Thursday, April 08, 2010

This Tree is my eternal salvation ...

This Tree is my eternal salvation. It is my nourishment and my banquet. Amidst its roots I cast my own roots deep: beneath its boughs I grow and expand, revelling in its sigh as in the wind itself. Flying from the burning heat, I have pitched my tent in its shadow, and have found a resting-place of dewy freshness. I flower with its flowers; its fruits bring perfect joy--fruits which have been preserved for me since time's beginning, and which now I freely eat. This Tree is a food, sweet food, for my hunger, and a fountain for my thirst; it is a clothing for my nakedness; its leaves are the breath of life. Away with the fig-tree, from this time on! If I fear God, this is my protection; if I stumble, this is my support; it is the prize for which I fight and the reward of my victory. This is my straitened path, my narrow way; this is the stairway of Jacob, where angels pass up and down, and where the Lord in very truth standing at the head.

This Tree, vast as heaven itself, rises from earth to the skies, a plant immortal, set firm in the midst of heaven and earth, base of all that is, foundation of the universe, support of this world of men, binding-force of all creation, holding within itself all the- mysterious essence of man. Secured with the unseen clamps of the spirit, so that, adjusted to the Divine, it may never bend or warp, with foot resting firm on earth it towers to the topmost skies, and spans with its allembracing arms the boundless gulf of space between.

He was All, and in all, filling it with himself; stripped naked for battle against the powers of the air. . .

With him two thieves were extended, bearing within themselves the marks of those two peoples, the marks of those two types of mind. . .

When this cosmic combat came to an end ... the heavens shook; almost, the stars fell from the skies; the light of the sun was extinguished for a time; rocks were split asunder; the entire world was all but shattered ... But great Jesus breathed forth his divine Soul, saying: "Father, into Thy hand I commend my spirit." And lo, even while all things shuddered and heaved in earthquake, reeling for fear, his divine Soul ascended, giving life and strength to all; and again creation was still, as if this divine Crucifixion and Extension had everywhere unfolded and spread, penetrating all things, through all, and in all.

O Thou who art alone among the alone, and all in all! Let the heavens hold thy Godhead; and paradise, thy soul; and earth, thy blood. For the Indivisible has become divided, so that all might be saved, and the world below might not remain ignorant of the coming of God....

We beseech thee now, Lord God,
Christ, eternal King of souls:
stretch forth thy mighty hands over thy sacred Church,
and over a holy people for ever thine.

-Ancient Paschal Homily, 51
(aka Pseudo-Chrysostom, Sermon VI for Holy Week)

Feeling the Light of the Risen Son

Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.

I needed blood to tell me the truth,
the touch of blood. Even
my sight of the dark crust of it round the nailholes
didn't thrust its meaning all the way through to that manifold knot in me
that willed to possess all knowledge, refusing to loosen
unless that insistence won the battle I fought with life.

But when my hand led by His hand's firm clasp
entered the unhealed wound, my fingers encountering
rib-bone and pulsing heat, what I felt was not
scalding pain, shame for my obstinate need,
but light, light straming into me, over me, filling the room
as if I had lived till then in a cold cave, and now
coming forth for the first time, the knot that bound me unravelling,
I witnessed all things quicken to color, to form,
my question not answered but given its part
in a vast unfolding design lit by a risen sun.

--Denise Levertov, "St. Thomas Didymus"

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Dominus Meus et Deus Meus : My Lord and My God

Thomas, you have plunged your finger into my open Heart.
--Hans Urs von Balthasar
The wound of the body also reveals the spiritual wound. ...
Let us look through the visible wound to the invisible wound of love.

--St. Bonaventure, Mystical Vine

Where did I triumph if not on the Cross? Are you as blind as the Jews and the pagans to think that Golgotha was my downfall and my failure? … Look: this is my secret, and there is no other in heaven or on earth: My Cross is salvation, my Death is victory, my Darkness is light. At that time, when I hung in torment and dread rushed into my soul because of the forsakenness, rejectedness, uselessness of my suffering, and all was gloomy, and only the seething rage of that mass of teeth hissed up mockingly at me, while heaven kept silence, shut tight as the mouth of a scoffer (but through the open gates of my hands and feet my blood bubbled out in spurts, and with each throb my Heart became more desolate, strength poured out from me in streams and there remained only faintness, death’s fatigue, infinite failure), and at last I neared that mysterious and final spot on the very edge of being, and then—the fall into the void, the capsizing into the bottomless abyss, the vertigo, the finale, the un-becoming: that colossal death which only I have died. Through my death this has been spared you, and no one will ever experience what it really means to die: This was my victory.

Haven’t I told you that if the grain of seed falls into the ground and dies it bears much fruit?

Of whom was I thinking when, as a freezing child, I lay in the crib, if not of you? Of what did I speak in the splendor of Tabor with Moses and Elias, if not of my suffering for you? For whom did I ask the Father for signs, if not for you? For whose sake did I stumble my way through fourteen endless stations, if not for yours? And my divinity and the embrace of my Father: for whom did I leave these if not for you? You want to follow me? You want to be called my disciples? Then let that mind be yours which animated me: being God in my very substance, I did not cling to my equality with God, but rather emptied and annulled myself. I took on the figure of a slave, becoming wholly like men and descending below myself in men’s everyday appearance, in bondage unto death, unto death on the Cross.

For to be God was not enough for me. … I wanted to prove my divinity to you in no way other than by letting go of it in order to become your slave.

[T]he most divine thing about God (and to show this was my whole concern): God was free enough to give himself up. … This was his self-sufficiency: that he began to hunger and to thirst and that, in the person of his members, he suffered every sort of poverty and disgrace and imprisonment and nakedness and disease. This, my brothers, was his victory: that I was able to defeat even my divinity and that in the slave’s form I was able to manifest the Lord, and in sin’s likeness the essence of love. That, being outside of God, I knew how to be in God. That I became all in everything I was not.

Understand what it means to give oneself away. To strip oneself of one’s freedom out of freedom; and out of love, no longer to be free or to be lord over oneself; no longer to be able to determine where the journey will take you; to surrender oneself, to deliver oneself over to the series of consequences that carry us off in a direction we did not want—where to? You leap down from a high cliff. The leap is freely made, and yet, the moment you leap, gravity leaps upon you, and you tumble exactly like a dead stone to the very bottom of the gorge. This is how I decided to give myself. To give myself right out of my hand. To whom? It did not matter. To sin, to the world, to all of you, to the devil, to the Church, to the kingdom of Heaven, to the Father … I wanted to be the one given away par excellence. The corpse over which the vultures gather. The Consumed, the Eaten, the Drunk, the Spilled, the Poured Out. The Plaything. The Worn Out. The one squeezed to the very dregs. The one trod upon to infinity. The one run over. The one thinned to air. The one liquified into an ocean. The Dissolved. This was the plan; this was the will of the Father. By fulfilling it through obedience (the fulfillment itself was obedience), I have filled the world from heaven down to hell, and every knee must bend before me, and all tongues must confess me. Now I am all in all, and this is why the death which poured me out is my victory. My descent, my vertiginous collapse, my going under (under myself) into everything that was foreign and contrary to God—down into the underworld: this was the ascent of this world into me, into God. My victory.

Thomas, you have plunged your finger into my open Heart.

The wound of the body also reveals the spiritual wound. ...
Let us look through the visible wound to the invisible wound of love.

--St. Bonaventure

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Event of Emmaus: Word and Sacrament

[H]ere too he [Christ] remains unrecognizable to the accustomed eye. … [H]e sets the hearts of the two wanderers aflame by his interpretation of the Scriptures and by breaking bread he opens their eyes. This is a reference to the two basic elements in early Christian worship, which consisted of the liturgy of the word (the reading and expounding of Scripture) and the eucharistic breaking of bread. In this way the evangelist makes it clear that the encounter with the risen Christ lies on a quite new plane; he tries to describe the indescribable in terms of the liturgical facts. He thereby provides both a theology of the resurrection and a theology of the liturgy: one encounters the risen Christ in the word and in the sacrament; divine service is the fashion in which he becomes touchable to us and recognizable as the living Christ. And conversely, the liturgy is based on the mystery of Easter; it is to be understood as the Lord’s approach to us. In it he becomes our travelling companion, sets our dull hearts aflame and opens our sealed eyes. He still walks with us, still finds us worried and downhearted, and still has the power to make us see.

Experience of the risen Christ is something other than a meeting with a historical man, and it must certainly not be traced back to conversations at table and recollections which would have finally crystallized in the idea that he still lived and went about his business. Such an interpretation reduces what happened to the purely human level and robs it of its specific quality. The resurrection narratives are something other and more than disguised liturgical scenes; they make visible the founding event on which all Christian liturgy rests. They testify to an approach which did not rise from the hearts of the disciples but came to them from outside, convinced them against their doubts and made them certain that the Lord had truly risen. He who lay in the grave is no longer there; he—really he himself—lives. He who had been transposed into the other world of God showed himself powerful enough to make it palpably clear that he himself stood opposite them again, that in him the power of love had really proved itself stronger than the power of death.

The comfortable attempt to spare oneself the belief in the mystery of God’s mighty actions in this world and yet at the same time to have the satisfaction of remaining on the foundation of the biblical message leads nowhere; it measures up neither to the honesty of reason nor to the claims of faith. One cannot have both the Christian faith and “religion within the bounds of pure reason”; a choice is unavoidable. He who believes will see more and more clearly, it is true, how rational it is to have faith in the love that has conquered death.

--Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Top icon written by Sister Marie-Paul. Bottom icon by Nicholas Papas.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A Love Stronger Than Death: ALITHOS ANESTI!

“Love is strong as death” (Song of Sol. 8.6). … [L]ove demands infinity, indestructibility; indeed it is, so to speak, a call for infinity. But it is also a fact that this cry of love’s cannot be satisfied, that it demands infinity but cannot grant it; that it claims eternity but in fact is included in the world of death, in its loneliness and its power of destruction. Only from this angle can one understand what “resurrection” means. It is the greater strength of love in face of death.

For [man], since he has no continuance in himself, survival, from a purely human point of view, can only become possible through his continuing to exist in another.

[O]nly one could truly give lasting stability: he who is, who does not come into existence and pass away again but abides in the midst of transience: the God of the living, who does not hold just the shadow and echo of my being, whose ideas are not just copies of reality. … In him I can stand as more than a shadow; in him I am truly closer to myself than I should be if I just tried to stay by myself.

[O]nly where someone values love more highly than life, that is, only where someone is ready to put life second to love, for the sake of love, can love be stronger and more than death. … If the power of love for another were so strong anywhere that it could keep alive not just his memory, the shadow of his “I”, but that person himself, then a new stage in life would have been reached. … [This new realm] would signify the end of the sovereignty of bios, which is at the same time the sovereignty of death; it would open up the realm which the Greek Bible calls “zoe” that is, definitive life, which has left behind the rule of death. … It would no longer be evolution but decision and gift in one.

[A]s man has no permanence in himself his survival could only brought about by his living on in another. … [O]nly the love which takes up the beloved in itself, into its own being, could make possible this existence in the other. … Jesus’ total love for men, which leads him to the cross, is perfected in total stepping-over to the Father and therein becomes stronger than death, because in this it is at the same time total “being held” by him.

[I]mmortality always proceeds from love, never out of the autarchy of that which is sufficient to itself. … [T]his principle, properly understood, also applies even to God as he is seen by the Christian faith. … [W]hat is revolutionary about the Christian view of the world and of God … is that it learns to understand the “absolute” as absolute “relativity”, as relatio subsistens.

[L]ove found immortality, and immortality proceeds from love alone. … [H]e who has love for all has founded immortality for all. That is precisely the meaning of the biblical statement that his resurrection is our life. … [I]f he has risen, then we have too, for then love is stronger than death; if he has not risen, then we have not either, for then the situation is still that death has the last word, nothing else. … [E]ither love is stronger than death or it is not. … This also means, it is true, that our own love, left to itself, is not sufficient to overcome death; taken in itself it would have to remain an unanswered cry. It means that only his love, coinciding with God’s own power of life and love, can found our immortality.

It goes without saying that the life of him who has risen from the dead in not once again bios, the bio-logical form of our mortal life inside history; it is zoe, new, different, definitive life; life which has stepped beyond the mortal realm of bios and history, a realm which has here been surpassed by a greater power. … [T]his new life begot itself in history and had to do so, because after all it is there for history, and the Christian message is basically nothing else than the transmission of the testimony that love has here broken through death and thus transformed fundamentally the situation of all of us.
--Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Top icon written by Joanna Ferencz.