Daily Lent Reflection

The Cross of Christ Restores. . . Our Freedom


 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ROMANS 6:22–23


“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”. . . “Truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” JOHN 8:31,34–36 

We live in a time when “truth” is often thought of, even among Christians, as something subjective and up for grabs. This has greatly weakened the ability of the Church to bring the gospel of Christ to the world. Any appeal to the Church as the guardian of truth is met with a litany of accusations against those who have preached one thing and lived another. The fact that members of the Church remain enslaved by sin, despite the liberating claims of the gospel, can be explained by our inability to “continue in the word” of Jesus. Jesus told his disciples that if they persisted in their faith, they would know the truth and it would set them free. Freedom would be theirs only  if they picked up their crosses and stepped out in obedience, following Christ even to death.

More than a few people are immersed in lives ruled by addiction—the most evident slavery to sin. Many wish to disassociate sin and addiction, arguing that those who suffer from addictions are not culpable of their acts. However, the effects of sin may be seen both in the life of the addicted person and in the people around him or her. In addition, behavior scientists are demonstrating that those with substance addictions to drugs and alcohol often engage in other activities that can be just as destructive. Some studies show a release of certain chemicals in the brain that mimic the high of drugs and alcohol and lead people to engage in other addictive behaviors to reach this “high.” All of this is proclaimed in the teaching of the New Testament, of course, and even the therapy devised to rescue someone from such behavior is biblically based. The Scriptures teach that sin is both destructive and enslaving. The destructive element is not apparent to the human eye—in the opening pages of Genesis, the forbidden fruit was “a delight to the eyes.” Unfortunately, by the time the person recognizes his addiction, he is already caught in its deadly grip. Sin is by nature enslaving, and we cannot free ourselves from it. We can be freed from future bondage only through a “higher power.” Jesus offers us this free gift, but we must continue in his Word in order to experience true freedom.

 Just Do It

Father Val Peter, executive director of Boys and Girls Town in Nebraska, wrote a book called Rekindling the Fires: An Introduction to Behavioral Spirituality. This spirituality is based not on feeling but on truth, a sort of “just do it” approach that encourages others to act on the truth of the gospel in faith, continuing over a period of time the “forced” activity becomes more natural. In many ways Father Val’s book is a modern version of living the virtues in order to become a virtuous person. Every parent grieves when they see a child make the same mistakes they once did; what most parents do not realize is that we are still bound by those “blinders.” The details change with age, but if we are not serving God, we are still slaves to some other master that in the end will bring us down to the depths of hell To the person obsessed with anything that is not God, being freed from that “master” seems impossible. Even taking the first steps toward Christ and away from the “master imposter” is painful, indeed a crucifixion. It is impossible to imagine any other way of living. Yet if we allow the words of Jesus to soak into our minds, bringing us to true repentance, we will wonder how we ever could have been so misled. As the late Orthodox theologian Father Alexander Schmemann once observed, there is a joy in following Jesus that transcends the suffering that is entailed by taking up one’s cross: “In the world you will have tribulation,” Jesus warns us (Jn 16:33). Anyone who would in the smallest degree follow the path of Christ, love him and give himself to him, has this tribulation, recognizes this suffering. The cross is suffering. But through love and self-sacrifice this same tribulation is transformed into joy. It is experienced as being crucified with Christ, as accepting his cross and hence taking part in his victory. “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The cross is joy, “and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22).

In medieval art, the cross of Christ is portrayed as the tree of life, both as a vine (referring to John 15) and as the source of the Eucharist. Angels are depicted as offering the bread and wine, the fruit of the cross, to those who stand at the foot of it. This image points to the alternative to enslavement that Christ offers us: to be fed by him at the foot of the cross, receiving from him what the others falsely promise. The false gospels lure us with promises of joy and fulfillment—yet in the end they ensnare us, delivering only misery and despair. Sometimes one has to follow these false masters down a long road to discover that truth. By contrast, the path on which Christ leads us appears arduous and dreary, one to be avoided. In reality, it is the path that leads to true joy, for it delivers everything that our hearts desire most. “Enter by the narrow gate,” our Lord urges us. “For the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13–14). Two roads, two gates. Which are you traveling?

The Power of the Cross by Michael Dubruiel  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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Friday Stations of the Cross

In 1991, Pope John Paul II introduced a new Bible-based interpretation of the Stations of the Cross. This devotional guide invites readers to prayerfully walk in solidarity with Jesus on his agonizing way of the cross—from his last torturous moments in the Garden of Gethsemane to his death and burial.

Now with full-color station images from previously unpublished paintings by Michael O’Brien, this booklet creates an ideal resource for individual or group devotional use, particularly during the Lenten season.

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Daily Lent Reflection

The Cross of Christ Illumines. . . The Way to True Unity

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. EPHESIANS 5:1–2 


So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. JOHN 7:43–44 

One of the most remarkable American Catholics of the last century was a humble Capuchin friar whose name in religion was Father Solanus Casey. Solanus served as a friar in Detroit, in New York, and in his final years in the town of Huntington, Indiana. Born of Irish parents, Solanus did not fare well in the seminary, where he was taught by German-speaking priests in Latin, so while he was ordained a priest, he was never allowed to preach a doctrinal homily or to hear confessions. Yet God gave Solanus the gift of healing, and people sought him out from all over. When he died in 1957, those who knew him regarded him as a saint. He now is recognized as a Venerable, the last step before being beatified by the Church.

Solanus was the community’s porter, the doorkeeper. Today we would call him a receptionist, someone who would greet visitors who came to the friary seeking prayers or material comfort.  Solanus did his job so well that people lined up to have a few moments of his counsel. People of all faiths would come to him requesting prayers and healings. What Solanus would ask of these seekers was rather unique. He told them to “thank God ahead of time”—in other words, to step out in faith, before any miracle had happened; to act before God as though it already had happened. The way that he normally asked people to express this thanks to God was for them to sign up to have Masses said by the Capuchin mission society, whether they were Catholic or not. Mass is the perfect “thanksgiving,” so it made sense to Solanus that if one were to thank God ahead of time, having Mass said was the perfect way to do this. People continue to seek Solanus’s intercession to this day, and they continue to “thank God ahead of time,” with remarkable results.


Unity 

What Solanus taught is what Jesus practiced. In John’s Gospel, before Jesus is arrested and crucified he thanks God, ahead of time. He trusts the Father entirely and he teaches his disciples to do the same. While the people are divided over Jesus and seek to arrest him, no one is able to lay a hand upon him until he gives himself over to them. He freely gives himself to the Father as the Father gives the Son to the world and as the Spirit will be given by the Father and the Son to those who believe and put their trust in God. The Spirit will unite what sin has divided. John’s Gospel tells us that “they wanted to arrest him,” but instead they were captivated by him. They were as divided in their purpose as we are when we sin—part of us wants to believe, part of us doesn’t. Division is one of the results of the original sin of Adam and Eve—and the cross of Christ is the ultimate sign of division, but ironically in that very cross, Christ will make us one.

Do we see this unity anywhere on earth today? In some ways we are more one now than we were fifty years ago, but in many other ways we are more divided. It is to be expected that the world is this way, because the world will remain fallen until Christ comes again, but it is a great scandal that division exists within the body of Christ—the Church. We cannot here worry about what someone else can do to undo this damage to the body of Christ, this further tearing apart of his flesh—we can only examine what we are doing to repair the damage ourselves.

 That They Be One

Father Solanus Casey was a pious priest who lived in the Church prior to the Second Vatican Council, yet one of the remarkable aspects of his life was how he welcomed people of all faiths to his doorstep. He did not change his belief for anyone; he didn’t need to because his faith gave him a command to love everyone and he strove with all his might and God’s help to do so. The gifts that God gave to him freely, he shared freely with all of God’s creation. St. Paul understood well the unraveling of original sin that Our Lord’s death brought about, God’s Spirit reuniting what had been torn apart by sin. He took the good news beyond the Jewish nation and religion that were his own, to the very ends of the earth. Sadly today the Church is wracked with division, in much the same way as the people were when Christ walked among them: They wanted to arrest him rather than be saved by him. Do we not suffer from the same ailment? Do we want to control Our Lord or be controlled by him? St. Paul tells us to “walk in love,” to offer ourselves up as a sacrifice to God. This means dying to all of those things that we like to focus on that keep us apart and focusing rather on the fact that God is the Father of all of us; we all belong to the same family. It means looking at the division that exists and thanking God ahead of time for bringing about the unity of the kingdom, even when we do not see it. Jesus’ journey to the cross was a walk of love, of giving thanks to God and bringing healing to those  who reached out to him. This should be our daily path also.

The Power of the Cross  by Michael Dubruiel 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 Reflection by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Illumines. . . The Truth


“Men, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” ACTS 16:30–31 


So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from? But I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” So they sought to arrest him; but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come. JOHN 7:28–30 

A man went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, and encountered a woman who brought a stone to him for inspection. “What do you see?” she asked him. At first he didn’t see anything, he told me later. But he figured that the woman would not have brought the rock to him if there weren’t anything of note about it. So he studied it from every angle. Finally, he thought he saw something, “I see Jesus, right here,” he said, pointing to several indentations in the stone. The woman grabbed the stone from his grasp. “It’s the Blessed Virgin Mary, you idiot!” And she walked away to show her miraculous stone to another pilgrim.

One of the greatest obstacles to faith is perception, both what we see and what we refuse to see. In the Gospels, those who couldn’t believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be usually cited that they “knew” where he came from—they knew his mother and father. Yet Jesus claimed to come from God.

 Disbelief 

Pick up a news magazine around Christmas or Easter, and you will likely encounter a story about the historical Jesus. These fictional accounts of the life of Jesus are based on the works of scholars who disbelieve anything that purports to be miraculous or prophetic. If Jesus foretells future events, the writers of the socalled historical Jesus claim, that is proof enough that Jesus didn’t say it all; the Gospel writer must have composed it after the fact. Yet disbelief in Jesus’ power is nothing new.

Jesus asks the crowd in the Gospel of John, “You know me, and you know where I come from?” (John 7:28). It is clear that they do not know, but before we become too smug, we should remember that the question of Jesus is directed as much at us as it was at those in the Temple. We shouldn’t assume to know Jesus very well, either.

When people come to me for spiritual direction, I often pose to them a simple question: “When you pray to God, do you direct the prayer to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit?” Most people answer, “The Son.” A few reply, “The Holy Spirit.” Not one person has ever said, “The Father.” When I pry a little as to why they don’t pray to the Father, I usually hear something that reflects their views on authority figures and sometimes their relationship with their earthly fathers.

When the Apostle Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus pointed out to Philip that anyone who had seen him, Jesus, had seen the Father. So right away, we come up against a view of Jesus that probably doesn’t match our notions. The Triune God is not three gods but one. Jesus is the human face of God, God presented to us in a way that we humans can approach.

 Knowledge and Relationship 

The Christian Church has always been full of people who thought they knew Jesus. In reality, their image of the Lord reflected more about their own lives than about him. In modern times, we simply discount anything that is revealed about Jesus in the Scriptures that we don’t like, and fashion a Jesus in our own image—one who hardly ever has the power to save anyone from anything. So how are we to come to know the real Christ? As Jesus pointed out, knowledge comes from relationship. Jesus claimed to know the Father because it was the Father who sent him. Communion with God is essential to understanding both God and his purpose for us in this life. Yet what does it mean to “commune” with God, or to come to an understanding of someone we have never seen with our eyes?

We may gain a limited intellectual understanding of who Jesus is and what he did for us on earth by studying the Scriptures, God’s revelation to us. A prayerful relationship with Our Lord is also essential. To build a lasting relationship with someone, however, it is not enough to read about that person; it is also important to talk with him and those closest to him—holy men and women throughout the history of the Church who devoted their lives to serving him and telling others about him.

Communion with God is abandonment; this is where the cross illumines true knowledge for us. We must cast aside preconceptions of who Jesus should be and encounter the living Lord as he is. We see this abandonment to God in practice when the Gospels tell us that Jesus was not arrested because “his hour” had not yet come. The “hour of Jesus,” (e.g., his passion and death) would not happen until God allowed it to happen. The Scriptures recount different attempts by his enemies to arrest or kill Jesus; yet until the appointed time, they did not succeed. Jesus’ whole life was lived in obedience to this understanding. Similarly, those of us who seek to “know” Jesus must seek him out where he may be found. We need to read the Scriptures, the early Church Fathers, and seek to understand how the Church that he founded continues to manifest his presence in the world today, all the while letting go of who we think Jesus should be so that we might receive the true Christ.

The Power of the Cross by Michael Dubruiel 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. . . Our Choices


And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God. 2 CORINTHIANS 4:3–4


 I do not receive glory from men. But I know that you have not the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? JOHN 5:41–44 

I have made several pilgrimages to foreign lands. In each case I wanted to visit the sites that had been hallowed by the footsteps of our Lord or the apostles. Even so, I familiarized myself with the laws and customs of my host country. St. Augustine felt that this should always be a concern of followers of Christ. We are pilgrims in this world; while we have a duty to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” we should never lose sight of the fact that our true citizenship is in the kingdom of God. Italian theologian Archbishop Bruno Forte has said, “Life is either a pilgrimage or a foretaste of death.” Every day of our lives, we are either tracing the Lord’s footsteps in hopes of sharing in his resurrection, or awaiting a fateful day of death without hope.

To St. Augustine, these groups of people were like two cities: the City of Man, founded in “the love of self, even to the contempt of God” and the City of God, whose occupants love God above all, and who say to their Creator, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head” (City of God, Book XIV, Chap. 28). Every human being must choose between the two destinations, for to turn toward one is to walk away from the other. The choice is simple, said St. Augustine: “Love of self till God is forgotten, or love of God till self is forgotten.”


Heavenly Glory

When Jesus came unto his own, the Gospel of John tells us, “His own did not accept him,” because they preferred darkness to light. This rejection reached its zenith on the cross, where he was abused physically as well as verbally. They mocked him, chided him, ridiculed him—and yet, he did not respond to their taunts. His focus was on his Father: “Father, forgive them.” “My God, my God, why. . .?” “Father, into your hands…” Throughout his ministry, Jesus demonstrated this singlemindedness; he did not seek out the accolades of the crowds, but the pleasure of the One who sent him. The Gospels also reveal the Father’s great pleasure in his Son: At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan: “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased. . .”

At the Transfiguration, as the disciples witnessed the appearance of Moses and Elijah with their Master: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And at Calvary, we witness the wordless anguish of a Father for the agony his Son had endured: the ground shook, the sky grew black, and the curtain in the Temple was torn in two. This was the glory and praise that Jesus sought, and that made it possible for him to endure the long journey from the Incarnation to the Cross and Resurrection.

There were temptations along the way. The devil tempted Christ to use his own power, instead of his obedience, to win over all the kingdoms of the world. The people wanted to make him a king when he multiplied the loaves and fishes. When he was called good by anyone, he pointed out that God alone was good. And when he approached the hour of his death, Jesus prayed, “I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:4–5).

When our earthly pilgrimage is finished, will we be able to say that we have glorified God during our lives? Or did we seek to be glorified by others? Will we have accomplished everything that God desired?

Whom Will You Serve?

One of the most telling—and the saddest—indicators of American cultural values, of what we consider most important as a society, is revealed by the number of cosmetic, appearanceenhancing surgeries that are performed every year. I’m not talking about plastic surgery done to correct birth defects or other serious conditions brought about by illness or accident. I mean the number of otherwise healthy people who are willing to go  under the knife to lift a little here, tuck a little there. What does it say about a person’s mental health, to be so insecure that he or she would risk life and limb, just to look a little younger, a little trimmer, a little closer to some arbitrary cultural ideal? And what does it say about the health of a nation, that those most admired never look a day over thirty?

Those of us who carry the cross of Christ, who see ourselves as pilgrims headed for that City of God, are bound to see things very differently. We give glory to God in all things, and seek God’s blessing upon all of our undertakings. We will not content ourselves with some self-serving “spiritual quest” that has more to do with love of self than love of God. We understand that physical beauty is transitional at best. What matters most is to become the person God created us to be; which is to be more like Christ. So we refuse to let ourselves get caught up in some endless cycle of trying to become someone we are not. When Jesus told the apostles that he must suffer at the hands of the rulers and be crucified, Peter told him that it would never happen. Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” He understood that God’s way is not our way—and yet, ultimately it is the only way to eternal life. The choice is yours: Which road will you choose? And who will be your companion for the journey? Are you going to believe those who pressure you to conform to the self-indulgent values of the City of Man? Or will you take the higher road, bound for the City of God?

The Power of the Cross by Michael Dubruiel 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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Fifth Sunday of Lent – Lazarus

The Cross of Christ Illumines. . . Death


But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 1 THESSALONIANS 4:13–14 


“Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man.” JOHN 5:25–27 

As I was writing this book, my friend’s son returned unscathed from his tour of duty in the Iraqi War. Many people had prayed for him daily while he served overseas, and rejoiced when he arrived home safely. A few months later came horrible and shocking news: My friend’s son had been killed in an automobile accident a few miles from his home. His mother wrote to tell me that it was the most difficult thing she had ever faced. I could not imagine her grief. She ended her brief note with “What to say. . .” I understood what she meant: faced with such a tragedy, there was little one could say.

St. Paul instructs the Thessalonians about death so “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Some have misinterpreted this passage, claiming that Christians are not to grieve. Unfortunately, modern funerals often resemble canonizations, minimizing or denying altogether the painful reality of separation that death entails. Instead mourners are forced to put on a “party face,” to celebrate death even when the survivors are numb with the shock and pain of their loss.


Grief 

The death of a loved one is more like Good Friday than Easter Sunday. The darkness that covered the earth on that first Good Friday points, I believe, to the grief of God at the death of his Son. Though Jesus would rise on the third day, the first day was one of horror, pain, and utter grief for all of creation. Our Lord is recorded in Scripture as crying three times. In the Garden of Gethsemane (Hebrews 5:7), he prayed with tears; he wept over Jerusalem and prophesied its destruction (Luke 19:41); and Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35). The third instance is especially puzzling. Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. So why did he cry? Were his tears for other senseless deaths that take place at every moment of the day? Or was it because the death and sin Our Lord had come to save us from had not yet been utterly vanquished? There is no doubt that it is human to grieve. However, St. Paul tells us that our grief should not be like the grief of those who have no hope of seeing their loved ones again. Our grief should move us toward assisting our loved ones along their journey toward God—daily remembering them in prayer, asking God to remove any obstacles that might keep them from hearing his voice when he calls their names.

Not of This World

I heard a famous theologian say that the greatest problem within the church today is the subtle secularizing of it. A modern funeral is likely not to mention purgatory, or to offer prayers and Masses for the dead; instead, we observe, “Funerals aren’t for the dead but for the living.” My, how many have lost the faith in what we are doing! When we participate in the liturgy where the entire body of Christ is present, the poor souls and triumphant saints join us in worshipping the one true God. Together, we offer our sacrifice with Christ to the Father through the Spirit. Funerals aren’t for the dead? To be charitable, one could imagine that such a statement reflects the belief that those who believe in Christ do not die but fall asleep. I have attended some services where such statements have been uttered, but they ring hollow. The loss is all too real. Our society tends to shield itself from the physical reality of death, something that Archbishop Fulton Sheen called the new taboo. This secular problem has crept into the Church.

Whenever we are told not to be sad but to rejoice, that we are an “Easter people” who believe in life, not death—one wonders if these people have ever lost a loved one. Some professional liturgists were angered when the Order for Christian Burial, the official rite of the Catholic Church for funerals, permitted the wearing of black or purple vestments as well as white for Funeral Masses. “It’s a step backward,” they said. In actuality, it is a step of truth, a step toward Christ. One of the most powerful images in the movie The Passion of the Christ is the sorrowful mother. I think we all can relate to her pain, because it is the pain that we all feel when confronted with the horror of death. How ridiculous would it have been if Mel Gibson had portrayed Mary as happy, telling everyone, “He’ll rise on the third day, rejoice now, don’t be sad.” That would have been sad indeed.

 Hope 

The modern world fears death. Because we exist in a post-Christian world, the resurrection of the dead is still accepted as fact, yet apart from faith in Christ the resurrection of the dead lacks any scientific basis. No one ever points this out, but it should be before it is too late for those who do not know Christ. In the Gospel of John, Jesus states clearly that he can give life to the dead. This is the hope of every believer in Christ. At the moment of his crucifixion, Jesus gave life to one of the criminals nailed with him. No such promise is given to the unrepentant thief. Jesus and Paul both make it clear that, while Our Lord is a life giver, he also is a judge. For some, eternal life will lead to eternal hellfire. My friend’s statement, “What to say. . .” is a poignant reminder that the death of any human being causes us to face the ultimate fall of our first parents. It startles us into the reality of the fragile hold we have on our own lives and the lives of those we love. Every present moment is a gift; so is every future hope. We exercise that hope by continuing to pray for our loved ones. If God has welcomed them into his kingdom, our prayers will come back to us. There is great comfort in knowing that this communication goes on—those without faith sense this too and often act upon it. The Gospel of John tells us that those who “hear his voice” will rise to life (John 5:28). Focusing on the cross of Our Lord  helps us to hear his voice. The horrible effect of sin is death; the saving effect of the cross is life in Christ. What death takes away from us, the saving death of Jesus can restore. May we never forget that truth, neither when a loved one dies nor at the hour of our death.

The Power of the Cross by Michael Dubruiel 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 by Michael Dubruiel  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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