“As Saint Thomas Aquinas
tells us, the priest’s power over the corpus
mysticum follows from his power over the corpus physicum of Christ.
It is because he consecrates the Body and Blood of Christ that the
priest can teach, govern and sanctify the members of the Church. Practically, this means that he walks into the
confessional from the foot of the Altar, that he mounts the pulpit after having
enacted the mystery of Redemption. Every
sick call, every word of counsel in the parlor, every catechism lesson taught
to children, every official act in the chancery flows from the Altar. All power resides there, and the more
shortcuts we take from the tabernacle to our other priestly duties, the less
spiritual strength we have for those duties.”
Fulton Sheen, The Priest is Not His Own (1963), 231.
“Despite all our
complaining, we love the Breviary. Our life has two principal gripes: one, the
food in the seminary before we are ordained; and two, the breviary after we are
ordained. But we grow fat on the meals,
and we advance in holiness with the breviary.
We expect too much from it at first, as does a bride of her groom. But
once we realize that when we pick up the book we are not mockingbirds singing
for ourselves alone, that our melody is, rather, the song of the angels rising
to the throne of God on behalf of the Mystical Body and the world, it becomes
Fulton Sheen, The Priest is Not His Own (1963), 145-6.
“If the soul very early
learnt to say, ‘thank God,’ its troubles would be almost at an end. There is a homely principle, if a motor
skids, turn it in that direction. If
when troubles come, we turn them into thanksgiving our soul returns to balance
at once. There will be sweetness, strength, honey in the mouth of the lion.
There is no greater secret than the secret of thanksgiving, even thanksgiving
for everything except our failures. Even
then, we may thank God for the humiliation failures bring.”
Vincent McNabb, OP, The Craft of Suffering (1936), 56.
“The more we shun
suffering, the more we come under its thrall, we become its slave. To seek it, or at least to endure it, and to
love it not for its own sake but for the sake of the good things that may be
wrought through it, that is to become its master. Suffering that is such a bad
master makes a good slave, a good servant for the soul in love with Jesus
Vincent McNabb, OP, The Craft of Suffering (1936), 73.
“Many are now 
suffering the loss of earthly goods.
What a most glorious occasion of thanksgiving! It is to me great anguish
to see so many people suffering in that way. But there is also a deep sense of
thanksgiving that the world is being found out at last. We are almost
heartbroken to see the Prodigal Son herding with swine, but rejoicing that he
knows swill is no food for man and swine no company for gentlemen. There is some
chance of the poor prodigal thinking of his father’s home and turning back. To
go back is often spiritual progress. It hardly seems right to sing ‘Te Deum,’
and yet deep down in our hearts there is gratitude to God that Mammon is at
last revealing is essential cruelty and vulgarity, so that mankind in his utter
destitution will see that the only thing sufficiently steadfast is Nazareth and
the only God worth worshipping is Jesus of Nazareth.”
Vincent McNabb, OP, The Craft of Suffering (1936), 57.
“One of the early Fathers
said, ‘He that hath not suffered, what doth he know?’ There is a lack even of knowledge in the one
who has not dealt rightly with some kind of suffering. Some people are never themselves till they
have had great sorrow. Sorrow must enter
in. It is not the final thing. But something has happened to human beings,
so that now it is an absolute necessity.
Some impurities have to be washed away by suffering.”
Vincent McNabb, OP, The Craft of Suffering (1936), 37-8.
“Outside God there is no
hope. Remove God and you have not
touched one of the sufferings of the world.
You have perhaps added one. You
have not touched one of the pains and pangs.
You have only removed the One who might help. Their disease is untouched. You have taken away the remedy. Outside Christ, the problem of suffering is
insoluble. The dethrone God in a throe
of anger and bewilderment is merely to hasten death by indeliberate suicide.”
Vincent McNabb, OP, The Craft of Suffering (1936), 17.
“[Thomas Aquinas] says
that the very least one of these sufferings was of itself suffering enough to
redeem the human race from all sin (that is woven into the Adoro Te). But, says St.
Thomas, it was fitting that He should have to endure all at once. One suffering would have sufficed for our
Redemption, but it would not suffice for the Love of the Redeemer. He meant to give copious Redemption. He willed that the beaker should brim
over. He gave a thousand Redemptions all
Vincent McNabb, OP, The Craft of Suffering (1936), 79.
“Shall I withhold a
little money or food from my fellow-creature, for fear he should not be good
enough to receive it of me? Do I beg of God to deal with me, not according to
my merit, but according to his own great goodness; and should I be so absurd,
as to with-hold my charity from a poor brother, because he may perhaps not
deserve it? Shall I use measure toward
him, which I pray God never to use toward me.”
William Law, A Serious Call, qtd. in Stranks, Anglican Devotion, 185-6.
“Traherne’s devotion to
the cross sprang from seeing it the final proof of the nature of God, a nature
which had been indicated in all the Divine actions wherever we may look, in the
world around us, into our own best thoughts, into the history of man’s
redemption, everywhere is to be seen an ever-broadening stream of love. The cross is both the demonstration of that
love and the means whereby we enter into its bounty. Traherne’s eyes are not fixed upon the
damnation from which the passion of Christ saves mankind, but on the felicity
into which it admits us. We learn to
prize our own nature by thus seeing the value that God sets upon it. So our deepest repentance must be for having
failed to love and our prayer that we may love more fully.”
“With the dignity, even
austerity of the Prayer Book there goes also a basic simplicity which is not
affected by the richness of its language. Its prayers are the expression of a
filial relationship between a child and his father—a weak, sinful and erring
child, a Father of infinite majesty and power, but still a child and a
father. Their language is the direct
address of a person talking with a person.
Because of this view, which has been learned from the Bible, Anglican
writers have little to say about complicated techniques of devotion; they are
content to accept prayer as a natural activity of the soul, as ordinary in its
way as converse between human beings.
There must of course be a keen awareness of the overwhelming greatness
of the Being who is approached, and a corresponding sense of the unworthiness
of the one who is drawing near. So vast
a difference in the capacities of the two may lead to seeming disappointments,
to hesitations and doubts s a man is led through ways which he is incapable of
understanding at the time, but love, faith, and perseverance will prove the
unfailing goodness of God toward us in the end.”
“When the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and
he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.” St. John 4:40-41
I’ve seen the sign on the
left-hand side of the Harper’s Ferry Road: “Frog Hollow, the Moonshine Capitol
of the World.” I think it’s a bit tamer
down in the Hollow these days than it was during the height of Prohibition,
when a man would sit watch on the bridge on a summer’s night in case a revenue agent
came creeping down the road with an axe and an ultimatum from the IRS.
Until it burned down a
few years ago, though, the center of community life in the hollow was the Mad
Dog Saloon. They say the floors were
dirt and they traded in canned beer out of a Coleman cooler, when the locally
produced wares weren’t being passed around.
Saturday nights were punctuated with ambulance calls, when one of the
hollow boys was wont to get a bit dramatic with the cue stick. I lived for two years in Sharpsburg, just
five miles away. But I never had the guts to cross the threshold of the Mad Dog
and see if all the stories were really true.
“Morality which is
uninspired by a continual view of the immensities which lie beyond it becomes
cold and unattractive, and may lead to a deadly self-satisfaction, which
inhibits all spiritual progress. It is
certain that in religion above all else, ‘a man’s reach must exceed his grasp,’
and of this, a majority of our teachers are well aware. But it is equally certain that any system of
religion which treats temperance, soberness and chastity as objects of less
regard than emotional indulgence, ecclesiastical correctitude or even a
far-spreading humanitarianism, is dying at the heart. A devotion which is rooted in the Bible will
never ignore the claims of personal morality.
There it is made unmistakably clear that a righteous God demands
righteousness in his worshippers.”
Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my
spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. St. Luke 23:46
Several of the Fifteen Os also make
mention of a particular aspect of discipleship that was especially important in
St. Bridget’s time, ending life in faith and trust, having what Jeremy Taylor
famously described as “a holy dying.” As
she meditates upon the end of Jesus’ life, St. Bridget is also inviting us, as
does the final stanza of one of the Victorian passion hymns, to “Learn of Jesus
Christ to die”
In her concern with a holy death, in part St.
Bridget reflects the reality of her times.
She was surrounded by people, all of them baptized Christians, who died
in unexpected ways every day. An
epidemic struck a village, an army laid siege to a town, a fire swept through a
city, and thousands would die. People
lived perilous lives, and unlike the reality in the Western world today, there
were very few means of effectively blunting the pain, so that most people were
conscious and fully aware of death’s approach.
know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be
destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. Romans 6:6
In my last meditation, I spoke about the
way in which Bridget’s passion prayers carefully turn us away from the danger
of viewing Christ’s passion and death as a purely human story. They also, quite carefully steer us away from
the accompanying danger of seeing the Cross as an event that belongs only to
the past, something that happened on a lonely hill in Palestine long ago and
remains there, an interesting story in someone else’s life.
Instead Bridget believes that Christ’s
passion and death are a reality with deep significance for the present moment,
and that Christian discipleship is deeply bound up in responding to Christ’s
call, described in one of the prayers as “enduring in the way of the Cross.”
was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their
trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of
reconciliation. II Cor. 5:19
If you’ve ever read through one of the
Gospels from beginning to end in a single setting, maybe what surprised you
most was how long the passion story, the account of Jesus’ suffering and death
is. In what is probably the earliest
Gospel, St. Mark, 45% of the text is of the last week of Jesus’ life. Regular worshippers know to prepare
themselves for Palm Sunday, because when we read the passion, it will take
quite a long time.
The Gospels are unlike any other kind of
literature that predates them in the way they focus in on this final (or
properly almost final) part of the
life of their subject. We have some
deathbed scenes for other important figures in the Bible, and the classical
biographies usually include an account of the death. There is generally in
ancient literature a sense that the death reveals the character, but the
passions of the Gospel stories are really unprecedented.
“He was wounded for our transgressions, he
was bruised for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,and with his stripes we are
healed.” Isaiah 53:5
You may think it odd to begin a
presentation about a famous set of prayers by a Swedish nun by spending time
with a German painting. But this
painting was directly inspired by the devotional writings of Bridget of Sweden,
especially her Revelations, a book of
visions of the crucified Christ. Bridget
never saw this painting, as it was completed 130 years after her death. But had she been able to paint, I believe she
would have created something just like this.
This is the Isenheim Altarpiece, painted
by Matthaeus Gruenewald in 1515 for the hospital chapel at Monastery of St.
Anthony in a village near Colmar in Alsace, now a part of France. One of the masters of the Mannerist style,
this is Gruenewald’s greatest work. A
similar “Small Crucifixion” is in the National Gallery.
The monks who served at the monastery of
St. Anthony were a community dedicated to treating those who suffered from the
plague and ergotism. There was no
remedy, and the monks’ mission was to provide physical care and spiritual
consolation. The painting appropriately
reveals Jesus who suffered as we suffer and who shows the extent of God’s love
through offering Himself to destruction.
Jesus is present in our pains and reveals His mercy as we face the
certain prospect of death.
said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord
your God and him only shall you serve.’”
St. Matthew 4:10
was great to see last week that my college friend John has finally gotten
engaged. I found out the way the way you
often do about these things when you’re my age, when a notice popped up halfway
down my Facebook feed. I haven’t seen John
in two or three years, but he seemed about the same, his arm around a beautiful
woman. Both of them looked delighted,
and frankly, a little relieved.
all of 38 now, and after a conversation I had with him the last time we were
together, I doubted that this day would ever come. He was kind enough to put me up for the night
in his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen the last time I was in New York. John works in mergers and acquisitions at a
big bank, knows a bit about everything, and has friends all over town. Still no steady girlfriend, though.
“You don’t understand what it’s like dating
here in the City,” John said to me over his plate of souvlaki. A few months before he had signed up for
Tinder, which was the hottest thing in dating technology at the time. Tinder is sort of like internet matchmaking
on steroids. It sets up a date for you
first thing in the morning by text message and you have an hour or two to
decide if you’re in the mood for this option or if you’d like to try someone
had lots of dates. I expect he had
turned down two or three to have dinner with me.
My grandfather died two weeks ago, a few months short of his
89th birthday, in the same room where he was born. Most every night of his long
life, he slept under the same roof, in the farmhouse where his parents had settled
just after their marriage.
Historically speaking, this kind of stability is unremarkable.
But in modern America, where the average person moves 11.4 times in a lifetime,
it would be difficult to compute just how rare it is. My eldest son, who just
turned eight, has already lived in four different homes, in three different
My grandfather also died a farmer, as had his father before
him, and his grandfather before him, back as far as the records go. We tucked
wheat stalks and an ear of field corn into the floral spray on his coffin. The
photos lined up at the back of the funeral home showed him on his tractor and
standing in the barnyard with the Angus steers. There was a sign from Esskay,
which bought his beef for decades, and an aerial photo of the farm.
He’d only foresworn the tractor two years ago, when a fall
from the step landed him in the hospital for a few weeks. He continued to
supervise the work done by others and to check the grain prices regularly. I
saw him in the hospital a few days before his death, when the medicine was
making his mind a bit foggier than usual. He looked out his window over a vast
parking lot, but what he saw was a rolling field. “That one would be good for
corn,” he told me.
In the next few days, you’ll be receiving a letter from me
and Barbara Heywood, the acting president of the Women of Saint Francis, about
our Lenten offering appeal. This is a
new practice here at Saint Francis, and it is designed to take the place of the
longstanding fall patron’s appeal that was an integral part of the Potomac
Country House Tour. Following the Women of Saint Francis’ decision to
indefinitely postpone the house tour, we decided that this Lenten appeal would
be a helpful way to continue our longstanding emphasis on supporting ministries
that serve the poor in our community and around the world. The offering also helps us to recover a
central aspect of the Lenten season and its distinctive disciplines that
sometimes gets forgotten.
Lent is a season for almsgiving. Throughout the forty days we examine our
hearts and pray for forgiveness and renewal in the life of grace. And giving of our treasure to relieve the
sufferings of others expresses our gratitude to God for His mercy toward us and
conforms us more fully to the sacrificial life of our Lord, who has given His
life “a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The true and dutiful children of the Church, the loyal
soldiers of Christ Jesus will next Wednesday hear the call of their Leader’s
trumpet, rousing them up, as on all Ash-Wednesdays, to set about his work, to
fight his battle, in earnest. It will be the old note, but you will not
therefore scorn it, if you are true men and brave soldiers. You know it would
never do for a soldier, when the trumpet or bugle sounds in the morning, to
say, “It is only the old call over again, what I have been used to so very
often; I am not going to disturb myself for that,” and so to stay quietly in
his quarters. No more will it do for you, Christian warriors, to make light of
your Lord’s summons, now that he is calling upon you at the opening of another
Lent; another holy season of penitent self-denial and prayers. He calls you
morning by morning, and morning by morning, you must answer his call.”
John Keble, “Sermon XXI. Preparation for Holy Communion,
Preparation for Death and for Judgment,” Sermons for Septuagesima to
Ash-Wednesday, with Sermons for Confirmation and on the Litany. (1879).
“Blow the trumpet in
Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children,
even nursing infants.”
Once upon a time, you
needed to qualify for ashes on Ash Wednesday.
They were reserved for notorious sinners, those whose evil deeds had cut
them off from the communion of the Church.
Like more than one of our inherited Lenten practices, the ashes were
originally part of the church’s discipline for flagrant lawbreakers—thieves,
adulterers, murderers, those who actions brought scandal to all those who
profess Christ’s Name.
Forty days before Easter,
these lawbreakers would come to the courtyard before the church barefoot and
dressed in sackcloth, confessing their misdeeds. These penitents,
as they were called, would heap ashes on their heads, as God’s people had done
in ancient times. This was a a way of
expressing their sorrow for their sins. The
whole community would surround them, chanting the seven Penitential Psalms,
which exalt God’s mercy for the wicked.
The bishop would read from Genesis about Adam and Eve’s expulsion from
paradise. Then the penitents would be
sent away, forbidden from entering the church door. They could return after they had proved their
intention to make a new start through a rigorous fast.