Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lent : Kneeling before the Lord

I know many words, O men, but today you must kneel--
Your knees are your wings.

--Gertrud von Le Fort, Hymns to the Church (50)

A leper comes to Jesus and begs him for help. He falls to his knees before him and says: "If you will, you can make me clean." (Mark 1.40)

The bodily gesture itself is the bearer of the spiritual meaning, which is precisely that of worship. Without the worship, the bodily gesture would be meaningless, while the spiritual act must of its very nature, because of the psychosomatic unity of man, express itself in the bodily gesture. The two aspects are united in the one word, because in a very profound way they belong together. When kneeling becomes merely external, a merely physical act, it becomes meaningless.

On the other hand, when someone tries to take worship back into the purely spiritual realm and refuses to give it embodied form, the act of worship evaporates, for what is purely spiritual is inappropriate to the nature of man. Worship is one of those fundamental acts that affect the whole man. That is why bending the knee before the presence of the living God is something we cannot abandon.

Again, there is a story that comes from the sayings of the Desert Fathers, according to which the devil was compelled by God to show himself to a certain Abba Apollo. He looked black and ugly, with frighteningly thin limbs, but most strikingly, he had no knees. The inability to kneel is seen as the very essence of the diabolical.

--Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), The Spirit of the Liturgy (189-93)

I [...] fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God.
--Ezra 9.5

Friday, March 25, 2011

Annunciation : God became man ...

"God became man so that man might become god." --St. Athanasius

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lent : Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity

I still remember the first secret you shared with me at Gemeaux, you were very little, but already the Master had taken your little heart captive, and my soul felt drawn toward yours! ... A Carmelite, my darling, is a soul who has gazed on the Crucified, who has seen Him offering Himself to His Father as a Victim for souls and, recollecting herself in this great vision of the charity of Christ, has understood the passionate love of His soul, and has wanted to give herself as He did! ... And on the mountain of Carmel, in silence, in solitude, in prayer that never ends, for it continues through everything, the Carmelite already lives as if in Heaven: "by God alone." The same One who will one day be her beatitude and will fully satisfy her in glory is already giving Himself to her. He never leaves her, He dwells within her soul; more than that, the two of them are but one. So she hungers for silence that she may always listen, penetrate ever deeper into His infinite Being. She is identified with Him whom she loves, she finds Him everywhere, she sees Him shining through all things! Is this not Heaven on earth! You carry this Heaven within your soul, my little Germaine, you can be a Carmelite already, for Jesus recognizes the Carmelite from within, by her soul. Don't ever leave Him, do everything beneath His divine gaze, and remain wholly joyful in His peace and love, making those around you happy!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

St. Joseph

Suspending our Lenten observations, this is how we spent our St. Joseph Day:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lent and Matthew the Poor : Finding Comfort in the Good Samaritan

"The penitent is described by Christ as a stranger who has fallen into the hands of robbers in a foreign country. They strip him of his clothes, rob him, humiliate him, wound him, and leave him more dead than alive. The penitent is like a man stripped of the garment of his honor by the devil, whose will has therefore been stripped naked and whose members have been defiled. The devil robs him of his treasure--the treasure being the sanity of the mind, the light of insight, and the action of conscience--his person being humiliated, his fall disclosed, and his will shattered. Last of all, he wounds him deeply with lust to draw off his life quickly. At the end he leaves him a dead corpse unable to live! It is thus that the good Samaritan finds no occasion to ask questions or time to reproach, but immediately gathers him in his arms.

"The good Samaritan in the parable (Lk. 10.30-37) is Christ, and our interpretation hits the mark exactly, for He does not upbraid him or ask him to perform any action, but comes to him personally where he fell and stoops over him with His affection, washes and dresses his wound by His own wound, stops his bleeding by His own bleeding, and pours upon him the oil of His compassion and of His life, carrying him on the arms of His mercy, offering him a ride to the inn of His Church, asking His angels to serve him, and expending His grace on him till he recovers.

"Such is the penitent, a wretched man that has fallen on the way after being attacked by the oppression of man and the spite of the devil, and no longer able to do anything. After his strength has been drawn off, he finds room at the house of the Benign, room in His heart, room between His arms, on His beasts of burden, and in His Kingdom."

--Abouna Matta al-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor), "Repentance," Communion of Love (98)

Lent : Practice in Silence

A life properly lived includes practice in silence. This begins with keeping our mouth shut whenever this is required by the confidence of another person, the duties of our vocation, tact, or respect for others. It goes on to include keeping silence at times even when it might be permissible to speak, especially if speaking would create an impression. Not to speak at such times is a good exercise in keeping our mastery over the inordinate desire to talk. We should strive to conquer the mania for constant chatter and idle talk. How many superfluous things we say in the course of the day--how many foolish things! We must learn that silence is beautiful, that it is not emptiness, but true and full life.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lent and Leiva-Merikakis : Repentant Tears and Grasping the Incarnation

Tears are a mystical indication of true joy, as the Lord showed when He said, "Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh."

Tears that spring from hope are part of the mystery of repentance; they are evidence that the penitent has entered into grace and a secret sign that the state of true joy has been attained.

[...] Tears are a clear sign of the process of inner change and also evidence of the truth and power of the mystery of repentance.
--Matta al-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor), Communion of Love, 88

One of the Pharisees asked [Jesus] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was sitting at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. [...]

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much [...].
--Luke 7.36-50
Jesus' mere presence in the town mysteriously draws the sinful woman to him, magnet-like, and how different are her motivations from those of the hypocritical Pharisee! While Simon wants to use Jesus to enhance his own public image as a pious and holy man, the woman for her part feels that the simple presence of Jesus' holiness in her proximity is an instant judgment that reveals all the ugliness of her sins. How truthful and bold she is in her self-appraisal! But, instead of going to hide like Adam and Eve at feeling so shamefully naked before the glance of the Son of God, penetrating miraculously through all the walls of the town to arrive at her own heart, what does she do?

[...] In one moment of luminous intuition, this woman realizes that Jesus is at once the destroyer of her sins, the victor over all evil, and the Bridegroom of her soul.
--Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, The Way of the Disciple, 89-90

Thus leaving her to say:
It is you, my Lord, who desired that we should grasp you and implore you. For, if you had not wanted us to grasp you, you would not have become incarnate. It is you who called me to come near you. I saw your beauty and ran toward you.
--Syriac Liturgy for the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalen (quoted in Leiva above, 90)

How impressive this woman who, despite the great emotions shaking her soul, does not utter a single word throughout the episode. Instead, she makes herself present to Jesus [...]. All the verbal dialogue takes place between Jesus and the Pharisee; what transpires between Jesus and the woman is the mute dialogue of love, in which only the gestures of the body and the expression of the eyes can communicate what is happening in the soul. Deep and overwhelming love is beyond words and arguments, beyond reason. The Pharisee's words have the effect of separating him from Jesus, of keeping Jesus far from his soul, while the woman's silence unites her to Jesus as the surest bridge and bond. She has understood the full meaning of the injunction, "Be still, and know that I am God!" (Ps. 46.10)
--Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, The Way of the Disciple, 90-91

Truly, she has understood:

For, if you had not wanted us to grasp you, you would not have become incarnate. It is you who called me to come near you. I saw your beauty and ran toward you.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lent and Corbon : Kenosis of the Cross

In the kenosis of the Incarnation grace dawned; in the kenosis of the Cross it shines forth where the darkness is thickest. After all, when day dawns, what happens? Night is scattered. Night was simply an absence; it had no existence in itself; [...] and consequently when it is there nothing exists for anyone; people do not even recognize each other. Night as such is empty of meaning and strips everything else of meaning. Well, at the core of every human event, at the bottom of every human heart, there is a night of death and rupture, of nonmeaning and absence. "Flesh and blood", or mere human nature (Jn 1.13; 1 Cor 15.50), cannot dissipate this night; nothing outside man can introduce light into that blackness. It reigns in the heart and from that vantage point spreads its veil over everything, from the depths of the person to its most conscious structures. Only he who is Light can assume the human without damaging any part of it. And only this Man-God, in whom death finds no complicity with itself, can enter into the thickest darkness of death; that is what happens in the kenosis of the Cross.

[...] Did the executioners realize what they were doing when they raised the Lord of glory on his Cross? What happened when the Light was immersed in this darkness? Not a romantic dawn, but a struggle, the combat that decided the salvation of all men. Death feeds on lies and engenders lies; it feeds upon appearances and leaves emptiness behind it. Here, at the ninth hour, the hour when darkness reigns (Lk 22.53), death seizes its prey--only to be throttled by him whom it expects to swallow up. It is "gripped by terror", for he who enters into it is not mortal because caught in the nets of sin, but mortal out of love, mortal by grace and truth. Death has been deceived; its lies have been turned back upon it. When truth shines forth, all lying is shown up for what it is and is scattered like the night before the dawning day. Death is no longer: the Son of the Living God has crushed it by his own death.

Lent : Temptation and the Will

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast.
--Gen 3.1

Temptation properly so-called is rarely the exclusive work of the devil. Ordinarily he uses his knowledge of the dominant tendencies of a soul and his power over the senses in order to make an image more enticing, to stir up an impression, to intensify a pleasure, to quicken thus a desire, or make a solicitation more attractive and more actual, so that it will invade the field of conscience and win the consent of the will.

This kind can be cast out in no way except by prayer and fasting.
--Mark 9.28

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lent : Matthew the Poor & the Deep Meaning of Fasting

If we eat of a sacrificed body and do not sacrifice our own selves, how can we claim that a union takes place?
--Abouna Matta al-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor)

Fr. Matthew the Poor was a Coptic monk who affected the lives of many, both Coptic and non-Coptic Christians, especially Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, who writes that Father Matthew the Poor is "[o]ne of the great spiritual masters of our time." (201)

Well, one of the first writings I read from him is on fasting and it is in his book Communion of Love. This chapter, "The Deep Meaning of Fasting," can also be found here. Some selections from throughout the chapter:

Fasting, in the life and works of Christ, ranks as the first response to the act of unction and of being filled with the Holy Spirit. It represents the first battle in which Christ did away with His adversary, the prince of hte world. [...] For when a person enters into prayerful fasting, Satan departs from the flesh.

Fasting was to elevate the flesh to the level of war with the spirits of evil, those powers that hold sway over our weaker part, the flesh.

[B]aptism, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and fasting form a fundamental and inseparable series of acts in Christ’s life that culminated in perfect victory over Satan in preparation for his total annihilation by the cross.

The ultimate aim of [...] fasting is that Christ Himself may dwell in us: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Ga. 2:20).

[F]asting is a divine act of life.

[F]asting is an extremely important stage between baptism and crucifixion. [...] He [Christ] thus raised the flesh to the stage of the cross.

He invites us to a total communion with Him in suffering and glory alike. We thus have to prove our communion with Him in faith by having communion with Him in His works; only works testify to the genuineness of our faith. Yet He, as a true Bridegroom, did not leave us to invent works for ourselves but laid down the course of our works and life: ‘I am the way.”

Fasting is a test in which the personality defies the self. [...] Fasting may therefore be considered an act of love of the highest order, a physical way of entering into the experience of the cross.

You know that the effort of fasting is felt primarily by the body, which is the physical area that contains the self where it reveals its nature and desires. Thus, when we fast we exhaust the body, and so, indirectly, subdue the self.(3) If we subdue the self through the subjugation of the body, we have in fact come close to the destruction of the self, at least partially. So it is that by fasting we fulfill the word of the Lord: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk. 9:24).

As for the Lord Jesus, He fasted not to receive something but to make a free offering of Himself in an act of will and to manifest the coming sacrifice of the cross.

As for us, we fast not to receive anything or to offer anything, for we have received Christ, and in Him we have already received everything before we fast. In Him we receive everything even before we are born. No offering of ours, even if we go to our death, is of any avail in removing a single sin.

We fast and offer our bodies as a sacrifice; the outward form of this is bearing fatigue, but its essence is the intentional acceptance of death, that we may be counted fit to be mystically united in the flesh and blood of Christ. It is then that we become, in Christ’s sacrifice, a pure sacrifice, capable of interceding and redeeming.

Fasting [...] has to be consummated in Communion, partaking in the pure body and blood, to become a perfect sacrifice, efficacious in prayer and intercession. Every Holy Communion Has to be preceded by fasting, and every fast has to end with Holy Communion.

If we eat of a sacrificed body and do not sacrifice our own selves, how can we claim that a union takes place?

Whenever we eat of the body and drink of the blood, we are mystically prepared for preaching the death of the Lord and confessing His resurrection. Every testimony to the death and resurrection of the Lord carries with it a readiness for martyrdom. And every martyrdom carries with it a resurrection.