Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Illumines. . . Lag Time

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. HEBREWS 11:1

 At Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. JOHN 4:46–50

It was a director of religious education who introduced me to St. Therese of the Child Jesus. She was a little apologetic about it; we both had advanced degrees in theology, and people with advanced degrees in anything are inclined to be skeptics. However, she had witnessed a number of miracles that just could not be explained away easily. She explained the usual “routine” for petitioning St. Therese with a prayer request. First comes a novena, a simple prayer that is prayed for nine days, making a petition known to the saint. St. Therese, who said that she wanted to spend her time in heaven showering roses upon souls, then lets the petitioner know that she  has heard the prayer by sending the petitioner a sign—usually of roses. My friend shared that when she had prayed, she would inevitably receive a card with roses, or sometimes an actual bouquet.

I needed a job. So I began praying a novena to St. Therese; three days into the prayer I received an ad for roses in the mail. The first time I threw it out, chalking it up to pure coincidence. I received the same ad again the next day. Therese has a good sense of humor. Miraculously, it seemed, a new job came— but then it didn’t work out. On the same day that I was thrown into an unemployment line, I was given a painting of St. Therese holding a bouquet of roses! The next few months were stressful as I sought a new job, but deep down I knew that St. Therese would not let me down. In the end I ended up exactly where God wanted me, although the journey to arrive there was nothing like anything I could ever have imagined.

Lag Time 

We have a tendency to think that because the miracles Jesus worked while he was on earth brought immediate results, our prayers should work instantaneously, too. When things don’t happen right away for us, our faith wanes and we start to look elsewhere for answers. However, if we look closely at the miracle stories found in the Gospels, we see many instances when Jesus “tests” a petitioner by giving him or her a task to complete before the miracle happens. For example, he instructs the blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam. He sends the royal official home. He tells Peter to cast his net on the other side. In each case, the petitioner is rewarded for carrying his or her cross a little further than he or she would have liked. The ultimate miracle in the Gospels—the resurrection of Jesus—doesn’t take place right away, either. Jesus dies on Good Friday, and then rests in the tomb for the entire Sabbath before rising on Easter Sunday. This “delay” should give us assurance: When we face a cross, we can trust that whether the period between promise and fulfillment is a few days or a few decades, God will respond at the appropriate time. This does not mean that the wait will be pleasant.

The royal official whose son was dying was desperate. Anyone facing similar circumstances knows, we want help and we want it immediately. Being told to go home could have sounded like a rejection, but the royal official had great faith in the power of Jesus to fulfill whatever he promised. To the man’s delight, his faith was rewarded; his son was healed at the exact moment that Jesus had told his father, “Your son will live.”

 Believing Against Appearances 

In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus is on the cross the passersby say to him, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40). That Jesus doesn’t come down is a mystery that we who follow him must internalize. We trust in him alone; not in appearances, not in immediate results, not according to the scenario we have set up in our own minds. Our Lord is faithful, on his terms and not ours. No matter what the situation, our job is to believe in him. Jesus commonly responded to those who immediately received their miracles, with no lag time, by telling them that  their faith had healed them. The cross illumines real faith, the dying of a controlling ego that corresponds to an act of perfect trust, especially when it seems all is lost. Sometimes the cross brings pain to us personally; other times it involves the pain and suffering of those we love. Faith is difficult precisely because it requires that we trust in God’s response before we can perceive anything being done. Once God acts, however, we have a sense that God was guiding us all along.

When our earthly life ceases, we will be welcomed into God’s kingdom to the degree that we made him the Lord of our lives. For many of us, that will mean some time along the purgative way, learning to release all of our demands upon God. God has found his rightful place in our hearts when we realize that whatever he wills is best for us. When we look back over our lives, we often find that every event is intricately interwoven with another, and then another, with bright spots of serendipity when we “just happened” to be in the right spot at the right time at key moments. This realization will deepen the mystery that is life; regardless how long or short our life, our mission and purpose is God’s. If he seems slow to respond, look to the cross of Christ, which illumines even the lag time between the promise and the fulfillment.

The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Illumines. . . Blindness “

As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ And I answered ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.” Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go to Damascus, and you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.” ACTS 22:6–11 

Jesus said, “For Judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” JOHN 9:39–41 

The most unique Holy Saturday I ever experienced occurred when my wife and I decided to go to a monastery for Holy Week . Saturday was a rainy day and we decided to go to a nearby spot that was advertised up and down the interstate as the place to visit when you were passing through this part of the country— it was a cave. What better spot to spend Holy Saturday, I reasoned, than under the earth? After all, Jesus’ body had lain in a tomb on that first Holy Saturday.

So we drove a few miles away from the monastery and joined a group of other travelers in an out-of-the-way location to descend into the earth and explore one of nature’s wonders. What I remember most about the tour of the cave had little to do with the stalactites or the stalagmites but something else that we experienced once we had gone deep into the cave. The tour guide asked us, “How many of you think you have experienced total darkness?” A few people raised their hands. He then told us that he was going to turn off the artificial lighting that illuminated the cave so that we could experience what the first people who had discovered this cave experienced when their light went out. There was nothing but total, pitch darkness. I held my hand in front of my face but could see absolutely nothing. I knew that it was there because I could sense it but I could see absolutely nothing, no shadow, no outline—just a horrible darkness. It was the closest that I have ever come to having some understanding of what it must be like to be totally blind.

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, in a chapter entitled “Seeing,” Annie Dillard wrote about people born blind whose sight was restored by a medical procedure. The reaction of those thus healed wasn’t what one might expect. Some wanted to go back to the darkness—they found the light too much. Others enjoyed the gift of vision, but to those who had been in darkness since birth it seemed to them that everything was made of light. Blinded by the Light In John’s Gospel, Jesus divides the world into two camps: those who encounter his light and have their sight restored, and those who encounter that light and are blinded. Jesus told Nicodemus, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

In John’s Gospel, Jesus heals a blind man, who has not only his physical sight restored but also comes to see that Jesus is worthy of worship. The Pharisees who question the blind man refuse to believe, no matter how much evidence is brought forward to prove that Jesus had healed him. Another Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, later persecuted the followers of Jesus. While setting out on one such mission, Saul was struck by a light from heaven, and heard the voice of Jesus, the suffering Christ. Saul was blinded on his way to Damascus, where a follower of Jesus healed him. Saul became St. Paul, one of the greatest followers of Christ. The preaching of Paul would focus on the crucified Christ, leading many artists to portray the scene of Paul’s conversion as an encounter with a cross of light.

None of the Pharisees, including Saul, thought that persecuting the followers of Christ was evil; in fact, they thought they were doing the will of God. We all risk falling into the same trap. How well do you and I truly see? Do we see everything made of light? Or do we only partially see reality as it is?

A World Made of Light 

There have been times in my life when I have called upon God to save or help me, and God has answered in dramatic ways. At

first I gave thanks for God’s intervention in my life. But with time my inner Pharisee began to question the events: Was God really responsible? There are those who believe that we live in an age when miracles have ceased, but I know better. Miracles abound—we just don’t always recognize them. Those cured of physical blindness perceive the world to be made of light; the same is true of those cured of spiritual blindness. What seemed dark and hopeless suddenly becomes a path to glory. The psalmist reflects this spiritual vision when he prays in perhaps the best-known psalm, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4). Today there are eye surgeries that allow people to see clearly without corrective lenses. We need the “surgery of the cross” to restore our vision, allowing us to see the world as God sees it. The person filled with the Light perceives light, even in apparent total darkness. As we read in the Gospel of Matthew: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22–23). Lord Jesus, touch our eyes that we might see!

The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . How We See Ourselves

 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 CORINTHIANS 6:9–11

 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified. LUKE 18:13–14 

William hit the road when he was twenty; hopping aboard his Harley and setting out on a journey that would take him down many sinful roads. He was living the “high life” of booze, drugs, and promiscuous sex. He worked infrequently; often he would hook up with a rock band and travel throughout the country until the band’s tour ended, making just enough money to support his lifestyle. Yet the wild life took its toll on him, and even Bill’s friends began to worry that he was on a suicidal path. It was when William hit bottom that he began, in his words, to be “haunted by the Holy Spirit.”

The Spirit would suggest a  pious thought to him, that he would react to violently, not wanting to hear it. But like a gentle breeze it would come back to him again and again. One night on a bus, a fellow traveler began to converse with William; in many ways the stranger’s life paralleled that of William. Like William, the stranger had also felt haunted by God’s Spirit. He produced a Bible from his knapsack and handed it to William, and told him to open it and read the first verse that caught his eye. With some reluctance, William did what his fellow traveler suggested, and opened the Bible to 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. As he read the verse out loud, he realized that he was among those St. Paul indicated were excluded from the kingdom of God. William closed the Bible and handed it back to the stranger. Then closing his eyes he silently prayed that God would wash him of all his sins and help him to live for God alone from that moment on. When he opened his eyes it was as if the entire world had been transformed. Everything seemed charged with light and energy. William never looked back. Within a year he was working on a reservation in Canada while studying in a Catholic seminary. Eventually he was ordained a priest in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and he remains faithful to his vocation to this day as a monk in a Canadian monastery. William’s prayer life now centers on the recitation of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Over and over he prays this prayer on a prayer rope. For him this is no empty exercise but a reminder of how destructive a sinful life is and how glorious the life of grace!

 Such Were Some of You 

Father William’s conversion was sparked by Paul’s warning to the Corinthians: “Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor  idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” To William’s dismay, this passage was a succinct description of the lifestyle of his friends and co-workers, and of the fallen world that he and his friends embraced.

When I taught ethics in a Catholic high school, my students would often argue with me that in order to be a successful person in the world, one had to do many of the very things that Paul lists as barring one from God’s kingdom. They were reflecting the “gospel” that had been preached to them every day by our culture, which has so often wrecked young lives. I suspect that many of us have been sold this bill of goods to one degree or another. We have fallen into sinful behavior in order to be a part of the crowd that we are hanging out with; we have sold our souls far too cheaply. Paul makes it clear that what saves us is being “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified” by Christ and the Spirit. In other words, dying to ourselves in Baptism, crucifying our flesh with Christ on the cross, and living by the Spirit. The self that dies in Baptism is a false self—the fallen self that seeks glory from others rather than from God. We are never truly happy when this fallen self rules our lives.

God’s Image 

We all have been created in the image of God. As long as we live apart from God’s grace, we will never be truly at peace. That is why alcohol and drugs are so much a part of the lives of those 122 The Power of the Cross Perhaps we need to hold up before us the image of sinful lives, the destruction done both to the individuals and to those around them to generate within us the horror that we should have for committing sin in our lives.

Perhaps we need to hold up before us the image of sinful lives, the destruction done both to the individuals and to those around them to generate within us the horror that we should have for committing sin in our lives. If we are to be transformed into the image that God has created us in, we need to respond to his gospel and realize that in doing so we are rejecting the message preached by the world. This presents us with a cross, but a cross that liberates us from what others think we should be and frees us for the purpose for which God has created us.

The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . Our Priorities

 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 JOHN 4:10–12 

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” MARK 12:32–34 

A young girl dying of cancer befriended a famous archbishop. The bishop had a soft spot in his heart for children like her; his own niece had been diagnosed and he knew firsthand the agony both the patient and her parents faced. The archbishop had extended a standing invitation to the Protestant chaplain of the children’s hospital: If any Catholic child in the cancer ward wanted to see a priest, he should be summoned. So it happened that the archbishop was called to accompany this young cancer patient, Lorraine, in her last months of life. In time Lorraine came to trust the archbishop, and she shared with him her greatest trial. Her parents were angry with God because of her illness. She had been diagnosed when she was five years old, and had not yet made her First Communion. Would it be possible, she asked her friend, to receive the Eucharist before she died? After consulting with the parents, the archbishop prepared her personally for her first reconciliation, then celebrated Mass in her hospital room, confirming her and giving her First Communion. She lived only a short while longer. The archbishop said she had great faith but her constant worry was her parents. No doubt she was now interceding for them, that they might come to know the love that she had experienced in her suffering, that same suffering that had become an obstacle of faith to them.

This is the obstacle of the cross—when Our Lord died on the cross, some left believing that he was the Son of God, others left in utter disbelief. Yet the Scriptures tell us that Jesus’ death on the cross was a sign of God’s love.

 Love of God 

When the Scriptures speak of love there are three different words used that are all translated in English as “love.” There is eros, which is a romantic love; sometimes this word is used for the love that we should have toward God and that God has toward us. There is philia, the love of friendship; again, this is used both for the love that God has for us and for the love we are to have for God. Yet the most common form of love, the type of love of which Jesus spoke when he said that we should “love the Lord with our whole being” is agape, a sacrificial  love—a tough love, a love that can almost feel like we are being crucified. In the spiritual life, there are times we find ourselves on a spiritual high, literally in love with God. There are other times we experience God as a trusting friend to whom we open our hearts, and with whom we feel solidarity on our life’s journey. Yet for all the other times, there is agape—sacrificial love! Agape love is tough. It’s how we love our children who are driving us nuts, how children love parents, or how spouses love each other, even when the other person doesn’t respond to every need. It’s the type of love we have for our enemies. It can even be the type of love we have for ourselves when we are immersed in feelings of despair and failure. It is the type of love we are to have for God all the time. Yet most of all, it is the type of love that God has for us. The kind of love that induced him to lower himself to our level, suffer at our hands, and love us through it all.

The School of the Cross 

The cross is the school of love. It transforms how we look at God, the world, and everyone around us. Nailed to the cross with Jesus, we sometimes have faith enough to hear him promise, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Others simply curse God for not taking them down off of the cross. If you are graced to be a student of the cross, it is your mission to pray with all of your strength for those who are truants of this school. The love of God compels us to love one another, 118 The Power of the Cross God has already lowered himself to our level, suffered at our hands, and loved us through it all. Jesus is the perfect example of being loved by God and loving God.

Realizing that God alone really matters is the first step to entering the kingdom of God. When that kingdom comes, everyone will acknowledge God’s priority. Until then, we live in a world where those who know must tell those who don’t, and oftentimes those who know best are the children. Fulton Sheen once said there will be only children in the kingdom, something that we adults might want to reflect upon from time to time.

The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . Our Lives

The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For, “every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” ROMANS 10:11–13

When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil. LUKE 11:21–22

Popular folklore holds that when the stock market crashed in 1929, many investors jumped out of windows to their deaths. The reality is that, of the few who did take their lives, most chose various other means. Yet the symbolic nature of those few “jumper” suicides was enough to leave a lasting impression upon a generation of people who saw that putting one’s trust in money is a dead-end street. The same can be said about those who put their trust in pleasure, whether that pleasure is derived from drugs or the abuse of sexuality. Deaths from overdoses and sexually transmitted diseases capture the popular imagination because they resonate with something deep in the human psyche: Although we are tempted  to think that more money or pleasure can save us, deep down we know that placing one’s trust in them leads to death. Jesus compares this struggle to a battle. Our line of defense may be strong enough to repel some enemies, but they cannot protect us from the strongest opponent—death. Only Jesus promises immortality; only Jesus can deliver it. The false gods Bacchus, Venus, and Mammon may whisper empty promises into our ears, but they can never deliver.


 Whom Do I Trust? 

The bishop who was responsible for the conversion of St. Augustine said, “Faith means battles. If there are no contests, it is because there are none who desire to contend.” What Ambrose meant is that if we find our faith relatively easy, we should look again to see how much faith we really have. St. Peter Chrysologus said, “If you want to party with the Devil, you can’t celebrate with Christ.” In other words, you and I have to choose. Jesus told his disciples, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30).

Stories of warrior saints abound. St. Padre Pio wrestled with the devil throughout the night. Similar tales are told of St. John Vianney. St. Francis and St. Benedict are both said to have waged great battles with the flesh. Whether the enemy was physical or spiritual, these holy men and women continued to fight—not by their own resources, but by acknowledging, like Paul, that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Not one  person who trusts in Jesus, says St. Paul, “will be put to shame”; what the Lord promises, he delivers.

 Lukewarm Faith

I visited the ruins of Laodicea in 1979 while I was serving in Turkey as a member of the United States Army. Of all the seven churches mentioned in Revelation, the ruins of this city were the most desolate. It was destroyed late in the fifth century AD by a terrible earthquake. My memory is of a wide-open field, with an amphitheater and some graves nearby. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus warns the apathetic Church of Laodicea: “I know your works: . . . because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:15–19).

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, perhaps the greatest American Catholic preacher of the last century, used to say that these words were addressed especially to those of us who live in the northern hemisphere. When I look at the cross of Christ, I realize he’s right: The cross speaks of radical commitment; mine is only lukewarm by comparison.  I often harbor thoughts about grasping at things of the world that might offer some guarantee against whatever impending doom lies in the future.


 Who You Gonna Call? 

I think it is understandable. We live in a consumer society that constantly tries to sell us a slice of heaven: “enough” life insurance, in case you should die suddenly; a “big enough” plot, so that your loved ones will be able to find you; the “right” drug to help you get more out of sex, enhance your mood, keep your kids in line; the list goes on and on. But in the end, will any of these enticing offers truly save us? Of course not. The cross of Christ forces us to choose sides, to reorder our priorities. It also transforms our personal crosses and gives us hope: We have on our side someone who is victorious over all enemies, all powers and principalities. St. Leonard said, “Impress on yourself this great truth: Even if all hell’s devils come after you to tempt you, you won’t sin unless you want to—provided that you don’t trust in your own powers, but in the assistance of God. He doesn’t refuse help to those who ask it with a lively faith.” God offers us all the help we need in this life, if we avail ourselves of it. As the catchy title tune of the movie Ghostbusters asks us: “Who ya gonna call?”

The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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Fourth Sunday of Lent

 

Jesus said to Nicodemus:“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have

eternal life.”For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.For

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed

in the name of the only Son of God.And this is the verdict,that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light,because their works were

evil.For everyone who does wicked things hates the lightand does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

(Image from the ceiling of the Gesu in Rome of souls repelled by the name of Jesus and the Light plunging downward to their damnation)


Reflection

Since I’m fresh back from Rome, I cannot read this Sunday’s Gospel without thinking of the ceiling of the Gesu in Rome. It is the triumph of the name of Jesus and it plays on the contrast between light and darkness…those who move toward the name are almost lost in the light, while those repelled by the name are in darkness and seem to be plunging downward and about to crash on those looking upward (one of the best 3-D images I’ve ever witnessed). And of course this image immediately impacts you the viewer…”am I drawn toward the name of Jesus or repelled by it”…now we all immediately might put ourselves in the “drawn towards” category, but don’t be so quick to judge, but rather ask yourself “am I willing to die to myself and glorify the name of Jesus?”

Do I prefer the light that Jesus brings to the darkness of my intellect or do I prefer my thoughts to Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel?

One of the best homilies I ever heard was on this Gospel and it also was one of the shortest homilies I ever heard. It was given by an old Jesuit in his 90’s who read the Gospel in a halting voice and then preached these words in a tearful voice:

“‘This is the judgment, the light came into the world but men preferred darkness.’ What a tragedy!”

His simple “What a tragedy” gave me pause to think about the gravity of this choice and years later having witnessed the mother church of the Jesuits I can’t help but think when he gave the homily that the image of the Gesu ceiling was in the back of his mind and those plunging souls falling to their own damnation because of their preference to darkness.

Last night I was reading a passage from a book on Monastic Practices, I believe written by a Cistercian and the passage was specifically about Vigils and keeping watch in the night. The monk talked about the deeds of darkness and how monks are called to watch and pray specifically for the Lord’s coming in the midst of the night for all of those who may be plunging at that moment into the deeper darkness. Who knows how many souls have been saved because in some monastery at that “hour of darkness” monks were “watching and praying” per the Lord’s command and light broke through and drew a soul toward the Name?

Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . Law and Love 

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in one sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. ROMANS 13:8–10

 “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. MATTHEW 5:17–18

In Fort Myers, Florida, at the end of a beautiful street lined on either side with majestic royal palms is a small neon sign. It looks out of place; it is in front of home in a residential area. The simple sign is lit with green letters: GOD IS LOVE. The first time I saw this sign, I was visiting a classmate who lived next door to this home. “Is there a church here?” I asked. “No.” “Why is the sign there, then?”

He told me that the family who had lived in the house for the first half of the twentieth century had only one child, a boy. When World War II started, the boy was drafted into the military and soon was fighting in Europe. Back home in Fort Myers the man and his wife prayed constantly, asking God to protect their son and bring him back safely. Tragically, their son was killed in the war. Shortly after the young man’s body had been returned for burial, the father erected the sign in front of their home.

The next day as I was making my way back home, I passed the sign again: GOD IS LOVE. Why had that father erected the sign, when his prayer had not been answered as he had hoped? Had the man erected the sign in anger? Had he put it up to mock the love that God was supposed to have for us? I thought of other families I had known who had suffered similar losses, of parents who came home one day to find their child had been killed in an accident. Under such circumstances, I couldn’t imagine anyone erecting a sign with the proclamation GOD IS LOVE. The sign and its story haunted me, reflecting my own internal struggle.

A week later, a thought struck me: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That father was not mocking God at all. Rather, he understood in a way that most of us can’t imagine what God had sacrificed, giving an only son so that others might live. Fulfilling God’s Law Jesus said that he had come not to abolish but to fulfill the law and the prophets. On the cross he said, “It is fulfilled” (John  19:30). Jesus said that there was no greater love than to lay one’s life down for a friend. That is exactly what the Son of God did, and what he asks of his followers as well.

St. Paul, who at a glance one might be tempted to think of as someone who was against the “law,” gives us the reason grace has supplanted the “law.” The love of God, which we experience in our lives as grace, flows into us. That love cannot be contained; it is so great that it spills out and must be spent on others. In love—God’s love—the law is fulfilled. The cross of Christ, which is the most eloquent expression of God’s love for us, is also the instrument by which we receive that love: We must die to ourselves so that Christ’s love might live within us. “Love one another,” Jesus commanded. It is a simple message but complex in practice. How should we express that love?

Love is so misused in our day that it almost has ceased to be a good word. Caritas, the Latin word for love, can also be translated as “charity.” In order to restore the true meaning of “love,” perhaps that is the way we should translate it. God showed charity to the world, through his Son. Jesus tells us to have charity to one another as he has had charity on us. The charity that we are to show to one another is not sentimental or self-serving. We do not expect those we love—whether ourselves, our parents, our spouses, or other people—to be allknowing and all-loving. First and foremost, we love other people by not making them “gods.” We honor those we love despite their human weaknesses and failings, always reserving a special place for God, who is the only perfect Being worthy of worship. The rest of us poor slobs deserve a fair amount of charity because we know only a little, and are limited in every conceivable way. So when we fail each other it is to be expected.

 Good Debt 

St. Paul says that the only thing we should owe anyone is love. In our “credit card economy,” such an idea is difficult to imagine, but perhaps that makes us better suited to grasp Paul’s message. We know all about owing others money, but how indebted are we when it comes to love? We should start by looking at how much we love God. The faith of the family that erected the GOD IS LOVE sign is remarkable. Most of us are quick to blame God for the horrible things that happen to us. Yet, if you really believe that God is up there just waiting to “get” you, how can you love such a supreme being? This is not the God Christ revealed to us, the God who suffers with us, who became one of us to rescue us from the powers of evil and destruction. In the Scriptures, death is portrayed as an angel; since death is the result of sin, one might presume a bad angel. The love of God, that is, God’s charity for us, is what rescues our loved ones from death and makes eternal life possible. God rescues us from sin and its destructive power. God can make good out of the evil others do and intend for us. This is why God is worthy of love and why God’s love enables us to love others in ways that would be impossible without God’s love. No matter what happens to us, we know that God is victorious. The psalmist says “O that today you would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7–8).

The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

"michael Dubruiel"

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