Daily Lent Reflection

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

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 Lent Reflection

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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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 Meditation

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . Our Priorities


 


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 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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Feast of the Annunciation – March 25

Michael Dubruiel conceived and put together the small hardbound book, Praying the Rosary.  Click on the cover for more information.

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The Gospels show that the gaze of Mary varied depending upon the circumstances of life. So it will be with us. Each time we pick up the holy beads to recite the Rosary, our gaze at the mystery of Christ will differ depending on where we find ourselves at that moment.

Thereafter Mary’s gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave him. At times it would be a questioning look, as in the episode of the finding in the Temple: “Son, why have you treated us so?” (Lk 2:48); it would always be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving his hidden feelings and anticipating his decisions, as at Cana (cf. Jn 2:5). At other times it would be a look of sorrow, especially beneath the Cross, where her vision would still be that of mother giving birth, for Mary not only shared the passion and death of her Son, she also received the new son given to her in the beloved disciple (cf. Jn 19:26-27). On the morning of Easter hers would be a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection, and finally, on the day of Pentecost, a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14) [Rosarium Virginis Mariae, no. 10].


As we pray the Rosary, then, we join with Mary in contemplating Christ. With her, we remember Christ, we proclaim Him, we learn from Him, and, most importantly, as we raise our voices in prayer and our hearts in contemplation of the holy mysteries, this “compendium of the Gospel” itself, we are conformed to Him.

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.

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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