Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Eleventh Station~Jesus is Nailed to the Cross~Forgiveness

To those who stood by it must indeed have seemed now that Christ was separated from other men. . . . That was how things seemed to be. But in reality, as Christ stretched out His beautiful craftsman's hands and composed His blameless feet on the hard wood of the cross to receive the nails, He was reaching out to countless men through all time: as He stretched His body on that great tree that was to flower with His life for ever, He gave Himself to be made one with all those who in every generation to come would willingly bind and fasten themselves irrevocably to the cross, for the love of God and the love of men.

For all through time for those who love Christ and who want to be one with Him, love and the cross would be inseparable; but because Christ willed that He should be nailed to the cross Himself in His human nature, love will always predominate and redeem the suffering of the cross.

Caryll Houselander, The Way of the Cross

I'm not sure whether or not I'm conflating these two events, but if they didn't happen at the same time, the second came fairly soon after the first.

About 35 years ago, I went to a day of renewal in another city. It was shortly after I had recommitted myself to following my Catholic faith, and I think it was the first time I had ever attended anything like this. I'm really not sure what was going on at the time this happened but probably the speaker was leading us in some kind of guided meditation. I had my eyes closed and as I was praying, it hit me very forcibly that Jesus had died, not just for my sins, but for the sins of everyone that had ever sinned against me, and that when I refused to forgive someone, I was holding back the forgiveness that He had died for--that I was trying to undo the work of Christ on the cross. I can't begin to explain the difference that this made in my life because at the time, I was very aware of ways in which other people had sinned against me, and I knew that I was going to have to forgive them. What's really strange is that I know that there were these offenses, or perceived offenses that I had to forgive and that at the time they were huge to me, and now I only have the vaguest notion of what they might have been.

Soon after that, and perhaps directly after that, I was praying and I "saw" Jesus being nailed to the cross. It was very vivid and wasn't something I'd been thinking about, but just came out of nowhere. (Well, somewhere, I'm sure.) It was from a position low to the ground and I was looking up His left arm, and could see his side and the back of His head. His left hand was already nailed to the cross, and they were nailing His right hand. Even now, I can see it fairly clearly. It's always somewhere in that back of may consciousness because after that, I knew He did this for me.

wholly surrendered
to the will of Your Father
and wholly identified with us,
Lord nailed to the cross
by Your own choosing,
teach us to obey,
to accept,
to bow to the will of God.


Friday, March 30, 2012

The Tenth Station~Jesus is Stripped of His Garments~Nakedness

Not long ago Christ had revealed His glory upon a Mountain. He had gone up with his disciples to Mount Tabor, and there shown them His splendour, clothed in garments of burning snow. Now He has gone up into a mountain again to reveal yet another glory that is His, the glory that He gives to sinful men in the hour that seems to them to be their hour of shame but which, when it is identified with Him stripped naked upon Calvary, is an hour of splendour and redemption.

There in Christ is the sinner who is found out, the lover who is stripped of all pretence, the weak man who is known for what he is, the repentant murderer who pays the price of his sin willingly before the world, the child whose disgrace is known to the mother whom he wanted to make proud of him, the friend who is stripped of all pretence before the friend from whom he longed for respect.

There upon Calvary Christ's love for the world is shown in its nakedness, His love for the sinner in its intensity.

Caryll Houselander, The Way of the Cross

In The Hiding Place Corrie ten Boom writes about the incarceration of her sister, Betsie, and herself in the concentration camp at Ravensbruck. They were Christians, but had been arrested for hiding Jews in their home. Corrie was 51 when this happened and I Betsie was 58. She describes the manner in which they were forced to line up with the other new prisoners for processing. These two middle-aged virgins, not particularly beautiful of body, stripped naked and standing in line, being watched over by callous guards. How humiliating this must have been.

During the time that Corrie spent at Ravensbruck, she underwent a different kind of stripping. Instead of becoming bitter and railing against her circumstances--after all, she had been living a sacrificial life and spending herself for God's chosen, and look where it had gotten her--she allowed the Lord to use this time to strip of her fears and faults. Of course, this didn't happen without some resistance on her part, but in the end, she was able to join her suffering to that of her Lord.

Betsie died in the camp shortly before Corrie was released through a clerical error. Before her death, Betsie used to pray for the guards because she was worried about the damage that their treatment of the prisoners was doing to their souls. She forgave them, and wanted Corrie to do the same. Corrie was horrified. She didn't want to forgive the guards; she wanted to hold on to her hatred. But in the end that was what she did. There is a moving article in Guideposts magazine, telling of Corrie's encounter with a former guard who had been cruel to Betsie and the forgiveness that resulted.

Corrie ten Boom's story is an example of the humiliation of physical stripping, and the pain of that stripping that comes from being stripped of our faults, but CH speaks to something deeper. It is the revelation of our very selves, not evil deeds that we could have avoided, but that which most shames us because it is who we are at the very core of our being. Our only help in the face of this most painful nakedness is that Our Lord has united Himself with us in our weakness, and that He can somehow use it for the redemption of the world.

stripped of Your garments
upon Calvary,
give me the courage
and the humility
to be stripped before the world
of all pretence;
to show myself--
even to that one whom I love
and whose good opinion of me
is vital to my happiness--
just as I am,
stripped of everything
that could hide
the truth of my soul,
the truth of myself, from them.

Give me
Your own courage,
Your humility,
Your independence,
which compelled You,
for love of me,
to stand on that hill of Calvary,
covered in wounds,
without comeliness whereby
we could know You.

Give me the courage
and the dignity and splendour
of Your love,
to live openly,
without pretence,
even when there is that in my life
which shames me.
Give me the one glory
of those who are disgraced
and ashamed before the world:
to be stripped with You,
Jesus Christ my redeemer,
upon Calvary.


Thursday, March 29, 2012


I plan to spend the next few days in a cabin by a lake having a little Lenten retreat. I have written meditations for Friday and Saturday, and if Blogger does its job they should appear before you wake up. I won't be responding to comments; however, please feel free to post comments if you wish.

I'm not posting about the Stations on Sundays, but when I get back on Sunday afternoon, I hope to have finished something I've had in the back of my mind ever since I started the blog.

Please keep me in your prayers.


The Ninth Station~Jesus Falls the Third Time~Brokenness

In this meditation, Caryll Houselander writes about the many people who are following Jesus on the way to Calvary: those who hate him, those who love him, those who he has healed, the poor who hope he will establish a new kingdom.

They wait, straining forward, struggling to come near to Him, breathless with suspense, some through fear, some through hope; all tense, expectant, waiting!

And what does He do? For the third and the last time, Jesus falls under the cross!

This is the worst fall of all. It comes at the worst moment of all. It tears open all the wounds in His body; the shock dispels the last ounce of strength that He had mustered to go on. It shatters the last hope, the last remnant of faith, in nearly everyone in the crowd. It is triumph for His enemies, heartbreak for His friends.
* * * * * * * *
The last fall is the worst fall. In it Christ identified Himself with those who fall again and again, and who get up again and again and go on--those who even after the struggle of a lifetime fall when the end is in sight; those who in this last fall lose the respect of many of their fellow men, but who overcome their humiliation and shame; who, ridiculous in the eyes of men, are beautiful in the eyes of God, because in Christ, with Christ's courage, in His heroism, they get up and go on, climbing the hill of Calvary.

Caryll Houselander, The Way of the Cross

This meditation reminds me of Lord Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. We meet this beautiful, charming, younger son of the Marchmain family in Oxford where he is living an elegant and dissolute life, and leave him "a sort of under-porter" at a monastery in Tunis where he is "an odd hanger-on" under the care of the Father Superior, when he isn't off on a drinking spree. In the eyes of the world, he is a hopeless drunkard, but hopeless is exactly what he is not. Although he knows that he will never overcome his alcoholism, he never gives up hope, always stumbling back to the monastery after a fall. "Holy" is the way his sister Cordelia describes him.

fallen under the cross
for the last time,
grant to me, and to all those
with whom You identified Yourself
in the third fall,
Your courage,
Your humility,
to rise in Your strength,
and in spite of failure upon failure,
shame upon shame,
to persevere to the end.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Eighth Station~Jesus Speaks to the Women of Jerusalem~Weeping

In her meditation on this station, Caryll Houselander asks why Jesus, Who has from the beginning of His life accepted whatever help men have been willing to give Him, seems to reject the compassion of these women. She says:

Is this a refusal, a rebuke or a warning?

In a sense it is none of these, but a showing, a pointing to something which, if these women miss, and if we miss today, they and we will have missed the meaning of Christ's passion. Which if we miss, all our devotion to the person of Jesus Christ in His historical Passion, all our meditations and prayers, will be sterile and will fall short of their object to reach and comfort the heart of Christ. He is pointing to His passion in the souls of each of those women, in the souls of each of their children and their children's children all through time. He is pointing to all those lives to come through all the ages in which His suffering will go on.
* * * * * * * *
It is in order that we should seek Him and give our compassion to Him, weep for Him in [especially those that suffer alone and ignored], that Christ showed His need for sympathy in His earthly life and on the way of the cross. We must weep for Him in these and in our own souls, in these day, the days of the dry wood: "It is not for me that you should weep . . . you should weep for yourselves and your children. Behold, a time is coming when men will say, It is well for the barren, for the wombs that never bore children, and the breasts that never suckled them. It is then that they will begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us. If it goes so hard with the tree that is still green, what will become of the tree that is already dried up?" (Luke xxiii, 28-31).

When CH said, "days of the dry wood" she was speaking of the days during and after World War II in England, where, of course, there was much more suffering than in the United States. I think, however, that we can rightly appropriate those words for the times in which we live, and almost beyond a doubt for those that are to come.

When I was younger, I thought a lot about that passage from Luke which says that it is well for the barren. I wondered what that meant, and supposed that it was because mothers would not be able to provide for their children and that they would have to watch them suffer. Then, I always thought about it in terms of babies or young children, but now I can see that it also applies to mothers of adults.

What never occurred to me in the past was that people would say it was well for the barren because they thought that their lives would be so much better without children. Today, we have seen that phrase that speaks of mothers' selfless love turn into a phrase that denotes a complete selfishness. And I think that one of the things that CH would tell us about this is that Christ is suffering in these women who have made a decision against motherhood, and that we ought to be weeping for Him in them. This, of course, is not our natural inclination, and that is why Lent and devotions like the Way of the Cross, are so important to us. They give us the time and space to look at things from the perspective of Jesus's Passion.

do not let me find consolation
in sensible devotion
to the person of Jesus Christ
while Jesus Christ passes me by
on the Via Crucis
we travel together.
* * * * * * * *
Do not give me tears
to shed at the feet of the crucifix
while they blind me to Christ crucified,
unwept for
in the souls of sinners
and in my own sinful soul.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Seventh Station~Jesus Falls the Second Time~Watchfulness

Christ is down in the dust. This second fall is harder than the first; He is nearer the end of His tether now, more dependent than before on others to help Him to get up and go on. It may have been something trifling, almost absurd, that threw Him down. Perhaps something as small as a pebble on the road; yes, that would have been enough to send Him hurtling down, with that terrible burden on His back, and His own exhaustion as He nears the end of His bitter journey.

It is the same today, the same for those "other Christs" who have gone a long way on the road and who fall, not for the first time now, under the heavy cross of circumstance--those who have carried this cross for a long time, who have become exhausted by the unequal struggle and fall, who with Him are down in the dust. It is for them that Christ falls for the second time and lies under the crushing weight of His cross, waiting for those who will come forward to lend their hands to lift it from His back and enable Him to go on to the end of His way of suffering and love.

Caryll Houselander, The Way of the Cross

Since I began writing this series, I've always had CH's meditations turning over and over in the back of my mind. I read them about a day before I write, and then I mull over them. The "something small as a pebble on the road," struck me when I first read it, but I wasn't sure that I would write anything about it. Then something happened when I was on the way home from Mass this morning--something small. I was praying the third mystery when I realized that although I had started out thinking about the mystery in terms of myself, I had pretty soon turned to the faults of a friend. Almost immediately I hit, not a pebble, but a small hole in the road that jolted the entire car. Aha! Thoughts like this may be small, but they add up. And it's not just the thoughts, although those are really difficult to catch, but all our little habits, all through the day, day after day. And on the right day, they can cause a fall that much more serious that we can imagine.

So, we have to learn to be watchful, and that's so hard. How can we even begin to be aware all the little faults and habits. It would be nice if we could get a little jolt every time we did something, or even better, when we were about to do something, but how can we achieve that? The one thing that I've found that helps at all is frequent Confession. When I got really serious about a particular fault, I decided that I would go to Confession and confess it every week, no matter how embarrassing it might be--and it was. However, I noticed after a while that a little space, a very little space seemed to open up between the temptation and the action. It was just long enough for me to make a conscious decision. That was several years ago, and I don't always go to Confession every week. There have been periods when I haven't gone for several months, but I can always tell the difference in the way my life is going.

Well, I didn't start out to talk about Confession, and this has gotten to be much longer than I intended, but I also wanted to say something about CH''s second paragraph above. There are always so many people who are in those crushing circumstances, and perhaps there are even more in our current economic and political situation. I'm sure we all feel crushed from time to time. I think that we all need to be aware that those around us may be suffering much more than we know, that they may be on the brink of falling at any time, and that we need to be careful not to be the pebble that makes them fall. We never know what small word or careless unkindness might be enough to send [them] hurtling down, with that terrible burden on [their] backs.


Monday, March 26, 2012

The Sixth Station~Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus~Mercy

Until someone comes to reveal the secret of Christ indwelling the sufferer's soul to him, he cannot see any purpose in his pain. There is only one way to reveal Christ living on in the human heart to those who are ignorant concerning it. That is Veronica's way, through showing Christ's love. When someone comes--maybe a stranger, maybe someone close at home but whose compassion was not guessed before--and reveals Christ's own pity in herself, the hard crust that has contracted the sufferer's heart melts away, and looking into the gentle face of this Veronica of today, the sufferer looks, as it were, into a mirror in which he sees the beauty of Christ reflected at last from his own soul.

Until Veronica came to Him on His way to Calvary, Christ was blinded by blood and sweat and tears. The merciful hands of Veronica wiped the blindness from His eyes; looking into her face, He saw His own beauty reflected in it. He saw His own eyes looking back at Him from hers. She had done this thing in the power in which alone she could do it, the power of Christ's own love.

In the compassion on her lifted face, Christ saw, in the hour of His extreme dereliction, the triumph of His own love for men. He saw His love, radiant, triumphant in her, and in all the Veronicas to come through all time, in them and in those sufferers in whom His own divine beauty would be restored by their compassion.

Caryll Houselander

When I began praying the novena to the Divine Mercy, I formed the habit of praying for people I knew that fit in each day's category. I would pray for someone different on each bead of the chaplet. Most days I had no problem: plenty of priests and religious, scads of souls who have become lukewarm, many devout and faithful souls, but I always had trouble on the 7th day. When I read, "The souls who especially venerate and glorify Jesus' mercy," I understand it to be something more than just loving the mercy that Jesus pours on us and thinking that mercy is pretty cool in general. Surely people who "glorify Jesus' mercy" are people who are actively merciful. I knew lots of people who were charitable and generous with their time and money. They were always ready to help when someone asked, but they seemed to be missing something that we see in Veronica. She had a special ability to see what was needed before it was asked, and a willingness to risk doing whatever was needed even when it was dangerous.

Since then, I've made several friends who exemplify the gift of mercy. They never seem to be too tired or sick to help someone else. They never let fear get in between them and whatever God is calling them to do at the moment. I've known them to literally risk their lives to help someone who was desperate. I have to admit, they make me uncomfortable--not on purpose--it's just that they make me see so clearly how truly lacking I am in this area. And truthfully, I'm not sure that I even have much desire to emulate them. Sometimes I think that maybe I could do just this one small thing or that one, but it frightens me. There seems to be a line there that once crossed is crossed forever. It doesn't seem like it can be done by halves. All I can really do at the moment is pray to be willing to be willing.

Saviour of the world,
take my heart,
which shrinks
from the stark realism
and ugliness of suffering,
and expand it with Your love.
Open it wide
with the fire of Your love,
as a rose is opened
by the heat of the sun.

Drive me by the strength
of Your tenderness
to come close to human pain.
Give me hands.
that are hardened
by pity,
that will dip into any water
and bathe any wound
in mercy.

Lord take my heart
And give me Yours



This picture of the Annunciation is from the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan and Hubert van Eyck. The first time I saw this amazing masterpiece was on a card that my friend Paul sent me. We had it hanging on the corkboard in our dining room for years. You can see images of the entire altarpiece here. When I had to write a term paper for an art class, I chose this work for my subject. The painting is filled with a myriad of symbols. The longer you look; the more you see. This is a section of that paper in honor of the Feast of the Annunciation.

The archangel Gabriel appears in the first panel of the middle register of the closed masterpiece, holding a lily, a symbol of purity and pointing heavenward, his words, in gold, proceed from his mouth across this and the next panel towards Mary, “Ave gratia plena Dominus tecum.” “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” The scene continues through the next two panels to Mary in the fourth. Her reply to Gabriel, “Ecce ancilla Domini,” in English, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” is written upside down, perhaps because it is addressed to heaven. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove is hovering over, or overshadowing her, emanating three rays of light, symbolic of the Trinity and crowned with a halo.

On the windowsill behind Mary, there is a bulbous vase, like a pregnant womb with a tight neck. In Divine Domesticity: Augustine of Thagaste to Teresa of Avila, Marjorie O’Roarke Boyle says that in the Middle Ages this was a symbol of Mary’s perpetual virginity. She says that in this painting van Eyck, “. . . uses natural light striking the Virgin from the right, symbolizing through its penetration of the window (and also the vase) her incorruptible virginity.”

Behind her left shoulder, there are shelves holding items that speak of the time before her Fiat. There are two vessels, both solid and closed, but with the same bulbous shape, waiting to be filled. An empty candlestick awaits the “light of the world.” There are two closed books, perhaps the law and the prophets. Alva William Steffler in Symbols of the Christian Faith says that, “When Mary is depicted holding a book, as she is in Flemish altarpieces, it is usually closed. Tradition has linked this closed book to the reference in Psalm 139:16: ‘In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.’” (Now, though, she kneels before an open book on which can be read the words, “So that I can build for him a house.” These words can apply both to the donors of the altarpiece who are building a house for the Lord and to Mary who is making within herself a place for Jesus.

In the third panel, between Gabriel and Mary, there are additional emblems of purity: a small tri-partite window, again symbolizing the Trinity, from which hangs a brass ewer with a wash basin below. Hanging next to these is a white towel. These might also recall the washing of the priest’s hands before the Consecration during the Mass when he uses similar items.

When these four panels are taken as a whole, they are somewhat disorienting because the middle two panels seem not to belong between the outer two. Indeed, they appear to split the outer scene in half and the middle window is much larger than the others. When the middle panels are removed and the images of Gabriel and Mary are fitted together, we see three arches, symbolizing the Trinity with the middle arch framing a window with two parts, signifying the dual nature of the second Person of the Trinity.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Fifth Station~Simon Helps Jesus to Carry the Cross~Help

Someone, then, must be forced [to help Jesus]. The soldiers seize upon Simon of Cyrene. It has, or he thinks it has, nothing to do with him. He was simply about his own business in Jerusalem. It seems to him mere chance that he met this tragic procession--an unlucky chance for him, but there it is! He is made to take up the load and help this man, a stranger to him, and whom he supposes to be a criminal on the way to his execution.

Really there is no chance in the incident. It is something planned by God from eternity to show men the way of Christ's love: "I am the way, the truth, and the life." It means that no one is meant to suffer alone. No one is meant to carry his own cross without some other human being to help him.

Again Christ is proving to the world that He has come to live the life of all ordinary men on the simplest human terms. Now as He accepts the reluctant help of Simon--accepts it because He perforce must, and yet in His humility gratefully--He is showing each one of us whom He will indwell, what he asks of us and what He wants us to give to one another.

Carryl Houselander, The Way of Cross

For the past five years or so, this has been my favorite station. I can so easily see myself in that person who carries that cross with the greatest reluctance, usually only when I'm forced to carry it. But somehow even that grudging acceptance seems to enough, and along the way I'm changed, and grow a bit in faith. I've learned enough to know that the cross should be embraced with joy, but I haven't yet gotten to the point where I can do that very often.

The second paragraph above, however, is not something that I've thought much about. I can see myself as the person who has to help, but not as the person who needs to ask for help. I really do not like to ask people for help. I will ask my husband, or maybe one of my children, but aside from that, I rarely seek anyone's assistance. I'm not even entirely sure why this is so. I don't want to be a bother; I think I can do it better myself; I'm afraid they might turn me down; I don't want to be perceived as weak (this, especially at work). I guess all of those could be reasons. Caryll Houselander says further on in this meditation that, "A man who claims to be self-sufficient and not to need any other man's help in hardship and suffering has no part in Christ." This is a really frightening statement. Jesus made himself weak and vulnerable to show me how to admit my own weakness.

Another thing that has never really struck me before is that Jesus, Lord of all there is, is willing to accept reluctant help. We, his creatures, offer ourselves in such a stingy manner, and he accepts our offering as though it were a treasure. I can remember that once when I was a young mother, I asked someone for a favor, and the person did what I asked, but she let me know by her manner that she was not very happy about it. I promised myself that I would never ask her for anything again, and I didn't. I can see now how prideful that was. Still, I'm fairly sure that I could only accept this with the greatest difficulty even now.

The pride which claims to be independent of human sympathy and practical help from others is unchristian. We are here to help one another. We are here to help Christ in one another. CH


The Fourth Station~Jesus Meets His Mother~Acceptance

Every woman who sees her child suffer, every woman who is separated from her child, every woman who must stand by helpless and see her child die, every woman who echoes the old cry, "Why, why, why my child?" has the answer from the Mother of Christ. She can look at the child through Mary's eyes, she can know the answer with Mary's mind, she can accept the suffering with Mary's will, she can love Christ in her child with Mary's heart--because Mary had made her a mother of Christ. It is Christ who suffers in her child; it is His innocence redeeming the world, His love saving the world. He too is about his Father's business, the business of love.

Suffering is the price of love. The hardest thing but the inevitable thing in the suffering of every individual is that he must inflict his own suffering on those who love him.

It is love that redeems, love that can heal the world, love that can save it. Suffering has no power in itself; it is only powerful to save when it is caused by love, and when it is the expression of love.

Caryll Houselander, The Way of the Cross

In Reed of God, CH talks about that fact that when Mary gave Jesus her flesh, she gave it to him so that he could suffer and die. What an awesome and dreadful knowledge that must have been. And yet, the same thing can be said for all of us. We know that we are going to see our children suffering to some extent; we know that they are going to die. Worse, we know that we are going to inflict some of that suffering, and that some of that suffering is going to be self-inflicted because they are going to sin. This, at least, is a suffering that Mary did not have to undergo.

As far as I know, the only way to be able to bear this is suffering is to relinquish them with trust into the hands of God and His mother. I was fortunate in that when my oldest child was a toddler, I somehow was given a deep understanding of this when I read the story of Abraham and Isaac. This prepared me in some way to handle some of the darker days. It helped me to trust more and fear less, although I had many fearful times. I can also remember very clearly the day, when my children were in the worst part of adolescence, that I turned them over to the Blessed Mother. I told her that she was their mother now, and I meant it. Over the years, I've said to her, "Well, it doesn't look to me like you're doing a very good job, but that's your business." In recent years, thankfully, things have gotten better and better.

Suffering is the price of love. Every time we fall in love with someone, bring children into the world, make a friend, we know that we are going to suffer because of that love. We will suffer for them, we will suffer because of them, and sometimes they are going to chose to make us suffer. And yet, Jesus and His mother have shown us that combined with our love, that suffering can redeem the world.

Mother of Christ,
help me to be willing
to accept the suffering
that is the condition of love.

Help me accept
the grief
of seeing those whom I love
and when they die
let me share in their death
by compassion.

Give me the Faith
that knows Christ
in them,
and knows that His love is the key
to the mystery of suffering.
Photo credit Teresa Love

Friday, March 23, 2012


Today I am getting my eyes dilated, so I think it will be a long time before I can look at a computer, so I probably won't post the 4th Station until tomorrow.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Third Station~Jesus Falls the First Time~Humiliation

He who never yielded to temptation Himself has already lived through and overcome the discouragement and the sorrow of those who do. That is why Christ chose to be not a superman, not in a physical sense an extraordinary man, but an ordinary man. He allowed His own words about the majority who would follow Him to be in a sense applicable to Himself: "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." We did not identify ourselves with Christ, He identified Himself with us.

It is humiliation, wounded vanity, that makes it difficult to get up and go on after the shock of the first fall. If we have failed before others, if we have fallen openly, making ourselves objects of contempt and derision, it is still more difficult: our humiliation is the more bitter because we have not only betrayed ourselves to ourselves, but we have made fools of ourselves before men.
Caryll Houselander, The Way of the Cross

Earlier in this meditation, CH identifies this first fall of Jesus with the first falls that we experience at the beginning of our adult lives. "There," she writes, "is the young man or woman taken by surprise by the temptations of grown-up life." She talks about, ". . . a material cross; the burden of the material struggle . . . ," and seems to be mainly talking about political and economic difficulties. Certainly young adults have to face this in our time. I know young people who are crushed under the weight of the current economy and who don't have any faith that they will ever be able to support themselves adequately.

But not all young people fall under bad economic situations, in fact, hard economic times seem to spur some on to greater success, or better, to lives of heroic sanctity. The fall comes with sinking into despair in the face of these difficulties. Despair may be the greatest fall, but it also leads to all the others: alcoholism, drug abuse, disordered sexuality--all the tired worn out sins of a weary world. And, of course, all those sins have many other causes. Whatever the cross that first crushes us in our young adult lives (and I don't think it much matters what it is), the great disaster is that it is a fall away from true selves, away from the person that God created us to be.

And the great tragedy is the shame that keeps us from standing up and returning to ourselves. I'm not sure that CH is correct when she says that our humiliation is more bitter because we have failed before other men. Surely, that is terrible, but I think that the gnawing knowledge that we have failed within ourselves is the most debilitating wound. And so, Jesus falls the first time to be one with us in our brokenness and to show us the way that it can be healed. Because, "He who never yielded to temptation Himself has already lived through and overcome the discouragement and the sorrow of those who do."

Turn the humiliation
caused by our vanity
into Your humility,
and lift us up in Your power
and with Your courage
to take the cross
and to start again on the way,
trusting now,
not in ourselves
but in You.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Second Station~Jesus Receives His Cross~Suffering

Lying in the wooden manger in the stable of Bethlehem, Christ welcomed the cross for which He had come into the world. At the moment of His birth He accepted all the hardship, the pain and suffering of mankind--the cold, the darkness, hunger and thirst; the pain of mind and body, the needs and the dependence of all men. He accepted death--indeed He became man in order to die for men.

Christ need not have suffered at all. He could have redeemed the world by a single breath drawn for His Father's glory, but He chose to take as his own the common suffering of all men. Unseen, unknown, Christ received His cross in Bethlehem.

Caryll Houselander, The Way of the Cross

He chose to take our suffering as His own. He need not have done this, but because we chose suffering, he chose to join us in that suffering. When we chose for ourselves, we chose for Him.

This has been at the center of my Lenten meditation this year--our need for His suffering. His wounds assuage ours. We are bound to Him wound to wound. Children joining themselves to one another as blood brothers, pricking themselves until they bleed and joining their pierced fingers together, sense the truth in this. Union requires a mutual vulnerability.

No man's cross is laid upon himself alone, but for the healing of the whole world, for the mutual comfortings and sweetening of sorrow, for the giving of joy and supernatural life to one another. -CH


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The First Station~Jesus is Condemned to Death~Innocence

There in the blameless Lord, made subject to men, illimitably patient, silent when He is mocked, silent before Herod, silent when Peter denies Him, are all those innocent children who are so commonly patient and inarticulate in suffering, and whose suffering and death baffles and scandalizes us--" . . . you will all be scandalized in me!

Caryll Houselander, The Way of the Cross

Caryll Houselander frequently speaks of the Holy Innocents. In a letter to Mr. St. George of the St. John Chrysostom Society with whom she shared a concern for Russian refugees she writes:

It is so astonishing that the very first martyrs were the little innocents slain by Herod as soon as Our Lord was born into the world. And it is true that whenever evil rises up and there are wars etc., the first sufferers are innocent little children, as if the bright fire and perfection of children were something essential to the rebirth, to the renewing, and to the new forgiveness of Christ in the world.

"How can she think this?" we wonder, "What could be more scandalous?" And yet, we know it happens; it always happens. At least in this estimation, it does not happen in vain.

And so, in the First Station, we see the Holy Innocent condemned to die. Who of us can remember what it is like to be truly innocent? We may occasionally be innocent of something of which we are accused, but even then we may have triggered the false accusation by some past lack of charity towards our accuser. And on the occasions when we are truly innocent of one action, we always know that in our hearts there resides a company of faults waiting to rise up and accuse us. And what does Innocence do in the face of the accuser? There is nothing He needs to do--no defense, no excuses--silence.


Lenten Fare

I thought that I first heard this on Light on Dark Water several years ago, but I can't seem to find where. At any rate, now I have to listen to it every Lent.


Monday, March 19, 2012

All She Had to Live On

Then He called His disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."
Mark 12: 43-44

All? Not just your money, but all? Your family, friends, job, health, home, books, internet, music, etc., etc., etc.? What really struck me here was not just all she had, but, in particular, to live on. In some ways all these things are not just possessions, but sustenance. We live on them.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Via Crucis

Neither would the picture on the wall help [an onlooker at the Stations of the Cross] to understand what it is that brings such incongruous, oddly assorted people together in this seemingly formal and curious devotion. As likely as not, the picture would be uninspiring, crude, and without any aesthetic value.

If this onlooker asked one of the people there to enlighten him, she would probably be surprised that he should expect the picture to attempt either aesthetic beauty or to represent the physical aspects of the Passion of the Christ realistically. She might explain that the church does not ask for pictures at all, but simply for fourteen numbered crosses marking fourteen incidents on the way to Calvary, showing not so much the exterior incidents of the Passion as their inward meaning. She might add, with a shrug of the shoulders, that the Church tolerates the pictures that we use just as a mother tolerates the crude and almost symbolic pictures that the older members of the family draw for the younger, knowing that the little children will read into them just those things which are already in their own hearts.
Caryll Houselander, The Way of the Cross

The stations in our parish are not lovely. “Uninspiring, crude, and without any aesthetic value,” pretty much describes them. And so, when I read this passage, it was as if a nagging headache had suddenly disappeared. For the past ten years--we moved here ten years ago--I have been grumbling to my husband about the ugly stations in our parish. After reading this, I was able to just let it go.

Of course, the grumbling always came before we got to church, and never after we had finished praying the stations. Even when the logistics turn into a kind of comedy of errors, even though the prayers that we use are not the best and sometimes don’t even make sense, even when the Stabat Mater between the stations is particularly cacophonous, the result is that we walk the way of the Cross. A stillness fills the church, a church in which there is never silence otherwise, and the gravity of what we are doing weighs on us all, even the children who seldom if ever misbehave. When we finish, it takes us moment to come back from the journey before everyone goes to the cafeteria for a light dinner.

Everyone, that is, but I. I like to stay for a few minutes and rest in the silence. And I like to sing the Adoramus Te Christe just for Him. And when I leave, I’m never tempted to grumble.

Caryll Houselander’s book, The Way of the Cross has a meditation for each of the stations ending in a prayer which is in the form of a poem, or a rhythm, as she called them. Starting Monday I plan to read one of them everyday, and I think that I will probably write something about them, although I’m not sure that I’ll be able.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Here's Looking at You, Squid

All Things Condsidered considers why giant and colossal squids have such large eyes.

For seeing small objects like nearby prey, it wouldn't make sense to have eyes bigger than an orange.

But, Nilsson says, if you need to see extremely large objects from a distance, "then it pays to actually make the eye a fair bit bigger."

Makes? Somebody makes them bigger? Hmmm. Wonder who?


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Shepherds: The Awakening of the Ents?

Ever since I first heard about the HHS Mandate I have been hoping that our bishops would prove to be like Ents--slow to awaken, maybe, but formidable once they are pushed too far. So far, so good. My husband and I have been saying a prayer every day after our rosary that they will continue to stand firm. We think this might be the right man to intercede for our shepherds.

This is the prayer that we are saying. It was part of a sermon that Bishop Fisher preached in 1508, 27 years before he was executed for treason because he refused to acknowledge Henry VIII as head of the Church in England.

Prayer for Holy Bishops by Saint John Fisher

Lord, according to Thy promise that the Gospel should be preached throughout the whole world, raise up men fit for such work. The Apostles were but soft and yielding clay till they were baked hard by the fire of the Holy Ghost. So, good Lord, do now in like manner with Thy Church militant, change and make the soft and slippery earth into hard stones. Set in the Thy Church strong and mighty pillars that may suffer and endure great labors--watching, poverty, thirst, hunger, cold and heat--which also shall not fear the threatenings of princes, persecution, neither death, but always persuade and think with themselves to suffer with a good will, slanders, shame, and all kinds of torments, for the glory and laud of Thy Holy Name. By this manner, good Lord, the truth of Thy Gospel shall be preached throughout the world. Therefore, merciful Lord, exercise Thy mercy, show it indeed upon Thy Church.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Three Prayers

“My dear,” he said, “love, your God, is a trinity. There are three necessary prayers and they have three words each. They are these, “Lord have mercy. Thee I adore. Into Thy Hands.” Not difficult to remember. If in times of distress you hold to these you will do well.”

Elizabeth Goudge, The Scent of Water

I had already read, and been captivated by, several of Elizabeth Goudge’s novels when I came upon this passage in The Scent of Water. Her novels for anyone who isn’t familiar with them are filled with everyday people and their everyday lives. One would think that they are typical English village novels, full of tea, and vicars, and walks in the country, but no, there is always more. The reader is always aware of something waiting around every corner, moving in every chance encounter, shimmering on every horizon, and that something is grace.

The day that I read this passage, that grace was waiting for me. I think that all of us have moments when a passage in a book or the lyrics in a song strike us to the heart. They affect us in such a personal way that it’s hard to convey to anyone else what they mean to us. These words struck me in just that way. I love that they are simple, yet all-encompassing. They are all that needs to be said “in times of distress” and, except for perhaps a thank you, all that can be said in the presence of God. For the past 25 years, I have prayed them when I didn’t know what else to pray; and with few exceptions, I have prayed them every time I have received Communion, or knelt before the Blessed Sacrament.

And so, I begin this blog with those three prayers. I hope that I will be able to keep them in mind as I write, even when what I’m writing is much less serious than what I’ve written here—and I expect that that will be frequently. Of course, given the amount of time it’s taken for me to put one post on this blog (I started working on the blog during Advent.) I’m not sure how frequent anything will be around here.

Welcome to anyone who has read this far, and I also welcome to any comments you might have.

Photo credit Teresa Love