20170403

The Divine Mystery of the Cross

While expecting death I do not feel it; while thinking little of punishment I do not suffer; while careless of fear I know it not.

―Ambrose of Milan

Lenten Reflection: The Divine Mystery of the Cross
By Steven Dilla

“That wood of the cross is, then, as it were a kind of ship of our salvation, our passage, not a punishment, for there is no other salvation but the passage of eternal salvation,” wrote Ambrose of Milan. The saint must have held Isaiah’s prophecy in mind as he wrote:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

The Son of God destroyed, his people set free—surely we have just as much trouble apprehending this as Christ’s own disciples. Early Christian writings focus not on the mechanics of the cross, but its implications for present-day living. Ambrose, writing in the fourth century, continues:

That we may know that this mystery of the common redemption was most clearly revealed by the prophets, you have also in this place: “Behold, it has taken away your sins;” not that Christ put aside His sins Who did no sin, but that in the flesh of Christ the whole human race should be loosed from their sins.

O the divine mystery of that cross, on which weakness hangs, might is free, vices are nailed, and triumphal trophies raised. For Christ died for us, that we might live in His revived Body. Therefore not our life but our guilt died in Him, “Who,” it is said, “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

We often join in Peter’s cry, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you”—surely there must be another way. Unlike Peter, our desire is not as much to protect the Messiah we love, but to regain control by finding a logical way Christ could affect salvation apart from the cross.

The ship of our salvation is beyond our control. The gospel is this: though we created the storm, though we suffer as it surges, though we deserve to sink—we shall be guided home.

Prayer: The Cry of the Church

Even so come, Lord Jesus!

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 6 (Listen – 4:17)
Psalm 5-6 (Listen – 2:45)

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20170331

Take Up Your Cross

The more spiritual progress a person makes, so much heavier will he frequently find the cross, because as his love increases, the pain of his exile also increases.

―Thomas à Kempis

Lenten Reflection: Take Up Your Cross
By Thomas à Kempis (c. 1379-1471)

Why, then, do you fear to take up the cross when through it you can win a kingdom? In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of spirit, in the cross is highest virtue, in the cross is perfect holiness. There is no salvation of soul nor hope of everlasting life but in the cross.

Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you shall enter eternal life. If you carry the cross willingly, it will carry and lead you to the desired goal where indeed there shall be no more suffering, but here there shall be. If you carry it unwillingly, you create a burden for yourself and increase the load, though still you have to bear it. If you cast away one cross, you will find another and perhaps a heavier one.

Do you expect to escape what no mortal man can ever avoid? Which of the saints was without a cross or trial on this earth? Not even Jesus Christ, our Lord, Whose every hour on earth knew the pain of His passion. The whole life of Christ was a cross and a martyrdom, and do you seek rest and enjoyment for yourself?

Drink the chalice of the Lord with affection it you wish to be His friend and to have part with Him. Leave consolation to God; let Him do as most pleases Him. On your part, be ready to bear sufferings and consider them the greatest consolation, for even though you alone were to undergo them all, the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come.

If, indeed, there were anything better or more useful for man’s salvation than suffering, Christ would have shown it by word and example. But He clearly exhorts the disciples who follow Him and all who wish to follow Him to carry the cross, saying: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

*Abridged from The Imitation Of Christ.

Prayer: The Request for Presence 

Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness… make your way straight before me. — Psalm 5:8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 2-3 (Listen – 4:43)
John 21 (Listen – 3:58)

 

20170330

How to Find Freedom

Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing? Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all things.

―Thomas à Kempis

Lenten Reflection: How to Find Freedom
By Thomas à Kempis (c. 1379-1471)

Jesus has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting.

All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection.

Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus—love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!

If a man has great virtue and much ardent devotion, he still lacks the one thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one thing? That leaving all, he forsake himself, completely renounce himself, and give up all private affections. For truth itself has said: “When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Then he will be truly poor and stripped in spirit, and with the prophet may say: “I am alone and poor.” No one, however, is more wealthy than such a man; no one is more powerful, no one freer than he who knows how to leave all things and think of himself as the least of all.

*Abridged from The Imitation Of Christ.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

The Lord has pleasure in those who fear him, in those who await his gracious favor. — Psalm 147:12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 1 (Listen – 2:37)
John 20 (Listen – 4:17)

 

20170329

Peace is not to be Placed in Men

He who attributes any good to himself hinders God’s grace from coming into his heart, for the grace of the Holy Spirit seeks always the humble heart.

―Thomas à Kempis

Lenten Reflection: Peace is not to be Placed in Men
By Steven Dilla

“Man draws nearer to God in proportion as he withdraws farther from all earthly comfort,” writes Thomas à Kempis. Yet the full calling of the Scriptures, and à Kempis’ work, isn’t to disregard comforts, but to reorient them in light of the gospel.

We’ve looked this week at à Kempis’ calling, in The Imitation Of Christ, to confess both our idolatrous love for the world and our inability to weather even the smallest daily frustrations. Today the argument goes further: repent of the ways we avoid the risks of faith by grasping for control and power in relationships.

Relationships, in other words, provide deep earthly comfort. We are called to give ourselves to others—yet we cannot demand from them what ought only be supplied from God. Here, written as a letter from Christ to his children, à Kempis challenges:

My child, if you place your peace in any creature because of your own feeling or for the sake of his company, you will be unsettled and entangled. But if you have recourse to the ever-living and abiding Truth, you will not grieve if a friend should die or forsake you. Your love for your friend should be grounded in Me, and for My sake you should love whoever seems to be good and is very dear to you in this life. Without Me friendship has no strength and cannot endure. Love which I do not bind is neither true nor pure.

You ought, therefore, to be so dead to such human affections as to wish as far as lies within you to be without the fellowship of men. Man draws nearer to God in proportion as he withdraws farther from all earthly comfort. And he ascends higher to God as he descends lower into himself and grows more vile in his own eyes.

If you knew how to annihilate yourself completely and empty yourself of all created love, then I should overflow in you with great grace. When you look to creatures, the sight of the Creator is taken from you. Learn, therefore, to conquer yourself in all things for the sake of your Maker. Then will you be able to attain to divine knowledge. But anything, no matter how small, that is loved and regarded inordinately keeps you back from the highest good and corrupts the soul.

Prayer: The Small Verse

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. — Isaiah 9:1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 40 (Listen – 4:07)
John 19 (Listen – 6:23)

 

20170328

Daily Frustrations

For with God nothing that is suffered for His sake, no matter how small, can pass without reward.

― Thomas à Kempis

Lenten Reflection: Daily Frustrations
By Steven Dilla

We do not typically associate daily frustration with suffering. In his masterful work The Imitation Of Christ Thomas à Kempis not only draws the two together, but highlights the profound truth our inability to handle life’s minor frustrations reveals.

“The man who will suffer only as much as seems good to him, who will accept suffering only from those from whom he is pleased to accept it, is not truly patient,” à Kempis writes. Our idolatry of control runs so deep we become impatient—frustrated—when we cannot control our suffering. He continues:

For the truly patient man does not consider from whom the suffering comes, whether from a superior, an equal, or an inferior, whether from a good and holy person or from a perverse and unworthy one; but no matter how great an adversity befalls him, no matter how often it comes or from whom it comes, he accepts it gratefully from the hand of God, and counts it a great gain.

The way frustrations drove à Kempis to God (not the individual frustrations themselves) became something for which the great theologian was thankful. He prayed; “For though this present life seems burdensome, yet by Your grace it becomes meritorious.” In a challenge, à Kempis writes of his readers’ daily frustrations:

And if they do not seem so small to you, examine if perhaps your impatience is not the cause of their apparent greatness; and whether they are great or small, try to bear them all patiently. The better you dispose yourself to suffer, the more wisely you act and the greater is the reward promised you. Thus you will suffer more easily if your mind and habits are diligently trained to it.

The inability to engage our faith in life’s daily frustrations can be defeating; based on the words of his prayer, à Kempis must have experienced the same thing. Yet, instead of falling into despair, he again clings to God:

O Lord, let that which seems naturally impossible to me become possible through Your grace. You know that I can suffer very little, and that I am quickly discouraged when any small adversity arises. Let the torment of tribulation suffered for Your name be pleasant and desirable to me, since to suffer and be troubled for Your sake is very beneficial for my soul.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;* wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51:8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 39 (Listen – 5:24)
John 18 (Listen – 5:16)