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Friday, September 14, 2012

Exaltation of the Cross

The Gospel reading for today's Feast is the following:

"Jesus said to Nicodemus:
'No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.'
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him."
Jn. 3:13-17

Today I heard a reflection on the Scripture proclaimed at mass that I was truly moved by. Bishop Cisneros, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn, meditated on what the "Cross", especially the symbol of the Crucifix, really means for us in our modern day culture. He discussed the Cross depicted in art, and also how it is worn in jewelry. He shared a story that contrasted the more "beautiful" or "artistic" vision of the Cross that is common today. He told us of his first day of school, how he accidentally walked into the Sacristy of the Chapel rather than the hall to the classrooms, and as it happened, the Chapel's large Crucifix had been laid on the floor for cleaning. He thought he saw a man who was dead and bloodied lying on a wooden cross, and he ran to his mother to say he did not want to go to school! The Bishop made the point that we often desire to escape or elude the crosses that are present in our life, because they do contain fear and suffering, and we would prefer the more gentle and pretty ideas.

The meditation went a little further, and drew upon the specific act of the Crucifixion, and what the Cross is meant to symbolize - the great act of love, that is remembered in every celebration of the Eucharist. The Cross is meant to be a sign of love, one that we would look to for encouragement, peace and joy, and yet it is understood either as something feared and avoided, or as something emptied of its meaning.

This made me ponder the images of the Cross of the Crucifixion that I have hung in my office, or in my house, or that I wear around my neck. Am I wearing this Cross because I feel protected by it, as if it is a charm that wards off evil? Sometimes, yes. Do I hang these images of the Cross out of habit or out of a limp attempt to remind myself that I believe, and that believing means doing? Yes. How often to I embrace the Cross? How often to I kiss the feet of the corpus hanging on the Cross in my room? How often do I pray in acceptance of suffering? How often do I thank the Lord for things that try me? How often to I embrace the Cross out of love, just as my Lord and my God embraced the Cross out of love for me?

I thought about how I wear my wedding ring all the time. I certainly believe that I will be married whether I have that ring on or not. Yet, I want the ring there, as a reminder of our promise, commitment, and of our love. Is this not the same attitude that should go with wearing a Crucifix around my neck? Should I not know, already and without doubt, that I belong to Him who loved me, whether I have a symbol of it or not? Yet, should I not desire to be reminded every day that love means action, and that action means sacrifice, and sacrifice means accepting the suffering and doing so in thanksgiving.

I recently read something that was discussing how it is unlikely that someone in our day and age would be asked to give his or her life for Christ in martyrdom, but that we can still choose to live in a sacrificial witness of Christ. It may very well be true. But moreover, there are many Christians who are being martyred, although perhaps not in this country. Yet, in this country or anywhere that persecution is not taking place, the call and challenge goes out to each Christian that we must make present, that we must witness, that we should re-present the Cross to the world in our humble service, silent suffering, and joyful acceptance of all that we are given from God, easy or difficult.

I pray on this feast for new grace, that the Holy Spirit would fill me with a sense of the depth and breadth of Christ's love for me and for all, specifically manifested in His willing death on the Cross. The second reading at mass was from Philippians, and the first half read:
"Brothers and sisters:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross."

Love, if we believe in the Lord, should be defined in these lines - that we would understand that it is emptying, humbling, and giving of our very self that is the most authentic and genuine act of love we will ever be able to show.

May the Lord assist us in our journey to His arms.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Quid est Veritas?

Just reflecting in mass today on how pathetic I am.

(I promise this is not a post about sadness, woe-is-me, or in other forms self-deprecating.)

In truth, it is not that I am so particularly pathetic in terms of effort or personality or something (although that may also be true), but in a more "objectively-subjective" way; I am tiny, insignificant, sinful, and in need of God's grace in every element of my existence.

Mulling over this further, I found myself thinking about this blog. Why, I must ask, does anyone ever read it? Now, I am not claiming that many do (because they don't - thank you Google Analytics!), but even the few friends and family who happen upon this site from time to time... why? I have to argue against it, because there is nothing that I am going to say or could say that isn't just one person's limited attempts to understand or unpack the depths and mysteries that are present in the fullness of the Deposit of Faith belonging to the Catholic Church. Really, why not go read Sacred Scripture? Isn't that what I would want someone to do, anyway? Pick up the Bible, read a passage, meditate and pray with it, and walk away with some greater knowledge of the Lord! You are not encountering the Word made Flesh in a blog the way you will in the Word of Scripture. And if not Sacred Scripture, how about any of the Church's great magisterial teachings? One of the beautiful documents of the Second Vatican Council, perhaps? The Catechism of the Catholic Church, perhaps? Why not go to the source? It seems as if we would like to know what it feels like to ice our injury with a towel around the ice pack, expecting the effects of the ice directly on our skin. Or we want to know what it feels like to look directly at the sun but we won't take off the sunglasses. Or we desire to hear a great symphony orchestra but we will only listen to cover bands. I'll go the extra mile and add that we desire to express our love for one another in the intimacy of sexual union, but we won't do it without contraceptives. This seems illogical. Why do we want this medium, this middle-man, for what we want to be authentic experiences and encounters?

There is another element to this. Consider that our culture is all about "equality." We love the story about the man or woman who seems to have no expertise, no talent or skill, but somehow manages to be successful (why?). We seem to rejoice when there is a display of "no one is better than anyone else." We do not want to see Sam Thompson succeed in his business unless it could just as easily have been Susie Marks who succeeded in the same position. Please don't misunderstand this for advocating inequalities or disparities, but only for advocating justice and truth, which exists within the realm of real and natural inequalities and disparities that do exist. I am in no way thrilled at the idea of favoritism, nepotism, or other forms of unjust preference - yet, in a strange way, our culture really creates these scenarios by its extreme relativism! The issue of natural differences and disparities (specifically in gender) is one I am not going to unpack at this time, but the point is that our culture seemingly would prefer to elevate everyone to the same level, relative to each other, since there is no moral guideline (because that would immediately make the relativism impossible), and emphasize that as our guiding post.

So...with that standard set, the mentality opposite the first paragraph becomes the norm. Why go read Sacred Scriptures? Why believe or trust in or submit to the Magisterium of the Church? Why obey a hierarchy? Why turn to the teachings of the Church, to the Catechism or to the words of Christ? We can simply read our friends', families', professors' or fellow students' ideas and works and writings and learn just as much, right? There are blogs everywhere! We can find anything that we want, any angle and any support, any ideology or philosophy that supports our lifestyle or our preferences or our goals. We do not need some single-source. We do not need history. We do not need... God. No, we have human beings. We have the human mind. We have our developments and progress and technologies and advancements. We have turned the world into something that was nearly inconceivable one hundred years ago... seems like enough proof for most of us that we have got things under control here. We don't need to "imagine" a higher power to explain things away when we can find a scientific proof for it and control it in our own way.

This is what my mind went to... the drastic difference between what it means to spread my thoughts across a page in consideration of the great mysteries of life, and what it means to turn to the Revelation of the One who gave us Life.

I'm not giving up writing or anything (because I would be miserable), but I am making a point. I would be doing you, the reader, more of a favor by quoting the Catechism or Sacred Scripture on this blog every day, than by reflecting or attempting to teach anything on my own. We need God. We need his revelation, his gifts of grace, his wisdom, his Holy Spirit. We will not advance if our world is self-centered, solipsistic. We need to shake off, daily, the chains of relativism that threaten to choke us and hold us down. We need to get the grime of amoralism out of our eyes, because it is too dark to see any truth when we refuse to have a moral compass. We must learn the beauty and goodness of seeking the Truth, and submitting to it, humbly and with obedience. We cannot learn if we refuse to be taught! We cannot grow if we will not allow ourselves to be watered.

Lord, have mercy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Rushing Waters

I just stumbled across a page detailing the "distance" modern man has from nature. The contrast was made of early men and women who worshiped natural elements as gods because of their mystery and power, to modern man's worship of other items which are powerful, if not mysterious. The question was posed, what element of nature still draws you (the reader) in to wonder, meditation, and even worship of the one true God?

I began to think about my fascination with nature, because, if you know me at all, you've been present for at least one instance where I've been staring at the sky in appreciation or awe, while everyone else has moved on. I do admit that the natural world intrigues me to no end, especially storms and water. Why, I asked myself, is water so particularly fascinating? I have stared at many a still river or slow moving creek just as much as the ocean waves, and been stunned. In fact, it is usually the streams and rivers that most entice me.

Well, to be a bit scientific (and yet vague), how does that mass move? I mean, really. There's a rock... not moving. There's a tree... not really moving. Sure, they can move. Trees grow, so that's another topic, but for the purpose of this point, solid masses can be moved, with the proper force. But there's water, just moving right along. Gravity is moving it. The moon, for heaven's sake, moves water! What? You can't tell me that this is not perplexing, inspiring, and awesome.

I'll never be able to "run my hands" through swiftly moving dirt. At least, that is not a naturally occurring situation. There is just something so intense to me about the way water can and does move. I think of the many times I've seen a water-creature or water-monster depicted in cartoons; they always have that great element of being able to re-form and re-amass after going around something or someone, or after something has been thrown into them or through them. Water does that. It passes around, over and through, and keeps going.

However, the reason beneath the reason that this is stirring and impressive is because of who it points to: our Creator. If lightning and thunder and stormy winds and earthquakes and other natural powers draw our attention to the greater mystery of the world, cannot even the simple existence of these elements that surround us act as the threshold for our entry into praise? How often have we stepped into the shower, into the bath tub, into a pond or lake or the ocean, and breathed that sigh of "thank God"? The feeling of warmth, safety, cleansing, and surrounding is something that is consoling and invigorating. It would seem that this ability of something so simple to reveal something transcendent, is a gift.

This is what I see in the rushing waters. I see power, but power that has been given by the Father to his children. I see comfort, that cleanses and renews, somehow freeing us from unseen darknesses that we cling to. I see freedom, to celebrate and rejoice and praise Him, despite the rest of the world. I see the story of love that God has described for us, the story of our own journey. That water begins as a tiny rain drop, and over time, it joins the community of the world's drops until it is part of the rushing river that forms and carves out the great gorges and canyons. The earth's surface is shaped by the water. We, too, enter in as our own little selves, but have the potential to form and change those we love and the world around us. We share in that power, in that newness, and in that freedom. We too ought to be signs for the world - signs of the power of God, of the mercy of God and of the love of God, given freely to us.

Of course, if you take this symbolism to the next step, the Sacrament of Baptism is perhaps more intelligible than ever. It was Christ who instituted this Sacrament, with the sign of the pouring of water in the name of the Holy Trinity as the new birth of the Christian into the life of the Church.

I don't mean to be overly naturalistic or "hippie," but I do believe that nature holds a bounty of beauty and mystery that may draw us into a deeper understanding of reality. That is what I love. Reality has the layers of the seen and the unseen, and it is those seen things that can often invite us to know what is unseen. Water can point to and partake in the unveiling of God, just as all of his great creation can do!

Perhaps we will keep the Lord more on our minds and hearts as we go through each day, and seek to praise him in the small moments of passing clouds and rushing streams.