Advent day 14

Wow, still not feeling so well. This illness has modified my Advent plans a bit. I haven’t been able to sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament since Wednesday. Perhaps I’ll be able to get back to doing that on Monday. Instead, I’ve been able to offer the annoyances of illness up to God, particularly for a priest-friend who is struggling right now.

I’ve been reading transcripts of retreat videos on occasion. One was about St. Therese and her Little Way. Now, I know about St. Therese and the Little Way, but for some reason, she and I have never clicked. I have never felt I could relate to her. This video, though, made me desire to try her Little Way. I’m trying to remember to offer up my mundane jobs throughout the day–when I’m sweeping or putting laundry in the wash or cooking dinner. Just a simple prayer, “Lord, I offer this to you.” I hope I can make this a habit and thereby sanctify and give more purpose to my daily duties.

 

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Advent day 4

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
In which the Son of God was born
Of the most pure Virgin Mary
At midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.
In that hour, vouchsafe, I beseech thee, O my God,
To hear my prayer and grant my desires
Through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ
And of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

Today starts the St. Andrew novena, prayed 15 times per day from his feast day of Nov. 30 to Christmas Eve. It’s a novena I try to make every year. Inevitably I miss some days, but I do my best.

My verse from Psalms yesterday spoke of consolations (Ps. 94.19). Today in my spiritual reading (Lead, Kindly Light) I read, “O my God, let me never forget that seasons of consolations are refreshments here and nothing more. They are only intended to prepare us for doing and suffering” (p. 112). With both the bad and the good we can say, “This, too, shall pass.”

I experienced a great consolation today: adoration in my super-liberal parish. With Latin and incense and everything. My God, an answer to a long-standing prayer. My God, prepare me for what you have prepared for me to do or to suffer. Maranatha.

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” It’s an English carol with origins in the 19th century, so probably Anglican, but I won’t hold that against it. The first verse is as follows:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan’s power
When were gone astray:
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

The idea of God and comfort has been running around in my mind for well over a month. When I had my conversion to the Catholic Church, I probably went overboard. I felt perhaps that I needed to prove myself to God, to show myself worthy, or something. And so I indulged in fasting, traditional observances of holy days, night watchings, etc. Not that any of these are bad, but if undertaken for the wrong reason, that is, not for love, they are.

And so God became, or maybe already was, an authority figure whose approval I had to gain through novenas, fasting, Little Office, rosaries, adherence to traditional practices…actions. My spiritual actions were a check-list, while what He desires is relationship. Fasting out of love. Rosaries because I wanted to spend time with Him. But I didn’t get that (nor have I yet completely). God was demanding, exacting, just. How could I ever measure up?

What I’m beginning to learn is that He is Love. Sure, He’s just. Saying God is Love doesn’t mean it’s okay to go on sinning, to go on doing what we want to because God will love us anyway. He loves me when I sin, but if I choose to continue in my sin, to ignore His Love that calls me to Himself and perfection, He will, in His Love, give me what I have chosen–a life without Him.

Even in the Old Testament, when God seems to be a God of wrath and destruction (context, people) He exclaims through Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned” (40.1). And, “I, I am he that comforts you” (51.12). And in the passage that Jesus reads aloud in the Nazareth synagogue (Lk. 4.16-21), “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me….to comfort all who mourn” (Is. 61.1-2). In the last chapter of Isaiah, God compares himself to a mother who comforts her child, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (66.13).

David says to God in the Psalms: “I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (23.4). And again: “Show me a sign of thy favor…because thou, Lord, hast helped me and comforted me” (86.17). And “Let they steadfast love be ready to comfort me (119.76).

The prophet Jeremiah, speaking of the fulfillment of God’s promise, prophesies, “I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (31.13). The minor prophet Zechariah also speaks of this future happiness, “Cry again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem” (1.17).

Jesus fulfilled these prophetic words when He said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5.4).

But what started all this thinking about God and the concept of comfort was my reading of 2 Corinthians. St. Paul calls God “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (1.3-4). Why does He comfort us? Well, because He is a Father to us and “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1.4). He goes on to use “comfort” many more times in the letter, but the other examples are how we are to act as comforters to each other.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul again mentions God as a God of comfort when he says, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2.16-17).

So there it is. God is a Father who comforts us. From the Old Testament right through the early Church, it is repeated again and again. God comforts His people. That’s not to say He desires our lives to be easy! No, he knows that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5.3-5). Jesus did not promise His followers a life of ease and comfort in the modern sense–a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint. He says, “Take my yoke upon you” (Matt. 11.29); “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16.24); “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16.33). But He also promises “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11.30);  “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16.33).

I can take comfort in that.

Reflections on the Five Sorrowful Mysteries

I’ve been re-reading A Western Way of Meditation: The Rosary Revisited. In it, the author helps westerners discover meditation through means of the Rosary. Meditation is somewhat foreign to us here in the US and can carry a negative connotation. Since I’ve begun trying to meditate the Rosary though, instead of merely repeating words, I’ve seen my love for this devotion grow. It’s taken on a greater importance in my daily life. That’s because meditation while I’m “telling my beads” brings me closer to my God and His Mother. I meet them in the words, in the events, in the movement of the beads through my fingers.

One night, while praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, I thought of how God’s Will sometimes brings us pain and sorrow. How “no servant is greater than his master” (Jn. 15.20).  And we pray that His Will be done before each of the mysteries. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” God’s Will  is then played out for us in the scene of the mystery.

The First Sorrowful Mystery is the Agony in the Garden. Here Jesus knows He is to suffer and die. He is in torment thinking of it, and He is alone. He asks His friends to pray with Him, to keep Him company during this agonizing time, but they fail Him. Sometimes it is God’s Will that we suffer alone, that our friends let us down, that He is the only rock to which we can cling.
first sorrowful

The Second Sorrowful Mystery is the Scourging at the Pillar. Jesus is tortured by the Roman guards. His flesh is stripped as He receives the lashes. His body is bloody and brutalized. This, too, is in God’s Will. Sometimes God Wills that we suffer, for it is in suffering that we learn love. And through pain we aid in the redemption of ourselves and of the world. As St. Paul states in his letter to the Colossians: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (1.24).
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The Third Sorrowful Mystery is the Crowning with Thorns. The guards hit Jesus. They spit at him, weave a crown of thorns, throw a dirty purple cloth around his shoulders and mockingly hail him as King. And they did this to the only one in the universe who deserves to be called king. Sometimes God Wills our humiliation, that others mock and abuse us. Not that we are supposed to be doormats for others to walk all over, but there are times when we should not defend ourselves against verbal attack, when we should imitate Our Lord, when “he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and was as a sheep dumb before her shearers, and he opened not his mouth” (Is. 53.7).
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The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery is the Carrying of the Cross. After His torture, when He is near death, He is forced to carry a heavy wooden cross through the streets of Jerusalem to the hill called Golgotha, the place of execution. In our sufferings, we are sometimes asked by God to carry more, to carry a burden we think is impossible. I’ve noticed that when I am incredibly tired, sick, whatever, that is the time when I’m often asked to go the extra mile. Not to rest, to comfort myself, to have others take care of me, but to take care of others, to give of myself more. God knows what we can carry, and sometimes He Wills us to carry just a little bit more.
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The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery is the Crucifixion. Once at the place of execution, Jesus is nailed to the wood of the cross and left to die. He dies amid jeers, naked, abandoned by all who once followed Him (except for St. John and some women). He dies a horrible death; none of the sufferings did He deserve. Takashi Nagai, in speaking of the victims of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, called those who suffered and died, hansai, burnt offerings. Offerings to God to stop the horrible war (A Song for Nagasaki 117). Jesus was hansai for us. And who knows but that God Wills that we be hansai for someone else. Even if we aren’t called to die a tortuous physical death, God does Will that we die to ourselves, a painful death that happens again and again, day after day.
Leon_Bonnat_-_The_Crucifixion

My Jesus, I unite my sorrowful heart with yours. May you deepen my love for you and for my neighbor.

My Jesus, I trust in Thee!