Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . Our Lives

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

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

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


 Whom Do I Trust? 

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

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

 Lukewarm Faith

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

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


 Who You Gonna Call? 

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Daily Lent Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Unites. . . In Humility

 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. PHILIPPIANS 2:5–11

 He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. MATTHEW 23:11–12 

Some years ago, while making a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, a fellow pilgrim shared with me the fact that she struggled with pride. She was attractively dressed, not a hair out of place, even in those primitive surroundings. Yet for all her beauty, she could not help but feel that she was holding herself back from becoming all God wanted her to be.

This woman is not unusual. As we follow the path God has laid out for us, most of us reach a point where we become painfully aware that we are hampering our own spiritual progress. The symptoms may vary—an undisciplined prayer life, a recurring sin, an unwillingness to let go of a past grievance—however, more often than not, the root cause is pride. There are even those who think that they have committed a sin so big that God could never forgive them. In each of these cases, the antidote is the same: We must be reminded of our rightful place in God’s kingdom, so that we think neither less of ourselves nor more of ourselves than we ought. More often than not, that rightful place is restored through an encounter with the cross.

Litany of Humility

I had received a simple litany from my confessor, and gladly passed it on to my new friend. As I did so, I told her what the priest had told me, “This is a prayer that God always answers, usually very quickly.” This litany was written by Cardinal Merry del Val, a great man of the Church who served as Secretary of State under two popes. Cardinal del Val prayed this litany at the end of every Mass he celebrated:

 O Jesus meek and humble of heart, hear me. From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being honored, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being praised, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being approved, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being despised, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being calumniated, deliver, me, Jesus. From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, Jesus. That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. That in the opinion of the world, others may increase, and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Answered Prayer

That evening our group made the Stations of the Cross up Mt. Krizevac (Cross Mountain), named for the giant concrete cross that had been constructed on the mountaintop by local people to commemorate the 1,900th anniversary of the crucifixion. The climb was treacherous in the best of conditions—well worn, rocky, and steep. That day it was also slippery; it had rained earlier in the day and a steady stream of water flowed down the trail from the top of the mountain.

I spied my friend, who was wearing a beautiful powder-blue jumpsuit, at the second station, where Jesus accepts his cross. As we walked I asked her if she had prayed the litany. She smiled and told me that she had. When the group reached the seventh station, where Jesus falls a second time, I heard a scream. My friend had slid down the path, her face and clothing covered in mud. Wiping the mud out of her mouth, she came storming up to me and said, “That is the last time I’ll pray that prayer!”

Humility

At one time in Church history, the Franciscans were given the responsibility of walking before the pope in processions, burning handfuls of flax and chanting, “Sic transit gloria mundi.” The flax would disappear almost as quickly as it was ignited, visually

affirming the truth of what the monks’ intonation: “So goes the glory of the world.”

The human race has been fighting the battle against pride since the Fall. Discontent with the lofty position God had given them, they wanted to be just like God—but independent of him. This disordered desire continues to be at the heart of human nature. Only when God’s spirit lives within us to the fullest are we able to be most fully human. And the only way to be filled with God’s spirit is to empty ourselves of any false sense of who we are, or who we think we have to be. This is the way of humility, what St. Paul calls having “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

In the gospels, Jesus warns his disciples against desiring titles and lofty honors. If we achieve greatness in life, as Cardinal del Val did, we must guard against becoming attached to the position or to the glory attached to it. Cardinal del Val gave the following spiritual advice often to those who came to him for counsel: Have a great devotion to the Passion of Our Lord. With peace and resignation, put up with your daily troubles and worries. Remember that you are not a disciple of Christ unless you partake of His sufferings and are associated with His Passion. The help of the grace of silence was the only thing that enabled the saints to carry their extremely heavy crosses. We can show our love for Him by accepting with joy the cross He sends our way. The cross sheds light on the way of humility; it is the path that Christ took and the surest path for us to receive all the blessings that Christ wishes to bestow upon us.

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

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Daily Lent Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Teaches Us. . . About Repentance

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 CORINTHIANS 1:22–24 

This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. LUKE 11:29 

Some years ago I visited the Florida State Prison, accompanying a group of men from around the state who converged on the prison one Saturday of every month to have fellowship with men convicted of the vilest crimes imaginable. I introduced myself to Ron, who lived three hours away from the prison. After some pleasantries, I walked away, and then fell into conversation with another man, who introduced himself as Tom.

“You know Ron?” Tom nodded toward the first man, who had put his arm around an inmate.

“Just met him today.”

“See the guy he’s hugging?” I nodded. “Five years ago, that man murdered Ron’s only son. Now look at them. How does Ron do it—forgive him, I mean?” I didn’t know.

The first proclamation of the gospel by Jesus was that those who wished to follow him needed to “repent and believe.” We are prone to think of “repentance” as giving up sin—and to some degree that is true. However, in the time of Jesus the word would have been more accurately translated, “to radically change the mind, one’s way of thinking.”

The man visiting his son’s murderer every month had “repented.” His way of thinking would seem totally foreign to most of us; it makes sense only to those familiar with the gospel message of Jesus: Love your enemies. Forgive seventy times seven. See Christ in the least of his brethren—even in prison.

Sign of Jonah

The people of Jesus’ day wanted him to perform a sign to prove that his message was true. Today many of us wish for the same. In reality, these signs are all around us but we are blind to them. Even if we see the sign, it doesn’t always convince us. I once attended a healing service where people were literally jumping out of wheelchairs. It didn’t make me believe; if anything, I left the service convinced that the healer was a fraud.

In the preceding gospel passage, Jesus called those seeking signs from him evil. They were evil because they refused to acknowledge the many signs that God had already worked in their midst that confirmed that the ministry and teaching of Christ were from God. Even though I am tempted to look with disdain on those who asked for a sign from Jesus in the gospel, I know deep down that I, too, often forget about the many “signs” that God has given me to confirm the truth of Jesus as the Son of God.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus promised the “sign of Jonah.” This sign is often interpreted as the preaching of repentance: Jonah preached in Nineveh for less than a day before his message  The Power of the Cross  produced a radical change in the hearts of the people. By comparison, Jesus had preached for three long years. If pagan Nineveh was so quick to repent, why were those who heard Jesus’ message so slow to give up their way of thinking? Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Simeon’s prophesy may hold the key to this question: “This child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against” (Luke 2:34).

The oldest interpretation of the “sign of Jonah,” which is also found in the Gospel of Matthew (16:4) comes from an unfinished commentary on this gospel, penned by an anonymous source dating from the time of the early church fathers. For this nameless wise person, the sign of Jonah was the sign of the cross. His reasoning? St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where Paul makes specific reference to the desire for signs among the Jewish people and what he gives them in response—Christ crucified.

Responding to the Sign

What will it take for us to trust in Jesus’ message? The cross of Christ can fill people with dread. And yet, it is at the heart of the good news that Jesus preached. It is diametrically opposed to the way the fallen human race thinks; enamored with forbidden fruit, from which it hopes to become “like God.” The world shuns the tree that bears the only true Source of life and wisdom. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

To the world, it is foolishness to think that anyone could forgive to the point of embracing his son’s killer. As for me, the power of the cross is poignantly revealed in this holy man I once met in a prison in Florida. By embracing the cross, he was able to do exactly what God does when he invites us to his banquet. The cross of Christ either convicts us of murdering God’s Son or makes us into a new creation—a being who is truly remarkable to behold

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 Teaches Us. . . How to Pray 

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. HEBREWS 5:7 

And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. MATTHEW 6:7–8 

While visiting the Holy Spirit Trappist monastery in Conyers, Georgia, I wandered into the abbey church one afternoon to spend a few moments in prayer. A young woman with two small children was already there. Although she prayed inaudibly as her two small children circled about her, I could tell by her raised hands and her tears that she was pleading and reasoning with God. I have no idea what the woman was praying about, only that she was praying the way Moses is described in the Letter to the Hebrews, “. . .seeing him who is invisible.”

As the Israelites battled the Amalekites (see Exodus 17), Moses lifted his hands in prayer, holding his wooden staff over his head as the battle raged in the valley below. So long as Moses’ hands remained in the air, the Israelites were victorious; as Moses’ arms grew tired and began to fall to his sides, the battle turned to the enemy’s advantage. When they realized what was happening, Aaron and Hur stood on either side of Moses, holding his hands aloft, until the battle was won.

To the early church fathers, the prayer of Moses in the battle with the Amalekites foreshadowed the victory Christ won on the cross. Like Aaron and Hur, we have an opportunity to stand with Christ, interceding for the salvation of souls. Of course, Moses, Aaron, and Hur had an advantage that we do not: They could see the effects of Moses’ intercession on the battle raging below. How our prayer life would change if God gave us the ability to see the effect our intercessions—or lack thereof—have on the battle that is being waged daily for souls.

The letter to the Hebrews draws a strong connection between the cross and prayer. Because every moment of our earthly existence is threatened by death, and we know neither the day nor the hour when that existence will come to an end, we, too, need to cry out to the God who can save us. Like Moses, we need the help of our fellow Christians to hold up our arms when they grow tired. We, too, need the help of the Holy Spirit to make up for what is lacking in our prayer.

Praying as a Follower of Christ

Throughout the centuries, Christians in the East and the West have signed themselves with the cross. When it is done with little thought or care, the sign loses much of its power. Contemplating both the action and what it symbolizes as you make the sign, on the other hand, is the perfect way to begin any conversation with God.

As you make the sign of the cross, you place your entire being in the shadow of the cross of Christ. By invoking the Trinity as you make this holy sign, you immediately call to mind that  facing the cross is something we dare not do alone, but only in God’s presence. Every moment, we must choose between the way of the cross of Christ and the way of perdition. Every minute, the battle for our salvation is being lost or won.

“Do not pray like the Gentiles,” Jesus instructed his disciples. Some Christians see this as a prohibition of repetitive prayers, but clearly this isn’t what Jesus was condemning. The admonition had scarcely fallen from his lips when he proceeded to teach his disciples one of the most beloved prayers of all time: the “Our Father,” or “Lord’s Prayer.” Not only did Jesus teach his disciples to pray using a certain form; in the gospels we read that Jesus himself prayed the same words over and over in the Garden of Gethsemane, “He went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words,” (Matthew 26:44).

When we share in Christ’s Passion we will often find ourselves able only to mouth the same words over and over. The early disciples of Jesus, those most familiar with his teachings on prayer, developed litanies and other repetitive prayers. For example, the “Lord Have Mercy” litany has remained in the liturgies of the East and West to this day, and is drawn from several gospel accounts, most notably the two blind men in Jericho who voiced this prayer repeatedly in desperation to Jesus, and who voiced it all the louder when the crowd tried to rebuke them (see Matthew 20:29–31).

Similarly, the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) is taken from the story of a blind man in Luke’s Gospel (see Luke 18:38). In the early church, Christians prayed with their bodies as well as their minds. Congregants often prayed with their hands outstretched in the “orans” position, lifting their minds and hearts to God as well as identifying with the crucified Christ. There have been attempts to restore this practice within the church; others choose to pray this way in private. In this way not only do we imitate the cross of Christ, we acknowledge that all of our prayer is through Christ and in Christ. It is also a good way to express one’s abandonment to God’s will. As our arms tire, we remember that our strength cannot save us; we need help both from God above and from our neighbors below.

So what are the “empty phrases” of the Gentiles that Jesus condemned? He objected to the mindless offering of prayers without faith. While times of “spiritual dryness” are a normal part of the Christian experience, we must guard against “going through the motions” for the benefit of others, and persevere with faith and trust.

In times of doubt, we must strive to embrace the cross of Christ in our lives. Refuse to give in to the passions, or to be held captive by sin. The way of the cross is the way of healing. As Father Benedict Groeschel rightly points out, the only thing that Jesus promised his disciples in this life was persecution. Yet many of us get caught up with the “cares of this world” and forget about the cross we are to carry as followers of Christ. May the cross with which we sign ourselves, and the cross we place before our eyes, always keep us mindful of what we are doing and what is at stake.

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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