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.

Love like the Sun

Fra Angelico, Detail of the Crucifixion (ca.1437-46)

First Week of Lent, Saturday

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus’ description of the Father’s impartial love takes its inspiration from the sun and the rain— natural phenomena devoid of passion, and blind to merits and demerits. Divine love energizes all living beings regardless of their response to their Creator. Even the “enemies” of God exist because he continually sustains them in being. 

In the light of Christ’s merciful words on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), it becomes clear that his clashes with the scribes, Pharisees, and priests were manifestations of divine love. No malediction ever issued from his lips.

Do I not hate, Lord, those who hate you?
Those who rise against you, do I not loathe?
With fierce hatred I hate them,
enemies I count as my own.

Psalm 139:21-22

Jesus, the Son of David, knew and prayed the “cursing” Psalms in the Hebrew tradition, but showed by his life the ultimate end of the psalmist’s prayer. Christ drove all curses into himself on the Cross, assumed blame for human sin, and expired with benediction on his lips. 

The second Adam reversed the finger-pointing of the first couple in the garden of Eden who blamed the serpent, the woman, and ultimately God. Jesus, though blameless and innocent, assumed the punishment of the lawbreaker and transformed culpability into love. 

Pure, disinterested love desires the good of others without distinction, seeing all persons as one in Christ. St. Maximos the Confessor writes:

The one who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of dispassion knows no distinction between his own and another’s, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and freeman, or indeed between male and female. Having risen above the tyranny of the passions and looking to the one nature of man, he regards all equally and is equally disposed toward all. For him there is “neither Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free man, but Christ is everything in everything” (Gal 3:28).1

Sunrise and sunset,
Showers and snow
Fructify seedbed
Of friend and foe.

Both just and unjust
Are rolled from clay—
Divinely-breathed dust—
Pearl of God’s play.

God sees all children
As his own Son,
Victims and villains
On the Cross won.

-GMC


Reference

1 St. Maximos the Confessor, Chapters on Love II.30.

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.

The Mystery Begins to Be Revealed

“The Mystery Begins to Be Revealed”
A reflection on Mark 8:27-35
Sunday of the Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Related posts: Get Behind Me, Satan!, Whoever Finds His Life Will Lose It
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.” Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Mark 8:27-35

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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Get Behind Me, Satan!

“Get behind me, Satan!”
Matthew 16:21-23 in a couplet
Thursday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Matthew 16:13-23

The Cross and the Beatitudes

10th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year I)

2 Corinthians 1:1-7; Matthew 5:1-12

A single teardrop from God could wash away the sins of the world, but the Father gave his only-begotten Son to the last drop of blood.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Our “Father of compassion” (2 Corinthians 1:3) is moved like a mother in the depths of her womb for her children. The Greek word for compassion (oiktirmos) translates the Hebrew word rachamim (from racham) in the Greek Septuagint, which means womb, tender love, mercy, and pity.1 God the Father sent the Son of his Eternal Womb into the womb of the Virgin Mother and Earth for the love of the world.

Our Father is also the “God of all encouragement” or “comfort” (paraklésis), a word that evokes the Holy Spirit, Comforter, and Paraclete (paraklétos).

Our Father who sent his Son and Spirit into the world is indeed a God of compassion and comfort, taking humans by surprise. 

Why not a God of sophia (wisdom) in the heights of heaven, an object of pure contemplation beyond human reach and relationship, to satisfy the Greeks?

Why not a God of power and authority, who would overthrow the Romans and enthrone the triumphant Messiah, to satisfy the Jews?

The plan of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit upset both reason and religion in the course of human history (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). The sufferings of Christ shattered all human expectations. What are philosophers and worshippers to do with a crucified God?  

St. Paul considered the “scandal” and “foolishness” of the Cross to be his greatest treasure. What all humans avoid, the apostle embraced to “overflowing” (2 Corinthians 1:5). St. Paul found true wisdom and power in the self-negation of the Cross.

Jesus transformed the curse of suffering and death into the blessing of eternal life. The Beatitudes from his Sermon on the Mount, full of paradoxes, are a roadmap to the fullness of life in God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God. 
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12

The earthy God of the Cross and the Beatitudes shed tears and blood for us. Ever new and strange, the Gospel never ceases to challenge the human heart.

-GMC


Reference

1 An example of this Hebrew idea translated into Greek can be found in 1 Kings 8:50 (Hebrew, Greek).