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Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category

A Poet Before the Cross

In Christianity, Lent on February 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Here we are again, friends, entering into the holy season of Lent.

Once again, Paul Claudel is accompanying me — nay, leading me, on our long walk toward the Cross of Christ. Many times I have cited Claudel’s book, A Poet Before the Cross, over the past four years. See Lenten Reading, Say What You Mean, The Reality of It All, No Forced Faith, Lent is Approaching, and Entering Holy Week 2010.

Yet like the Sacred Scripture Claudel so deeply reveres, or a friend or spouse whose warmth and complexity constantly reveal new delights, A Poet Before the Cross  has a similar ability to point us to Christ in new ways each lenten season.

What of this, today? More than can be said! Begin with Claudel’s almost parenthetical phrase, buried in a footnote, which reminds us during Lent to attend to our “works of mercy, which will give us the right to complete our course in the exterminating presence of time” (footnote 11, pp. 15-16). “The exterminating presence of time.” How could one not hear the echoes of yesterday, Ash Wednesday’s liturgy, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Therefore “repent, and believe the Gospel.”

Or who could scorn a writer, in love with Sacred Scripture, who plainly asserts “we should humbly admit with the Church and the Fathers that the Bible is the word of God, and the Holy Spirit is the constant inspirer who from one end to the other guided the pen and mobilized the vocation of diverse writers.” Yet Claudel moves between dogmatic assertion (welcomed, in this era of Bible-doubters) and poetic, metaphorical visions that sweep us into our Lord’s presence.

For example, Claudel’s affirmation of God’s revelation in Scripture was preceded by one of the loveliest possible meditations on the lily of the valley, the Chalice, and the Cross! The three end up so intertwined, the mind’s eye sees Christ suspended as Infinite Chalice on the Cross, arms upraised but with the incarnate weight of his Holy Body draped between them — like the slender stem of a lily, beneath the bowl formed by His arms, arms capable of containing and embracing the entire world (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

Or what of a writer who so gracefully describes Sacred Scripture as “vast synclinal areas” (p. 12)? Synclinal? Indeed! “Inclined down from opposite directions, so as to meet.” Is our Bible not a book composed by numerous authors, in diverse places over many centuries, yet one Story? Does this syncline not also picture the meeting of our sin and God’s grace? But is this syncline not also a reminder of Claudel’s meditation on the Lily, through which moment and accident are drawn-up into meaning? “On that elongated stem which it uses to reach to the bottom, to draw up life through the moment and the accident, the flower [we might say Flower] . . . opens to the planned arrangement of a concentric universe” (p. 7).

God’s providential care! Apparent moment and accident are drawn up into our sight, to examine  and “come to knowledge of the truth,¹” by showing all that happens is arranged in a coherent, loving whole in the Cross of Christ. We see from both sides of the syncline now, to the point where the moments and accidents of our lives meet Christ. Do we suffer? He suffered. Do we feel alone? He was infinitely alone.² Do we feel unfairly treated? He received the unfairest treatment of all. Yet He has already won the victory over this and more, for us!

May your Lenten season begin, as mine, with this sense of wonder at God’s Love, as we walk toward the Cross of our Redeemer — the Love that reconciles all, explains all, and sustains all.³

¹ 1 Timothy 2:4 again

² Matthew 27:46

³ John 14:6

A Good Friday Meditation

In Christianity, Lent on April 23, 2011 at 2:47 am

“As the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for her young, my home is by Your altars, my king and my God. Happy are those who dwell in Your house.”¹

Amidst the grief of Good Friday and the Passion of our Savior, hope emerges from the unveiled altar at St. Mary’s.

Each year the altar is stripped. When the Maundy Thursday liturgy ends, the Pastor, Deacons, and altar servers remove the crosses and candles. The statuary have been veiled. The Eucharist is removed late Thursday after a period of Adoration (“Could you not watch with me one hour?” Matthew 26:40), and the Church becomes cold and bare.

Yet by God’s grace, what appears? Carved in the stone of the bare altar—visible only on this darkest of days—twelve birds surround a Chalice and Host. During my first Lent at St. Mary’s some years ago, I marveled, “What does this mean?”

Psalm 84 is the answer. Fly to the Lord! Find the only lasting home for yourself (and if called to marriage as your vocation, a nest for your young). But even more truth, goodness, and beauty is presented in the altar at St. Mary’s. The birds divide six by six on either side, looking to the Chalice and Host—a clear reference to the twelve Apostles and the authority of the Church through valid orders via Apostolic succession.

Who does the Chalice and Host represent? Our living Savior! The boundary of the bas-relief in which the birds are carved is even bent heavenward by the Chalice and Host. Should we be surprised? No!

At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.²

Yet there is more. Above each bird is carved a sculpted point, aimed downward specifically and particularly, at each bird. Is this not a reminder of God’s knowledge of and care for each one of us?

Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.³

Yet there is more. Recessed in the altar is the royal seal, the Alpha and the Omega of the eternal I AM (Revelation 1:8). This is interwoven with the chi rho—the Christogram represented by the first two letters of the Greek spelling of the name of Christ. Yet the rendering in stone of this seal makes it seem to emerge faintly, as if through a veil—where Heaven touches earth in the beauty and truth of the Sacred Liturgy.

There is more. But shall we go farther? One almost dares not! But so we do not exalt ourselves—God forbid—to anything akin to St. Paul’s vision (2 Corinthians 12:4), we must finish with our feet on earth, for the sake of the smallest child and for myself (Matthew 19:14). The immense solidity of this massive stone altar calls to mind C.S. Lewis’ allegorical picture of the sacrifice of Our Savior in The Lion The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

At last the rabble had had enough of this.  They began to drag the bound and muzzled Lion to the Stone Table . . . [saying] “Fool, did you think that by all this you would save the human traitor?”

Yes!  “Yes, yes, yes,” is the resounding answer. Yes, on this Stone Table our Redemption appears.

Aslan ended soul’s-winter in Narnia. But Aslan was simply Lewis’ picture of our glorious Savior. The Stone Table is stripped and bare today, but the victory is already won! We know how The Story ends—not just in Narnia, but in reality and truth.

For I know my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God!  (Job 19:25-26, John 11:25-26).

Christianity . . . so very richly!

¹ Psalm 84:4 (84:3, if using a protestant translation)

² Philippians 2:10-11

³ Luke 12:6-7

A Thought for Lent

In Christianity, Lent on April 4, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Without being antinomian, remember that inconstancy and failure are common to us all. We wish it were not so. But thankfully, God has purposed to bring good from evil; sanctity from sin.

What must be our response?  Always:

  • Get up again. “Get back on the path,” as a wonderful friend in Philadelphia, James Montgomery Boice, often said.
  • Tell our Lord of your love for Him and sorrow for sin.
  • Believe the words of The Sacrament of Reconciliation: “I absolve you.”  Christ has given this power to the successors to His Apostles (Matthew 16:19).
  • Find and fortify the weaknesses in your sanctity defenses. The enemy will attack at your point of greatest weakness, as St. Ignatius has written.
  • Live in Light!  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!” (John 1:1, 4-5)
  • Redeem the time.  You and I don’t have time for sin, because by God’s grace and desire to use us for His purposes, so much remains to do!

Good from evil.  Sanctity from sin!  That is Christianity Richly.

Pope Benedict XVI & Holy Week

In Christianity, Lent on March 30, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Ernest Hemingway (a curious choice to cite during Holy Week) once wrote to his editor, Max Perkins, “Nothing is more discouraging than unintelligent appreciation.”  In saying that, Hemingway showed uncommon grace—since a more typical trial (whether for Hemingway or the Holy Father) is unintelligent denigration.

Defend me, O God, and plead my cause
against a godless nation.
From deceitful and cunning me
rescue me, O God.
—Psalm 43, Liturgy of the Hours, Tuesday Week II, Morning Prayer

It is appropriate, I suppose, that as the Church’s earthly shepherd leads Catholic Christians through Holy Week, those who oppose him would rear their heads most angrily. Do we hear echoes of the crowd in Jerusalem who reviled Jesus of Nazareth two millennia ago, the Savior Whom the Holy Father constantly places before our world?

No surprise then, that MSNBC’s news program, Morning Joe, trotted out atheist Christopher Hitchens. The surprise was that Hitchens, despite all his journalistic accomplishments, had absolutely nothing to say when the program host sought his opinion about other news of the day.  “I came to talk about the Pope,” was Hitchens reply. “I’ll wait my turn.” What focus!

Terry Eagleton has written well of Hitchens and his crowd in Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflection on the God Debate. Eagleton calls them “Ditchkins,” conflating the names of vocal atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. In the preface to his book, Eagleton asserts:

Most such critics buy their rejection of religion on the cheap . . . it is with this ignorance and prejudice that I take issue in this book. When it comes to the New Testament, at least, what they usually write off is a worthless caricature of the real thing . . .

. . . the agnostic left cannot afford such intellectual indolence when it comes to the Jewish and Christian scriptures . . . not only because it belongs to justice and honesty to confront your opponent at his or her most convincing [but also because] radicals might discover there are some valuable insights into human emancipation, in an era where the political left stands in dire need of good ideas.

Don’t mistake Eagleton’s indictment of “Ditchkins” as a precursor to a defense of Christian orthodoxy! But Eagleton’s view of his former colleague Hitchens succinctly summarizes Hitchens’ scowling, idea-free polemic against Christ’s Church and her earthly shepherd, Benedict XVI.

During this Holy Week, Heavenly Father,

O send forth your light and your truth;
let these be my guide.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain
to the place where You dwell.¹

¹  Psalm 43, Liturgy of the Hours, Tuesday Week II, Morning Prayer

Entering Holy Week 2010

In Christianity, Lent on March 28, 2010 at 3:23 am

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned Paul Claudel’s, A Poet Before the Cross.  For Holy Week 2010, I’m revisiting Claudel’s wonderful book as part of my Lenten practice.  I pray his meditations on the Cross will be a blessing to you.

In this post, let me quote from Wallace Fowlie’s introduction to Claudel’s volume. Fowlie translated A Poet Before the Cross from French into English.

He [Claudel] will pass beyond words and arguments and the complex arsenal of Biblical references.  (p. ix)

Biblically faithful brothers and sisters, this “beyond” is not a matter of emotion or incoherence.  Rather, Claudel’s objective, as Fowlie notes, is to prompt silence and prayer. We no longer think in terms of awe and wonder.  Perhaps we even think too seldom of true prayer.  We are so certain we have our doctrines right (I have my Protestant brothers, sisters, and family particularly in mind here), what need have we for awe and wonder?  Only this:  to prompt reverential worship and, ultimately, all consuming love.

The Word on the cross gives fulfillment to the words of the prophets.  This is Claudel’s belief . . . This poet’s faith, which is without secrets and without hesitations, is consubstantial with his life . . . The gigantic figure of the cross is a perpetual manifestation of the Host.  The poet looks upon it as the one dazzling sign which is able to pierce our blindness . . . Thanks to the cross, the universe is filled with a Presence, which give it its equilibrium, its meaning and its unity . . . The world ceases to be an enigma and becomes a text that can be read and understood.  (pp. xii-xiii)

Lent is Approaching

In Christianity, Lent on February 15, 2010 at 8:38 am

Lent begins on Wednesday, February 17. Although there are many—and more profound—perspectives on this sacred season (for example, Paul Claudel’s A Poet Before the Cross), here is a simple acrostic to help us prepare for Lent in the year 2010:

L: Longing for God.  Surely we must begin here!  Without that longing for God, our spiritual hunger and thirst, do we truly desire deeper conversion?  A more fervent interior life?  See Father Jay Scott Newman’s expansion on deeper conversion and ways to foster Christian fervency, here.

E: Energetic, earnest desire to please God.  Undergirding all practical expressions of our Lenten discipline, we must remember we are in relationship with Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us (Revelation 1:5, Titus 2:13-14).  Christianity is not a system or a propositional abstraction. Seek to please Him!

N: “Nothing is more important to me than You, O Lord.” Are we ready to say that? That is the motive, that is the motivation, behind anything we give up during Lent. We are not punishing ourselves or seeking to earn God’s favor. We are saying, “You gave your all for me, Lord. I can give up this for You in pursuit of greater self-mastery, with the goal of loving you more completely and serving you more faithfully.”

T: To all of this . . . add love!  “If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver up my body [to death], but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Let the love of Christ radiate through you to others! In most of our lives, that is far more difficult—and more needful—than giving up dessert for 40 days.

To all that you do during this Lenten season, add love . . . and live Christianity Richly!

Lenten Reading

In Christianity, Lent on March 31, 2009 at 3:46 pm

The Cross.  

“It . . . makes us no longer compatible with all passages and all openings,” writes Paul Claudel in A Poet Before the Cross.  Ah!  Our lives must change.  There are consequences of calling ourselves Christians.  Christ said to us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). 

Take up our crosses daily.  Why do you suppose, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this notion of bearing our crosses comes just before the glorious experience Peter, James, and John had with our Lord?  Witnesses to the Transfiguration!  God’s own voice from the cloud declaring, “This is my beloved Son; hear Him.”  This was a mountaintop spiritual experience—a time of joy and wonder!

Yet “it came to pass, on the next day, when they were come down from the hill” the lives of the disciples took a turn for the worse.  A man with a demon-possessed child approaches Christ and says, “I begged your disciples to cast it out but they could not” (Luke 9:37).  On the next day, when we return from a mountaintop experience, we find ourselves inadequate for the challenges of daily life.  On the next day, we are powerless to help those we want to assist; those we feel called to help.

But Claudel continues:  “Who knows [however] whether the Cross is not a bridge cut in advance to the exact measurement of that fissure we shall have to cross, just broad enough to pass from one bank to another?”  Now we see!  The Cross is not a burden. It is our salvation: a glorious bridge cut by our Savior to transverse the crevasse of sin between us and Him.  We were never adequate—not to save ourselves, not to help others, without Christ; without the Cross!

[The two quotations are a tiny part of Paul Claudel’s wonderful book, A Poet Before the Cross (Wallace Fowlie, translator. Published by Henry Regnery, Chicago, 1958).  The book is out of print.  Occasionally copies can be found by searching here.]

Lenten Tweets

In Christianity, Lent on March 28, 2009 at 4:35 pm

A selection of Lenten Tweets posted to Twitter:

  1. “Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, even use words.” (St. Francis). High standard. What does my life say without words?
  2. “Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.” (T.S. Eliot, “Ash Wednesday.” Suggested by A. Esolen, Magnificat)
  3. Finished reading Richard John Neuhaus’ short book, As I Lay Dying. Worth pondering our end, during Lent.
  4. The rhythm of the Church Year (Advent, Lent, etc.) is a gracious aid to spiritual growth.
  5. If the Church has nothing to say, then golf or NY Times are better uses of Sun a.m. On the other hand . . .
  6. May our Lenten resolves be as solid a stone Cathedral floor. Too often we are “carpet Christians.”
  7. The world is often written in minor keys. In eternity we shall enjoy the majors.