Tag Archives: love

Before the Foundation of the World

“Before the Foundation of the World”
A reflection on John 17:20-26 and Ephesians 1:3-6
Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year C)
©️2022 by Gloria M. Chang

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Invincible Love

Christ Before Pilate, Duccio, 1308-1311

Good Friday

John 18-19

There is no greater proof that Jesus is the Son of God than his love for his enemies. In the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested, Peter’s swift reaction in cutting off the right ear of the high priest’s slave captured the all-too-human impulse toward retaliation. Jesus responded with the strength and power of God: “Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” (John 18:11)

Strength and power are not ideas the world associates with suffering and torture at the hands of enemies. Mighty and fearful displays, such as when the earth swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram seem to demonstrate divine power more convincingly (Numbers 16:31-33).

The Son of God, in assuming flesh, accelerated human spiritual maturity to its zenith. Jesus answered Pilate’s questions with such calm assurance that the latter marveled. When Jesus’ accusers claimed that the Nazarene had to die “because he made himself the Son of God,” Pilate “became afraid” (John 19:7). He was a man immersed in political and earthly affairs. Talk of God or gods belonged to the mystifying realm of religion and the numinous. 

Pilate’s first question after that strange accusation was, “Where are you from?” (John 19:9) If Jesus was the Son of God, he would reveal an otherworldly origin. Roman mythology was pervasive enough to make Pilate afraid of spiritual forces beyond human control.

Jesus was silent, so Pilate attempted to assert and define his power over the mysterious defendant.

So Pilate said to him, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?”

John 19:10

If Jesus was a mere man, he would do everything possible to gain release. He would fear Pilate’s power like all the other criminals who have stood trial before him. Jesus’ answer took Pilate by surprise.

“You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”

John 19:11

Pilate was stripped of power before this bloodied man wearing a crown of thorns and a purple cloak. Divine tranquility and unshakable dominion emanated from his whole being. 

Without comprehending Jesus’ words, Pilate instinctively knew he was innocent and tried to release him. But he was caught between Truth and Politics.

The mob saw they were not getting their way, so they played their trump card: Caesar. 

“If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

John 19:12

All sense of justice and right drained away at this threat to Pilate’s own position and security. He would not save Jesus at his own expense, despite his wife’s warning (Matthew 27:19). 

The whole world sought to preserve its own dominion and power by crucifying “The King of the Jews,” as the Hebrew, Latin, and Greek inscriptions on the cross mocked. Jesus, who bent low to wash the feet of his disciples the night before, poured forth invincible power and might by his mercy and forgiveness. Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, Jews and Gentiles—the world—came under his merciful wing.

Love is stronger than death, and cannot lay buried in the ground for long. On the third day, Love Incarnate rose from the grave to live and reign forever and ever.

-GMC

Mary’s Mother

by Howard Hain

durer

Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519 (The Met)

Christmas is a time for grandmothers.

They bake and cook and decorate. Their homes become mini North Poles, diplomatic outposts of Santa’s Castle.

At its core, Christmas is of course all about Jesus. All about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. All about the Holy Family.

The Holy Family is an extended family though. And it doesn’t stop at grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, or even cousins and distant cousins.

Just ask Saints Joachim and Anne, Zechariah and Elizabeth, or John the Baptist—not to mention all the unknown relatives whom the child Jesus surely encountered throughout His Galilean days. Ask any one of them about the far-reaching ripple effects of family grace.

Those touched by Jesus have a tendency to appear bigger than life.

Look at Santa Claus.

Most of us are aware that he is really Saint Nick.

But do we stop to wonder who Mrs. Claus really is?

I think she’s Saint Anne.

After all, Mrs. Claus is seen as everyone’s grandmother, especially when it comes to holiday cheer. But when it comes to truly celebrating the birth of Jesus, it is through Saint Anne that we approach the gates of Christ’s Nativity.

Mary’s Mother holds a special key. She is first among grandmas, first among those who pinch chubby cheeks, who pass along one more extra sugary treat.

———

Saint Anne help us. Speak to us. Show us how to be grand parents to all those around us, especially the little ones. Stir up the spirit of Advent. Bake away the holiday blues. Cook up a dish of Christmas love that only your hearth can serve.

———

Come one, come all, to the home of Saint Anne. Come with me to Grandma’s house for a holiday visit. Taste and see. Enter her kitchen, where the hot chocolate can always fit a little more whipped cream, where you hear the constant refrain: “eat…eat…eat…”

At Grandma’s your plate is never empty.

Her table is continually set.

She always sees Jesus as having just been born.

She is always wrapping Him up tightly in swaddling clothes.

It is simply grand.

To Grandma, Jesus is always an innocent child.

And she can’t help but see Him deep within both you and me.


(Dec/21/2017)

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com


Web Link: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519

 

Morning Thoughts: Little Drummer Boys and Girls

by Howard Hain

Yesterday I witnessed a “dress” rehearsal for a live nativity. The cast was made up of first and second graders, and the audience was mostly composed of residents of a retirement home for religious sisters, Franciscans. It was spectacular.

Last week I was at Radio City Music Hall to watch the Rockettes in their “Christmas Spectacular”. It was quite a production.

Sitting in the dark this morning I cannot help but contrast the two.

I also cannot help but relate to the seven-year old who played the part of The Little Drummer Boy.

As that child walked so slowly toward the foot of the altar, where the rehearsal was being staged, I saw my vocation in an entirely different light.

The children were all singing their hearts out, and many of the eighty and ninety year-old sisters were mouthing the words. The boy with the drum didn’t utter a sound. He just kept walking, slowly, extremely slowly toward the altar, every once in a while ever so slightly pretending to tap two tiny sticks upon a toy drum. He was beautifully awkward.

There was no greater spectacle on earth at that very moment. Shall I dare to say, no greater event that heaven or earth has ever known?

For a child was born. We were all being born.


Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.*


.

.*(Little Drummer Boy was composed by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1958.)

 

Broken Baby Jesus

by Howard Hain

(Note: This post was originally published on December 24, 2011.)

broken-baby-christ-2-1


We have not put up a tree in years.

For nearly a decade we have been moving—no longer than two years in any one house and no less than ten different not-so-humble abodes. Between and during the moves we were very much engaged with the world. A seemingly endless movable beast.

This December marks one year in our current house. I am happy to say it is our home. The Lord has blessed us with great peace. And with that peace comes a tree. A simple, well-shaped tree. Fittingly, a dear friend offered it to us as a gift.

Francesca could not be more ready to be initiated into the act of trimming. Before the tree arrived, her two-year-old fingers pointed out every tree, artificial or real, that graced the pages of a holiday flyer or the commercial floor of a Rite Aid or Dollar Store.

Up the stairs came the evergreen, into the old stand that has been in storage since my father last used it several decades ago. I cut off the mesh and out popped the branches.

We hung the lights and old glass ornaments that my mother-in-law washed a few days before.

The main attraction for Francesca was the Nativity.

Not since St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first Nativity in Greccio in 1223, has there been such admiration for each and every witness who Our Lord assembled to adore His Son that first Christmas two millennia ago. Francesca kissed and hugged every shepherd, sheep, donkey, angel, and king. Most of all she adored the Holy family, calling Mary and Joseph, Ma-ma and Da-da, respectively. And Jesus, He was simply called: “ba-be.”

She carried them around the apartment. I did not want to ruin her fun, but they are ceramic. I explained a few times to be very careful.

“Gentle, Francesca…gentle…”, I harked a host of times.

Boom. To the wood floor went the shepherd. Amazing, grace held him intact. I took that as a great sign to put an end to her carrying the animals, angels and representatives of mankind.

I was fixing my coffee when I turned to see Francesca with Baby Jesus in her tiny hands. But He is so small, so tiny, what harm could come from holding Him? So I let her get away with carrying the Savior.

As I stirred my spoon Christ crashed to the floor, the tile floor. Francesca immediately looked at me, as if expecting all hell to break loose. I think I sighed but that was about all. It is Christmas, right? And it is, after all, only a ceramic figure purchased at Target.

After assuring Francesca not to worry and guiding her toward a few coloring books in the living room, I bent down to retrieve the broken Christ.

———

St. Francis was told by a Crucifix in an old abandoned chapel: “Restore my Church.”

In my small one-bedroom apartment, I found Baby Christ, broken into exactly three: The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs.

“Restore the Trinity,” was spoken to me.

———

For half of my forty years I can honestly say I have tried to pursue Truth, wherever it lie. In philosophy, in scripture, in literature, in art, in nature, in history…

Now, the entire Gospel of Christ lie naked on my kitchen floor.

We separate, we distinguish, we categorize, we breakdown. The Fall of Adam was a fall into denomination.

Christ’s body is One. His Church cannot be broken. Only mere men can get things so wrong.

I think of the great “Angelic Doctor” of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, who after spending a lifetime in unparalleled pursuit of human understanding, said after glimpsing a vision of what Our Lord has in store for those who love God:

“All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.”

Yes… “straw”…my brother Thomas…merely straw. Straw that lines the manger within which Our Savior is laid bare.

———

It is tradition to leave the crib empty until Christmas morning. Only then do we place the figurative baby Jesus into the scene, after all until that moment he was not yet brought forth from Mother Mary’s womb.

This Christmas morning I will glue together a Broken Baby Christ. The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs will again be One.

Like the world after the birth of Christ, I will never be the same.

For what has now been revealed to me, no fall can break apart.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

 

The Yet Empty Stable

by Howard Hain

There’s a little stable not too far from here.

It sits in a church that has seen better days.

The parish is poor and the people seem to disappear.

But a few persistent peasants won’t stay away.

I love it there.

The priest is wonderfully uncertain.

He is afraid of God.

He instinctively bows his head at the mention of the name.

He knows how little he is in front of the great star.

I imagine he was involved in setting the stable.

It is a good size, on the relative little-stable scale.

It is surrounded by ever-green branches.

Probably snipped from the few Douglas Firs placed around the altar and yet to be trimmed.

The stable itself is composed of wood.

A little wooden railing crosses half the front.

A single string of clear lights threads through the branches laid upon the miniature roof.

They are yet to be lit.

I love it there.

I kneel before the empty scene.

For as of yet, not a creature or prop is present.

Not an ox or a goat, not a piece of hay or plank of fencing.

Not even a feeding trough that is to be turned into a crib.

No visible sign of Joseph and Mary, nor a distant “hee-haw” of a very tired donkey.

I wonder if I could get involved.

Perhaps I could slip into the scene.

There’s a darkened corner on the lower left.

In the back, against the wall.

I could hide myself within the stable.

Before anyone else arrives.

I don’t think they would mind.

I’d only be there to adore.

To pay homage to the new born king.

I might even help keep the animals in line.

Yes, a stagehand, that’s what I can be!

I know there’s no curtain to pull.

That’s to be torn in a much later scene.

But to watch the Incarnation unfold from within!

That’s what I dream.

To see each player take his and her place.

To see the great light locate the babe.

To watch the kings and shepherds stumble onto the scene.

Hark! To hear the herald angels sing!

O the joy of being a simple farmhand.

Of being in the right place at always the right time.

Of course though I wouldn’t be alone.

In that darkened corner, also awaiting the entire affair, there are many others.

Most I don’t know by name.

Too many in fact to even count.

But a few I know for sure.

For certain, present are those few persistent peasants who won’t stay away.

And of course there’s that wonderful anonymous parish priest.

The one who helped set into place this yet empty but very expectant stable.

The one whose fear of God is so clearly the beginning of wisdom.


(Dec/16/2016)

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Morning Thoughts: She Planted The Sun


.

There once was a little girl who loved to write “love”.

Over and over she wrote the lovely word.

Straight. Crooked. Curved. Upside down.

“Love”, “Love”, “Love”…

She drew hearts and placed all around.

And in a corner she planted the sun.

Day after day she pecked away.

A little hen marking the ground where she play.

All kinds of chicks came to stay.

She lined her dolls in pretty little rows.

A beauty pageant, all kinds of hair.

Straight. Curly. Blond. Brown.

She loved them all.

Did she favor?

She rotated each day.

She knew who needed extra care.

Though all to be happy.

That the only rule.

No room in her garden for overcast days.

And how her family grew.

She had, my God, so many to attend!

Amazing she could even keep track.

Yet each tiny doll held a special place.

She simply made room.

A little girl who loved to write “love”.

Over and over she wrote the lovely word.

Straight. Crooked. Curved. Upside down.

“Love”, “Love”, “Love”…

She drew hearts and placed all around.

And in a corner she planted the sun.

———

Miriam…Marie…Maria…

Mary…

I guess it depends on the day.

Accent. Pronunciation. Spelling.

Even eye color may change.

But it’s always the same little girl.

Age to age.

Place to place.

The same little girl

Helping save the human race.

The same little girl

In the fullness of time

Forever known:

Full of Grace


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—Howard Hain

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Hummingbird and Passionflowers

by Howard Hain

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Martin Johnson Heade, “Hummingbird and Passionflowers” (ca. 1875-85) (The Met)

The delicate little bird that resides within each of us.

It hops to and fro. It stands startlingly still.

Very often we are the very ones who chase it away.

But it doesn’t fly far.

Just to the closest branch, that’s just beyond our reach.

And it looks back at us, as if to ask, “Why are you afraid?”

The tiny head of a tiny bird, slightly cocked to the side—a question mark floats from its beak.

It longs to return, to live within us, to build a nest, to raise its young.

But it doesn’t rush back.

No, it waits.

It waits for us to ask for it to return.

It’s a patient creature, that tiny bird.

One may be tempted to say it’s not very smart, but that’s not it at all.

It’s simple. It’s holy. It knows who it is. It’s not afraid of the fall.


Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father.


Web Link: The Met Museum. Martin Johnson Heade, “Hummingbird and Passionflowers” (ca. 1875-85)

Saturday, First Week of Lent: Loving Enemies

Lent 1

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘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.” (Matthew 5: 43-48) 

When people talk about love today,  they’re usually focused on romantic love, “falling in love”, or loving yourself. Not much talk about loving others or loving your enemies today.

 “Love your enemies”, Jesus says in today’s gospel. Have a love that imitates God’s love,  our heavenly Father “who makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

Is that love beyond us?

We’ve been told from earliest years that there are some people you can’t trust; they’ll take advantage of you; they’ll harm you. You have enemies in this world. Be careful.

Certainly Jesus doesn’t condemn reasonable caution. He had enemies too and he was careful what he said and how he dealt with them. Evil exists. Rather, Jesus warns against  a pessimism that leads us to condemn someone or some groups absolutely. We see no possible goodness or possible change in them, only intractable evil.

We don’t see as God sees when we think like that. The sun of God’s goodness shines on this world; the rain of his mercy softens its hardest places. His love changes people for the good.

We can’t just reason our way to a love of enemies, we must pray to grow in this love.  Jesus not only taught us, but showed us by his own example how to love our enemies. Look at him in his Passion, says St. Aelred:

“Listen to his wonderful prayer, so full of warmth, of love, of unshakeable serenity – Father, forgive them.  Is any gentleness, any love, lacking in this prayer?
 
  Yet he put into it something more. It was not enough to pray for them: he wanted also to make excuses for them. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. They are great sinners, yes, but they have little judgement; therefore, Father, forgive them.
 
They are nailing me to the cross, but they do not know who it is that they are nailing to the cross: if they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; therefore, Father, forgive them.
 
They think it is a lawbreaker, an impostor claiming to be God, a seducer of the people. I have hidden my face from them, and they do not recognise my glory; therefore, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
 

Teach us, Lord, a love like yours,
that never gives up or draw limits,
or settles for those in its small circle.
Help us to love like the sun and the rain
that reach everywhere.

Drinking Poison

Thursday after Ash Wednesday 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 9:22-25

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

Genesis 2:15 (Revised Standard Version)

Adam, priest and king of the Lord’s garden sanctuary, had the duty “to till it and keep it.” 

The Hebrew word for “keep” (shamar) appears throughout God’s treaty with Israel: they are to “keep” the Sabbath, commandments, festivals, and covenant. 

Adam had only one law to “keep” in the garden of Eden:1 

You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.

Genesis 2:16

The law was a matter of life and good, death and evil. Keeping the law proved Adam’s love, trust, and obedience. Preserving the law, Adam “walked” with God.

Like a father to his children, Moses gave the law to Israel:

See, I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the Lord, your God, and walking in his ways, and keeping (shamar) his commandments, statutes and ordinances, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. If, however, your heart turns away and you do not obey, but are led astray and bow down to other gods and serve them, I tell you today that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: 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, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the Lord swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Law and love are one in the heart of God. Keeping the law is union with God. Christ is the Law and Love Incarnate. 

Christ’s obedience on the Cross, the tree of life, reversed the disobedience of the first Adam before the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The sinless Christ swallowed death and evil, but not without a struggle.

“Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”

Mark 14:36

“Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

Mark 10:38

The poisoned drink that killed Christ’s mortal body transmuted into living wine by drowning in his divinity.

St. Paul, zealous keeper of the Mosaic covenant, had to be blinded and knocked to his spiritual senses before proclaiming in wonder:

For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.

Philippians 1:21

Walking the line between life and death is a fearful thing for mortals, but Jesus walked right into the black hole of death and evil and emerged into the Light immortal and transfigured. Jesus set us free from the enslaving fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). 

The divine strategy was as incomprehensible in Jesus’ day as it is in ours:

He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. ”Then he 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. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?

Luke 9:22-25

Christ forfeited everything to God and won heaven and the whole world.
On the Cross, losers are winners.

Christ
Rose
Obedient 
Smashing
Sin 

-GMC

1 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Second Oration on Easter 8: “[God gave Adam] a law as a material for his free will to act on. This law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of and which one he might not touch.” From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 62.

According to Aphraates, a 4th century Syrian ascetic and bishop in the patristic tradition: “He established a new law for Adam, that he could not eat of the tree of life.” See the Liturgy of the Hours, First Week of Lent, Wednesday, Office of Readings.