Wednesday, 29 April 2015
We have shed our skin
The old and fearsome
Hardness that was on us
Not knowing what
We will become
The outer layer
That will grow to cover
The bleeding rawness
In which we now
Salted by stranger
And those of our own
The heart is torn
Apart from west to east
Eden to eternity
I am listening to God
In Genesis and now
God and man
Parent and the child
Who will not go
But must be sent
For good reasons
The love that dares
To say no
I hold the fledgling
Lamb against my breast
Feel its trembling
Upon my palm
Caressing its frailty
And every pain
Desire and stifled hope
The love that dared not
Show its face or
Speak its name
That shouts aloud its need
To be fulfilled
Demands its right
All other voices
There is One only
Who can hold all these
And cause us all
To come to that tender
Which Mercy only
Thursday, 2 April 2015
In the Gospel of yesterday's Mass Jesus says, "It is at your house that I am keeping Passover" and when I hear these words it strikes me that there is a very personal dimension to it, like Jesus is saying it directly to you and to me, that my soul is the house and my heart the table of His Passover; that He speaks directly to you saying, "this is my Body broken for you...this is my Blood poured out for you. In this we are invited inward to share this mystery in a profoundly personal way and it means that He does not want us to remain outside or that the mystery of the Eucharist should be something external to us.
At the Chrism Mass this morning in the Pro-Cathedral Archbishop Diarmuid Martin asked us to bring home his good wishes to all the people in our parishes and in his homily he spoke a lot about the theme of Mercy which is so prominent in the life, teaching and action of Pope Francis - Mercy that crosses all boundaries, Mercy that is expressed in a Church described by the Pope as being a field hospital in war.
I never knew what a field hospital looked like until I saw the movie ‘Testament of Youth’ which tells the story of the English feminist and pacifist Vera Brittain who lived during the First World War. The field hospital is an incredibly awful reality, a place of unspeakable human suffering and misery.
Vera gave up her hard won education at Oxford and trained as a nurse so that she could share the suffering of the men who were fighting at the front. To her dismay she was sent to work in the German Ward of a field hospital in France and was challenged by the fact that she had to nurse those who were killing the English men she loved. But she had to do it. And maybe one of the reasons why she was sent to that ward was because she spoke German.
There’s a scene in which a young German soldier is near death and the ward sister tells Vera to go and look after him. He is young and blinded and bloodied. And when Vera goes to him he thinks she’s his girlfriend - so she lets go of her resistance, holds him and speaks tenderly to him in German and he dies comforted. Vera had a vision of Divine Love working in that awful place.
In a poem called ‘The German Ward’, Vera later wrote - “I learnt that human mercy turns alike to friend or foe”. Mercy turns alike to friend and foe!
This is what we witness in perfect form in Jesus at the Last Supper. He who is Divine Love and Mercy gets down on his knees to wash their feet - feet that are dirty and tired from the journey of their life. It is not a liturgical act - it is love on his knees tending to the reality of their lives.
The astonishing thing about this is that Jesus does not only get down on his knees in front of the nice, good apostles; he gets down on his knees in love before Judas and before Peter; he kneels to the betrayer and the denyer. Mercy turns alike to friend or foe!
But this does not mean that Jesus supports or agrees with what they are about to do. Divine Love is able to love and to disagree in the same moment; Divine Love is both merciful and truthful in the same moment, to serve and to oppose in the same moment. And this is the love that we are called to become when we celebrate the Eucharist in Holy Mass.
However, the liberal, progressive society in which we live does not understand such love and will not allow it to be expressed. In the major changes that are taking place one of the ideas being promoted is that if you love me then you must agree with me, if you really love me you must support what I am doing no matter how wrong or harmful it may be and if you do not agree with me, if you do not support me then you do not love me. Jesus would say to much of what is happening - I disagree with you and I love you; I oppose what you are doing and I get down on my knees to minister to your needs.
It happens all the time in marriage relationships, in the relationships of parents with their children, in our relationship with someone we love who is living a self-destructive life, or a life destructive of others. In our ordinary relationships love and opposition live side by side as do conflict and mercy, hurt and healing. In our perseverance against the odds the perfect Love of Jesus is at work.
The first thing tonight is that each of us needs to allow Jesus to wash us in whatever way we need, to let him be the lover that we need in our moment of greatest weakness, to be light in the darkness of my depression, to bind up what is broken in my body, mind, soul and heart, the liberator of my addictions. We need to allow him to do it and not resist him as Peter did.
And then every single one of us, without exception, is to become Living Love and Mercy to friend and enemy alike.
“When he had washed their feet and put on his clothes again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’ he said ‘what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.’”
Wednesday, 1 April 2015
St. Teresa of Avila has been one of the most significant guides of my spiritual life since I was 17 years old. I began reading her very early in my life as a Pallottine and there are two moments – a dream and a time in prayer - that have connected me to her.
In the dream I walked into an old unfamiliar church where I met my father who was already dead at the time. He pointed me to a side altar at the top left-hand side. When I went there I saw St. Teresa’s tomb in front of the altar. It was like the Italian ones with the shape of the body carved in marble; she was sleeping covered with a blanket. Then she stirred and woke up, telling me to stand between her and the altar. “Stay here” she said “and I will take care of you.”
The second happened during a charismatic retreat when I was resting in the Spirit, in a state of quiet. A rope ladder came down from heaven and standing beside it was St. Teresa who pointed to the ladder and said to me, “I have given you the means to ascend to the heights.”
With these I am both emotionally and spiritually connected to her, even though I don’t pray to her that much.
“My soul at once becomes recollected and I enter the state of quiet. Everything is stilled and the soul is left in a state of great quiet and deep satisfaction.” (St. Teresa of Avila)
As we enter into Holy Week we are drawn by God to this state of quiet recollection in prayer as we contemplate Jesus in His Passion, as we “look upon the one they have pierced.” (Zechariah 12:10). The appropriate form of prayer is that of silent gazing.
“O God you are my God, for you I long. For you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry weary land without water. So I gaze on you in the sanctuary…” (Psalm 63)
So I gaze on you – a silent gazing on the person of Jesus, a loving gaze and a total surrender to Him in which I put aside my own thoughts, my agenda and my struggles. I surrender my self-preoccupation and allow love for Him to be stirred, awakened within me in the silence.
There is an invitation to turn a new page, to allow my heart to be “as a page that aches for a word which speaks on a theme that is timeless” (Neil Diamond); a blank page that is ready for a new word to be written by God.
It is the promise made by God for the new covenant which we experience in Jesus. “Deep within them I will plant my law, writing it on their heart.” (Jeremiah 31) – the law that is written is His Word and His Word is Knowledge, Wisdom and above all it is Love. So what He seeks of us is a heart that is ready to have Love written on it in a new way.
It is the sharpest of all instruments, diamond-like, that God uses for this writing so that what is written is an indelible carving that pierces through to the core as the Passion pierces through to the very heart of Jesus.
This is where we flinch and turn away because we cannot bear our own pain and we cannot bear the full impact of the suffering of Jesus. “He had no special beauty or form to attract us; there was nothing in his appearance to make us desire him. He was hated, despised and rejected. A man of suffering, acquainted with grief. People would not even look at him, turned their backs, hid their faces from him, averted their gaze.” (Fourth Song Of The Suffering Servant, Isaiah 52-53). But if we are to experience full blessedness then we must not turn away; we must keep on gazing.
Fr. Luigi Giussani, founder of Comunione e Liberazione, speaks about spending Holy Week simply looking on the face of Christ as the way to being changed or transformed. If we spend our energy in this sacred time getting caught up in our sins or wanting to be perfect we will end up tired and unchanged at the end of it.
“Looking Christ in the face changes us. But to be changed we need to really look into his face with the desire for good, desiring truth.”
It helps to understand that when we gaze on Jesus we are gazing on the fullness of who He is. When we gaze upon the Crucified we are at the same time gazing on the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Infant of the Incarnation in the stable, the Compassionate Healer and the Risen Lord – all of the expressions of who Jesus is provide us with the grace we need to continue looking at what we would rather avoid.
Something more happens in the prayer of gazing – we are drawn to Him to enter into Him as He himself has entered into us so that we experience everything as He does. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person.” We see as He sees, understand as He understands that in the awfulness of suffering, in abandonment, He is not alone. We are not alone. The Father who seems absent is with us in hidden form sustaining Jesus, sustaining me, sustaining you!
Entering into the experience of Jesus is an essential development in our interior spiritual life. Entering in and not staying outside.
The Pharisees missed the point of Jesus because they always remained on the outside looking in, always questioning, judging, condemning. They would not sit at the table of intimacy and mercy; they would not come to the banquet.
There are many things that keep us on the outside, including those things that kept the Pharisees outside but perhaps our greatest obstacles are guilt and fear. Guilt keeps us from coming to the table of mercy; we feel unfit, unworthy to take our place because we are ashamed. Yet, it was the worst of sinners who sat at table with Jesus in the gospel and perhaps this was made possible because they shifted their gaze from themselves to Him.
Fear of suffering – the thought that God might ask too much of us - also keeps us at a distance, the prospect of unbearable suffering puts us off, turns us away, creates a resistance in us. Maybe we cope better when we are actually suffering.
Within the experience of suffering we find that, with our gaze fixed on Jesus, there is the capacity to endure in the strength that comes from Him – “I can do all things; there is nothing I cannot master in Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)
It helps to allow the Spirit of Jesus in His Passion to pray within us. In the garden of Gethsemane his distress, terror and agony give expression to ours; his darkness expresses ours; his struggle our struggle. In His abandonment on the cross he cries out our feeling of being abandoned by God – “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?” And because we are in Him and He in us, we are ultimately led to the moment of surrender to the Father which is the goal of all life and the point of all gazing, all prayer. Not my will but yours be done. Father into your hands I commend my spirit!
Surrendering in trust into consummation, consolation, completion!
Eamonn Monson sac