Saturday, March 31, 2012

Entering Holy Week

by Catherine Doherty

This is the hour of faith. We are going to need faith, because Holy Week, in a manner of speaking, will show us the reign of the prince of darkness, who rejoiced on Good Friday because he killed God, or so he thought.

One picture has haunted me throughout the years. It is Christ hanging on the cross while many who have benefited by his goodness—the halt, the lame, and the blind—are saying to him, “If you are who you say you are, come down from that cross and we shall believe you.”

How many miracles have happened to us, individually?

This is the week for meditating on how much we are loved. If there is anyone who thinks that he or she is not loved, let him follow the Holy Week liturgies, and he will know with what love we are all loved.

For those of us who do know a little of that love, let this week be a week of loving others, for no one can receive the infinite love of God without passing it on. God meant it to be that way. If we kept it for ourselves, it would break us.

It seems that each of us is always to have empty hands—to have our sinner’s heart with all its hostility, pain, and sin—yet a heart that is always turned to God. He who loves sinners has to come into our hearts again and again and constantly give us the mercy of his love.

Let us acknowledge this and let us share this love, emptying it onto the other, whoever he might be. It is immaterial who, for when one is loved by God, one loves everybody, because God lets the rain fall on the just and the unjust.

God’s love pouring into us is poured out to the other, and then another Niagara of his love comes in. It never stops.

When I think I have nothing to give, lo and behold, the cascade of God’s love passes through me and I am renewed. I can give again, because God became man, dispossessing himself.

When you fall in love with God, the desire for dispossession becomes like a fire in your heart, because when one falls in love, one wants to identify with the beloved. It has always been thus and still is.

The Gift of Tears

Russians say that this is the week of the gift of tears. We believe that there is a gift of tears that comes from the Holy Spirit. We say that it washes away our sins and the sins of mankind. Silence and tears and a contrite heart God will not reject.

This is the week of confession and also the week of overcoming sins, because it is one week in the year when we know that, while we can’t overcome our sins, Christ can.

As one of our MH priests has said, “During most of this holy season of Lent, you have to work at living Lent, but then comes the time when you no longer have to carry Lent. The liturgy is so strong, so powerful, that it just carries you. The strength and power at work in the Church carries us all through Holy Week.”

When you think of this holy week, it’s like a shiver passing through you. It is the mercy of God and his love for you. And because you are caught up in it, held by it, immersed in it, your soul opens up and you cease to be afraid. The God-man has erased your fear.

In this Holy Week, let us join hands in deep forgiveness of one another. Let us reconcile ourselves to whomever we are not reconciled. Let us each enlarge the circle of love in our hearts so that it can encompass the humanity that flows near us. Such is the love of God: mercy flows from it. Forgiveness is part of it. Humility sings a song to it. This truly is a week that is holy!

Let all of this sink into you, for God is with us every moment. He is present right now. Let his love, his simplicity, his ordinariness, and his extraordinariness—all of him—enter your heart, and then you will know why this week is called holy.

— Adapted from Season of Mercy, pp. 79-81, also available direct from Madonna House Publications

This entire post reproduced from Witnesses to Hope, with many thanks…

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Brokenness shared…

Suffering is the necessary deep feeling of the human situation. If we don’t feel pain, suffering, human failure, and weakness, we stand antiseptically apart from it, and remain numb and small. We can’t understand such things by thinking about them. The superficiality of much of our world is that it tries to buy its way out of the ordinary limits and pain of being human. Carl Jung called it “necessary suffering,” and I think he was right.

Jesus did not numb himself or withhold himself from human pain, as we see even in his refusal of the numbing wine on the cross (Matthew 27:34). Some forms of suffering are necessary so that we know the human dilemma, so that we can even name our shadow self and confront it.

Brothers and sisters, the irony is not that God should feel so fiercely; it’s that his creatures feel so feebly. If there is nothing in your life to cry about, if there is nothing in your life to yell about, you must be out of touch. We must all feel and know the immense pain of this global humanity. Then we are no longer isolated, but a true member of the universal Body of Christ. Then we know God not from the outside but from the inside!

Richard Rohr, adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations 

I think Rohr has put his finger, here, on what I continually try to say here in this blog: that God has a terrible, redemptive purpose in allowing us to feel, especially others’, pain. (I would extend his “global humanity” though, to all that is made, really, and that shares in our brokenness since the Fall.) He does not intend so much to heal us by “making it all better”—he thinks more of us than that. As far as I can understand, what he is after is involving us in the great work of making all things new—as Paul writes to the Romans (8.18-27 NRSV):

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

For me, this comes about in and through the Jesus Prayer, since in and through the Prayer I find myself drawn deeper into God’s heart for the little, broken ones, without having to mess things up too much with my own thoughts and preconceptions. I wrote quite a long post about this during Lent 4 years ago. In some ways perhaps I have grown deeper into this odd way of life; in others, I find myself no farther forward, and still as puzzled…

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…


When I was young, I wanted to suffer for God. I pictured myself being the great and glorious martyr somewhere. There's something so romantic about laying down your life for something great. I guess many young people might see themselves that way, but now I know it was mostly ego, but sort of good ego at that stage.

There is nothing glorious about any actual moment of suffering—when you're in the midst of it. You swear it's meaningless. You swear it has nothing to do with goodness or holiness or God—or you.

The very essence of any experience of trial is that you want to get out of it. A lack of purpose, of meaning—is the precise suffering of suffering! When you find a pattern in your suffering, a direction, you can accept it and go with it. The great suffering, the suffering of Jesus, is when that pattern is not immediately given. The soul can live without success, but it cannot live without meaning.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations

When I look back at my last years in Wool (summed up here) these words of Rohr’s are almost uncannily right. It would have been so much easier to face something heroic, some great tragedy or persecution, than the ending of a marriage. It was precisely because it was so un-heroic, so prosaic in its long and detailed pain, that it was so very close to what Rohr describes: “A lack of purpose, of meaning—is the precise suffering of suffering!”

We look at the deaths of the saints and martyrs, and we tend to think of them gazing clear-eyed into the light of the setting sun, their jaw-muscles rippling as they face down their enemies in that final, glorious sacrifice, singing praises to God as the flames rise. Perhaps for some it was like that, but I am quite certain that for many there was nothing glorious about it; they died degrading, pointless, messy deaths, clinging desperately to shreds of faith right up to the moment they were welcomed into glory.

The Cross of Jesus was a ghastly, humdrum bit of crude military carpentry. Death on a cross was, as Cicero said, “a most cruel and disgusting punishment”. Taking up our cross and following our Lord (Mark 8.34-35) is usually going to be much more messy than splendid, far more meaningless than heroic. Only by being born into, dying in, the chaos and casual brutality of our world could our Lord redeem us. Only by praying in the midst of our own pain and confusion can our prayers matter at all to the meaninglessness and tears of this broken creation of which we are a part…

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Faithfulness and temptation…

If the salvation of society depends, in the long run, on the moral and spiritual health of individuals, the subject of contemplation becomes a vastly important one, since contemplation is one of the indications of spiritual maturity… You cannot save the world merely with a system. You cannot have peace without charity. You cannot have social order without saints, mystics, and prophets.

A Merton Reader, ed. by Thomas P. McDonnell, p.375

One of the greatest and most persistent temptations facing those of us who are called to the contemplative life is that of feeling that we are wasting our time, that we are sitting (kneeling, lying…) around in our homes, our convents, our “quiet spaces” doing nothing, while our infinitely more useful sisters and brothers are out there on the street feeding the poor, visiting the sick, preaching the Gospel. Unlike most temptations, this one doesn’t seem to lessen no matter what we do, or however much we pray. It is one of our enemy’s best pieces of craftsdemonship, too, since it appears to come straight from Scripture (e.g. Matthew 25.31-41).

We need to be clear about this: contemplation is a work of God, not a self-improvement project. It is a definite calling, and one which our Lord himself valued deeply (Luke 10.37-11.5) during his time on earth. Scripture is in fact peppered from Genesis to Revelation with calls to prayer, and “saints, mystics and prophets” walk its pages in throngs.

The Third Order Society of St Francis puts it like this

Tertiaries desire to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, whom we serve in the three ways of Prayer, Study, and Work. In the life of the Order as a whole these three ways must each find full and balanced expression, but it is not to be expected that all members devote themselves equally to each of them. Each individual’s service will vary according to his or her abilities and circumstances, yet each individual member’s Personal Rule of Life must include each of the three ways. (The Principles, Day 13)

Faithfulness to our calling is difficult. We must not expect it to be otherwise, I think. Jesus himself appeared to find it very difficult (Luke 4.1-13; 22.39-46) and, as I suggested the other day, temptation is part of our following, part of the way of the Cross.

I am so grateful that for me, at least, the Jesus Prayer is not only my principle means of contemplative prayer, but it is, so far from being a mantra or a means of “zoning out”, the deepest prayer for Christ’s mercy in whatever circumstances…

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Alone in the desert…

If I were alone in the desert and feeling afraid,
I would want a child to be with me.
For then my fear would disappear and I would be made strong.
This is what life in itself can do because it is so noble, so full of pleasure and so powerful.

But if I could not have a child with me,
I would like to have at least a living animal at my side to comfort me.

let those who bring about wonderful things in their big, dark books take an animal – perhaps a dog – to help them.

The life within the animal will give strength in turn.
For equality gives strength in all things and at all times.

Meister Eckhart

Monday, March 19, 2012

Let my trust be in your mercy…

Let my trust be in Your mercy, not in myself. Let my hope be in Your love, not in health, or strength, or ability or human resources. If I trust You, everything else will become, for me, strength, health, and support. Everything will bring me to heaven. If I do not trust You, everything will be my destruction.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, pp.29-30

I was writing last week about suffering:

…the good God has in mind is far deeper than “making it all better”. He means to make us holy, and that is a terrible thing in itself. What makes it worse is that the further one allows oneself to be led along this path, the more one refuses anaesthetise the pain with the things of the world, the longer one realises the journey ahead to be...

It all comes down to trust in Christ’s mercy. Merton puts it so succinctly: “If I trust you… everything will bring me to heaven. If I do not trust You, everything will be my destruction.”

Once again, I’m brought to the realisation that, for me at least, the Jesus Prayer is the complete path to this trust, with its simple, plain appeal, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…”

Once we can trust, once we can give ourselves up (and this is the deepest meaning of this penitential season of Lent) in whatever act of surrender God has called us into, in the Jesus Prayer, in the Holy Rosary, in the faithful keeping of the Daily Office, then truly “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8.28 NRSV)

Saturday, March 17, 2012


If you struggle in temptation and fight against sin because you are in love with an idea you have of yourself as a holy soul or a religious person, you might succeed for a little while, but sooner than later you will fail and fall into sin. And this, in fact, is God's mercy, for you are only flattering the flesh.

If you struggle in temptation and fight against sin because you believe in goodness or morality or the sovereignty of God or because of your duty to observe the state of life you have chosen for yourself, you might succeed for a time, but eventually you will also fail.

But if you don't fight temptation at all, but instead rejoice to find yourself in temptations because you realize that in them God has found you worthy of embracing Christ crucified and sharing in his sufferings, and that this suffering is the resetting of the dingy sack of broken bones that is your mortal nature deformed and miserable in the effects of original sin--a procedure for which there is no anaesthesia—then you have found the remedy for sin and the path from death to life.

Brother Charles

I think this is one of the clearest and most striking explanations of the nature of our struggle with temptation I've ever seen. I don't know why, this Lent, I keep finding myself thinking so much about the redemptive aspects of suffering, but that's just what the Spirit seems to be doing with me...

It seems to me that we often don’t realise that temptation, too, is a way of sharing in Christ's sufferings, since he was tempted (Hebrews 4.15) exactly as we are ourselves. Perhaps this is a way in which we can draw very close to our Lord, as Paul said, “For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1.5)

We usually think of physical suffering when we read Peter’s famous exhortation, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4.12-13) Indeed the next few verses seems to imply that that is what Peter had in mind, but the principle applies to moral and emotional suffering just as much...

Once again, I’m amazed at how the Jesus Prayer adapts itself (or we adapt to it?) in these circumstances. I can’t imagine a prayer better suited to being prayed in the grip of this kind of temptation. And if we pray it imagining that we are “a holy soul or a religious person” as Br Charles says, then we will fall, in the mercy of Christ. I know. I’ve been there, more than once!

The Prayer for me is the clearest refuge, the best comfort I know. It is always there because Christ is always there by the power of his Spirit. His steadfast love never fails.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner...

Friday, March 16, 2012

What healing is...

Soul knowledge sends you in the opposite direction from consumerism. It’s not addition that makes one holy, but subtraction: stripping the illusions, letting go of the pretence, exposing the false self, breaking open the heart and the understanding, not taking one’s private self too seriously. Conversion is more about unlearning than learning.

In a certain sense we are on the utterly wrong track. We are climbing while Jesus is descending, and in that we reflect the pride and the arrogance of Western civilization, always trying to accomplish, perform, and achieve. We transferred much of that to our version of Christianity and made the Gospel into spiritual consumerism. The ego is still in charge. There is not much room left for God when the false self takes itself and its private self-development that seriously.

All we can really do is get ourselves out of the way, and honestly we can’t even do that. It is done to us through this terrible thing called suffering...

Real holiness doesn’t feel like holiness; it just feels like you’re dying. It feels like you’re losing it...

Richard Rohr, adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations

Suffering is, as Rohr rightly says, a terrible thing. We must never allow ourselves piously to minimise either the suffering of our fellow-humans, or to minimise the suffering of Christ, by somehow sentimentalising the Cross. Yet it is only through pain that certain things can happen in the human heart. I have no idea whether this is due to our fallenness: I suspect it may, but fallen as I am there is nothing with which I can compare it.

A verse I keep returning to over and over again in Romans 8.28: “...we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV) So often we read this as implying that good will make everything turn out all right; yet we know from the lives of the saints and martyrs (another good reason for studying them!) that this is not necessarily so. No, the good God has in mind is far deeper than “making it all better”. He means to make us holy, and that is a terrible thing in itself. What makes it worse is that the further one allows oneself to be led along this path, the more one refuses anaesthetise the pain with the things of the world, the longer one realises the journey ahead to be...

Healing may sometimes involve putting right what seems to be wrong - mending the broken marriage, curing the disease, ending the loneliness - but that is not what healing is. That kind of healing may last a few years. It may even last a lifetime. God's healing is meant to last forever: it has little to do with what happens to this perishable body, and everything to do with eternity (1 Corinthians 15.45-55)...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Transmission lines...

To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations.  True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known.   They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.

Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond.  Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings.  The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves.  Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you...

Listening in the spiritual life is much more than a psychological strategy to help others discover themselves. In the spiritual life the listener is not the ego, which  would like to speak but is trained to restrain itself, but the Spirit of God within us. When we are baptised in the Spirit - that is, when we have received the Spirit of Jesus as the breath of God breathing within us - that Spirit creates in us a sacred space where the other can be received and listened to. The Spirit of Jesus prays in us and listens in us to all who come to us with their sufferings and pains.

When we dare to fully trust in the power of God's Spirit listening in us, we will see true healing occur.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

This seems to be more true than we often realise. Like prayer, there is far more to listening than the conscious mind can comprehend. When we set ourselves truly to listen, we cannot know the power that is released in what seems to us like a passive, vulnerable occupation. In fact it is passive and vulnerable, even weak. As Paul recorded the Lord's words, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12.9) It is only when our anxious, fiddly minds are out of the way that God can truly work in us, through us, and we become his to use however he needs.

Perhaps this is why penitence us so vital in both prayer and pastoral ministry. It is only when we truly recognise ourselves as sinners that we can see ourselves as channels of grace, mere transmission lines for the power of Christ's mercy...

Friday, March 09, 2012

All retire to sleep, and sweet repose…



(The quote is from Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 6, and the cats, from left to right, are Griffin and Tifa)


We spend an enormous amount of energy making up our minds about other people. Not a day goes by without somebody doing or saying something that evokes in us the need to form an opinion about him or her. We hear a lot, see a lot, and know a lot. The feeling that we have to sort it all out in our minds and make judgments about it can be quite oppressive.

The desert fathers said that judging others is a heavy burden, while being judged by others is a light one. Once we can let go of our need to judge others, we will experience an immense inner freedom. Once we are free from judging, we will be also free for mercy. Let’s remember Jesus' words: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

A brother asked Abba Poemen, “If I see my brother sin, is it right to say nothing about it?” The old man replied, “Whenever we cover our brother's sin, God will cover ours; whenever we tell people about our brother's guilt, God will do the same about ours.”

The Paradise of the Desert Fathers

Among the many things people discuss giving up for Lent—chocolate, social media, TV, beer, biscuits, swearing—it’s odd that judging others appears so infrequently. But then, of course, I really mustn’t judge people who give up funny things for Lent, must I?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The shores of perception

I am increasingly fascinated by the relationship between prayer and sleep. I have written on this before, but all I manage to say describes an absence, like writing a treatise on a vacuum. This is not the absence of God—rather it is the presence of God unmediated by word and image, that leaves an absence of knowing. God is he whom the mind cannot grasp, since he is far more in all ways than any human mind can comprehend. If he were not, he would not be God. We cannot really comprehend another human being, however close they may be to us.

We may not be able to grasp the incomprehensible, but we can love. Our love reaches out to the unknowable in each other, and still more it reaches out to God, calling back to the unimaginable love that God is.

Lent is a curious time. We follow in our minds the journey of Christ to the Cross, and as we do so (if we give our hears as well as our minds to the task) we draw closer to that path ourselves, and to that encounter with God. As Jesus himself put it (John 14.7 NIV) “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.”

What has this to do with sleep? God sometimes can use our prayers in the hours of sleep in ways the waking mind not would understand. In the post I linked above, I wrote:

What is happening here? I think that God is reaching down to these hidden, seemingly forgotten connections with the needs and pains and brokenness of others, and is retrieving our unspoken prayers in the silence of contemplation, or of sleep. This is an extraordinary, profound thing, and I think it is here that the distinction between dream and prayer becomes blurred. To be honest, there is much I simply don’t know about these shadowed paths of prayer, but I think that possibly, if we (as is often attested to in the Orthodox tradition) find ourselves praying the Prayer as we go to sleep, it will run quietly on in some part of our mind even in the deepest sleep, and our hearts, remaining attuned to God in Christ Jesus, will be open to that gentle touch that lifts our memories to prayer. And who is to say that our dreams may not echo that divine lifting, that holy, unthought-of participation in the work of redemption that goes on, even as the Cross goes on, in every generation till our Lord’s return.

Our closer encounters with God leave the conscious mind merely with the awareness of its own limits, and it is natural to fear the unknown. In sleep our prayers can lead us beyond that point, deeper into God than we thought possible, and often we are left with dreams cast up on the shores of perception—strange spindrift, and the wrecks of heartbreak...

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner...

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

All the strayed and stolen sheep...

How do we learn to bless, rather than damn, those with whom we disagree, those whom we fear, those who are different? ... All of Creation groans in travail. All will be redeemed in God's fullness of time, all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones.... To look for hell, not heaven, is a kind of blasphemy, for we are called to live in hope.

Madeline L'Engle, A Stone for a Pillow

I have strayed like a lost sheep.
Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.

Psalm 119.176 NIV

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Place Where We Are Right


From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

by Yehuda Amichai, with thanks to Maggi Dawn

The long haul…

The movement between community and solitariness is woven into the fabric of who we are in Christ. We come individually and make our response to the Word, who invites us to become a new creation and to live in divine intimacy. We nurture our life in Christ as the personal conversation continues and as we gradually learn to do less of the talking and begin to listen. But because our faith commitment joins us to other pilgrims on the way, we are challenged to live the new life together. We become part of that continuing community of God's people who exhibit a willingness to listen to one another.

Elizabeth Canham, Heart Whispers: Benedictine Wisdom for Today

“Lent is a time for turning back if we have wavered, taking the risk of trusting God, and keeping going for the long haul,” as Canon Rosalind Brown writes in this week’s Church Times.

One of the things that moves me most about the Benedictine way of life is their concept of “stability”. Those who know me well will no doubt snigger gently if they read this, since I am, if I want to be especially polite to myself, considerably more Franciscan than Benedictine. Still, I do admire their indefatigable faithfulness, which is most certainly a path of imitatio Christi if ever there was one, and I do recognise how this is reflected in Lent.

This same fidelity is reflected in the many forms of contemplative prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer. Practitioners are counselled not to continually adjust their manners of prayer, but simply to keep on keeping on, faithful to the initial calling and discernment that set them on the path, trusting silently in God for the outcome and destination of their prayer.

Our lives are lived out in community, whether we know it or not. Even if we live the most solitary of lives, far from daily contact with others, still we are members of the great Eucharistic community the Church, the body of Christ, the union of all who are baptised with water and the Spirit, and who share in the Supper of the Lamb.

Faithfulness is our calling, as our Lord was faithful to his. No matter how he was tempted, he lived out his forty days in the wilderness, as he walked the Via Dolorosa on his way to the Cross. One of the meditations that formed part of yesterday’s Stations of the Cross imagined Jesus realising that, weak as he was from shock and loss of blood after being scourged, and exhausted from carrying the cross, he could simply have lain down and died before he ever reached the place of execution; yet he kept going, in faithfulness to his own calling and for the sake of us all.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…

Sunday, March 04, 2012

In the light of the Cross…

God's love for us is everlasting. That means that God’s love for us existed before we were born and will exist after we have died. It is an eternal love in which we are embraced. Living a spiritual life calls us to claim that eternal love for ourselves so that we can live our temporal loves—for parents, brothers, sisters, teachers, friends, spouses, and all people who become part of our lives—as reflections or refractions of God's eternal love. No fathers or mothers can love their children perfectly. No husbands or wives can love each other with unlimited love. There is no human love that is not broken somewhere.

When our broken love is the only love we can have, we are easily thrown into despair, but when we can live our broken love as a partial reflection of God's perfect, unconditional love, we can forgive one another our limitations and enjoy together the love we have to offer.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

It is only on the Cross that we see God’s perfect love for what it is. At the Stations of the Cross this afternoon somehow the eyes of my heart were opened to see the account of the Crucifixion as if for the first time. What became clear to me was not so much the physical suffering of our Lord—plain though it was to see—but the infinite love he bore for us, right into and throughout that final agony. Somehow, his very wounds become the love he bears for all that is made, and for every heart that weeps, or has ever wept since time began.

Strangely, perhaps, it is in that last account in John’s Gospel of Jesus’ days on earth that it is most obvious that he is God. I can’t explain this; only it was shown me more clearly than I can possibly write it down. Jesus is Lord, the Christ, the Son of the living God—and it is the Cross that shows it, beyond all uncertainty.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Shirt of Flame, a recommendation

Whether or not you think you are going to agree with it, I do hope you will read this post to the end, for it is some of the most beautiful and truthful writing I have come across recently:

Shirt of Flame: Ecstatic Truth

I’m delighted to have discovered, through a link on Franciscan Quote of the Day, Heather King’s writings. She is one of the most passionate and courageous spiritual writers I have read in recent months, and her blog feed is definitely worth a (prayerful) subscription...

Blood sisters, and brothers...

When God makes a covenant with us, God says: “I will love you with an everlasting love. I will be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me, or betray me.” In our society we don't speak much about covenants; we speak about contracts. When we make a contract with a person, we say: “I will fulfil my part as long as you fulfil yours. When you don't live up to your promises, I no longer have to live up to mine.” Contracts are often broken because the partners are unwilling or unable to be faithful to their terms.
But God didn’t make a contract with us; God made a covenant with us, and God wants our relationships with one another to reflect that covenant. That's why marriage, friendship, life in community are all ways to give visibility to God's faithfulness in our lives together.
Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
We are continually trying to make God in our own image, instead of letting him (re)make us in his. We judge God’s faithfulness by our own faithlessness, God's mercy by our own vindictiveness. But God is not like us, and his covenant is not like our contracts.
Jesus spoke of this the night he gave us the Holy Eucharist, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood...” (Luke 22.20) We are living under a new covenant, as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote (quoting Jeremiah):
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
In Christ we have a covenant which is written on our very hearts, not some external document. We have become members of his very body, sisters and brothers in blood, his blood. Oh God, give us the grace to live like it!
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner...

The Gift of Holiness...

If we are called by God to holiness of life, and if holiness is beyond our natural power to achieve (which it certainly is) then it follows that God himself must give us the light, the strength, and the courage to fulfil the task he requires of us. He will certainly give us the grace we need.

Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness, Bantam Doubleday Dell, p.16

I think sometimes we miss God’s gift of holiness, his grace for healing and growth in Christ, simply because we feel we have to strive for holiness in our own strength, by heroic observances and feats of asceticism, when all the time God is offering us this beautiful thing as a gift of love.

God knows that it is far too easy to take pride in our spiritual achievements. He knows what we are made of, and he doesn’t wish to give us this extra burden of temptation to carry.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Romans 5.15-17

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Fear of the Lord...

Fear is the knowledge of ourselves in the presence of God’s holiness. It is the knowledge of ourselves in His love, and it sees how far we are from being what His love would have us be. It knows Who He is and who we are!

Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island

‘Rat!’ [Mole] found breath to whisper, shaking. ‘Are you afraid?’

'Afraid?' murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. 'Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet - and yet - O, Mole, I am afraid!'

Kenneth Grahame, Wind in the Willows

...the fear of the Lord is pure,
   enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
   and righteous altogether.

Psalm 19.9

Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
a God feared in the council of the holy ones,
   great and awesome above all that are around him?

Psalm 89.6b-7

It is possible we've done too much of recent years to make God seem cosy and friendly in recent years. God is not our Facebook friend; he is the creator, and judge, of all that has been made, and his mercy in Christ is everlasting.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner...