The Ecstasy of Self-forgetfulness

john_everett_millais_peace_concludedNeither do walls or rich furniture make a home.  Millionaires in magnificent mansions may never know a home.  But where there are good relationships, where love binds the family together and to God, there happiness is always to be found.  For good relationships are heaven anywhere.  Monotony and misery cannot exist where there is love.  But the fire of love must be kept burning warmly and brightly with the sweet wood of sacrifice.  In teaching us to cross the “I” out of life, our Lord tells us the secret of happiness; what the Saints call the ecstasy of self-forgetfulness.  For divine love is always self-effacing, seeks to give rather than to receive, to serve rather than be served, to love rather than to be loved, and will sacrifice anything for the beloved.  Only then does love become a clean and holy fire in the heart, and not an ugly flare of lust.

— Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833)

 

The Weakness of God

panagia2bglikofilousa2beditedOverwhelmed by omnipotence, we miss the heart of love. How can I matter to him? We say. It makes no sense; he has the world, and even that he does not need. It is folly even to imagine him like myself, to credit him with eyes into which I could ever look, a heart that could ever beat for my sorrows or joys, a hand he could hold out to me. For even if the childish picture be allowed, that hand must be cupped to hold the universe, and I am a speck of dust on the star-dust of the world.

Yet Mary holds her finger out, and a divine hand closes on it. The maker of the world is born a begging child; he begs for milk, and does not know that it is milk for which he begs. We will not lift our hands to pull the love of God down to us, but he lifts his hands to pull human compassion down upon his cradle. So the weakness of God proves stronger than men, and the folly of God proves wiser than men. Love is the strongest instrument of omnipotence, for accomplishing those tasks he cares most dearly to perform; and this is how he brings his love to bear on human pride; by weakness not by strength, by need and not by bounty.

— From Said or Sung by Austin Farrer (1904-1968)

 

Prayer, Evangelism & Mission

130919_fg_popefrancisliberal-crop-article568-largeSpirit-filled evangelizers are evangelizers who pray and work. Mystical notions without a solid social and missionary outreach are of no help to evangelization, nor are dissertations or social or pastoral practices which lack a spirituality which can change hearts. These unilateral and incomplete proposals only reach a few groups and prove incapable of radiating beyond them because they curtail the Gospel. What is needed is the ability to cultivate an interior space which can give a Christian meaning to commitment and activity. Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out. The Church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer, and to my great joy, groups devoted to prayer and intercession, the prayerful reading of God’s word and the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist are growing at every level of ecclesial life. Even so, we must reject the temptation to offer a privatized and individualistic spirituality which ill accords with the demands of charity, to say nothing of the implications of the incarnation. There is always the risk that some moments of prayer can become an excuse for not offering one’s life in mission; a privatized lifestyle can lead Christians to take refuge in some false forms of spirituality.

 — From The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis (b. 1936)

Climbing Mountains with Ease

a002761bd5c228357b9068ae67575da5When the eternal God meant to stoop so low as to be fixed in our center, he chose for his mother a holy person and a maid. She received the angel’s message with such sublimity of faith that her faith was turned into vision, her hopes into actual possession, and her grace into glory. She who was now full of God, bearing God in her virgin womb, and the Holy Spirit in her heart, arose with haste and gladness to communicate that joy which was designed for all the world; and she found no breast to pour forth the first emanations of her overjoyed heart so fit as her cousin Elizabeth’s, for she was to be the mother of the Baptist, who was sent a forerunner “to prepare the way of the Lord” her son.

Let us notice how light and airy was the coming of the Virgin, as she made haste over the mountains; her very little burden which she bore hindered her not but that she might make haste enough; and as her spirit was full of cheerfulness and alacrity, so even her body was made airy and full of life. And there is this excellency in religion that when we carry Christ within us, his presence is neither so peevish as to disturb our health, nor so sad as to discompose our cheerfulness, but he recreates our body by charity and by securing God’s providence over us while we are in the pursuit of the heavenly kingdom. For as the Virgin climbed mountains easily, so there is no difficulty in our life so great, but it may be managed by those assistances we receive from the holiest about us.

—From The Life of our Blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)

 

Crucified and Risen with Christ

stgeorgetoledo2b-2banastasis2b-2bfr-2btheodore2bjurewiczRedemption [in the mythological sense] means redemption from cares, distress, fears, and longings, from sin and death, in a better world beyond the grave. But is this really the essential character of the proclamation of Christ in the Gospels and by Paul? I should say it is not. The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and a mythological hope is that the former sends a person back to his life on earth in a wholly new way, which is even more sharply defined than it is in the Old Testament. The Christian, unlike the devotees of the redemption myths, has no last line of escape available from earthly tasks and difficulties into the eternal. But, like Christ himself, he must drink the earthly cup to the dregs, and only in his doing so, is the crucified and risen Lord with him, and he crucified and risen with Christ. This world must not be prematurely written off. In this the Old and New Testaments are one. Redemption myths arise from human boundary-experiences, but Christ takes hold of a man in the center of his life.

— From Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Eberhard Bethge written from Tegel prison, 27 June, 1944

When the Will is Unwilling

maria20bouldingfinalportraitmichaelwoodward2009For many of us it is difficult to live honestly from this place of failure and weakness. Even if we know with our heads we should, we may still slip back into the old attitudes and behave as though God were expecting us to succeed and making his love conditional upon our achievements. If we have become hardened in such an attitude it may take some deep experience of failure to disabuse us. When a crisis occurs I may find in myself the sheer moral impossibility of obeying God. It is not simply a matter of emotional rebellion, or of knowing that ‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’; the will itself is unwilling. I am rebellious to the core and do not even want to want God’s will. Perhaps I can push it one stage further from me, and say with a kind of tortured effort, ‘I want to want to want your will,’ and then ask myself if there is even a grain of honesty or good will in that. I am helpless; and as the father of the epileptic boy cried to Jesus, ‘I do believe, help my unbelief,’ so I can only say to God, ‘I am rebellious down to my roots, help me.’

— From Gateway to Hope by Maria Boulding (1929-2009)