Friday, December 14, 2012

Saint John of the Cross

"Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross. [...]

The gate that gives entry into these riches of his wisdom is the cross; because it is a narrow gate, while many seek the joys that can be gained through it, it is given to few to desire to pass through it."  -- From a spiritual Canticle by Saint John of the Cross; Liturgy of the Hours, vol. I, Office of Readings, 1246-7.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


"Be crucified with Me. To be crucified is to be stretched against your desires, against the love of poverty, obscurity, and obedience to the Father. Remember that the crucifixion is the prelude to the resurrection, that is, to all joys."  -- Jesus to Gabrielle Bossis; June 3, 1939

"When the love of the cross sinks deep into a person, he lives in a joy that the world can never know. For the world has only pleasures, but joy belongs to Me and Mine, My friend."  -- Jesus to Gabrielle Bossis; November 19, 1939

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Martyrdom of John the Baptist

Not long ago, on a gray afternoon in January perhaps it was, I was kneeling after Mass in a pew near a statue of St. Joseph, praying. St. Anne’s, where I attend weekday Mass, is a large church, and across the expanse of nearly empty pews, in the distance was a woman on her knees before the tabernacle weeping and wailing and crying out to Jesus, with her arms outstretched in profound grief and sorrow, beating the air.

Her child had just died. His death was announced during the Mass.

As I absorbed her sobs, as her fists pounded the chambers of my own heart, and I filled with her grief, I was given to understand something about why Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus. His tears were an expression of sorrow for the pain suffered by those who grieved. His heart was filled by the suffering of those who suffered and He was brought to tears.

He was not weeping for Himself.

This is why He did not weep upon hearing of the death of John the Baptist, a death that foreshadowed His own impending death. The death of the one who’d leapt for joy in the womb upon encountering Him, so deeply attuned was John to the life of the Holy One in his midst, so fully available to receive Him in his heart’s embrace, the one whom Our Lord proclaimed to be the greatest among men who’d ever lived. Surely, that loss would be worth weeping over, and yet He did not weep for it because when He wept, He was not weeping for Himself.

And we must also recall that during His ascent to Calvary, along the way of the cross, Jesus met with a cluster of holy women who were weeping for Him. What did He say to them? He said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me but weep for yourselves and your children.” (Luke 23:28)… which was another way of saying, do as I have done.

In that case, it is not wrong to weep for oneself, for Christ has wept for our pain. But something else I have learned is that in following Him, in doing as He has done, through time one comes to cease weeping for oneself and one weeps only for others and their pain. In doing as He has done, one is like John, that greatest of all men, weeping not for himself over the martyrdom and cross that is his own, but trusting in the One who has wept for us.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Heights of Grace

From the writings of Saint Rose of Lima, "who gave up everything to devote herself to a life of penance," we are privy to the following words imparted to her by God.

Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: "Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven."  

Just a reminder.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Saying 'Yes!' to Joy

"Someone could ask whether it is right to be so happy when the world is so full of suffering, when there exists so much darkness and evil. Is it right to be so high spirited and joyful? The answer can only be 'yes!' Because saying 'no' to joy we do nothing of use to anyone. We only make the world darker." (Pope Benedict XVI, press release, August 7, 2012)
To be sure, Benedict is speaking of joy and happiness in the midst of suffering external to the one who is joyful and happy. Yet, being all members of the one Body of Christ, when one suffers, we all suffer, and when one is joyful, one is joyful in the midst of suffering. In this world, suffering is the standard, and joy is the exception. Suffering is without effort, present in the space of joy, while it requires some doing to be joyful in the space of suffering.
Yet our Lord encompasses these two entities that are generally seen as opposed, within His divine and human person. Therein lays the answer to the riddle. It is the grace of His divinity from which joy is radiated in His embrace of the cross that will bring His flesh immense suffering. And when someone who is suffering radiates joy, is that not the ultimate triumph of good over evil? It is a clear manifestation of the divine present in the human being which emerges as joy in the midst of suffering. It is a clear manifestation of the presence of God in the human when joy is possible in the midst of suffering.
And so, when we say ‘yes’ to joy in a holy way, that is, permitting Him to occupy us while we suffer on this earth, to suffer in us and with us, we exert the effort of deliberately making a place for Him within ourselves, choosing life over death, happiness over despair, good over evil.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Nativity of John the Baptist

La Vierge, L'Enfant Jesus et Saint Jean Baptiste,
William Bouguereau
Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matthew 11:7-11)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thanks Be To God

Today I swam for the first time in five years—swam for the first time since withdrawing my foot from the pool five years ago, recoiling in pain from Lyme disease. With the onset of symptoms, my skin had become so sensitive that it hurt to be touched by the cool water, the ill-placed human hand, and the heat of the sun. But today, I swam.
As I kicked my feeble legs through the water, I remembered a summer when I used to swim every morning, play tennis each afternoon, and in the evening, I’d walk a few miles at the beach. For a moment, I dwelt on tennis, thought of beginning to teach my nephew and suddenly remembered that I am limited by my physical therapist at present to walking for only six minutes at a time because my legs and lower back are shot.
Regardless, I was pleased as punch to be in the water. To be relieved of the weight of my body, relieved of the awesome pull of gravity upon my limbs was exquisite. To live for a little while in no pain, was exquisite. To see the pie-eyed gaze of my cat follow me back and forth from one end of the pool to the other, no doubt pondering how I could be in the water and survive it, was exquisite.    

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Body of Christ

We know from Lanciano that this bread is the heart. The very heart of God is hidden within a simple disc of unleavened bread, the infinite God made small and palatable to the human tongue.

It is vulnerable and naked that Christ comes to us in the Eucharist. Within it is contained the Man who lived among us, who suffered with us and for us, who was tired, who thirsted, who wept, who bled.      

Because He has so desired this communion, He has been willing to entrust to us His heart as an object, a thing exposed before us and handled by human hands, a thing that we might gaze upon and long for, a thing that we might swallow and consume.

While many today will ponder the majesty of the Body of Christ encased and displayed in a glittering gold monstrance, admiring His simplicity and His power, I would like to recall His words to Saint Paul, “my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Fond Remembrance

For about a month, I’ve been stretching myself a bit farther than I am accustomed to, and I find myself feeling frayed and sort of wobbly. I haven’t rested or slept as much as I need to in order to maintain the state of Lyme health I’ve been enjoying for several months. Even after good sleep last night, I woke feeling an undertow… like the ground I had beneath me is being swept away.

At first, I was a little afraid. Not of falling ill again itself, but of how illness would delay my getting on with the future. Because I am already invested there, moving toward the completion of one project and the beginning of another.

But then I remembered. During Mass today, I was struck with remembering how it feels to be weak. And with that remembrance, I was enveloped by peace. I was returned to that most sublime of all places, returned to resting in the very arms of Jesus, which is also to say that I was reminded of the truth, the fact of my own frailty and the joy of it in delivering me to that divine embrace.

In that moment, all changed and I was no longer concerned about the future or any delay in its coming to fruition, because I was reminded that where I am and what has led me here has come about in and through grace.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


“The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.

As light strikes the eyes of a man who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables him to see clearly things he could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the man counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables him to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.”

~ Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Something Glorious

Before we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord tomorrow, I’d like to say something about His resurrected body. The body that penetrated the wall of the cenacle to visit with the apostles, the one that ate cooked fish, the one that Jesus invited Thomas to probe with his fingers, the contours of His holy wounds. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I would like to examine those wounds here, myself.

Artwork by The Apostles of Infinite Love of the Order of the Magnificat of the Mother of God

Perhaps you’ve wondered on occasion why Jesus retained these wounds in His body that had been restored to life anew. Why did He not heal Himself of those wounds and return to us with no sign of having been injured? Why did He choose to appear to us with punctures remaining in His hands, feet and heart?

I am going to venture that He did it for several reasons, quite the same as everything else He does accomplishes many things all at once.

For one, quite literally, it was for Thomas the doubter to alleviate his condition of doubt. If Thomas had been the only human being to exist, and our Lord knew that Thomas needed to probe those wounds with his own fingers in order to believe that the body in which Christ appeared to Him was really a fleshly body, and in fact Jesus’ body, our Lord would have retained those wounds for his sake alone.

Yet, it is not only for Thomas, but for those who might be reading the story later on who would identify with the attitude of Thomas themselves. It is for them who might also be led to greater faith through reading Thomas’ experience of probing the wounds and his realization that Jesus is risen from the dead.

But to go a little deeper than the superficial quality of those wounds and that they reveal our Lord as risen, there is the fact of His injury to take into account. That is, in retaining these wounds, our Lord reminds us of what He did for love of us. Or, in other words, He reminds us that He loves us.

His wounds are a place in which He holds us in a special way. Our suffering may be placed within these wounds of Christ as He is on the throne of heaven and offering His own prayer intentions for our sake. These wounds of Christ help us to remember that our suffering is not forgotten.

Furthermore, that it has value. For, if our Lord had wiped away all trace of His suffering in this world, what would that say of ours? That suffering is something to be eradicated and forgotten? Ah, but it is not. For in His taking suffering upon Himself, suffering itself was sanctified and in fact reversed in meaning, if you will, from what Satan had hoped and intended it to be… from what it was before Jesus came to clothe Himself in it.

Finally, the retained wounds are the visible sign that we are forgiven, and they help us to enter into understanding what it means to forgive. As we know, when we are injured by another there is inevitably a scar of some sort left behind. Even when the one who has injured us apologizes, this does not undo the fact that a wound has been inflicted. It may remove the nail that pierced us, but a puncture remains in its place. Time will heal it giving way to a scar which will remain.

So, in yet another beautiful and profound way, Christ is showing us the reality of sin and He is choosing to retain those marks of our transgressions in His body, just as we retain the marks of sin in our bodies in various ways, and He is showing us once more that He is with us, even still.  

Our sufferings borne in likeness to Christ transform us into His very image even as we are here on earth. The suffering of illness borne with patience and devotion to the Father in trust that His plan will bring us to experience the resurrection of our bodies anew helps us to retain the wounds we bear here in the understanding that they are acknowledged and valuable in heaven, and indeed something glorious.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chez Thérèse

Since Easter Sunday I’d been feeling compelled to spend some time with Saint Thérèse, so on Thursday afternoon I made my way to a little shrine nearby.

I have visited this place before and last spring spent nine consecutive days there praying a novena.

One morning, an elderly man entered and gave me a card with this prayer written by the saint:

Lord grant that I may always allow myself to be guided by you, always follow your plans, and perfectly accomplish your holy will. Grant that in all things, great and small, today and all the days of my life, I may do whatever you may require of me. Help me to respond to the slightest prompting of your grace, so that I may be your trustworthy instrument. May your will be done in time and eternity, by me, in me, and through me. Amen.

And this became a part of the dialogue, a response of sorts to what I had been praying about.

Since then a lot has happened and I continue to see the unfolding of God’s plan for me daily, in response to this prayer. I encourage anyone in transition to spend some time with Saint Thèrése, brave warrior of the desert, otherwise known diminutively as the Little Flower. But don’t let the nickname fool you. She's a powerful ally. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Saturday

Some people pray only the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary during Lent. Some pray them every day during Holy Week, and some would be inclined for that reason to pray them today, a Saturday, when we would otherwise be praying the Joyful Mysteries. Yet I propose for today a different kind of meditation, combining the mysteries of the rosary, both joyful and sorrowful, as I imagine Mary herself did this day in her time of mourning, the day after seeing her Son crucified and entombed. I imagine her sitting with the apostle John who stood with her beneath the cross, John to whom our Lord entrusted the care of His Mother. I imagine Mary sitting in John’s house, remembering to herself the events of her Son’s life, beginning with the day the angel came to her.

Her first meditation would be upon a memory of that encounter with the messenger of heaven who heralded the great gift God was pleased to endow to humanity. She would recall the descent of the Holy Spirit upon her and the conception of Christ in her womb. She would remember the feeling of carrying God in her womb, that closeness of her heart to His heart, infinite yet pressed into a tiny muscle pulsing within His little breast, within her, the heart through which her own blood would course. That blood, once hers, would then be formed in beads upon the skin of her Son as He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane the night before last to His heavenly Father that His will be done, the blood running in rivulets over his body, from the duress of His knowing every sin for which He would be offered.

Then, Mary would remember her journey to the hill country where Elizabeth would be found full with child, and the greeting, the recognition of John in the womb of Elizabeth for Jesus in the womb of Mary, the Spirit blowing through and tumbling the little ones with joy in their wombs. And Elizabeth would be moved to proclaim, blessed are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb! Elizabeth and John recognized Mary and Jesus. And yet, they were unknown by those who would surround them yesterday. Unknown by those who would take her Son and nail Him to a cross, taunting and mocking Him before her eyes, spitting upon His open wounds bleeding the blood that was hers, striking the body that had been formed in her womb, killing the child to whom she had given birth.  

She would remember the birth… being turned away at the inn. And she would recall Joseph, his distress over having to lay his wife in a stable to give birth amidst the dung of livestock. Then the wise men came with strange gifts and the shepherds of the fields came with their flocks to kneel and honor and adore the little One wrapped in swaddling clothes, resting in the trough where the animals would take their food. And Mary would nurse the child whose body would become bread for the world. The body that would be offered in sacrifice for the salvation of all people of all times, the body that was torn with its flesh in ribbons by scourging, that laid the wood of the cross upon its back and carried the burden of all humanity up the hill of Golgotha.

She would remember carrying that child in her own arms to the temple with Joseph to offer Him there to God. The words of Simeon would burn in her memory as she would recall him saying, this child is destined to be a sign that will be opposed, and a sword will pierce your own heart. Indeed, it was the sword that opened the side of her Jesus, the lance thrust through His precious heart that pierced hers, for He was already gone in death when it occurred. He had been stripped and His clothes divided among the wicked, a crown of thorns pressed into His skull, His hands and feet ripped open by spikes, His heart broken by the desolation of humankind in this hour, but the lance was reserved for Mary.   

Then His body would be reposed from the cross and laid limp in her lap. He would be taken from her arms and entombed by another Joseph, not her husband, for she was a widow. He would be put into the tomb and lost to her for three days, as He was as a child lost to her and Joseph when He stayed behind at the temple in Jerusalem. Mary would recall how she and Joseph looked everywhere for their missing child and the pain of not knowing where or in what condition He would be found. Was He safe? Was He hungry? Was He hurt? And now, He was gone away from her in death, to plumb the depths of hell to retrieve all good souls who had gone before Him in death. He would see Joseph there, and His cousin, John, she would think, and then be distracted by the John with whom Jesus left her, John holding out to her a cup of tea. Please Mary, he would say, dabbing a tear from her cheek.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

Holy Joseph, Husband of Mary

About nine minutes into this broadcast, following the scriptural readings for today, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary, begins a beautiful homily on Joseph that I could not resist sharing out of love for the saint, because I could not speak better of him than Father Landry does here:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Faith, Or Learning To Ride A Bike

The Transfiguration of the Lord occurred, according to Scripture, following Jesus’ teachings “that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31) According to Mark, “He said all this quite openly.” (8:32)

“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them…” (Mark 9:2)

Saint Leo the Great explains in today’s Office of Readings: “The great reason for this transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples, and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed.” (LH 2:149)

But indeed, that faith was disturbed. We know that in the time of trial when the Master was undergoing great suffering, and fear overtook the sheep as the Shepherd was struck, that the disciples seem to have disregarded the “glory that lay concealed,” even though they had seen it with their own eyes six days before.

It is much the same for us when we are confronted with something that brings us to a state of anxiety or distress. Everything that was right and good yesterday flies out the window today. We immediately respond in the flesh, so to speak. We feel the trouble, whatever it might be, pierce our hearts, contract our stomachs, and fill our nerves with prickly needles. We physically react to the situation, and presuming we are operating in a state of sound mental health, our response is appropriate on that level.  

What is called for by faith, however, is an interior move away from what is seen and felt toward a willing embrace of what we know to be true, in spite of what we see and feel. To have faith goes against our flesh for sure, and it is in part an act of the will. Therefore, it involves our thinking.

Where we can go awry there, is by applying reason. I know it sounds absurd that reason could lead us astray, but even reason can betray us in such a case because of its collusion with the human ego. When we mix reason with ego, faith is not going to happen.

So we are bid by God to have faith in opposition to the feelings of our flesh and in opposition to human reason informed by egotism. God Himself has given us faith as part of the Baptism package, so we do have it. Tricycle faith was instilled in us when we were baptized.

Then something happened in our lives that called us to step up to the bike-with-training-wheels-level of faith and maybe that didn’t work out. Maybe we went back to the tricycle. Or maybe we stepped right up, faith-wise, and eventually graduated to the bike without training wheels.

I, myself, could not accept the two-wheeler for a long time. As a kid, I debated with everyone and wanted to hear a scientific explanation of how it was possible that a person could balance on those two skinny wheels without tipping over. Even though I had seen with my own eyes, many times, other people riding two-wheelers, no one was going to get me to do it. That’s reason with ego at work.

At last I agreed to it with my best friend’s mother holding onto the back of the seat and the handle bar as I mounted and began to pedal. She let go of the handle bar and began running next to me, holding the back of the seat. Assuring me she was still there she fell behind and eventually let go. When I realized I was riding the bike, it was like a whole new level of human existence opened up for me. The world became larger because I could travel farther. I became more autonomous and independent. I ventured out and encountered new people and places with my bike and grew more mature, riding that bike.

Over the years there were lots of different bikes, each one moving me through new levels of maturity until I became seasoned enough for a car. That, I imagine, called more so upon my parents to have faith! But, you see where I’m going with this.

The exercise of faith can bring us from a place where we are frightened or doubtful or being barred from movement in some way, to a place of freedom. When we choose faith in response to our circumstances, taking into account and not dismissing feelings and reason, we become more fully human. For we follow in the way of the Master, whose life among us teaches us how to be human in the way we were created to live our humanity.

As we respond in faith to the difficulties and hardships we encounter in life, we grow more and more mature, becoming the version of Christ we are uniquely meant to become, and we move toward a sort of “transfiguration” of our own—in our case called conversion—in His image.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sainte Chapelle

Excavating the past to help me remember who I was before illness and setting my findings in the light of who I have become through being so gravely ill has been an amazingly inspiring exercise. I know it is tempting for us with Lyme disease to grow discouraged or bitter because of all that we now cannot do and all that we have lost. Yet my experience of recalling the life I have lived has made me even more grateful for it having gained some distance from it, and I have found that with the growth, emotional and spiritual, which has occurred through bearing illness, I am able to appreciate it in ways I never could before. Even the quality and value of past events and relationships have been changed for the better, in light of the changes in me that have been wrought in the crucible of illness.

In the midst of my recollections, I have been brought back to Paris where some of God’s deepest works in me were to be initiated and are still, even now, unfolding. In honor of His great beauty and love, I’d like to share a little something of Paris with you, and encourage you to make a similar journey, wherever you currently stand in relation to your illness.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Burning Brain Syndrome

For about three months now I’ve been experimenting with a supplemental enzyme I discovered in Bryan Rosner’s book entitled The Top 10 Lyme Disease Treatments, a book I recommend to anyone suffering with Lyme disease. Segueing from the use of antibiotics to using my immune system alone for combat this past summer and fall, (see the October 9 addition to the “My Lyme” tab of this blog), I experienced a rather unpleasant symptom in the midst of battle which I have come to call, Burning Brain Syndrome. Perhaps you know it?

There are a few versions of it that I have encountered, one being the feeling that the muscles in the head are turning into tightly clenched fists and there is a sort of mild form of burning that occurs in this, another being the feeling of full cranial inflammation, and then a third I have experienced especially upon waking, when my head has been resting in the same position for several hours, there would be a concentrated burning beneath my skull where neurotoxin, bacterial debris and immune system proteins had pooled and my brain would be stewing in these juices, or I should say, gasping for oxygen and fresh blood.

While regular exercise is good for the circulation and transporting the necessary oxygen, I have found that exercise alone does not eradicate this particular symptom of burning, though it helps to remove debris over time. However, I have found this enzyme to be very effective with pretty swift results, though I would imagine results would vary from person to person, and I advise consulting your doctor before beginning any type of alternative treatment. 

Now, I’m going to sound like a commercial: I have been taking Wobenzym N twice daily since November and not only has my burning been morphed into a dull headache when there is a flare up and the duration of pain greatly reduced, but the indiscriminant involuntary muscle twitching that I thought would never go away, has been diminished to the odd pinch when I am in the midst of a herxheimer reaction. If you’re interested in trying the enzyme, I’ve added a tab where you can find out where I buy it and also get a coupon code for a $5.00 discount. For an introduction to the science behind what’s going on with this enzyme, check out Chapter 6 of Rosner’s book.

On a spiritual note, I’d like to close with the last lines of yesterday’s Office of Readings psalm: “You, O Lord, are my lamp, my God who lightens my darkness. With you I can break through any barrier, with my God I can scale any wall.” (18:28-29)