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A very merry and blessed Christmas to one and all!

What a marvelous, joyous, and wonderful season begins today on this feast of the Nativity of the Lord.  How fortunate we are if we know anything of the meaning and power of this holy day.

The name Christmas–assuming it is used at all and not displaced by the vague and generic “holidays”–has largely been stripped of that meaning and power.  What our society commonly refers to as “Christmas” has become a season which now begins even before Halloween and mostly involves spending money and decorating things.  Many people in our society will be giving one last Christmas hurrah tomorrow with bargain-hunting in the stores; many others will be eagerly taking down the decorations, having begun to grow tired of them after a couple of months.  At best, Christmas is a sentimental time, a holiday for children and family and feasting.

But today is the Nativity of the Lord.  Think on that name for a moment: the Nativity of the Lord!

Today is when God was born into human history, human nature, human experience.  He who created us and the entire universe from nothing, He who exists beyond all time and space in what we call Eternity, He who is revered by all the choirs of holy angels–it is His nativity on earth that we celebrate!  He did not come down in all His great glory, attended by legions of the Heavenly Host.  He did not appear as a mighty super-man.  If He had, we certainly would not refer to this day as His nativity.  No, He was born as creatures are born: as an infant.  Small, helpless, thoroughly dependent on others for survival.

Never had such a thing ever happened or even been dreamed of before.  Nor shall such a thing ever happen again in time and space.  It was a singular event, the Nativity of the Lord.  That alone should earn our respect and our amazement.  But like a drop of water impacting a still body of water, His Nativity changed everything–changes everything–and forever will change everything!  The mingling of the material and the divine, of history and eternity, of the finite and the infinite could not fail to change everything.  The birth of God in the world gave new birth to everything.  It elevated humanity and all creation to a previously unimagined dignity, while revealing in the almighty God a profound and previously unimagined humility.

Modern man may imagine that after more than two millennia, he is no longer affected by nor subject to that event.  He rationalizes away the holy season of Christmas as nothing more than a modern-day Saturnalia or Yuletide.  And so it has become!  While that is not entirely a bad thing, that isn’t the depth or breadth or truth of it.  While many modern men will be content to leave it at that and rush off toward the next big festival, the Christian can never be content with such a thing.

Instead, let us allow ourselves to dive deeply into the tremendous wonder of this holy season and be carried, transported, and transformed by it.  Let us appreciate and give thanks for the incredible thing our Lord did for us in His Nativity.  And let us not do so only today, but for the entire Christmas season: the Twelve Days of Christmas, the Epiphany, and up until the Baptism of the Lord–to my knowledge, this is what Catholics observe as the Christmas season.  While the rest of the world gets back to business as usual, let us persevere in the joy and wonder of Christ’s birth.


… can be found in this post of mine that includes meditations on the five Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.

Perfect for Holy Week, if I may say so myself.  :)

I was tagged for this meme by my dear friend Julie at Happy Catholic (who, in case you haven’t heard, has recently had a book published!).

The rules:

Those tagged will share 5 things they “love” about Jesus, or why they love Jesus. Those tagged will tag 5 other bloggers. Those tagged will provide a link in the comments section here with their name so that others can read them.

1.  He never fails to call out sinners and hold them accountable.  And He also never fails to grant those same sinners every tenderness and mercy.  He is perfect Justice and perfect Mercy, and I’ve received both.

2.  Not only did He give Himself to us in His passion and death, he continues to give Himself to us, for all generations and all time, in the Blessed Sacrament.  He’s really, truly present–Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity–wherever the Eucharist is.  And we can receive Him, body and soul, in Holy Communion.

3.  He can never be outdone in generosity.  Never.  The more we give of ourselves, the more He gives of Himself to us.

4.  He’s never given up on me, no matter how far and how badly I’ve strayed.  He is the Good Shepherd.

5.  I can fully, utterly believe that He is who He says He is:  The Way, The Truth, and The Light.  He has never misled me, lied to me, or left me in the dark.

I tag:

Mark at Joe Versus the Volcano

Annette at Learning to Listen

Susie at Reconnecting to the Truth

Faith at The One True Faith

Owen at Luminous Miseries and Drawn to Catholicism

This past Sunday was the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in the Church’s year. The Gospel reading gave me a mental and spiritual shaking:

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:35-43

Hearing this story from Good Friday proclaimed at a time when our secular lives are occupied with preparing Thanksgiving dinners and buying Christmas gifts, among other things, makes quite an impact doesn’t it?  It forces us to pause and re-consider this time of year.  It can be easy to get swept up in worldly activities and busyness.  It is also easy to regard this time of year as a sort of pleasant countdown to Christmas and lose sight of the fact that the Advent season is meant to make us mindful of Christ’s second coming.  Likewise, this end of the Church year is meant to make us mindful our the end of our own lives, when we will present ourselves to Christ the King face-to-face.

Of course, the story itself is extremely striking, no matter when we read or hear it.

What strikes me first is always the tragic irony. Christ the King–not only of the Jews, but of all Creation–is sneered at and mocked as a false king. And yet even as He hangs crucified, bearing the enormous indignity and the excruciating pain with infinite patience, He acts as a King, issuing pardon to the repentant criminal. He rules even from the Cross.

What strikes me almost as much as the graciousness of Christ, however, are the humble words of the repentant criminal. He recognizes that he has earned crucifixion by his own deeds. He, unlike Christ, is being punished justly. He does not ask Christ to save him or release him from his torments. He simply asks, “Remember me.” And Christ does so much more than that–Christ indeed saves him, far beyond any worldly means.

When I read this story and the repentant criminal’s words, I often think to myself, “I wish I were that humble and that radically converted!” It inevitably leads me to examine my life and how I have lived in relation to God and to my fellow man and my fellow creatures. I ask myself who or what has ruled over me, to whom or what I have subjected myself. I ask myself how humble and obedient I have been before God.

When I am really honest and forthright with myself, when I make a real effort of humility–recognizing myself for who and what I am–I realize how very far I have to go to truly be a subject of Christ the King. I realize how profoundly self-serving and self-centered I am, how very stingy and stubborn and prideful. I realize how many boundaries I have established and built up between Christ and myself and between other people and myself. I realize how many limits I have placed upon how far I am willing to follow Christ.  Instead of freely and generously offering a simple fiat, I have tended to add lots of fine-print restrictions to my offering of self to God.

Is that really what I want to offer God when I stand before Him at the end of my life? What an absurd notion!

But the story of the repentant crucified criminal gives hope that it is never too late to change, never too late to turn to the Lord. There is no more merciful and magnanimous King than He who rules from the Cross! Let us kneel before Him, and let us thank, praise, adore, and worship Him! And let us thank Him and His Church for giving us this particular time each year–the Solemnity of Christ the King and the following week that leads up to Advent–to help us to examine ourselves and to consider endings.  It is also a time to perhaps make some Church New Year’s resolutions!

Obviously, I have plenty to think about. 

Many blessings to you all–and a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans!

This feast day is a much-needed spirit-lifter for me, and it came just in time!

Last night, I was feeling so much sorrow and pain, over various things, but especially the loss of my dad and of my once-fiance, Patrick (I’ve been thinking about Patrick much more since my dad died–both of them so important to me, and both of them sorely missing in my life). I was praying and begging for relief. I told God that I felt like I was dying a slow, agonizing death. That was all I could make of the pain I felt at the time–death.

Today, however, I am reminded that suffering gives life as well. The Cross of Christ bears witness to that.

To destroy the power of hell Christ died upon the cross; clothed in strength and glory, He triumphed over death.

The Lord hung upon the cross to wash away our sins in His own blood. How splendid is that blessed cross.

How radiant is that precious cross which brought us our salvation. In the cross we are victorious, through the cross we shall reign, by the cross all evil is destroyed, alleluia.

We worship Your cross, O Lord, and we praise and glorify Your holy resurrection, for the wood of the cross has brought joy to the world.

(Antiphons from Morning Prayer of the Divine Office)

I heartily recommend reading “The Dream of the Rood” on this feast day.

Here is my favorite previous post on this feast day:  The Tree of Life

Life has continued its complicated path.  In fact, it’s gotten more and more complicated.

For over three months, now, I have been in numb shock at my father’s death.  But the shock has been wearing off, and the pain is coming through much more strongly.  The pain complicates things.  Even the most ordinary, mundane things can seem so difficult.  Even enjoyable things can be too much to handle.  Work.  Writing.  Play.  Socializing.  Prayer.  Even my relationship with God has been complicated lately.

The thing is, I didn’t really believe my dad would die.  I thought that God would spare me such grief if I asked Him.  And I did ask Him, every day.  I asked Him to make my dad well, even if it required a miracle.  I asked Him not to take my dad from us.  I asked Him to please give me a break from grief.  After all, I had spent the five years before that grieving the death of another important man in my life.  I couldn’t possibly lose my dad too, right on the heels of those long five years.  God wouldn’t ask me to go through that when I was just then finally recovering and becoming whole again.  Surely, surely He wouldn’t.  This is what my heart constantly poured out.  I believed it so much.

But God didn’t make my dad well.  He didn’t spare me a new grief.  He didn’t provide the miracle for which I had prayed so fervently.  That was perhaps the most shocking thing of all.

Mind you, I don’t know why I expected a miracle.  Families lose beloved members every day to cancer and every kind of ill or injury.  Miracles are, by definition, rare.  So I don’t know why I was so sure a miracle would come through for me… but I was.

So lately, I’ve been trying to live with the fact that my miracle didn’t come through.  Trying to figure out why God permitted things to happen as they have.  Asking so many questions.  What is the meaning of all this loss and grief and pain and disappointment?  What have I done to deserve it?  How can I keep going on this way?  Was I foolish to pray for a miracle?  Was I foolish to pray at all?  Is God even there?  My doubts can be extremely weighty and extremely dark at times.

But I have also been starting to understand.  Small lights have begun to pierce the darkness of doubt.

I recently recalled a passage in C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew.  Lewis possessed a wonderful understanding of pain and grief and persevering in faith.  He wrote many great things on these subjects, but none of them have resounded with me quite so much as this passage from one of his books for children.

In this scene, the Lion Aslan, confronts the boy Digory, who has awakened the evil Witch/Queen in Aslan’s newly created land of Narnia:

“Son of Adam,” said Aslan.  “Are you ready to undo the wrong that you have done to my sweet country of Narnia on the very day of its birth?”

“Well, I don’t see what I can do,” said Digory.  “You see, the Queen ran away and–“

“I asked, are you ready?” said the Lion.

“Yes,” said Digory.  He had had for a second some wild idea of saying “I’ll try to help you if you’ll promise to help my Mother,” but he realized in time that the Lion was not at all the sort of person one could try to make bargains with.  But when he had said “Yes,” he thought of his Mother, and he thought of the great hopes he had had, and how they were all dying away, and a lump came in his throat and tears in his eyes, and he blurted out:

“But please, please–won’t you–can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?”  Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face.  What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life.  For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes.  They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.

“My son, my son,” said Aslan.  “I know.  Grief is great.  Only you and I in this land know that yet.  Let us be good to one another.  But I have to think of hundreds of years in the life of Narnia.”

There is so much in this one brief excerpt that it takes my breath away every time I read it.  Above all, it reminds me of two things:

First, I am reminded that God–particularly our Lord Jesus–is completely sympathetic with those who grieve and suffer.  He does not cause nor inflict those pains.  He never intended for us to experience such things.  And yet He Himself was not above them.  Scripture tells us that Jesus wept.  He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, even though He had the power to raise Lazarus back to life.  He wept over the holy city of Jerusalem and all the people He desperately wanted to save, but who rejected Him.  And then, there was the Agony in the Garden and the Passion.  We all have to pay the wages of sin–but we are not alone, for the greatest portion of the wages was paid by God Himself.

Second, I am reminded that it’s not all about me.  Life and creation do not revolve around me and my needs and wants.  God doesn’t drop everything and everybody else in the universe to cater to me.  I am just one person, just one creature.  My little life is at least a third over already.  I am just a tiny mote of dust.  Does that mean that God doesn’t love me?  Does that mean He doesn’t care?  No.  Part of God’s greatness is that He loves me, even me, with an infinite love and care–and not only that, but He loves all the other little motes of dust in exactly the same way, without ever having His love exhausted!  I thought I knew what was best when I prayed my prayers–but who am I to know what is best, even for myself, much less everybody and everything else?

Sometimes we can be so set upon what we want and what we think is best that we don’t recognize the good and wonderful things God does for us and gives us.  We get selfish and petulant because we don’t get our own way.  We accuse God of not listening to our prayers, of not having pity upon our sufferings, of not loving us, or of not existing at all.  And then, if we are fortunate, we realize how petty and blind we’ve been.

The miracles we ask for, the miracles we expect, may not come through.   But there are so many others that we take for granted every day: life and love and the fact that God always, always comes through for us.

The fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary is one I’ve always found a bit challenging.  It is the finding of the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple, when He stayed behind in the city after the Passover, and His poor, distraught parents looked for Him for three days.  When they finally find Him in the Temple, Mary asks:

“Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”  And He said to them, “How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying which He spoke to them.  (Luke 2:48-50)

Mary and Joseph are not the only ones that did not understand.  I think that many of us today feel the same way.  We understand why Mary asks the question… but the questions the young Jesus asks her in reply are not so easy to understand.  They seem somewhat cold and perhaps insolent.  They don’t seem very much in character for the Son of God, and in fact they seem to go against the Commandment, “Honor thy father and mother.”

I’ve heard quite a few homilies about how it illustrates the fact that the Holy Family were not perfect, that they were human, and they had their tensions just like all families.

But after meditating upon this Mystery time and time and time again, I think there was also some divine purpose behind the story, a great moral to the story.  Perhaps He allowed His parents to search in vain for Him until they reached the Temple so that we would not make the same mistake.  That we might not seek Him in vain in the world.  That we might know exactly where to seek Him: in the Church.

Think of all the time and energy we waste running about in search of Him.  True, many people in our world don’t even realize it is Him for whom they search and long.  But even among Christians, even among Catholics, I hear it said, “God is bigger than the Church, God is everywhere.”  I don’t dispute that, but the meaning can easily be twisted or misconstrued: that because we have access to God any time and anywhere, we don’t need the Church.

The error in that is this:  God may be infinite, but we are not.  God may be bigger than the Church, but we are not.  God may be everywhere, but we aren’t necessarily able to find Him everywhere.  There are so many things, so many forces, so many noises and lights and shadows that interfere and lead us astray.  I learned this the very hard away when I was younger.  I turned from the Church in order to truly seek God.  I ended up in the clutches of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

It is folly to seek Christ apart from the Church.  Foolish and quite possibly dangerous.  We Catholics are especially blessed in that our churches truly are temples–God is truly present there.  Wherever the red lamp is lit, He is there, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  That He is present in our churches–of that, we Catholics can be more certain and reassured than even most of our fellow Christians.

As usual, God and His Church don’t leave us to our own devices.  That is the beauty of our sacramental faith.  The Divine can be found in the midst of the world, in a very particular and definitive place and manner.  We need not seek Him in vain.

I can’t believe that tomorrow is the last Sunday of the Church year!  Next Sunday it begins anew with the First Sunday of Advent.

The Solemnity of Christ the King can’t help but be tremendously powerful.  One can’t help but be moved to humility and awe before the King of Heaven.  On this day, of all other days, I always feel as though a veil has been lifted from my eyes.  I see Christ as my King, God, and Creator, and I see myself as His creature, created out of nothing, entirely dependent upon Him.  And although I feel like a speck of dust before Him, I rest secure in His love, His goodness, His graciousness, His generosity, and His peace.  I know that it is by and for Him that I exist at all.

Today in Mariology class, we spent most of our class talking about the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  Going into the class this morning, I was completely unaware of what riches were there to be mined from this single dogma.  Of course, it is about Mary and God’s singular extraordinary grace upon her, but beyond what it tells us about Mary is what it tells us about God and His very special love for every single one of us!  He wants to be in a special, intimate relationship with each of us just as He did with Mary.  Like Mary, we are each unique persons, with our very own role in God’s creation.  He loves each of us as completely and particularly as if we were the only person in the universe.  What He did for Mary is a sign of the tremendous love and power he offers to each of us.

And our professor pointed out something very important: human beings don’t come into the world on their own, and then God looks down and says, “Oh, here’s another one… Hm, am I going to love it or not? Maybe I’ll decide once I see what kind of creature it is and how well it behaves.”  That’s not how it is.  We come into being because of His love.  His love brings us to life, and it sustains us in life.  His love is a given, and it is a completely free given.  How we respond to it is up to us (because love must be freely given on our part as well).

This Solemnity of Christ the King is a wonderful opportunity for us to recognize and respond to His love.  To reaffirm that He is indeed our King–our King who loves us and gives us our being.  To reaffirm that we choose to be His subjects–subjects full of dignity and freedom and love given in return.  There is no humiliation, no degradation, no oppression, in being subject to the King of Heaven.

And yet so many people in our world reject and despise Him because they hate the idea of being subject to a King.  That’s almost as true of this country as of all of the more blatantly secularist nations of the west.  For all of the United States’ famous (or infamous) religiosity, we Americans tend to be intensely independent, individualistic, and self-autonomous.  You don’t have too search too deeply to realize that much of the religion in this country is really about being prosperous in this world.  At best, it is often confined to Sundays, holidays, and church walls.  Over 230 years after obtaining our independence as a nation, “King” is still a four-letter word in this country.

And because we are all part of this world, it can be very tempting to just go along with that.  But we mustn’t.  The truth is, there is no such thing as life without a king.  Rejecting the true King does not free us.  It only makes us subject to other “kings”–be they rulers of nations, heads of corporations, media moguls, pastors of feel-good mega-churches, or our own flaws.  “Kings” are a dime a dozen in this world, and they all play right into the hands of the “king” of Hell.

Make no mistake: the devil is the only one who benefits from us not serving Christ the King.

So, on this holy solemn feast day, let us make a radical declaration, not of independence, but of dependence.  Let us declare with all our hearts, “I am a subject of Christ the King, the Source of all life, love, and freedom–and of no other!”

And then–here’s the really challenging part–let us pledge to live every day of the upcoming new year as if we really meant it.

I loved this Sunday’s Gospel reading so much.

[Jesus and His disciples] came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, He began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, He placed it in their midst, and putting His arms around it, He said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in My name, receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but the One who sent Me.”

Mark 9:30-37

What struck me most was that Christ didn’t just pull in the poor child to stand before Him and the Apostles, but rather, He brought the child to Himself, “putting His arms around it.” The RSV translation expresses it as an even more personal and intimate action, thus:

And He took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in His arms, He said to them …

(For one thing, it refers to the child as a “him” and not an “it”!)

Today the image of Christ embracing and holding a child in His arms is sweet and often very sentimental.  But as our priest taught us today, it was a very significant gesture and a very significant message. In the society in which Jesus and the disciples lived, children were essentially nobodies. They had no rights and no inherent worth. They were completely dependent on others, and their care was generally left to women and/or slaves. For a man to take a random child, not even his own child, and embrace and hold the child, and to do so in the company of other men, would have been quite out of the ordinary.

The portrait that paints in my mind is not sweet and sentimental, but rather, compelling and challenging.  I see Christ holding the child lovingly and protectively, but looking out at us with a keen gaze and a gleam in His eyes that says, “This child is precious to Me… how are you going to treat him?”  (I tried in vain to find an image that matches the one in my head.)

Christ was doing something no other man would do. He was showing the Apostles a new way. A way of loving service even to the smallest, the poorest, and the weakest. Loving service, not power.  That is what He was demanding of them.  It’s what He demands of His disciples today as well, and especially of the successors of the Apostles, our bishops and priests.

Doesn’t this passage have so much to say to us today? I look around at our society and at the Church, and I see lots of people who really need to hear Christ’s message and see His example. There are plenty of people who regard the priesthood in terms of power that should be up for grabs for everybody. There are also lots of people who regard children as objects, as commodities, to be used or disposed of as desired. There is a belief that getting stuck with a child is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. Conception of a child is considered a highly disruptive and undesirable side-effect of sexual pleasure. Pregnancy and childbirth are considered crises–pregnancy as an illness, childbirth as a medical procedure. There are plenty of wealthy, healthy, young married couples who would rather have dogs than children. Or, at their most generous, will only have one or maybe two children.  In short, we regard the natural blessings of sexuality, fertility, and family-rearing as things over which we can, and must, exert our own power.

This is the world we live in.  It’s all about power and putting oneself first.  These attitudes are found within the Church as well as in society at large.  Basically it’s as if Christ never walked the earth, or never taught us how to live.  I don’t know about you, but I find it hard not to be depressed and discouraged by that!  For all the claims that we are so much better and more enlightened than our ancestors, we certainly haven’t lived up to it.  I say “we” because I’ve done my fair share of upholding those common attitudes.  I decided a few years ago that I can no longer support them.  I pray that I can make amends for them in this life (otherwise, I feel I shall have a long and severe season in Purgatory).

I pray that this Gospel passage got through to even a few people this Sunday, that it may prompt some serious examination of themselves and the world in which we live, and indeed that it may prompt some true and deep conversions.  And I pray that we who have heard it will do our best to carry it out into the world through our words, our actions, and our lifestyles.  We mustn’t let Christ’s life and message be in vain!

As I mentioned, one of the things I commonly meditate on while praying the Rosary is “What is Christ saying to me in this Mystery?”  This is particularly true of the Sorrowful Mysteries in which we meditate upon His Passion.  It plays into the bigger questions, “Why did Christ suffer and die?  Why did He choose that painful, sorrowful, bloody and violent way?  What was the purpose?”

Crucifixion statue, Charles Bridge, PragueI find that Christ’s answer is quite simple: “You were my purpose.  I did it so that in all of your sufferings, you would know that I went before you, that I bore the brunt for you.  I did it so that you would not be discouraged and give up.  I did it so that you would have the hope and the freedom to persevere.”

A simple answer… but not an easy one.  For it does not provide us any denial of, nor escape from, suffering.  Rather, it exhorts us to suffer well.

Note: these little reflections are just some remembered examples of things that have passed through my mind in pondering these Mysteries.  Words do them only so much justice!  The communication between the soul and God is something much deeper than words.  So, these are not verbatim transcriptions.  Just… impressions, if you will.

I.  The Agony in the Garden. O My child, when all you see before you is darkness, when every course of action threatens to be in vain, when all appears empty and desolate, when even the will of the Father seems oppressive…  Know that I went before you.  When darkness falls over you, know that it is but the shadow of My Cross. Do not despair, but only raise your eyes to see Him who has loved you and given His all. Look also to those beyond, those who remain unmoved beyond the reach of My outstretched arms. Do not scorn them, nor keep them away, but love them as I do.  Bring them, and keep them, near to Me.  Let My Passion not be in vain for even one soul!

II.  The Scourging at the Pillar. O My child, when your body aches, when your flesh is weak, when temptations tear at it, when pain breaks it… Know that I went before you.  That you might be whole and that you might be free to surmount the trials of the flesh, that the edge of all your pains might be dulled, and so that you might not be enslaved to lust or any inordinate desire, I mortified my My own Body, delivered it to the tearing, bruising, bone-breaking flagrum.  And when you think of the cruelties that must yet be borne unjustly by poor souls, know that I am not distant nor indifferent, but that I am bound, defenseless and exposed, to the pillar.

III.  The Crowning with Thorns. O My child, when you are mocked and ridiculed, when you are looked upon with scorn by others who do not see or appreciate your great value and dignity, when others do not recognize you as being My child or the precious and unique person that you are… Know that I went before you.  They made of Me a mock king, when I was the only true King!  But so that you might not not be enslaved to pride, I submitted Myself silently to those humiliations.  I exchanged the crown of glory for a crown of torment.  Those who ridicule you are the ones who press it into My head.  And when you wish to mock or ridicule others, ask yourself whether that is the role you wish to play!

IV.  The Carrying of the Cross. O My child, when the world weighs so heavily upon you that you can barely take another step, when you feel on the verge of collapse, when you find very few familiar and loving faces around you, when you feel pursued to the very brink of death… Know that I went before you.  My head throbbing, blood and sweat burning My eyes, My garments sticking to My torn flesh, the wood of the Cross digging into My shoulder, and unable to break my falls–thus did I make my way to Calvary.  But I remember most My mother’s sorrowful but steadfast gaze, Simon’s strength, Veronica’s compassion, and the women’s tears.  If those humble souls reached out to Me, will I not also reach out to you?

V.  The Crucifixion. O My child, when you are at the moment of death, when you feel utterly forsaken, when your senses grow dim, and when you breathe your last breath… Know that I went before you.  I went before you in death so that you would not be consigned to the dark underworld, but rather would find your rest in My eternal light, forever close to Me and in My presence.  I went before you in death so that death would be destroyed by My eternal, unfailing life.  Do not turn your eyes from Me, nailed, pierced, and emptied, but look upon Me as the vessel broken so that life everlasting might be shed upon you.

(photo by Flickr user Christopher Chan)

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