Sin obscures. So does selfishness. The cross purifies. All of us ordinary mortals are wounded, immersed in our own darkness. A healthy self-denial sensibly practiced and rightly motivated slowly lifts one out of his egoism, laziness, hedonistic inclinations. We are fitted to receive the clean light of the Spirit.
The saints invariably possessed a remarkable wisdom. Even the most simple of them were gifted with a penetration into reality and into the God of all reality that books and studies cannot produce. This penetrating gaze into the real was made possible by their prior purification. This must be at least part of the meaning of that mysterious saying of St. John of the Cross: “The purest suffering produces the purest understanding.” In another place the saint amplifies this idea when he remarks that “the purest suffering brings with it the purest and most intimate knowing, and consequently the purest and highest joy, because it is a knowing from further within.” One who lives the paschal mystery, life through death, lives more and more deeply and thus will see more and more penetratingly. Authenticity is begotten on the cross.
Suffering reduces us to our own ashes; it strips away egoism and makes love possible. A Scripture commentator can remark that “to be a ‘tried’ Christian or to experience the Spirit is one and the same. Trial disposes to a greater gift of the Spirit, for He now achieves by trial His work of liberation. Thus freed, the tried Christian knows how to discern, verify, ‘try’ everything.”
If adaptation to the modern world has actually meant settling for a more comfortable life, a rejection of the hard road and the narrow gate, it is no renewal at all. If updating in a religious congregation has consisted largely of mitigations, we have a clear sign of resistance to the Spirit of the living God. If the renewal of moral theology consistently means more pleasure and less sacrifice, it is no updating at all. It is a surrender to the world.
from Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of Discernment by Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M., “Moral Behavior: Cross-Asceticism”
On the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15):
A garden dark and darker hearts
bring agony this day;
From Sunday palms to Friday whips
the passions wave astray;
He bears the tree with broken heart
upon the stony way.
With body raised, He hangs in pain
And very few will stay
To watch the life escape Him now
Instead they run away.
But someone stands beneath the Cross
to keep despair at bay
And Christ can smile before He dies:
He hears His mother pray.
Today is the feast day of St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. He died on this day in 1975.
Among other qualities, his solicitude for priests was thorough and magnanimous:
His love for the priesthood and for priests was transparent. In 1941, he had to leave town for one of these retreats in Lérida. Although his mother was ill, he decided to go anyway because the doctor did not think it was serious.
“Could you offer your sufferings for the work I’m going to do?” he asked her.
As he left the room he heard her murmur: “This son of mine…”
Arriving at the seminary of Lérida, he had knelt before the tabernacle, saying: “Lord, look after my mother, for I am taking care of your priests.”
Two days later, the thought of his mother still very much in his heart, he proceeded to preach on the role of the priest’s mother. It occurred to him to tell his listeners that her role was so important that she should not die till the day after the death of her son the priest.
After the meditation he remained recollected in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Then the apostolic administrator of the diocese, who was making the retreat, came up to him somewhat disconcerted and said in a low voice: “Álvaro del Portillo would like you to phone him in Madrid.”
His mother, Dolores, had died.
Years later, Saint Josemaría affirmed, “I have always thought that our Lord wanted that sacrifice from me, as an external proof of my love for diocesan priests, and that my mother especially continues to intercede for that work.”
Here are some additional resources on St. Josemaría Escrivá:
I especially recommend the novena for work… which has two dimensions: praying to find a job, and praying to do a good job. Both have been very profitable for me in the past.
I’ve also written a number of his sayings in my prayer journal, and they’ve formed the basis for the Stations of the Cross that I assembled back in 2004.
a B-24 bomber was shot down by enemy fire over Hansa Bay, New Guinea, carrying my uncle John and 10 other crewmen. They were officially MIA until Good Friday of 2018, when the team of Project Recover discovered the plane nearly 200 feet under the surface of the bay.
I had stopped by the family cemetery plot on that same Good Friday on my way to a prayer vigil in Saint Paul. As I cleared snow from the tombstones, I began thinking about uncle John and how little we knew about him. I decided to walk the cemetery praying a rosary for all the deceased in my family. Little did I know that, on that very day, his plane had been discovered.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
-Excerpt from “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon
NOTE: I’m currently working on a new blog post about Uncle John… specifically, the things I learned from my visit to Omaha in May of 2019 for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency regional meeting. I was able to sit down with a casualty officer, analyst, and historian to review what they know about what happened to the crew of Heaven Can Wait on March 11, 1944.
Today, on Holy Saturday, Lent is over. We spend three days enveloped in the liturgy of the Triduum, and we’re right in the middle of it. It is, as T.S. Eliot once said, “the still point in the turning world” (“Burnt Norton,” II, Four Quartets). At the eye of the hurricane, there is a great silence.
There is a beautiful ancient homily on Holy Saturday — we don’t even know who wrote it but it’s beautiful — in the Office of Readings today. Here is a short excerpt:
Something strange is happening — there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives of Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve… The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory….
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
The mystery of Holy Saturday is a mystery of communion, of restored union: what was separated has now been reunited.
How does this happen? What is this mystery of communion which we are anticipating and which we celebrate tonight?
It is, primarily, the mystery of the Eucharist, the sacrament of communion. It is the most exalted mystery of God’s own heart, and of His love.
We’re on pilgrimage today into the very heart of God. Who does the Church give us to accompany us in this time? Who can really show us the way?
It’s Mary. She alone did not flee… did not panic… and did not despair. She is our guide through Holy Saturday, because she is the steward of the great mystery of the Eucharist.
I want to make a brief examination of her life, as it relates to her Son, who is the Bread of Life (John 6:35).
First we go back to the Annunciation. In this moment when the angel Gabriel appears to her, Mary becomes, in a very real way, Bethlehem. The word Bethlehem literally means “the house of bread”.
She is Bethlehem more truly than the town she visits nine months later: she received the Bread that the “house of bread” would not (Luke 2:7). She becomes the dwelling place of the Bread of Life, and she tends to this Bread for thirty years in a mystery of silence we know little about.
Like the centurion, she calls out to God at the Annunciation: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the word…” (Luke 7:6-7). She gives her assent: “Be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Now did she know what she was saying yes to? In the details? No.
But she was docile. She was receptive to the One who has come to her. You see, she said yes to a Someone, not a something. It wasn’t a yes to a plan, or a schedule, or a series of foreseen events.
The somethings of her yes were constantly being challenged and purified. Think of the Presentation in the Temple, when she was told that her heart too would be pierced by a sword (Luke 2:35). Think also of her discovery of Jesus in the Temple after a long search. Her Son asked her: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)
The beauty of Mary is that, when confronted with the unknown and the unexpected, she does not flinch, cower or rant, but she receives it all, and ponders the word in her heart (Luke 2:51). Whatever word is spoken to her — whatever word — she receives confidently as a word of love coming from the very heart of God.
This strong, serene faith is seen at the wedding feast at Cana, when, in response to the news that they have no more wine, she responds by calling her Son into action. She tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Notice that she doesn’t spell out the plan of action herself, but simply refers them to her Son, trusting in His loving wisdom and power.
Fast forward now three years… to the very end of the life of her Son. As she receives the body of her Son when it is taken, lifeless, from the cross, she receives it lovingly. She kisses Him and gazes out at us as she holds Him. Her eyes are filled with grief, but no bitterness. “This is for you,” her eyes say to us. She is the gracious hostess of the divine meal, expressing a hospitality that has cost her everything.
The Son in her arms is no longer the thriving infant He once was, but a lifeless corpse. This is the annihilation of everything a mother’s heart could want for her child. And yet she is not raging. She’s not bitter. She’s not angry. She’s not clinging desperately to the body of her Son. Instead, she is holding Him with great tenderness and affection.
Why? Because she understands what it takes to make bread… in this case, the Bread of Life.
You see, all along the way of the Cross, her Son, the Bread of Life, was kneaded, pushed, contorted and bruised by the crowds. And now the bread will be covered with a shroud, and placed in the darkness, so that, three days later, it can rise.
So Saturday is a day of waiting. It’s a day of waiting for the Bread to rise, to be baked and to be ready for us. Saturday is Mary’s day, a day to wait with her, in stillness and in hope. And it’s a time to consider her service to the Eucharist, the Bread of Life.
What can this mean for us?
This evening, though we cannot attend the Easter Vigil in person this year, make a spiritual communion, and as you do so, think of giving delight to the hostess of the divine meal.
Give joy to her heart by letting her know that her stewardship of this Bread has been accomplished. Give joy by letting her overhear you say to the Father, as you approach the Bread of Life, “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Let her hear you expressing the words of the True Bethlehem: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed” (Luke 7:6-7).
Let the voice of the True Bethlehem rise up across the face of the whole Church today, as all of us, Mary’s spiritual children, raise our voices in a single cry of hope and of love: “Give us this bread always” (John 6:34).