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"

Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . How We Forgive

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 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 4:32–5:2 


“You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger, his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all of his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. MATTHEW 18:32–35

A woman once shared with me that she had a problem accepting God’s forgiveness in her life. She was a merciful woman who willingly forgave others; she just could not believe that God could forgive her past sins. We met from time to time over the course of two years. After that long period of time, she was finally able to talk about what she had done, and why God couldn’t forgive her. What finally enabled her to reveal her sin was an experience she had that I would call a personal revelation. One night as she walked into her kitchen, stopping at the entrance, she witnessed

Jesus nailed to the cross. He raised his head and looked at her, then vanished from the room. That was it, no words, just a look. Yet that look conveyed love and forgiveness that flooded her heart.

Those of us who grew up with a deep sense of sin may remember our early experiences of confession. In those early days when we were young we confessed that we didn’t always obey our parents and that we didn’t get along that well with our brothers and sisters. Sometimes we even argued and fought with them. As adults, we can smile at such youthful indiscretions. In adolescence we commit a different variety of sins. We tend to judge these more seriously because we take ourselves more seriously at this point in our lives. But what we don’t realize is that these sins are no different from those we committed as small children: We don’t obey our parent, God our Father, and we don’t get along with our brothers and sisters; every sin that we commit is in some way against God or neighbor.

Separation from God 

The consequence of all sin is spiritual death. We should hate all sin, but some sins can nearly destroy our earthly lives, or greatly alter the path God wishes for us to take. The woman that I mentioned at the beginning of this section had committed such a sin; it could have changed the course of her life and greatly hurt the people she loved. Yet by God’s grace, the sin never came to light to those who would have been most affected by it. Even so, her knowledge of that sin became a heavy cross that she carried for over forty years. In that sense, her sin did hurt those that she loved: Though they must have perceived the sadness in her soul, they were never able to relieve her inner pain. Catholics have always taught that there is a temporal punishment attached to sins, a punishment that remains even when God forgives that sin. In some cases it is easy to understand this  temporal punishment: If you rob a bank and get caught, even if God forgives you there will still be a price to pay. If you are caught in adultery and are sincerely sorry, God will forgive you but the damage done to your marriage will be real. Sin is evil because it does bad things to us; just as many physical behaviors can lead to the development of various cancers, so sin leads to our destruction. Eve looked at the forbidden fruit and it looked desirable, but partaking of that fruit made both Adam and Eve terminally ill. Relief Though confession alone does not remove the temporal penalty of sin, healing still is possible by God’s grace.

Prayer, reading the Scripture, giving alms, doing good works all are acts that have had indulgences attached to them by the Church. By obtaining an indulgence, the Christian receives healing from the temporal penalty of even the gravest sins, reducing or eliminating altogether the time of purification needed in purgatory (CCC 1471). Ideally, the Christian is motivated to perform these spiritual exercises not from fear of punishment but out of love for God. As we read in the preceding passage, St. Paul tells the Ephesians to offer themselves as a spiritual sacrifice with Christ, who has paid the debt of our sins. Seeing Christ on the cross and meditating on his love for us should help us to understand how much God loves us.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus thought of herself as an infant when she prayed. She saw God as her Father, bidding her to come up the stairs, something she made feeble attempts to do with little progress. Finally, she said, the Father would come down and carry her up the stairs. This is the perfect image of prayer: God carries us up to the heavens if we allow him to do so. Yet first we must admit our own powerlessness to achieve the heights to which he calls us, so that he might take us where we would not go. We need to confess our sins regularly, and accept absolution fully—trusting in God’s love more than our failings or our sins. Then we must extend that forgiveness to everyone else in our life, knowing that being forgiven is conditioned upon our forgiving in the same way (see Luke 6:37; Matthew 6:15). Failure to forgive means that we do not fully trust God’s forgiveness, as if God might change his mind down the road. Yet God’s love is everlasting.

The Ignorance of Sin 

The greatest example of forgiveness is that of Jesus, who from the cross forgave those who put him there: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Who is the “them” to which Jesus was referring? The “them” is us. There is great ignorance in every sin willfully committed. If we truly understood the consequences of sin, none of us would have the courage to commit even one. In a moment of clarity we may come to our senses, and realize that by our actions we have “sold innocent blood.” Yet even when we have a deep sense of our own ignorance in the sins that we commit against others, we often are unwilling to extend that same possibility to those who sin against us. Forgiving others is an act of the cross. In the same way that a priest absolves us while making the sign of the cross over us— so it is necessary to trace the sign of God’s love in the direction of those who wrong us. By seeing them through the eyes of our  Savior, we may find the courage to offer them the forgiveness that he has offered to 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.

"michael Dubruiel"

Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . How We Forgive

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 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 4:32–5:2 


“You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger, his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all of his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. MATTHEW 18:32–35

A woman once shared with me that she had a problem accepting God’s forgiveness in her life. She was a merciful woman who willingly forgave others; she just could not believe that God could forgive her past sins. We met from time to time over the course of two years. After that long period of time, she was finally able to talk about what she had done, and why God couldn’t forgive her. What finally enabled her to reveal her sin was an experience she had that I would call a personal revelation. One night as she walked into her kitchen, stopping at the entrance, she witnessed

Jesus nailed to the cross. He raised his head and looked at her, then vanished from the room. That was it, no words, just a look. Yet that look conveyed love and forgiveness that flooded her heart.

Those of us who grew up with a deep sense of sin may remember our early experiences of confession. In those early days when we were young we confessed that we didn’t always obey our parents and that we didn’t get along that well with our brothers and sisters. Sometimes we even argued and fought with them. As adults, we can smile at such youthful indiscretions. In adolescence we commit a different variety of sins. We tend to judge these more seriously because we take ourselves more seriously at this point in our lives. But what we don’t realize is that these sins are no different from those we committed as small children: We don’t obey our parent, God our Father, and we don’t get along with our brothers and sisters; every sin that we commit is in some way against God or neighbor.

Separation from God 

The consequence of all sin is spiritual death. We should hate all sin, but some sins can nearly destroy our earthly lives, or greatly alter the path God wishes for us to take. The woman that I mentioned at the beginning of this section had committed such a sin; it could have changed the course of her life and greatly hurt the people she loved. Yet by God’s grace, the sin never came to light to those who would have been most affected by it. Even so, her knowledge of that sin became a heavy cross that she carried for over forty years. In that sense, her sin did hurt those that she loved: Though they must have perceived the sadness in her soul, they were never able to relieve her inner pain. Catholics have always taught that there is a temporal punishment attached to sins, a punishment that remains even when God forgives that sin. In some cases it is easy to understand this  temporal punishment: If you rob a bank and get caught, even if God forgives you there will still be a price to pay. If you are caught in adultery and are sincerely sorry, God will forgive you but the damage done to your marriage will be real. Sin is evil because it does bad things to us; just as many physical behaviors can lead to the development of various cancers, so sin leads to our destruction. Eve looked at the forbidden fruit and it looked desirable, but partaking of that fruit made both Adam and Eve terminally ill. Relief Though confession alone does not remove the temporal penalty of sin, healing still is possible by God’s grace.

Prayer, reading the Scripture, giving alms, doing good works all are acts that have had indulgences attached to them by the Church. By obtaining an indulgence, the Christian receives healing from the temporal penalty of even the gravest sins, reducing or eliminating altogether the time of purification needed in purgatory (CCC 1471). Ideally, the Christian is motivated to perform these spiritual exercises not from fear of punishment but out of love for God. As we read in the preceding passage, St. Paul tells the Ephesians to offer themselves as a spiritual sacrifice with Christ, who has paid the debt of our sins. Seeing Christ on the cross and meditating on his love for us should help us to understand how much God loves us.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus thought of herself as an infant when she prayed. She saw God as her Father, bidding her to come up the stairs, something she made feeble attempts to do with little progress. Finally, she said, the Father would come down and carry her up the stairs. This is the perfect image of prayer: God carries us up to the heavens if we allow him to do so. Yet first we must admit our own powerlessness to achieve the heights to which he calls us, so that he might take us where we would not go. We need to confess our sins regularly, and accept absolution fully—trusting in God’s love more than our failings or our sins. Then we must extend that forgiveness to everyone else in our life, knowing that being forgiven is conditioned upon our forgiving in the same way (see Luke 6:37; Matthew 6:15). Failure to forgive means that we do not fully trust God’s forgiveness, as if God might change his mind down the road. Yet God’s love is everlasting.

The Ignorance of Sin 

The greatest example of forgiveness is that of Jesus, who from the cross forgave those who put him there: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Who is the “them” to which Jesus was referring? The “them” is us. There is great ignorance in every sin willfully committed. If we truly understood the consequences of sin, none of us would have the courage to commit even one. In a moment of clarity we may come to our senses, and realize that by our actions we have “sold innocent blood.” Yet even when we have a deep sense of our own ignorance in the sins that we commit against others, we often are unwilling to extend that same possibility to those who sin against us. Forgiving others is an act of the cross. In the same way that a priest absolves us while making the sign of the cross over us— so it is necessary to trace the sign of God’s love in the direction of those who wrong us. By seeing them through the eyes of our  Savior, we may find the courage to offer them the forgiveness that he has offered to 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.

"michael Dubruiel"

Daily Lent Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Unites. . . God’s Mercy and Love

 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself. . . 2 CORINTHIANS 5:16–18

 This man receives sinners and eats with them. LUKE 15: 2 

I met Frank the first time I visited a Catholic seminary. He stood out from the rest of the men training for the priesthood: He radiated an air of being sure of himself. Of all the guys that I met on that two-day visit, he was the only one who seemed really sure of what he was doing there. I mentioned this to Frank as I was getting ready to leave and it was then that he told me something that has stuck with me from that moment on. Frank was completing his seventh of the eight years of study required for those in training for the priesthood. Reflecting back on those years and the people that he had met over that period of time, he said, “I’ve met some of the greatest saints and greatest sinners here. I’ve also learned that most of the time it is hard to tell which are which.”  I thought to myself, Frank is going to make a great priest.

But a week after I met him, he left the seminary. There were rumors that a young woman who worked in the kitchen at the seminary refectory was pregnant with his child. Instead of being ordained a priest, he was married during what would have been his eighth year in the seminary.

Judge Not 

It is clear from even a casual reading of the gospels that Jesus was judged incessantly: by his family, his disciples, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Greeks, and the Romans. Some thought Jesus was crazy, some thought him a prophet, some thought him an agitator, some hoped he would be a political liberator or a king; only a select few recognized him as the Son of God. He himself said that people called him a drunkard and a glutton. We need look no further than the inability of the people who encountered Jesus in the flesh to see who he really was, to understand why we shouldn’t judge. . .ever.

You might think Frank misled me with his confidence and insight; nothing could be further from the truth. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now if he was a saint or a sinner. Neither do you. You may judge him, saying, “Well, he obviously committed a sin by getting the young woman pregnant.” But what if Frank wasn’t the man responsible for her pregnancy? What if he had simply decided to make a home for her and her child after the child’s father abandoned the young woman? What if he sacrificed his vocation for the sake of this child? Why, he could be a great saint, a modern St. Joseph!

That is why Frank’s comment has stuck with me for these many years: We just don’t know. We do not know the real truth about others, and sometimes we don’t even know the truth about ourselves.

A Friend of Sinners 

One of the most famous parables of Jesus is that of the Prodigal Son. The son demands his inheritance, then goes off and blows it all. He doesn’t come to his senses until he is working in a pigsty. Jesus tells this parable when he is in the process of being judged as someone who consorts with sinners. The “punch line” of the parable hits home for all of us prodigals: Those who are most likely to come to their senses are those who have experienced the emptiness of a life apart from God. The elder sons really don’t see any reason to party; they haven’t come to their senses yet. Who is the greatest sinner in the parable of the Prodigal Son? Could it be the older brother, who is angry that his ungrateful little brother had come home? Often we resent this; we identify more with the elder brother than with the younger. In fact, when I’ve spoken on this parable it has often angered someone: Someone in their family, like the Prodigal Son, has taken the family’s money, only to come back penniless and in search of more.

Ironically, some Scripture scholars think that in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus is the son who takes the inheritance of the Father—his divine mercy and love—and squanders it on sinners! In the end, the Father is pleased. Once you’ve heard this way of looking at the parable, it’s hard to see it in any other way. Yes, God’s mercy is great; however, to experience it fully always involves a bit of a crucifixion on our part. Our natural  human way of looking at things is invariably fallible and has to die. For some of us, that means we’re not so bad that God can’t forgive us; for others, it means we’re not so good that we don’t need God’s mercy. Most of us are incapable of true objectivity; we have no way of knowing how good we really are or even how bad we are. The cross unites God’s love and mercy in us, liberating us to place our trust in him.

St. Paul said, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me,” (1 Corinthians 4:3–4). This is trust. It is why sinners flocked to the Lord when he walked the earth, and it is why we sinners flock to Mass, where the Lord feeds us with his Body and Blood. St. Paul says that anyone in Christ is a new creation. Being in Christ is the key. We hide in Christ. We dwell in Christ. He is our life, our hope, and our salvation. Divine Mercy provides the perfect anecdote to the poison of sin, “Jesus, I Trust in Thee!” Not in riches, not in the ways of the world, not in my judgments, but in Jesus. Only in God will our souls be at rest.

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"

Daily Lent Meditation

The Cross of Christ Unites. . . Us in the Work We Have to Do

Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. REVELATION 22:1–2

 Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it. MATTHEW 21:43 

Dean wanted to be a Trappist monk. While we were in college, he spent many weekends at a Trappist monastery several hours from our school. These were opportunities for both Dean and the monks of the community to consider whether God was leading Dean. Now Trappists are the Marines of monastic life. Until recent times they didn’t even speak much. Those of us who knew Dean well found it rather odd that he would think that God was calling him to be a Trappist. Dean loved to talk. He loved to laugh and play jokes on people. He was the most outgoing person in our college class—in a matter of months he knew everyone in the small town where our college was located.

Fortunately the Trappists figured this out, too, and they told Dean that he didn’t have a vocation to be a Trappist monk. Unfortunately, he didn’t agree with their decision and became very depressed. He felt rejected, but all of us who cared for him were relieved that the monastery had discerned wisely.

Missed Vocations

Many people end up in the wrong job. It is one of the curses of original sin. “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return from the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17–19). I believe that one of the ways this plays out is that we are tempted to take on a career or vocation that simply doesn’t match the gifts that God has given to us. As a result, many people find their work a burden, something that does not produce fruit in their lives but rather thorns and thistles.

Jesus compares his coming to that of a son of a wealthy landowner who is sent to obtain produce that has been harvested on the landowner’s property. The tenants kill the son, so the landowner gives the vineyard to another group of tenants, who are charged with producing fruit in due season. The problem is this: Without some help, under the curse of original sin we are no more likely to produce good fruit than those who came before us. But unlike those who came before Jesus, we are not left to our own devices. Jesus identifies himself as the Vine, us as the branches; our ability to produce good fruit is conditioned upon our being “in Christ.”

Christian artists throughout history have tied the image of Jesus as the Vine with the image of the Tree of Life, which is mentioned both in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, and the last book of the Bible, Revelation. These artists have perceived a connection between Jesus on the tree of the cross and the Eucharist, where Jesus gives us his Body and Blood under the forms of bread and wine (the fruit of the vine)! In the Book of Revelation, the Tree of Life is surrounded on either side by the “river of life,” a reference to Baptism. It is through this river that we die to ourselves and live for Christ. What is this “self” that has to die in order to gain admittance to the Tree of Life? It is the “false” self, the ego that serves false gods.

What many people never stop to consider is that these false gods can mask themselves as virtuous. This way, it is possible for someone to think he is serving God, when in fact he is really serving some false ideal. How can you tell the difference? A true vocation produces good fruit.

About ten years ago, I had an opportunity to make a thirty-day retreat at the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in upstate New York. The grounds of this shrine were covered with statues of every conceivable saint. Since this was a silent retreat, I found myself thinking a lot about the lives of those saints, even talking to the stone figures at times. (They didn’t talk back, but obviously I wouldn’t make a good Trappist monk either!). As I continued to contemplate their lives, I was struck by the fact that each one was unique: no two saints are alike! Some were extroverts, some were introverts, some were aggressive, some were passive—but they all used the gifts that God had given them in a way that made them remarkable people.

It was clear to those who knew him that my friend Dean had not been not called to be silent monk, withdrawn from the world. Why did he want to be one? He told me once that he felt that in order to be holy; he had to be other than what he was— in his case, that meant being like a monk. Many, many people have been tempted to bury their talents in the name of religion. However, we all are the vineyards planted by God. Throughout our lives God sends servants to obtain from us the fruits of our lives. How we respond to them is a good test of whether we are planted in Christ or in our own false self. Dean’s depression was his own crucifixion. He felt that serving God meant going to a monastery. He was trying to do what he thought was good and right; ironically, it was when he wasn’t trying to be religious he was doing what was good and right. Dying to ourselves on the cross of Christ means dying to what others expect and being true to what God wants from us.

The Dream that God Gives to Us

In the book of Genesis, Joseph has a dream (see Genesis 37). The dream is Joseph’s vocation, what God wants Joseph to do. However, that dream was fulfilled by the way of the cross. Sold into slavery for twenty pieces of silver, Joseph was thrown into jail after being falsely accused of rape. There he interpreted dreams for Pharaoh’s cup holder and baker. Years went by before the cup holder remembered Joseph and brought him to Pharaoh’s attention. After Joseph was put in charge of Egypt, his brothers appeared and prostrated themselves in front of him—fulfilling Joseph’s original dream. The cross unites our gifts and our mission, the purpose God intends for us to fulfill. It also frees us from our preconceived ideas about how God’s will should be done, freeing us to use our gifts for  the good of all, so that God’s kingdom may come and his “will be done!”

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"

Third Sunday of Lent

The Cross of Christ Unites. . . Those Who Suffer for Justice

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. ROMANS 8:18 

But Abraham said, “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” LUKE 16:25

Near the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky is one of the strangest, yet most appropriate settings for a work of art. One has to search for it, and even then it can take some luck to find it. Unlike most art, which is displayed in famous galleries and museums, this work of the famous sculptor Walter Hancock is hidden deep in the Kentucky woods. A path across the street from the monastery takes you through fields full of wild turkeys that startle easily and fly away noisily, breaking the silence of the place. As you continue through wheat bent down from the wind, and on to a path up a wooded hillside, you have to know what you are looking for or you will likely miss it: a series of statues carved out of dark black stone.

The first is of three sleeping disciples, exhausted and asleep. About a stone’s throw from the first carving is another statue: Jesus in supplication. “Gethsemane” was sculpted to honor the memory of Jonathan Daniels. Jonathan Daniels was born in Keene, New Hampshire, in March 1939. By the time the civil rights movement was in full swing in the 1960s, he was a seminary student studying at the Episcopal Theological Seminary (now Episcopal Divinity Seminary) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When in the summer of 1965 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called upon divinity students from the north to join him in his march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, young Jonathan Daniels traveled south. Tragically, that decision cost him his life. He was shot to death by a deputy sheriff in Haynesville, Alabama. In 1994 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church officially recognized Jonathan Daniels as a martyr.

I also was born in Keene, New Hampshire, and I grew up hearing the story of the local boy who had traveled south to march against injustice. People weren’t always sure exactly why he—why anyone—would venture so far to involve himself in the affairs of other people. Consequently, while Jonathan Daniels was much honored in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, his motives were not widely understood. The scene from Gethsemane commemorates Daniel’s life perfectly; Daniel understood that following Jesus meant sharing in his Passion. The sleeping disciples, unfortunately, symbolize those of us who are summoned to “watch and pray” but often remain asleep at a distance. Daniel learned his lessons well at the seminary; he went to where Christ was being persecuted. In the end it cost him his life, but the lot of those who suffered was greatly changed by Jonathan Daniel’s sacrifice.

Jesus tells a story about two dead men: one affluent, the other a beggar. After living a life of luxury, the rich man finds himself suffering in acute pain; he asks Abraham to send Lazarus (the poor beggar) to get him a drink. Even in the afterlife, the rich man thinks that Lazarus should be waiting on him! Abraham points out the barrier that prevented Lazarus from doing the rich man’s bidding in the afterlife. Of course, no such barrier exists among the living. The justice of Lazarus’s reward in the afterlife also points to the fact that it is no one’s lot to be a beggar in this life; the surplus of some, as Pope John Paul II has often preached, belongs to those in need. While he was alive, the rich man had it within his means to relieve the suffering of Lazarus, but he did nothing. In the mind of the rich man, Lazarus was exactly what God wanted him to be—a beggar. In the next life, the tables were turned: Lazarus was rewarded, and the rich man suffered.

It is a simple message, one that we have heard many times. It also has a touch of irony: In the story, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn the rich man’s brothers. Abraham predicts that they still wouldn’t believe. Notice the reaction of the crowd when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead: “So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus also to death, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus,” (John 12:10–11). Jesus sent his disciples out to heal, to liberate, and to invite others into the kingdom of God. As a follower of Christ, what am I doing for those Jesus sends to me?

In the woods of Kentucky, light streams down through the forest cover to the statues frozen in sleep and prayer. Some of it  beams upon the observer as well, as though asking him to choose a side. To what group do I belong, the suffering or the sleeping? Jonathan Daniels chose to speak out for the Lazarus of his day and it cost him his life. However, because of the glory promised, he willingly followed Christ to the cross. I am more like the disciples asleep, overcome with anguish and fear, unable or unwilling to step out for what is right. At the entrance to the monastery of Gethsemane is a large stone gate. Over the gate are engraved the simple words, “God Alone.”

Ultimately we all face that moment alone in the garden, when God Alone matters. What a blessing it would be, if every time we are confronted with injustice toward others, we would recognize our turn before the judgment seat of God!

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"

Daily Lent Meditation

The Cross of Christ Unites. . . In Liberty

 For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me a captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! ROMANS 7:22–25 

The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. MATTHEW 20:28 

When you read the gospels, you sometimes sense that the disciples of Jesus were not listening to him.

He announced his Passion as they made their way to Jerusalem, and they began to squabble over who would get to sit at his right and his left in the kingdom. Whenever Jesus preached the way of the cross, they sought the opposite path. Even when he asked the disciples if they could drink out of the chalice from which he was to drink, they seemed not to catch the full import of what he was saying.

Yet who are we to critique the apostles’ inability to comprehend the Lord’s message? When we hear of the way of the cross, we filter out the harsh reality of the message. As slaves to pleasure, we flee when faced with the cross or offered the drink from  his chalice. Yet God’s grace is great; even when we run, we end up right where God wants us.

Order of Redeemers

A young man named Peter fled his native land because a heresy had infected a wide part of the Christian Church there. Another man, Dominic, remained where he was and fought the heresy by founding a religious community, the Dominicans. Thinking it the best way to preserve his faith, Peter headed south. There he encountered an even greater threat: the Muslim occupation of Spain. Yet this is where God wanted St. Peter Nolasco.

When he encountered Christians enslaved by their Moorish captors, Peter knew what the gospel demanded of him. Just as Jesus had come to ransom the many, so St. Peter ransomed those poor souls who had been enslaved because of their faith. Spending all that he had, he ransomed all that he could. In his lifetime he would personally be responsible for the release of more than four hundred captives.

In 1218 A.D., prompted by a heavenly vision, St. Peter Nolasco founded an order of redeemers. In addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, these men took a fourth vow: Should it be necessary, they would offer themselves as a substitute for a captive if it meant that the enslaved might go free. The Mercedarians begged for alms that were used to pay ransom for the enslaved. Sometimes they could not raise enough  money and one of the Mercedarians would remain with the captors as a pledge until another could return with the full payment. Many of these brothers were martyred; their lives profoundly touched both the ransomed Christians and the Muslim captors.

Slavery has existed throughout the course of human history; only relatively recently has it been recognized as an affront to human dignity. Even today, there are those who enslave other human beings through political and economic means. Modern followers of Christ still have plenty of opportunities to ransom captive souls.

 Freedom from Slavery

In the Scriptures, a person is considered enslaved to the extent that he or she is attached to anything that is not God. “No servant can serve two masters,” Jesus says in Luke 16:13. “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” When God is not master of a person’s life, other forces are free to enslave him. A Christian must be especially careful not to become encumbered by lesser “gods,” knowing the price Jesus paid to set us free from the bondage of sin.

In the passage quoted above from the book of Romans, St. Paul speaks of the horrible effects of this enslavement. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Inevitably, the way of bondage is the way of death. However, even at the moment of death, the liberation of the cross is possible. Two men were crucified with Christ, one on each side of him (the seats that James and John requested). Both prisoners were guilty of the crimes for which they were being executed. However, one admitted his guilt; from his cross, Jesus assured that thief that they would soon be in paradise.  Especially in the United States, freedom is considered a basic human right. And yet, the kind of freedom many people are looking for is just another form of bondage, serving a false god. Some want freedom from a spouse to serve the false god of lust, or freedom from parental authority to serve the false god of selfishness, or freedom from pain to serve the false god of pleasure. None of these things constitute true freedom, which comes when we are not enslaved by any of these false gods; instead, we are free to live our lives as God intended. Sadly, this takes a long time for most people to figure out.

The realization that they have simply traded one master for another hits some only when they are nailed to a cross of their own making. I once knew a man who was rather bigoted, a womanizer, and an avowed agnostic. Then he was diagnosed with end-stage bone cancer, with less than a year to live. One day when his life on this earth was nearly over, I sat on the edge of this man’s bed. It was like being at the foot of the cross. In those months he had renounced all of his macho ways. He became gentle toward his wife and children, and asked to be baptized into the Catholic faith. I have no qualms with saying that he died a saintly man; he also died a free man! Most of his life he was a slave to what he thought other men wanted to hear, wanted to see—he wasn’t himself, he was what he thought he had to be in order to please others. Yet nailed to that harsh cross like the good thief, he was able to steal heaven.

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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