The author of the Letter to the Hebrews (5:14) tells us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” “Without sin” means without anything unloving. Jesus understands our struggles and our pain and, because full of love, Jesus is not hindered in any way from encountering us therein. If so, Jesus can shine through another person’s suffering and touch others. Such is the mystery of His Passion.
I recall Patrick. We lived in community, in Brussels, for three years, l’Arche, whose mission is chosen family life with persons who are mentally challenged. Patrick struggled tremendously with cerebral palsy. He was unable to take care of himself, and I had the privilege of helping him: to eat, to bath, to accomplish various tasks. He had great faith (and a great sense of humor!). He taught me about great faith and patience and presence and the primacy of inner beauty. In the end, he helped me probably more than I was able to help him. He taught me many things.
There were days of real discouragement for him, days when God seemed far away, as he felt trapped in a body that would not respond to the promptings of his mind and will. From my vantage point, on days when my faith better informed the eyes of my heart, while in no way wishing to diminish Patrick’s struggle and the unfairness of his situation, I could “see” God shine through Patrick. And, was it a beautiful light.
Patrick now sees the Light. He died of brain cancer at the age of 53.
Yours in our Crucified Lord,
Member of the Body of Christ
Fred Craddock, Jr.(+2015), originally from rural Tennessee, was a Professor of Preaching at Emory University in Atlanta and an ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ Church. I find his story-telling unique and intriguing. Here is one very short story that, for me, somehow links us to this Sunday’s second reading, in which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (5:5-10) reveals the intimacy between the Son and the Father. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears…and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” By grace, we share in such intimacy. Indeed, although sometimes hard to believe, we are each called, right where we are, to intimacy with God; hence, the gift of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6 and Luke 11). “Our Father” we say with Jesus….
Before, the Craddock story, however, if I may, a few thoughts from St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274, one of my favorites!), on this Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father”:
We call God Father because He created us in a special way—namely, in His own image and likeness…because He governs us…because He has adopted us, He granted inheritance…children whereby we cry,Abba (‘Father’).
This prayer is worthy of the utmost confidence in that He who taught us how to pray, graciously hears our prayer together with the Father.
From Craddock Stories (2001, Chalice Press, St. Louis, MO):
I remember Mrs. Foster—you don’t know Mrs. Foster—when her mother was dying of cancer, and Mrs. Foster wanted me to come to the house and have prayer and scripture with her mother, which I did. When I got to the house, she handed me a Lutheran prayer book in German. I said, “I thought your mother was United Methodist?”
She said, “She was. She married my father, who was Methodist, and they were together in the church for over 40 years.”
I said, “What’s this?”
And she said, “My mother came from the old country when she was a teenager. She’s from Germany, and it would mean a lot to her if you would read the Lord’s prayer in German.”
I read her the Lord’s prayer in German, and that dying woman mouthed the words and smiled.
Sharing in this divine intimacy with you,
Mother Teresa (of Calcutta, +1997) says, “Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls”. May her words echo in a special way on this Sunday. This Sunday is known to many as Laetare Sunday. It is sometimes called Rose Sunday (referring to the color for the day). Laetare Sunday, always the fourth, or middle, Sunday of Lent is so called from the first words of the Introit (opening verse) at Mass, “Laetare Jerusalem” (“Rejoice, O Jerusalem”).
On this day, the vestments are indeed rose in color. Rose includes the violet of penance and the white of Easter, of the victory of divine love. In this, rose captures the “not yet and already” of our Christian pilgrimage. We are on a journey, and have not fully arrived at our destination, which is perfect oneness with God in love. And, yet, we are held by God already, in love. Another (Saint) Teresa (of Lisieux, +1897) expresses this unbelievably well in her autobiography, Story of a Soul. She so believes in the already that, when asked about Heaven, she responds, “I do not know what more I could have in Heaven, except that I shall see God. As for being with Him, I am always that, even here on earth.”
Our life as disciples of Christ is a life of joy—not bubbly emotional joy, but deep, quiet joy—the joy of God. Such joy is ours for the experiencing, even in the midst sometimes of great challenge. But, it must be shared. Do we share the joy of God with those around us?
As we continue our Lenten journey, let us hold to the One Who holds us, bearing in the mind the words of St. Augustine (+430):
In the house of God there is never ending festival; the angel choir makes eternal holiday; the presence of God's face gives joy that never fails.
Yours in the joy of God,
Our Lenten journey: a journey to deeper relationship with our Lord, Jesus Christ, who gives Himself to us. He does this in an “extreme” way on the Cross. From the outside, the Cross is a tragedy. From the inside, the divine vantage point, because it is divine love poured forth, the Cross is power and wisdom. St. Paul says this in this Sunday’s second reading (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Let us pray for an increase in faith, that we might know this deep in our hearts.
We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
I offer you three quotes about the Cross, for your Lenten meditation:
God created through love and for love. God did not create anything except love itself, and the means to love. He created love in all its forms. He created beings capable of love from all possible distances. Because no other could do it, he himself went to the greatest possible distance, the infinite distance. This infinite distance between God and God, this supreme tearing apart, this agony beyond all others, this marvel of love, is the crucifixion.
Simone Weil (+1943), French social activist and mystic
How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! In the cross there is no mingling of good and evil, as in the tree of paradise: it is wholly beautiful to behold and good to taste. The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness but light. This tree does not cast us out of paradise, but opens the way for our return.
St. Theodore the Studite (+826), Byzantine Greek monk
There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us. And on the far side of every cross we find the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, that new life which will reach its fulfillment in the resurrection. This is our faith. This is our witness before the world.
Pope John Paul II (+2005)
Journeying with you to deeper relationship with our Lord, Jesus Christ,
From the desk of the Rector