The Way of the Cross is a devotion in which the faithful follow the journey of Christ’s last day on earth. Through this devotion the Church has walked from the Mount of Olives to the hill on Calvary with Christ for many years. The Holy Land was a place of particular devotion to the Medieval Christians. Pilgrims would go to Jerusalem, walk the same path of sorrow, with stops along the way to meditate on the events of his passion, and consider the suffering of Christ.
The cross was a burden that Christ took upon himself. That burden is corrupt human nature, sin and suffering that all men are subject to in this life. However the “meaning of the way of the cross is to carry this burden out of the world.” (Hidden Life, p. 91 The Collected Works of Edith Stein, ICS Publications)
Jesus falls on the way to Calvary three times, and the “triple collapse under the burden of the cross corresponds to the triple fall of humanity: the first sin, the rejection of the savior by his chosen people, the falling away of those who bear the name of Christian.” (Hidden Life, p. 92)
The sin of our first parents brought sin and death, but Jesus freed mankind from sin and weakness by traveling this way of the cross. He embraced his passion and crucifixion so that through baptism, with the promises made to renounce sin and Satan, and through our sufferings we may rise with him in the newness of life free of self centeredness and full of joy and service to others.
Isaiah’s prophesies of the Lord’s passion were clear to all who had eyes to see. It was “our sufferings that he endured” and “he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins”. He was also “ harshly treated” and “a grave was assigned him among the wicked” although “he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood.” (Isaiah 53) Yet many of the chosen people rejected him as the Messiah. Even today many still reject Christ as savior. Thus the reason for the second fall.
It is the third fall that is of particular concern for our time. There seems to be so much falling away from the faith. Who doesn’t know of someone who once believed and now no longer practices the faith or even believes in God anymore? This is the cause of much heartache, especially when the person who has fallen away is held so dear and loved so much.
Therefore it is for this third fall that we are called to assist the Lord by helping him bear the cross. Jesus was not alone while he made this way to Calvary carrying the cross. There was Simon of Cyrene, Veronica and his mother to accompany him, as well as all the people who love him, and it was “the strength of these cross bearers” that helped “him after each of his falls.” (Hidden Life, p. 92)
Since by Christ’s example we know that suffering is the proof of God’s love for all mankind, we can love the cross and bear with our own sufferings and trials for the love of God and help him carry this burden out of the world. By bearing this burden we become united to God, to glorify him and prove our love for him and for others.
Lent is such a good time of God’s grace. St. Therese of Lisieux expresses this well in this stanza:
Living on Love is keeping within oneself
A great treasure in an earthen vase.
My Beloved, my weakness is extreme.
Ah, I’m far from being an angel from heaven!…
But if I fall with each passing hour,
You come to my aid, lifting me up.
At each moment you give me your grace:
I live on Love.
(Poem 17, p. 91 The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, trans. Fr. Donald Kinney, OCD, ICS Publications)
Isn’t this just what we are all doing?!?! Keep on living on love faithful readers!
Fasting is one of the principle means of making satisfaction for sins. By abstaining from eating all that is available to eat, one can do penance for sins, making reparation for them. Also one can gain strength against future sins by this self-imposed penance. Fasting is a way to chastise the body for the sins the body has committed. Additionally denying oneself the pleasure of eating helps to bring the body into control and subject to the soul.
St. John of the Cross tells us to keep in mind the value of our good works, fasts, alms and penances. Firstly the value of these is “not based on quantity and quality so much as on the love of God practiced in them”. (Ascent Book 3 Chap. 27) So our good works, fasts, almsgiving and penances should be done for the love of God, and we “should not set (our) heart on the pleasure, comfort, savor and other elements of self-interest (like trying to lose weight) these good works and practices usually entail, but recollect (our) joy in God and desire to serve him through these means.”
As always regarding fasting we have Christ for our example. He is perfect, so we do not see any extremes to the virtue he models for us. He did practice fasting and abstinence, though he did not need to do this. He had perfect control over his desires and the appetites. In gaining control over the sense appetites prudent discretion is in order. We are not to “kill (ourselves) with penances” and “weaken (ourselves) by fasts”. (Dark Night, Book 1, Chap 6) The idea is virtue, which is the mean between extremes. We should be doing our fasting with the proper motivation which is to repair the damage done by our sinfulness and to gain strength for future temptations to sin.
Fasting is also good because the mind is dulled when the body overeats. When one indulges in too much, the mind becomes sleepy and unable to meditate or pray with attentiveness.
The Church has us fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. These are the days Catholics usually associate with fasting. Fasting during these penitential days of Lent is defined as one normal meal and two smaller meals that together do not equal a full meal. Snacking in between meals would also be excluded as part of the fast. The Church additionally ask us to fast before receiving Holy Communion. We are to fast from food and drink, with the exception of water, for one hour before receiving the Eucharist. It is good to be reminded as to why we are obliged to do this. We do the Eucharistic fast out of respect for the sacrament. We are about to received Jesus, and therefore it is fitting that we should not eat or drink other substances prior to receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood.
The celebration of the Resurrection continues on for fifty days and with great solemnity during the octave, these eight days following Easter Sunday. This week the readings at Mass have been about the different ways that Christ has revealed himself to his disciples after He had risen from the dead. First we read about how He revealed himself to Mary who was weeping at the tomb, then to the travelers on the road to Emmaus in the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. Then He appears in the locked room, and in today’s readings He appears on the beach.
The disciples had all turned back to what they had been doing before all this drama had taken place with Jesus. Now that Easter Sunday has come and gone, we too, like the disciples, have already turned back to our usual routines. We may have attended Mass during Lent as our Lenten sacrifice, but now that Lent is over we say home and sleep in. Or maybe we spent more time at prayer or did some mortification, but now that Lent is over we have set it all aside. We are not so unlike the disciples. Christ had died and is gone; now it is time to turn back to what they did before. “I am going fishing.” says Peter. “We also will come with you.” the disciples said to him. (Jn 21: 3)
“But that night they caught nothing.” – the fruits of any of our efforts without Jesus. But at Christ’s prompting they do catch some fish – a great number of fish!
It does seem like at times that our efforts for Christ are all in vain and that the consummation of all is at hand in these turbulent times, but we must turn our minds to Jesus, because without Him we can do nothing. However, we often do not realize Jesus’s presence among us, much like the disciples on this particular morning at dawn.
Jesus mets the disciples on the beach “with a charcoal fire with fish and bread on it” (Jn 21: 9). In the same way as He did with the disciples, the Lord invites us to “come have breakfast” with Him and to realize that “it is the Lord” (vs 7) in the bread He gives.
As resurrection people we need to let the Lord reveal Himself to us. By being open to His presence and revelation at any time or place – on the road traveling, by the tomb weeping, alone in the room, or while having breakfast on the beach – and by keeping our minds turned towards Jesus, we can recognize His Resurrected Presence among us.
“Remember and do not forget how you angered the LORD, your God, in the wilderness. From the day you left the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious toward the LORD. At Horeb you so provoked the LORD that he was angry enough to destroy you, when I had gone up the mountain to receive the stone tablets of the covenant which the LORD made with you. Meanwhile I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no food and drank no water. The LORD gave me the two stone tablets inscribed, by God’s own finger, with a copy of all the words that the LORD spoke to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. Then, at the end of the forty days and forty nights, when the LORD had given me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant, the LORD said to me, Go down from here now, quickly, for your people whom you have brought out of Egypt are acting corruptly; they have already turned aside from the way I commanded them and have made for themselves a molten idol.” (Dt. 9: – 7-12)
It took only forty days for Israel to turn away from God to worship a golden calf while their leader was away.
How quickly they forgot His loving care in the desert and what He had done for them in leading them out of Egypt. How quickly I forget about Him and His love for me!
Lent is a time to turn back to God.
The forty days of Lent can be used as a time to reflect on what He has done for us when He gave His Son up for us as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to redeem us from our sins and make us acceptable and pleasing to Him.
Where have I abandoned my worship of God to worship a false god?
How ungrateful and forgetful have I been?
Do I give any thought of His Love?
Do I recognize His kindness to me?
God dwells in a soul not in grace giving it being and holding it in existence. This soul is not able to receive light from the Lord, however. St. Teresa of Jesus says these souls are “in a dark prison” and that they cannot do anything good nor can they merit anything for themselves. She exhorts us to have pity on these unfortunate souls and to think about our own past sins and the time when we were in this sad condition. Since the Lord had mercy on us, we should also desire that He have mercy on them.
St. Teresa wants us to give alms by praying for those souls in mortal sin:
“Let us take special care, Sisters, to beg this mercy of Him and not be careless, for it is a most generous alms to pray for those who are in mortal sin.” (Interior Castle VII, 1, 4)
A soul in mortal sin is “bound hands and feet” “dying of hunger” because he cannot take hold of the food that is set before him and eat. In truth this soul has a great disgust for the food. But we should not just stand by and let this soul die for the death is an eternal one.
St. Teresa continues in The Interior Castle to say that our prayers can loosen the bonds of souls that are in this sad state:
“For the love of God I ask you always to remember in your prayers souls in mortal sin.” (Interior Castle, VII, 1,4)
This is how Carmelites are to save souls – by praying for them, for to pray is to give. We should beg God’s mercy on them so that the darkness that covers their souls will be lifted and they will receive light.
God gives gifts without measure. However, we often measure how much we will receive. Prayer changes all this. Prayer changes everything. It opens up our capacity to receive, to receive the gifts God wants to give us.
We are the ones who break friendship with God. It is so ingrained in our nature to dodge His demands. God wants to work in us, but we don’t want it; we have “other interests” or else we want to control God and so the conflict begins. A divided heart settles within and we resist and rebel.
But our God is a God of Mercy. He only interacts with us as Mercy, yet we want to turn and run from so great a gift!
All we ever have to do is to turn to Him, a simple lifting up of the heart . . . a whispered prayer. . . “Father!”, and then the Reckless Mercy begins. It washes over us, pours into our soul, penetrates the heart, fills it with blessings and makes us new. And the good news is that He never tires of doing this.
“Souls should remember His words and see what he did with me; before I grew tired of offending Him, His Majesty began to pardon me. He never tires of giving, nor can He exhaust His mercies. Let us not tire of receiving. May he be blessed forever, amen. – and may all things praise Him.” (St. Teresa, Book of Her Life 19,15)
St. Teresa was overcome by the mercy that God showered on her. She discovered in His presence mercy both for herself and for all sinners. God is merciful and His mercy is reckless and this is beautifully expressed in the following prayer by St. Teresa.
O my God! Source of all mercy! I acknowledge Your sovereign power. While recalling the wasted years that are past, I believe that You, Lord, can in an instant turn this loss to gain. Miserable as I am, yet I firmly believe that You can do all things. Please restore to me the time lost, giving me Your grace, both now and in the future, that I may appear before You in “wedding garments.” Amen.
Each temptation by the devil took him up higher. Satan meets Jesus on the ground in the desert, then this tempter takes him to the parapet of the temple, finally he takes him to a very high mountain. Each time the temptations take him further from the manna. The manna being to live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Our cravings for other foods diminishes our ability to recognized that the manna has everything!
“Those whom God begins to lead into these desert solitudes are like the children of Israel. When God began giving them the heavenly food, which contained in itself all savors and changed to whatever taste each one hungered after [Wis. 16:20-21], as is there mentioned, they nonetheless felt a craving for the tastes of the fleshmeats and onions they had eaten in Egypt, for their palate was accustomed and attracted to them more than to the delicate sweetness of the angelic manna. And in the midst of heavenly food, they wept and sighed for fleshmeat [Num 11:4-6]. The baseness of our appetite is such that it makes us long for our own miserable goods and feel aversion for the incommunicable heavenly good.” (The Dark Night, Bk 1: 9,5)
When St. John of the Cross speaks of ‘our appetite’ he is referring to our desires. Yet it is God alone can satisfy all our desires. What is needed is to direct all desires, our cravings for other foods, to his Word and Love. Desires for people, places and things will not satisfy, they will only leave one wanting. Fulfillment can only be found in God.
When things are done for our own satisfaction, God is pushed out. Remembering that the time of Lent is a time to push out everything in our life that is unlike God, or that is not conformed to God, we can focus our desires on God being attentive to “the delicate sweetness of the angelic manna” – the heavenly food that is in our midst.
During Lent we are to focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These were the focus of Matthew’s Gospel which were read on Ash Wednesday. (Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18)
We can do these for the wrong reasons, wanting to be seen or praised by others who observe us carrying these actions out in practice. A form of pride can set in. We can do these because of the publicity or praise that we may receive. Complacency can also creep in to these activities. Our motives can be all wrong.
A secret kind of peace and tranquility can come from the performance of these things as well. We begin to feel good about ourselves for having done something charitable or difficult or because reason has told us these are good and noble things in themselves.
St. John of the Cross reminds us that we should do these things with a totally different attitude:
“For the sake of directing their joy in moral goods to God, Christians should keep in mind that the value of their good works, fasts, alms, penances, and so on, is not based on quantity and quality so much as on the love of God practiced in them; and consequently that these works are of greater excellence in the measure both that the love of God by which they are performed is more pure and entire and that self-interest diminishes with respect to pleasure, comfort, praise and earthly or heavenly joy. They should not set their heart on the pleasure, comfort, savor, and other elements of self-interest these good works and practices usually entail, but recollect their joy in God and desire to serve him through these means.” (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk III, 27,5)
Therefore, we should do all our Lenten fasts, prayers, penances, and alms with more love and to do them for God, remembering that only God needs to be pleased and joyful over the works we do. Also, we should remember that our saint also pointed out that the quantity and quality are not that important. Any little thing done with love and for God is what is most important. May our Lenten practices be carried out with more love.