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First Sunday of Lent Meditation

The Cross of Christ Teaches Us. . .

Our Mission


 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your ass these three times? Behold, I have come forth to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me; and the ass saw me, and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have slain you and let her live.” Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that thou didst stand in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in thy sight, I will go back again.” And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but only the word which I bid you, that shall you speak.” NUMBERS 22:32–35


 Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him. MATTHEW 4:10–11 

One of the strangest stories in the Old Testament recounts the mission of the prophet Balaam. A pagan king wanted to conquer the Israelites, and wanted Balaam to help him achieve this ambition by pronouncing a curse on the enemy. So he summoned Balaam.

At first Balaam refused to come, but eventually Balaam set out on his donkey to meet with the king. Although this story is found in the Book of Numbers, it is the Second Letter of Peter that gives us insight to Balaam’s motives: “Forsaking the right way. . . they have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Be’or, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a dumb ass spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness” (2 Peter 2:15–16).

Balaam was not setting out to do God’s will; he was trying to profit by the gifts that God had given him. Balaam was stopped en route by his donkey, which saw an angel barring the path. When Balaam beat his donkey, the animal protested that he was trying to save his master’s life. Finally Balaam’s eyes were opened to the angel of the Lord, who affirmed that, indeed, the donkey had saved his life. The angel told him to go along to the king: “Go. . . but only the word which I bid you, that shall you speak” (Numbers 22:35). In the end, Balaam blessed the Israelites, accomplishing God’s purposes. However, Peter’s epistle reveals that Balaam’s temptation moved him along the path to do the will of God. He did not start out intending to do good, but God intervened.

Spiritual U-Turns

A friend once told me of the time he decided to give in to a certain temptation that he had been fighting for years. As he went to get into his car that night, he discovered that one of his car’s tires was flat. Most people would see a flat tire as a momentary inconvenience; my friend saw the flat tire as a sign from God. He stayed home that night, and from that moment on the temptation left him. God used my friend’s momentary lapse to put him on the pathway to holiness.

Scripture has many examples of God using Satan’s ploys to accomplish his own purposes. The Gospel of Matthew offers one such example. When Jesus was about to begin his ministry in Israel, he went into the desert to fast for forty days—symbolic of the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert. During that time, Satan presented three types of temptations to Our Lord. Ironically, each of the particular temptations Satan chose was related to the mission that God had given to Jesus. Each of them was a perversion of Jesus’ true mission and purpose.

Bread of Life. First the evil one tempted Jesus to turn stones to bread. After all, Jesus was hungry from fasting. However, Jesus knew that his greatest hunger was not physical but relational: He had a hunger only God could satisfy.

The significance of this temptation became clearer on the night before Jesus died, when he took the bread and changed it into his own Body and Blood. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus declared. “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:48, 51).

Those who partake in the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine, wrote St. Cyril of Jerusalem, become “united in body and blood with Him.” Similarly, St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) observed that after communion, “the heart of Jesus and my own—allow me to use the expression— were fused. No longer were two hearts beating but only one. My own heart had disappeared, as a drop of water is lost in the ocean.” The miracle of the Eucharist is that Our Lord transforms our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

 Source of Life. In the second temptation, Satan tempted Jesus to demonstrate his power by throwing himself off the Temple roof, so the angels would rush to his defense. Jesus recognized that his enemy had twisted Scripture to achieve his own purposes. “You shall not tempt the Lord your God,” he replied firmly (Matthew 4:7).  The things that tempt us most in life can lead us to discover our true calling.

As with the temptation to turn stones to bread, Satan’s temptation was a perversion of the real mission of Christ. By dying on the cross, Jesus threw himself into the hands of the Father, trusting that God would raise him on the third day.

When Franz Jaegerstaetter, a saintly Austrian who refused to fight in the Nazi army, faced certain death because of his refusal to give in to the Nazis’ wishes, Franz wondered if he were committing suicide. It was a meditation on the mission of Jesus, who went to Jerusalem knowing that they were going to kill him there, that finally convinced Franz that standing up to the evil of his day, no matter what the personal cost, was the right thing to do.

 Prince of Life. Finally the Lord was tempted to bow down to Satan in order to win the world. However, just as Jesus rejected the attempts of his followers to make him king or to win the kingdom by the sword, so he rejected this bloodless solution. Jesus knew that real victory would not come easily, and that his kingdom was not an earthly one. His message was not a popular one; ultimately it led to his death on the cross. This “King of the Jews,” as the Romans named him, knew of but one way to win over the world: “. . .when I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).

Those who would be powerful continue to bow to Satan in order to win the world, selling their souls for a temporary advantage. Politicians, religious, and others who promote evil in order to win—whether the prize is power, approval, or other earthly glory—may succeed for a time. But such victory is fleeting, and leaves in its wake an emptiness that is as close to hell as one can get on this earth.

Find Your Mission

Just as Satan tempted Christ with a perversion of his true mission, the things that tempt us most in life can lead us to discover our true calling. However, we will recognize God’s purpose for us only by the light of the cross. Using God’s gifts to achieve anything other than the divine plan will not bring long-term satisfaction. The path to true joy comes from placing our gifts under the control of the Holy Spirit, and allowing the cross of Christ to reveal Satan’s lies and deceptions for what they are. St. Augustine, who spent his early years tempted by the beauty of creation and even fathering an illegitimate child, later found in God the beauty he was seeking. “Too late, O ancient Beauty, have I loved Thee,” he wrote.

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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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Repent or Perish

The First Luminous Mystery: The Baptism of the Lord

Our Lord, though innocent, takes on our sins as He enters the water of Jordan and is baptized by John. His mission of our salvation is blessed by the Father’s praise and the Spirit’s descent. Ask Our Lady to help you pray this decade, pondering the light that comes from submission to the will of God.

–from Praying the Rosary: With the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and & Mysteries by Michael Dubruiel and Amy Welborn.

Repent or Perish Luke 13:3

“I must decrease, He must increase” St. John the Baptist told his disciples after his encounter with Christ. Our submission to the will of God begins with our submission to Christ–our own dying with Him and rising anew in Him at our Baptism. But the act of submission needs to happen at every moment of the day. Every second brings with it a moment of prayer–will I submit to my will against His or will I bow down to His authority and choose Him. The world may cry out “I’ve got to be me,” but the servant of God cries out “I’ve got to be His.” St. Paul reiterates this when he declares, “I live, no not I, but Christ.”

We fear this repentance. We secretly grieve that we won’t be ourselves if we submit. Something within at a very early age urges us to resist (original sin) and it does not go away quietly. So many of us are slowly perishing, spending our demise judging others, living in darkness.

The biblical notion of this state of humanity is that of something that is lost. Will we continue to cling on to the lost being or will we allow ourselves to be found by Christ–at this moment and at every moment walking in His light and overcoming the darkness of the lost?

Ash Wednesday in Rome

From a 2006 trip by Michael Dubruiel

I often blog what the Pope says at his General Audience on Wednesdays, but I will never do so without the sense of what it is like to actually be there. Thanks to several people we knew that to get a good seat at the General Audience we needed to be there as soon as they allowed people in, around 8:00 a.m.(two and half hours before the audience begins, although one of our contacts told us that Benedict had been beginning them about a half hour early). So we were there, dressed for warm weather, because it was rather warm at the time. We found the shortest line and waited about ten minutes until the mad rush began. The security was fairly lax at the entrance point that we were at, police with wands, but not really using them. So once through the entrance we ran (sort of the way people were running through the columns when Pope Benedict was about to be announced as the successor of St. Peter last year).
We were able to get to the fourth row right against the center rail, which turned out to be a pretty good spot. The two men sitting in front of me were from Brazil, I think the people behind us were from Ireland. There was a group from Steubenville near us, as well as the St. Thomas folk who were just behind us.
Then it turned cool, the sun disappeared and the clouds covered the sky. The temperature must have dropped ten or fifteen degrees. I think Joseph fell asleep, as well as the baby and for the most part we sat in silence with some outbursts of enthusiastic groups now and then.
Ten o’clock arrived and we were hopeful that the pope might come out early, but not today. Then at ten thirty there was a commotion and suddenly there he was, well looking exactly like the pope! You can see how dark the skies were and the pope had on his winter coat.Pope Benedict has shunned the glass case that John Paul used after he was shot in 1981, when I saw Pope John Paul in Miami he was behind the glass of the popemobile when he drove through the streets of Miami,but then I saw him up close at Mass the next day (a Mass that wasn’t finished because of a thunderstorm). I remember being shocked at how old Cardinal Ratzinger was when he celebrated the funeral of Pope John Paul, and even how he seemed bent with age as he entered the conclave to elect the new pope–but how youthful he emerged from the conclave!
Organ music is played as a background which gave the feeling of either a carnival or funeral but didn’t seem to strike the right chord for the ceremony.
Now right after the Pope passed us the baby’s bottle somehow dropped onto the pavement and went rolling down the path the pope had just passed. A Swiss Guard finally picked it up after it had rolled for what seemed like an eternity, and looked at it suspiciously. He finally walked over and handed it to me.After making the circuit the Holy Father’s pope mobile drives up the steps and then he gets out and goes to his chair…Then you hear something along the lines of: 
Cari Fratelli e Sorelle,
Inizia oggi, con la Liturgia del Mercoledì delle Ceneri, l’itinerario quaresimale di quaranta giorni che ci condurrà al Triduo pasquale, memoria della passione, morte e risurrezione del Signore, cuore del mistero della nostra salvezza. Questo è un tempo favorevole in cui la Chiesa invita i cristiani a prendere più viva consapevolezza dell’opera redentrice di Cristo e a vivere con più profondità il proprio Battesimo. In effetti, in questo periodo liturgico il Popolo di Dio fin dai primi tempi si nutre con abbondanza della Parola di Dio per rafforzarsi nella fede, ripercorrendo l’intera storia della creazione e della redenzione.
Which I now know means:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, with the Ash Wednesday Liturgy, the Lenten journey of 40 days begins that will lead us to the Easter Tridium, the memorial of the passion, death and Resurrection of the Lord, heart of the mystery of our salvation. It is a favourable time when the Church invites Christians to have a keener awareness of the redeeming work of Christ and to live their Baptism in greater depth.

The audience continues with the pope teaching a lesson in Italian. At the conclusion various Monsignors in different languages greet the pope in the name of the various language groups present. Some groups when they are announced sing, some just cheer. The pope acknowledges them with a wave, then responds with a summary of his teaching in that language. This pope like John Paul before him is fluent in a number of tongues and it is interesting to hear him speak English.
Finally the Pope gives his Apostolic blessing, blessing religious articles also.
Then he greets the Cardinals and bishops present. At this audience there was one cardinal (I believe it is Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez the very Cardinal who announced to the world last year Habemus Papam!) pictured here in the piazza afterwards. Then the sick and handicapped are brought in wheelchairs before him, pushed by nuns for the most part, and he gives each of them a blessing. I’m not sure what the history of this is or for how long this has been done, but I found it to be one of the most poignant moments of the audience. There was a long parade of these crucified memembers of the Body of Christ and they evoked from the Marian prayer “do you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, in this valley of tears.” The wisdom of giving these souls the privileged position at the audience and the primacy of a personal meeting with the pope was incredibly Christian–a great witness. Would that all in attendance learn to see in those marginalized the truly important.
After this the pope walked over to the barrier to the left at which were standing a group of Moslems and he greeted them and spoke to them and then worked down the line. At the end of this line he mounted the popemobile and then passed along the barrier on the right and shook hands as he went along. Then the popemobile made its way down the steps toward me. (Click on any image for a full size shot)
Until finally, there he was right in front of me.
So I put the camera down for a second or two. Then after I gave him a wave, I picked it up again just in time because someone handed him a baby.
Then he was gone, as Joseph would say “back to the Pope cave (ala batcave).” The thousands that had gathered began to disperse. Amy had more Rome Reports video to shoot, so she went with the kids for the outside shots. I was to meet with Jeffrey Kirby to take a walk up to the North American College for a tour and lunch. While waiting, I spotted another group gathered for the pope’s audience, a group of Eastern monks.

More about Michael Dubruiel 

Daily Lent Devotional Book by Michael Dubruiel

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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From the Introduction (part 3)


If you’re like most people, there have been times in your life—if you’re like me, lots of times—when you have said, “If I knew then what I know now, I never would have done that!” In reality, experience alone seldom gives us the wisdom we need to avoid all future missteps, whether days or years from now. As much as we like to think we know what is best for us and for those entrusted to our care, much of life is still beyond our control. It’s frustrating—but it is also part of the human condition. 


The Apostle Paul said it best in his letter to the Romans: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). It’s called concupiscence, a fancy word for “disordered desire.” As human persons, we do not always desire what is best for us. Not the way God does. 


The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. God became one of us in Jesus Christ to help us break this vicious cycle. He shed his blood to break the power of sin in our lives, and to restore us into relationship with God the Father. 


Sounds great, doesn’t it? There’s just one small catch: We must be willing to be entirely transformed, starting from the inside. Everything must change: what we do, how we think, what we believe, and whom we follow. In the language of the Scriptures, we must “repent.” This doesn’t sound like great news at first—not to those who have deluded themselves into thinking that they are in control of their own lives. Yet to those who know better, it is the best news imaginable.


 Still, it all boils down to the cross. Not the beautifully engraved golden ornament you can put around your neck and forget. It’s the kind of cross Mel Gibson portrayed in The Passion of the Christ: full of pain and feelings of rejection, not to mention the blood and gore. The kind that requires you to die. It’s frightening. It’s agonizing. It’s risky. It’s nothing we would choose for ourselves, not in a million years. 


Ah, yes. But it is also necessary. There are two things to keep in mind, to help you put this in perspective. First, once you understand the gift that is being offered, the risk is hardly worth 

mentioning. The way of the cross is the only way to eternal glory. 


Second, the Lord does not expect us to walk this way alone. He gives us a helper, the Holy Spirit. He strengthens us through the sacraments. And Jesus also gives us his very life— body and blood, soul and divinity— in the Eucharist. My friend Pearl understood this, and received her Lord as often as she could. It was the incredible grace of this sacrament that gave her the strength to live out the mission God had given her to fulfill.


 On the other hand, you don’t have to be a spiritual “giant” to take up your cross like Pearl did. Those first disciples all fled when confronted with the cross of Christ at his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. They understood what was at stake, and they were afraid for their own lives. 


Yet something happened between Good Friday and Pentecost. Something changed those men, so they no longer feared earthly power but trusted in Christ. Through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, they sought to do the will of God even if it meant giving up their lives—and for most of them, that is exactly what it did mean. 


Jesus extends the same invitation to you: Starting today, take up your cross. Forget the failings of the past. Don’t worry about what tomorrow will bring. Open yourself to God’s will for your life, with all its unsettling possibilities. Believe in the mercy of God that can withstand an honest appraisal of past sinful actions. Let go of your right to judge others or dictate terms. This is the power of the cross: In our weakness and humility, God’s love reigns supreme.    More

For more about Michael Dubruiel.  

Free Lent Devotional –

The Cross of Christ Restores. . . The Image of God


And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. NUMBERS 21:8–9


“When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” JOHN 8:28–29

Once when my wife and child were touring a large cathedral in the United States, a famous archbishop passed us by; a high-ranking cardinal, visiting the United States from the Vatican, followed him. The archbishop completely ignored us, but the cardinal stopped and took our baby in his arms, talking gibberish to him. We were moved by the actions of the cardinal, who had taken the gospel to heart. It is amazing how often Jesus took time to notice someone his disciples had passed by or ignored. In the kingdom of God, the first are last and the last are first. No one exemplified this principle better than Christ himself: the Prince of Heaven  became a helpless infant, was raised in obscurity, and died like a criminal.

People who have seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ are shocked by the violence. What should shock us more is the idea that the all-powerful God would subject himself to being treated in such a fashion by mere mortals. Yet Jesus said in the Scripture that people would realize that he was from God when men “lifted him up” on the cross. The way of the cross is the path of humility. So often we seek perfection in how we look, the way we dress, the way we speak, or in what we possess. Jesus told his disciples not to worry about any of these things but to seek God’s kingship over them first. Jesus then showed them how to do this. Then he took up his cross and invited them to follow. It is in those who accept that invitation that the divine image is most perfectly restored.

When Blessed Mother Teresa would visit one of her communities, the first thing she did was to pick up a broom and begin to sweep. Revered during her life as a saint, she sought no special treatment within her community; no task was beneath her. People who met Mother Teresa often remarked at the beauty of her deeply lined face. In her presence, they felt like they were in the presence of God. In the Image of the Father Jesus perfectly reveals to us what God is like. By following the way of the cross, we receive a divine “extreme makeover.” The path is not an easy one; our ego constantly tries to exert itself over us. Serpents in forbidden trees will whisper of easier paths. However, there is only one way to fulfill what God has planted in our hearts. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus warned his disciples (Matthew 18:3). Some people will go amazing lengths to retain their youth. Sadly, these same people will assiduously avoid the spiritual childhood that the gospel demands, the only sure path of eternal life.

Wandering in the desert, the Israelites complained about their lot, and God sent poisonous snakes. As people died around him, Moses prayed to God for mercy. God told Moses to make a fiery bronze serpent and to put it on a pole; all who looked upon this bronze serpent were healed of snakebite. This bronze image foreshadowed the healing tree of Christ; just as Moses had lifted up the serpent in the desert, Jesus told Nicodemus, so would he be lifted up on the cross, and all who would look upon him would be saved. We need to look at the cross of Christ to rediscover our soul’s inner beauty. God loves us so much that he died for us on that cross. As we gaze upon the cross of Christ, what really matters comes to the forefront in our lives, and we find we can let go of all the trivial pursuits that seem to dominate our time and thoughts. As the psalmist reminds us time and again, what matters is not to seek and be driven by the desire to please other people but to seek what pleases God. We will discover that not by hiding behind fig leaves, as our first parents did, but by coming to him whenever and wherever he calls 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.

"michael Dubruiel"

Pray the Rosary

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.

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