meet Him with lighted lamps.

The angels and guardians of heaven will rejoice
in the glory of the just and upright people of earth;
Together crowned with victory,
they will sing hymns and psalms.

Stand up then and be ready!
Give thanks to our King and Savior,
Who will come in great glory to gladden us
with His marvelous light in His kingdom.

Several of Ephrem’s hymns bear the title “Hymn to the Light.” The lyrics of this beautiful rendition, sung in Arabic, are taken from another of Ephrem’s poems (its composer remains unknown). The refrain, “The light has dawned, rejoice O earth and heaven,” reminds us of the victorious light that can never be extinguished.

This beautiful hymn, by fourth century church father Saint Ephrem, uses the words of the wise virgins: “Let us light our lamps and go forth to meet Him.”

How to live Holy Week

An excellent Holy Week suggestion from Fr. Peter John Cameron (editor of Magnificat):

One way to approach Holy Week to live it like no other of the year is to unite yourself with one of the holy people who accompany Jesus in his Passion.  So perhaps you might identify with one of the disciples sent to prepare the Upper Room, looking at everything in your life in the light of the Eucharist . . . or the woman who anoints Jesus in Bethany, begging for the grace of special compassion . . . or Simon Peter, weeping with true repentance over your sins . . . or Simon of Cyrene, eager to take up Christ’s cross no matter how it may appear . . . or the Good Thief, bursting with hope that Jesus wants us to be with him in paradise . . . or John, daring to remain with Jesus on Calvary and accepting the gift of Mary to be our Mother . . . or the centurion, letting our profession of faith transform our life for ever: This man is the Son of God!

And for those of you who are walking your own way of the Cross, my advice is that you approach Holy Week pondering how Jesus is accompanying you in your passion, helping you to carry your cross, washing your feet and kissing them . . .

Symon of Cyrene and Jesus carry the cross

Palm Sunday

This holiest of weeks I would like to share a poem or piece of art each day, hopefully drawing you deeper into the Great Mystery we are celebrating.  I begin with one by Malcolm Guite.

Palm Sunday: A Sonnet

 

We come now, with Palm Sunday, to the beginning of Holy Week and in the sonnets that follow I have explored the truth that what was happening ‘out there’ and ‘back then’ as Christ entered Jerusalem is also happening  ‘in here’ and ‘right now’. There is a Jerusalem of the heart. Our inner life also has its temple and palaces, its places of corruption, its gardens of rest, its seat of judgement.

If you would like to join in a discussion of these and my other poems for Holy Week poems you can do so by joining the Literary Life Facebook Page

I am grateful to Linda Richardson who has given me permission to share with you her series of remarkable paintings, ‘The Faces of Holy Week’. These will be on display, together with my poems, in the resurrection chapel in St. Mary’s Linton throughout Holy Week, do look in and see them if you are in the area. You can also look at these paintings and others on Linda’s Webpage.

Linda writes about this picture:

Very often I have thought that I knew what Jesus was about, what he was doing and why he was doing it. Then later I realise it was more than that, something deeper, and my understanding is stretched, and later is stretched again. So it is with Palm Sunday. Jesus is always with me on on my journey but he is always behind me and he is always beyond me.

In this painting Jesus face is elusive, and the features are gestural brush strokes, but energetic and visceral. It is a mixed media painting and within the face is the palm branch that I received at the Palm Sunday service last year. In the painting there is a ceremony from the past, a reminder of the cross that is to come, but if we don’t give our attention, we might miss the present day revelation of Palm Sunday. What will Jesus say to us today? We might imagine there is nothing new to learn, but as our “easy feelings” go through the familiarity of a Palm Sunday service are we still listening?

Palm SundayNow to the gate of my Jerusalem,

The seething holy city of my heart,

The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?

Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;

They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,

And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find

The challenge, the reversal he is bringing

Changes their tune. I know what lies behind

The surface flourish that so quickly fades;

Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,

The hardness of the heart, its barricades,

And at the core, the dreadful emptiness

Of a perverted temple. Jesus  come

Break my resistance and make me your home.

 

If any one of you feels guilty

“If any one of you feels guilty and you know that you deserve it, fear not.  Look at Jesus Christ.  You only need to say, ‘Have mercy on me.’  Then, with the eyes of faith . . . see an unseen hand wipe out all your sins and misdemeanors.  You will realize you are in paradise because he who is merciful dwells in you.  Where he is, there is paradise.  It is as simple as that. …

Charlie Mackesy

“Faith assures us that when we come close to God with sorrow in our heart, his consuming fire cleanses everything in us.  His arms reach out and take us in and rock us back and forth.  We rest against his breast and are lulled by the heartbeats of God.” (Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty)

Don’t miss Him

Reposting this from a few years ago:

This morning I was meditating on Simeon and Anna.  I know it’s Lent and not the Christmas season!  That was part of my meditation.  Simeon and Anna didn’t know, at the time, that it was the Christmas season.  It was just another day of prayer in the Temple.  But if Simeon had not been sensitive to the Holy Spirit, he would have missed the Child he had been waiting for all of his life.  Thinking about this made me pray that I wouldn’t miss Christ’s coming to me today in whatever guise He takes.  Let’s all keep watch for Him today.  Maybe we’ll find that it’s really Christmas during Lent.  *;) winking

The best thing to give up for Lent

I repost this every Lent.  It’s still the best recommendation as far as I am concerned.

This comes from a Magnificat article written by Fr. Peter John Cameron a few years ago.  I do not have time to quote the whole article (which is always dangerous because what you read will be edited), but I hope–especially those of you who despair of ever giving up what he suggests we give up–that you will find some hope in what he says:

Here’s what to give this Lent: the doubt that goes, “I can never get closer to God because I’m too sinful, too flawed, too weak.”  This is a lethal attitude, for it based on the false presumption that we can possess something of our own–that does not come from God–by which we can please God.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Only what is from God can please God.  But as long as such error persists, we estrange ourselves from God.  Lent is not about lamenting our inadequacy.  Rather, it is a graced moment to receive from God what he is eager to give us so that we can live the friendship with him that he desires. . . .

He goes on to describe how often we try to substitute self-sufficiency for the lack that we find in ourselves–and this usually leads to an experience of darkness in our lives–“we may even wonder if God hates us.”  He allows the darkness in order to draw us back to him.  “The most reasonable thing we can do when that feeling strikes is “to renew our act of love and confidence in God’s love for us.  The Lord allows the darkness precisely to move us to unite ourselves all the more closely to him who alone is the Truth.”

Still–we panic!  We feel as if we are obliged to do for God what we know we are unable to do.  But the point of the pressure is to convince us to receive everything from God.  We can be sure that God himself is the one who, in his mercy, moves us to do what is not within our power.  This is the Father’s way of opening us a little more to himself by making us a little more in the likeness of his crucified Son.

For nothing glorifies God like the confidence in his mercy that we display when we feel indicted by our frailty and inability.  The experience of our hopelessness is a heaven-sent chance to exercise supremely confident trust.  God delights in giving us the grace to trust him.

Sadly, for those who refuse God’s gift of confidence, the darkness can turn to despair.  Yet even in despair the miracle of mercy is at work.  Father Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire, the nineteenth-century Dominican priest who was responsible for the revival of the Order of Preachers in France after the French Revolution, makes this astonishing remark: “There is in despair a remnant of human greatness, because it includes a contempt for all created things, and consequently an indication of the incomparable capacity of our being.”  In our darkness, the incomparable capacity of our being will settle for nothing less than the embrace of the Infinite.  Like nothing else, our helplessness moves us to cry out for that embrace in confidence and trust.  The cry of forsakenness that Jesus emits from the cross is just this.

Saint Paul wrote, “We were left to feel like men condemned to death so that we might trust, not in ourselves, but in God who raises from the dead” (2 Cor 1.9, NAB).  That’s the point.  That’s the challenge of Lent.  God wants us to have the strength to believe in his love so much that we confidently beg for his mercy no matter how much we feel the horror of death in ourselves. . . .

Let us this Lent, in the face of all ours sins, our limitations, and our weakness cry out with Jesus, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”  And let us do so with certainty–not doubt or desperation–because our union with Christ crucified has given us the Way to approach reality.  In our asking we hold the Answer.