Tag Archives: Cross

The Easter Tree

san clemente copy

The Cross  flowers at Easter time. There’s a flowering cross brimming with life  in the great apse of the church of San Clemente in Rome. Doves rest on it;  its branches swirl with the gifts God gives. It brings life, not death. Humanity is there, signified in Mary and the disciple John,  creation itself is there, drawing new life  from it. The hand of God makes it so.

The mystery of the sacraments offered in this sacred place brings its life-giving graces to us.

An early preacher Theodore the Studite  praises the mystery of the cross:.

“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.

“This was the tree on which Christ, like a king on a chariot, destroyed the devil, the Lord of death, and freed the human race from his tyranny. This was the tree upon which the Lord, like a brave warrior wounded in his hands, feet and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature. A tree once caused our death, but now a tree brings life. Once deceived by a tree, we have now repelled the cunning serpent by a tree.

“What an astonishing transformation! That death should become life, that decay should become immortality, that shame should become glory! Well might the holy Apostle exclaim: Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world!”

San Clemente, Rome

See Children’s Prayers here for a children’s version of the Easter Tree.

Cyril of Jerusalem: The Power of the Cross

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386), whose feast is celebrated March 18th, was bishop of Jerusalem when the Holy Land was a center for Christian pilgrims. Scholars, like St. Jerome and St. Paula, came to pray and study at the places where Jesus was born and died and rose again.

The church in Jerusalem influenced liturgical, catechetical and devotional life in churches throughout the world. The Stations of the Cross originated here. Cyril’s honored as a Doctor of the Church.

Cyril preached and celebrated the liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built by the Emperor Constantine over the tomb of Jesus and calvary where he died. It still stands there today. 

Here’s an excerpt from one of his catechetical sermons, preached in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, near where the relic of the cross and the tomb of Jesus were honored.

“The Catholic Church glories in every deed of Christ. Her supreme glory, however, is the cross. Well aware of this, Paul says: God forbid that I glory in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!

“At Siloam, there was a sense of wonder, and rightly so: a man born blind recovered his sight. But of what importance is this, when there are so many blind people in the world? Lazarus rose from the dead, but even this affected only Lazarus: what of those countless numbers who have died because of their sins? Those miraculous loaves fed five thousand people; yet this is a small number compared to those all over the world who were starved by ignorance. After eighteen years a woman was freed from the bondage of Satan; but are we not all shackled by the chains of our own sins?

“For us all, however, the cross is the crown of victory. It has brought light to those blinded by ignorance. It has released those enslaved by sin. Indeed, it has redeemed the whole of mankind!”

The relic of the cross honored by Cyril in this church was not just a grim reminder of the suffering of Jesus; it was bathed in the glorious memory  of Jesus’ resurrection celebrated close by in his empty tomb.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

For Morning and Evening Prayers today, 4th week.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Lent 1


Today’s Readings

Then Jesus said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Jesus offers a blunt challenge in this reading from Luke’s gospel;  a challenge to his disciples then and to us now. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” In fact, he speaks to all.

No one escapes the cross. It’s there each day.  It may not look  like the stark cross Jesus received from the hands of the chief priests, the elders and the scribes in Jerusalem, but it’s there all the same. We may not see it because it’s so much a part of  life, but if we look closely our cross is there.

Actually, taking up our cross is a way of choosing life, which Moses urges in our first reading today, choosing not some “good” life, or idealized life, but life as it is. It means accepting life gratefully, fully, without resentfulness. If we listen to Moses in today’s first reading, choosing life affects not only ourselves but others too. Listen to him:

I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God,
heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.

A traditional Christian practice to begin the day is to make the Sign of the Cross. We do it to remind ourselves of the daily cross we bear and remember we do not bear it alone. God helps us bear whatever life brings each day. Christ bears it with us as he promised. Let’s remember this basic Christian practice in lent.

St. Paul of the Cross once wrote a letter to Teresa, a woman overwhelmed by life.  What shall I do? she said. Paul urges her to let God’s Will decide for her what to do. He wanted people to find their cross and embrace it. It’s there before us.

“Teresa, listen to me and do what I’m telling you to do in the Name of the Lord. Do all you can to be resigned to the Will of God in all the sufferings that God permits, in your tiredness and in all the work you have to do. Keep your heart at peace and be recollected; don’t get upset by things. If you can go to church, go; if you can’t, stay home quietly; just do the Will of God in the work you have at hand.” (Letter 1135)

Bless me, Lord,
and help me take up the cross
that’s mine today,
though it may not seem like a cross at all. Let me do it gratefully.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Acquinas

The feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, January 28th, in my student days was a day for presentations honoring the saint. The presentations were not about the saint’s life but his wisdom. Thomas Aquinas was a great theologian dedicated to the search for truth.

He was a man of faith, searching for understanding. That’s the definition of theology–faith seeking understanding, an understanding that draws us closer to God and helps us know God, the source of all truth.

He was a man of questions, who approached great mysteries through questions. That’s the way St. Thomas begins a sermon he once preached, found today in the Office of Readings for his feast:

 “Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us?” he asks as he looks at the Cross of Jesus. The passion of Jesus was necessary, the saint says, for two reasons. First, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.

Interestingly, the saint doesn’t spend much time asking why it’s a remedy for sin. He’s more interested in the passion of Jesus as an example for us. To live as we should, we need to look at Jesus on the cross, an example of every virtue:

“Do you want an example of love? ‘Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ That’s what Jesus did on the cross. If he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.

“If you want patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid.

“Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.

“If you want an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.

“If you want an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.

“If you want an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.

“Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

St. Thomas’ great theological work, the Summa Theologica can be found here.

Friday Thoughts: Being qua Being


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Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.

—Matthew 6:28


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Does a flower make pronouncements? Does it define itself? Does it box itself in with titles, names, and distinctions?

And yet, “not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:29)

———

A flower simply exists.

And its existence glorifies God.

There is no need for it to do more.

By its very existence it magnifies what cannot be further magnified: God’s Presence, God’s Glory, God’s Beauty…

———

“I’m a flower.”

“I’m a rose.”

“Look at me!”

Statements such as these we shall never hear.

Flowers are divinely indifferent to the world’s definitions and distinctions, to its approval and applause.

After all, it’s a person who receives the medal at an orchid show, and not the flower herself. No, her finely-placed petals would only be weighed down by such metallic-based ribbons.

What a gift it is to simply exist.

———

Flowers don’t cling to seasonal life.

When it’s time to go, they gracefully drop their heads and lose their pedals.

Never has there existed a man as poor as a flower.

Never has mankind so possessed the richness of fleeting, transitory, and momentary life.

It’s their genius to instinctively believe that death leads to new abundant life.

———

Flowers graciously receive:

Ladybugs, drops of dew. Beams of light, the relief of shade.

Flowers give and receive as if not a single thing has ever been made by man.

They welcome sun as well as rain.

They never cry over fallen fruit or a stolen piece of pollen.

They quietly applaud instead, rejoicing that their little ones have the opportunity to travel abroad—perhaps even the chance to help nurture a neighbor.

———

A flower, perhaps most of all, knows it place.

It never wishes to be bigger or thinner…greener or higher…it never dreams of being more like a tree.

A flower’s blessing is simplicity beyond you and me.

———

Christ is a flower.

He is the one true perfect eternal flower, through whom all other flowers partake, toward whom all other flowers reach.

Christ is a flower. His ways are not our own. He simply exists. Bowing His head. Dropping pedals. Feeding hungry bees. Giving and receiving. His identity is crucified—leaving nothing behind but being “qua” being.


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If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

—Matthew 6:30


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—Howard Hain
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(Dedicated to Brother Jim, a man who knew how to simply exist.)

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From Miracles to the Cross

Jesus Heals the Paralytic, Mosaic at the Sant’Apollinare Nuovo – Ravenna. © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0

13th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Amos 7:10-17; Matthew 9:1-8

The paralytic and his friends in the Gospels show us that we are never alone in our journey of faith. Together with our fellow pilgrims, we carry one another on a stretcher to Jesus. Hidden prayers are rising like incense from unknown caves and crannies throughout the world in the bosom of the Father. Mary, the saints and the angels also surround us by their love.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.”

Spiritual healing accompanied bodily healing; Jesus first reconciled the infirm man to God as God, healing the primordial wound. Hearts blind to divine realities saw only a man in Jesus, and thus charged him with megalomania.

At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He rose and went home. 

For Jesus, forgiving and healing proceeded from the same source; neither was “easier.” But empirical humanity rarely rouses from its spiritual slumber without a dazzling display of power or a dramatic crisis: When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to men.

Yet power and crises have limited long-term effect. The miracles of Jesus and the warnings of the prophets did not bring about lasting conversion or prevent their murders. Something deeper needed to be effected in the hearts of persons beyond sight and hearing. 

Those who mocked Jesus at the foot of the Cross challenged him, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross, that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32). If Jesus had come down with power and might, he would have surrendered to his taunters and shown true weakness. Giving up his life out of love was paradoxically real, divine strength: “the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

The ego is a hard nut to crack. A snapshot of Amos and Amaziah, and Jesus and the scribes, show God knocking on the shell of the “hard hearted” and the “stiff-necked,” and trying to enter their hearts. Miracles and words fell like rain on the shell, but did not penetrate to the interior spirit. The Cross alone cracked the ego and broke down the dam that let the “rivers of living water” flow in.

-GMC

Letting Go

Our Lady of Guadalupe

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Matthew 10:37-42

Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The way of the Cross is paved with losses one after the other. In searching for the pearl of great price, illusion after illusion peels away until we arrive at the dimensionless core: nada. We brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it (Job 1:21). 

Losing our life to find it is essentially giving up what was never ours to begin with. Not a breath or a heartbeat is our own achievement. We are, at bottom, ex nihilo—created out of nothing. At the border between being and non-being the mind disappears into a cloud of unknowing and can see no further, as Ultimate Reality lies beyond the dyad of thinker and thought. 

If the possessive pronoun “mine” is really an illusion, we are simply stewards of time, life, relationships and circumstances. Each person is dealt a certain set of cards to be played in a limited space of time. 

We did not choose our parents, culture, epoch, blood type, height, race, gender, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Our individual selves in this world are fragments of Adam, borrowed elements for the exercise of our personal freedom in this journey to our eternal Source. Returning in Christ to the Father, we become whole and distinct persons, possessing in common the union of all fragments as our own Body. What is possessed by all is possessed by none. “All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10).

Familial ties belong to our fragmented, biological condition. Persons transcend and encompass all tribes, cultures, nations and tongues. Even the biological role of the Blessed Virgin Mary was  provisional and limited to her earthly sojourn. In communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Mary is an indescribably glorious person transcending the root of Jesse and the Davidic line. 

To the woman who said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” Jesus responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27) In no way was Jesus diminishing the role of Mary—the Theotokos was the exemplar of all those who “hear the word of God and keep it”—but her physical motherhood was put into perspective. Neither Jesus nor Mary are Jews in heaven, but persons transcending all cultures. From Our Lady of Guadalupe to Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of Fatima to the Black Madonna, Mary is Mother to all nations and races.

Apparitions to humankind necessarily use forms and names in order to reach our limited mode of knowing. Communion in the Trinity transcends the dyad of motherhood and fatherhood, but we are like children being gathered into the bosom of the Father. 

Divine love gives parents, children, siblings and friends the freedom to follow Christ wherever he wants to lead them. Clinging to our loved ones and boxing them in to satisfy our own needs is against reality. A child born into the world is not ours, but the Father’s. By letting go, we flow with the grace of the Holy Spirit through Christ to the Father.

Spiritual motherhood and fatherhood are universal: we may offer a “cup of cold water” to Christ’s “little ones” anytime, anywhere, opening our hearts to the family without boundaries.

-GMC

Of Gates and Pearls

Gate of the Mary Garden at the Passionist Monastery in Jamaica, NY

12th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

Matthew 7:6, 12-14

Ever since the gates of Eden closed, the children of Adam have been searching for the tree of life from every corner of the earth. The world was not abandoned to utter darkness, however; the “true light that enlightens every man… was in the world,” though dimly (John 1:9-10). Whatever is true, good and beautiful in every pre-Christian philosophy was a glimpse of that Light shining in the darkness. The intricate design of micro and macro galaxies in the universe sing the praises of the Creator.

The Light shines as through a peephole in a vast, dark room… the “narrow gate” of which Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount. Even after the Light “came to his own home… his own people received him not” (John 1:11). Few find the Cross palatable.

The ego-destroying seed of the Cross does not germinate easily. Sometimes scattered seeds are devoured immediately by birds. Other times, they fall on rocky or thorny soil and have difficulty taking root (Matthew 13:4-7). Jesus warned the disciples to discern the time, place, and condition of hearts before throwing their pearls lest they are trampled underfoot.

Between these two teachings about the narrow gate and the pearls, Jesus inserted the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the Prophets.” He who embodied the law of love perfectly, who was the narrow gate and the pearl, was finally trampled but not defeated. His life is our pattern: if we die with Christ, we will also live with him (Romans 6:8).

Mary, the Theotokos, wants to lead us safely by the hand through the narrow gate. She is our Mother.

-GMC

The Lodestar

Carthusian motto: Stat Crux Dum Volvitur Orbis

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Jeremiah 20:10-13, Romans 5:12-15, Matthew 10:26-33

“Fear no one.”

Jeremiah stood alone in his views and was hated. The truth is unpopular but necessary like oxygen. 

On the Cross, Jesus was deprived of earthly oxygen by asphyxiation, but when his mission was completed, he filled our humanity with the eternal oxygen of the Spirit of truth.

We need to access that Spirit in whose fire we were baptized. We need to truly live and breathe by dying with Christ. The Cross is still standing, not far away in Golgotha, but within our own hearts. 

Stat crux dum volvitur orbis (The Cross stands still as the world is spinning). This motto of the Carthusian monks can help us face fear and uncertainty, for fear is like a spinning tornado. The Cross is like the eye of a tornado, which is “as still as death,” according to an eyewitness (Will Keller from Greensburg, Kansas).

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).

Silent, hidden prayer, like that of Mary standing at the foot of the Cross (Stabat Mater), unites us with Jesus, who takes us to the Father in the Spirit. Christ is the still and radiant Lodestar within and beyond the cosmos to which everything looks for its fulfillment.

This haiku poem distills the essence of living in union with the Stat Crux within:

Hidden Prayer

Silent, hidden force
Lures all things to the Lodestar,
Aligned with the Source.

-GMC

Beyond Contradiction

10th week in Ordinary Time, Friday

1 Kings 19:9-16, Psalm 27, Matthew 5:27-32

After a long, thunderous showdown with the prophets of Baal, ending with their destruction, Elijah was a prophet on the run from the wrath of Jezebel. The Lord listened to his complaints under a broom tree, fed him, and strengthened him for a long journey on foot to Mount Horeb. Alone and in silence during his forty day trek, Elijah had a lot of time to reflect on the events that had just taken place. 

He apparently received no directive to hide out in the cave because the Lord asked him, “Why are you here, Elijah?” 

He answered: “I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.”

No mention was made of the killing of the prophets of Baal. Elijah’s zeal was interrupted by an unusual theophany:

Then the Lord said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.

Theophanies to Moses on the same mountain involved thunder, lightning and fire. The same God came to Elijah in a gentle whisper. Is this a contradiction?

God is beyond contradictions and paradoxes. The Trinity is infinite and incomprehensible. Yet the infinite took form in finite flesh. The God of thunder and lightning began to be in the womb of a Virgin as a helpless embryo. The God of the silent sound denounced hypocrites. The Word made flesh spoke in figures about the unspeakable.

God cannot be put into a box. Not even the finite form of Christ remained in its earthly state in perpetuity. The destruction of his body released the Triple Light that opened the way for a transfigured humanity. 

All the violence and passion of Adam and his progeny were given free rein to strike God on the Cross. The innocent Lamb called us to wholeness and singleness of eye. Dramatic language about discarding an eye or a hand that causes sin underscores the nothingness of earthly attachments compared with the transfigured life for which we are made. The Triple Glory of the Transfiguration and the Cross is the apex to which a person of single (spiritual) eye is fixed.

“Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me” (Psalm 27:8b-9a).

-GMC