Catholic Church: March 2006 Archives

The End of the Road


from The Way of the Cross with the Carmelite Saints
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

In the Passion and death of Christ our sins were consumed by fire. If we accept that in faith, and if we accept the whole Christ in faith-filled surrender, which means, however, that we choose and walk the path of the imitation of Christ, then He will lead us "through His Passion and cross to the glory of His Resurrection." This is exactly what is experienced in contemplation: passing through the expiatory flames to the bliss of the union of love. This explains its twofold character. It is death and resurrection.

What more is there to say. The culmination of a life of contemplation is a direct participation in the death and resurrection of the Lord. The passage through the Dark Night means death to the senses (which is not to say that one becomes an unanchored, floating, ethereal spirit) and ultimately leads to Union with God. Said Union is a union in both the Death of Christ, and so a Union on the way of the cross, which, by supporting our own burdens (always with the help of grace), we help to lift some of the burden to the cross itself, and in the Resurrection of the Lord, which is a resurrection into His eternal life while here on Earth. That is the meaning of Spiritual Union--actual participation in the Being of God while we live today--and I can't imagine a state more to be desired and yet which also summons up such great fear. And so the sum of my spiritual life is approach-avoidance. I look in on this wonderful spectacle and desire to participate, but innate fear (and of what I cannot say) keeps me back. Nevertheless, His grace is stronger than my fear, and so I trust myself to Him and know that eventually (I hope in this life) I will come to Him and be what He has made me to be.

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Salvation is of the Jews

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Once again I have had the dismal experience of exposure to antisemitism from people who should know better. The usual charges of deicide were leveled and "the Jews" were accused of committing this crime. Once again I pointed out that while some small fraction of the Jewish leadership was indeed complicit in the act, these were individual sins, not corporate sins. Once again I pointed to the fact that Jesus Himself was a Jew and accusing "the Jews" of deicide implicates Christ Himself (which would make Him a suicide), his mother, the apostles, the disciples, and all the faithful community of Jerusalem.

But I realize that I waste my breath. For some, the need to place blame and to shift the focus from our own complicity in the terrible act to the shoulders of another is too great. For people who are trapped in their own closed schema, only prayer is a sufficient remedy. They too often ignore the historic impact of the charges they level at "the Jews" and they seem to imply that there is no anti-semitism in this awkward and untoward charge. If anyone should be charged it is the Romans who actually performed the execution. Certainly some of the members of the Sanhedrin might be accomplices before the fact, but that isn't even all the leadership of the Pharisees, much less of the Jews as a whole.

Jesus was a Jew. Salvation came through the Jews. The Jews are the chosen people and remain precious to Him to this day. They are the wellspring of the Daystar and the Bright and Shining pool from which arose our Lord and Savior. To malign them as a group is to malign Him. To speak ill of them is to strike Him. May God have mercy on each person who knowingly or unknowingly utters once again the sentence of death on an innocent people.

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Elijah and Mary

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In the Carmelite tradition, Elijah and Mary are brought together most closely in the image of the cloud that forms over the sea.

1 Kings 18:42:45

[42] So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Eli'jah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees.
[43] And he said to his servant, "Go up now, look toward the sea." And he went up and looked, and said, "There is nothing." And he said, "Go again seven times."
[44] And at the seventh time he said, "Behold, a little cloud like a man's hand is rising out of the sea." And he said, "Go up, say to Ahab, `Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.'"
[45] And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel.

Verse 44 is the relevant verse, and how one gets the image of Mary from that, I do not know, except that when one understands it in the way of the Medieval Carmelites, it is a most beautiful metaphor.

Mary is the cloud that rises out of the sea. The sea is saltwater, undrinkable, a vast body of water, next to which the kingdom can still thirst and die. The sea is salty, impure, an image of fallen humanity with its admixture of sin. Mary rises out of this sea, pure and perfect, laden with the water of grace that will pour out through her to all humanity--not the source of Grace herself, nevertheless the container into which all is poured until it overflows out to all people, limitless, and life-giving. Not God, but human, Mary rises from the sea, pure and Immaculate in her conception, formed as a vessel of God's grace and a place of refuge for His people.

Mary may not have made her appearance in the Old Testament, but through years of meditating and contemplating the story of Elijah, the Carmelite monks and friars came to understand this passage in a Marian sense. In so doing, they enriched the understanding of Scripture and provided another key to its depths.

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La Madre's Way of the Cross


It should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with St. Teresa of Avila that her vision of the Cross is completely interpenetrated with love; not the Love of God for humanity, which she acknowledges and exalts, but the love of the person for Christ and His Cross. This is an interesting perspective and one that may help shed some light on the question of "taking up our crosses."

The Way of the Cross with the Carmelite Saints St. Teresa of Avila

They are too attached to their honor. . . . These souls, for the most part, grieve over anything said against them. They do not embrace the cross but drag it along, and so it hurts and wearies them and breaks them to pieces. However, if the cross is loved, it is easy to bear, this is certain.

For St. Teresa of Avila, love is the measure of all things. Everything that a person does is measured by the love lavished on it. When someone loves to do carpentry, the shelves, cabinets, and woodwork of his (or her) house shows the attention given to detail. When a person loves to cook, the meals prepared show the investment of time and love.

Most people's embrace of the cross is summed up in the word endurance. The cross is not to be loved, or even to be examined, and only just barely is it to be borne, and then, often, only with ill grace. What the Saint says here is that whatever makes up the cross for a person needs not merely be borne and dragged along--in this there is mere destruction. But it must be loved, loved as the present it is from the God who gives it. While wearing braces, a person does not love them, but afterwards, for years of straight teeth and good service, the love of them grows. Leg braces are nothing great to wear, causing the owner pain and humiliation, but without them there is no motion of one's own.

The cross is a gift from God. The crosses a person is called upon to bear are to right the irregularities in that person's spirit, to repair the flaws of original sin, and to make that person a perfect vessel of grace. It's hard to love what hurts, but when what hurts leads to perfection, a person can do it. It often hurts to lift weights, to jog, or to engage in other such activities--but because of the benefits that accrue to these activities many people do them, and many people "love" them. If so for things that help make better the life of this world, then how much more so for things that help make better life now and in the world beyond?

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Catholic Church category from March 2006.

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