The Sacred Heart in Scripture and Strawberries

strawberries

June is the month devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Catholic Church. You may ask, what is meant by the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Well, the Sacred Heart is Jesus. And devotion to the Sacred Heart is a devotion to the love of Jesus, devoting oneself to loving   Him entirely.  The heart is a symbol of love, of course, but also an ancient symbol for the core of one’s being, the sacred abode in which God dwells with the person… and more. I wrote more about the heart HERE, HERE, and HERE. For an article on the more scholarly particulars of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, please click HERE.

What does any of this have to do with strawberries? The answer to that is at the end, after a bit of reflective exploration…

Why Does Anything Exist?

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The God of Silence

What does God’s love feel like? Is it warm and fuzzy? In opening our hearts to let God love us, do we experience pleasant sensations, like an encouraging embrace?

I don’t think so.

We are creatures of flesh and what we understand most easily are physical sensations. If something feels good, then we are inclined to do it. If something is painful, then we tend to avoid it. Although the knowledge/experience of divine love is so deeply wonderful that we desire it always once we know/experience it, getting to that place, coming to that state of being where we are peacefully joyful in God’s love… well, that isn’t always a pleasant journey. In fact, I would venture to say that opening ourselves up to let God love us is hardly ever a pleasant journey.

But, oh, what a destination.

God’s invitation to receive the endless bounty of His love is an invitation to walk through fire. Like in the song, Holy Darkness, God declares to us:

“I have tried you in fires of affliction; I have taught your soul to grieve.
In the barren soil of your loneliness, there I will plant my seed.
I have taught you the price of compassion; you have stood before the grave.
Though my love can seem like a raging storm, this is the love that saves.”[1]

This is the love that saves us from failing as human beings. This is the love that heals the soul, brightens the mind, satisfies the heart, leads the will to eternal destiny, and emboldens loving action. But, it cannot be known through the surface things of the world. We cannot see God’s love with our eyes, hear it with our ears, smell it, taste it, or touch it with our skins. We don’t physically sense Divine love, but we can know/experience what it does. God’s love, agape, transforms burdens into blessings, difficulties into opportunities, disappointments into fulfillment, sorrows into joys, and death into life. If only we would let God love us…

It is this “letting” that is the most trying and painful part of salvation. How are we to receive God’s love? Christ’s human arms are opened widest to Divine Love when they are stretched apart and nailed to the Cross. “Take up your cross and follow me,” he tells us.

Those moments in our lives when we are suffering in the world, when we feel that God has abandoned us – those are the times that we are being crucified with Christ.

Will we fight these moments of suffering and receive nothing from them, nothing but frustration, anger, agony, and misery? Or will we accept these moments on the Cross, even lovingly embrace them, and receive from them the endless goodness, courage, healing, and peaceful joy of God’s love?

“In your deepest hour of darkness I will give you wealth untold. When the silence stills your spirit, will my riches fill your soul.”[2]

When we suffer, with “Heaven’s answer hidden from our sight”, we are on the brink of glory. There will be no fanfare, no fireworks, no parades, no exciting revelry when we are opened and receive God’s love – just as there were none on the first Easter. The glory will be beyond what we can think, what we can imagine, and what we can experience through our physical senses. God loving us does not feel warm and fuzzy, but, rather, deeply abiding, never ending, pure, and truly and fully good.

It isn’t all happy, happy, roses and sunshine all of the time. For, every glorious rose has a thorn and every sun that rises must also set. Let us not fear the dark nights of the soul. Rather, may we remember that, although everything else will fall away, God’s love is eternal. Let us allow Him to embrace us in the Holy Darkness.

In the season of Lent, when we more profoundly examine ourselves and our relationship with God, I will be taking this song and the truth that it expresses as my faith facilitator for this First Friday of March.

Prayer:

Oh, Sacred Heart of Jesus,

you bear the burden of my sorrows

and take my pain as your own;

Break open my heart with yours

so that it will not be merely aching,

but rather flooded by your grace,

with the sacred strength of weakness.

Then, may I,

broken and battered in this world,

in the stillness and silence of the night,

receive the gift of your everlasting love,

lifted up in your everlasting life.

Amen.

© 2015 Christina Chase

[This is part of the Faith Facilitators series. For more, click here.]


[1] Holy Darkness, © 1988, 1993, Daniel L Schutte. Published by OCP Publications, 5536 NE Hassalo, Portland, OR 97213

[2] ibid.

Unhidden from You

My faith facilitator for this First Friday? The haunting, inescapable truth of Psalm 139, which I have come to know most intimately:

LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all. Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach.

Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea, even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast. If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light”— Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!

My very self you know.

My bones are not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.

How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the sands; when I complete them, still you are with me.

 

Prayer:

Lord, may I always be mindful that I am ever in your presence…

Guide me in your ways.

Amen.

Peace

Better late than never…
I’m grateful that I was able to observe this First Friday by participating, sacramentally, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  In other words, I got to physically go to church.  My parents and I were a little late getting there, so, when we came in the ramped side entrance, the congregation was already standing and the priest was already entering at the altar.  So, we stayed in the seats of that side apse.

I have never watched the consecration from the same level of the sanctuary – and, since the church we attended has a large crucifix suspended from the ceiling above the altar, I gazed upon Jesus on the cross from the side for the first time.  I thought to myself, it’s like seeing Continue reading

First Friday and the Incarnate Image

Last year, I was searching for a Madonna and Child print to hang in my bedroom. I had thought that I wanted an icon or medieval painting. After looking at hundreds of depictions, however, I grew weary of so many grave madonnas tolerating so many, adult-like babies. Where was the wonder and joy of the Incarnation? Nothing moved me with the touch of human tenderness, with the divine light of living, breathing love.

And then, I found it. “The Virgin of the Grapes” by Piere Mignard, circa 1640-1650.

Virgin of the Grapes

Although, historcally speaking, the picture is far from accurate, the spirit of the work is exquisite in blessedness. The Christ Child is shown as a real child, with sweet baby flesh and a near mischievous little face. His mother Mary is beautifully peaceful, a joyful serenity on her visage. She delights in her child, but doesn’t smother. Her eyes are shown cast downward so as not to take away from the eager gaze of Jesus. He is seated on her, reminiscent of the ancient style, symbolizing Christ as the King seated on a throne – the throne being the soft, loving folds of Mary’s arms and lap. For Mary makes possible the Incarnation with her selfless submission to the will of God and with the humility of her generous motherhood. And none of this is dour. None of this is somber, burdensome piety. This is the beauty of love, this is the light of divine joy brought to us through human forms.

Even in this happy little scene, there is a touch of the sacrifice that is to come when the infant is grown into manhood. Mary innocently holds out a cluster of grapes that Jesus grasps fully with his baby fingers. The grapes symbolize the blood of the Eucharist – the Blood of Christ, poured out from the Cross, poured out for the multitude so that our sins may be forgiven. I believe a touch of the sacrifice must be shown in any good depiction of Jesus – for a good portrait shows the true identity of a person. Here we have a hint of the suffering amidst the joy of the coming of God among us. Should it not be so? As God is the fullness of reality, let us embrace reality fully – and not be afraid.

For God, in infinite love for us, comes intimately among us to reveal the divine light in the human. In Mignard’s painting, baby Jesus is playing partially beneath the veil that is covering his mother’s hair. In his sweet innocence, Christ is lifting the veil and peeking out to us.

Yes, let the angels sing, for Christ Jesus truly lifts the veil and reveals God to all of humankind. This is the holy Mystery of the Incarnation, inexhaustibly wondrous, profound, unfathomable… and as sweet and real as a little baby at play.

So, I take this image as my Faith Facilitator for this First Friday of December.

Prayer

Oh, God, You so love the world

that You humbled Yourself to become one of us,

to live as we live so that we may love as You love –

lift the veil from my eyes,

lift the veil from my heart,

help me to pierce through time to eternity,

through space to infinity,

through my humanity to your divinity,

so that I may be transformed into the truth of your image and likeness

and bear love where there is hate,

bear hope where despair,

pardon where injury,

faith where doubt,

joy where sadness,

and light where darkness.[1]

Amen.

© 2014 Christina Chase

[This is part of the Faith Facilitators series. Read more here.]

 

[1] borrowing from the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

First Friday and the Will of St. Francis

In a shadowy recess of the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, I caught sight of a dimly lit bas-relief and felt myself drawn to it… and even changed by it.

Before I get to that, shortly – below the carving is a small statue of St. Francis of Assisi taking the body of Jesus off of the Cross. Of course, it is historically inaccurate. But, great art depicts the truth within and beyond facts. The artwork is meant to convey the love and life of Francis, who was so utterly devoted to God-Incarnate suffering in this world that he even developed the Stigmata, signs of Christ’s wounds on his own body. Francis’s arms are therefore shown to be encircling the body of Christ as he is ready to lift up his beloved Savior and catch him in embrace.

St. Francis Jesus Cross Ste. Anne de Beaupré

Francis is on tippytoe in his innocent eagerness, gazing upward in adoration, his hand curved and held in gentle wonder.

And I ask myself: do I want to embrace Christ this much?

Am I eager to carry the weight of his beaten and bloody body? Do I hold him in wonder and affection close to my heart? I wasn’t there when they crucified my Lord, but I am here, now, when the dying are crying out in pain and loneliness, and the abused are losing hope that anyone will carry them to safety. Is my heart suffering with theirs in true compassion, ready to do whatever I can to help – not to hesitate, but to give generously in love? Whatever I do for the least, I do for Christ.

As I wrote in the beginning of this post, it was the bas-relief above the statue that most deeply moved me. I had to look up at it a long while before I could discern the figures and details. While realizing what I was seeing, I felt the cords of my heart being so sweetly touched that the exquisite song of joy spread all through me. Below is the image, the image which I am taking as my Faith Facilitator for this First Friday:

St. Francis bas-relief Ste. Anne de Beaupré

At first, I saw Jesus with his arms open wide, crucified. And Francis, in front of Jesus like a child, held his arms open wide in imitation, looking back and up at his Savior as though asking, “Like this?” Christ, the patient teacher, and Francis, the willing student. But, then… I saw that there were wings depicted behind Jesus, signifying Christ Resurrected, Christ Glorified and Ascended in Paradise. And I knew that Christ Jesus was teaching his beloved child… with open arms, a living Cross… how to fly….

Prayer:

Oh, my Lord and my God,

teach me to be little,

your little child,

so that I may grow big and strong like you.

Amen.

[This is part of the First Friday Faith Facilitator series, for the month of November 2014.]

© 2014 Christina Chase

In the Ordinary: A First Friday Observance

“To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wildflower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

and eternity in an hour.”

This is one of my favorite poems — even though I’m not entirely certain what it means. Good poetry is like that.  The words of William Blake may express some complex philosophy, for all I know, or their meaning may be simple and apparent: it is blessedness to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

There is rich and awe-inspiring beauty in Creation. But, the transcendent experience of which William Blake speaks (I think) is more than marvelous delight in physical things.  We could simply be caught up in the wonder of a flower’s intricacy and how the forces of nature also bring forth bright, bursting blooms of stardust in galaxies near and far.  Knowing how vast and complex, how beyond our grasp, is the universe — and even a grain of sand — our minds may become overwhelmed and we may experience a rapturous feeling of awe.  All of the natural world is amazing — violets and pebbles, sand and oak trees, and all things and all of the energy that goes into their existence.  But… their existence… not the process, not the parameters, not the products, and not the pondering of these things — but, their existence… contemplating that is when the temporal can take us up to the transcendent.

“To see a heaven in a wild flower” and to hold “eternity in an hour” is more about mysticism than it is about the experience of awe we may feel in the exquisite beauty of what we know scientifically about the universe and the overwhelming vastness of what we don’t know yet.  The idea is not to relate the infinite to the finite or the eternal to the temporal.  I believe that the idea behind William Blake’s poem, the idea behind all sacred experiences of the transcendent, is to relate the finite to the infinite and the temporal to the eternal.  We are not to project our thoughts of the divine upon the mundane (like saying that God is Nature or the Universe) but, rather, project our thoughts beyond the mundane (even through the mundane) to the Divine.

The world is not for nothing. And I believe that matter matters to God.

There is heavenly delight — and then there is Heaven. There is the thrilling adventure of discovery, uncovering the secrets of processes and identities within — and then there is reality itself, existence itself.  To see the transcendent in the temporal is about something much more than how the brain reacts to ego-shattering greatness with a feeling of awe.  It’s about discovering what God wants to say to us personally in the daily living of our lives.

Eternity is not far off, like some experience that is distant from us. Eternity is now.  And now.  And now.  Infinity is not somewhere beyond our reach, impossible to be within.  Infinity is here.  And there.  And here.  And there.  Full and true transcendence is found in the opening of ourselves up to God, allowing God to reveal Divine realities and Mysteries to us.  Here and now.

This post is not meant to debate whether or not a personal God exists. Nor is it meant to further the discussion of whether or not even atheists can have experiences of the sacred.  I am simply reminding myself that the ways of God are visible everywhere — if I remember to look, not only with my eyes and other physical senses, but also with my heart, which is the core of my being, the interior space in which God and I dwell together alone.  So, as I ponder things with my brain, I must also — and, perhaps, first and foremost — ponder them in my heart.  Sometimes, the best explanations of things are not meant to explain, but, rather, to simply cause unutterable wonder — and gratitude — that there is something instead of nothing.  That I am.

The Infinite is. And, yet, so is your hand with its creased and fleshy palm.  The Eternal is.  And, yet, so are the several minutes of time during which you have read this post.  That is what truly amazes, inspires true wonder and true awe.  We have been brought into being by the Infinite/Eternal One!  With this epiphany, the mystics slip through portals of divine transcendence.  GOD’S INITIATIVE.  And God’s willingness to help us up to Him.

And so I take ordinary things as my faith facilitators on this First Friday of October.

Prayer

Oh, Uncreated Creator, oh, Uncaused Cause,

May I see the little lessons

that the ordinary things of every day can teach me

about myself, about life,

and about You.

May I be open to the Transcendent,

remembering always that you are immanent,

ever-present, with me always and everywhere,

revealing your love and Mysteries to me

in my heart.

Help me to see You.

Help me to hear You.

Amen.

[This has been part of the First Friday Facilitators series, to help me better celebrate the First Friday observation of the Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.]

© 2014 Christina Chase

The Holy Door: A Personal Pilgrimage

Over the last week, I have been in Canada with my parents on a journey with two main goals: to shut one door and to walk through a newly opened other.  Along the way, I have sought to grow closer in my relationship with God and deeper in my identity as His beloved creation — a quest for spiritual enlightenment, you could say, and a better understanding of passages…

Closing Doors

Day One, on the road

Packing and preparation are the beginning part of what I dislike most about traveling: logistics.  All through vacation there will be questions that demand answers like, What time, How long, Where to, How much, and so on — and with me we can add, How do I get my wheelchair from here to there?  With planning, scheduling, replanning, rescheduling, maps, foreign currency, and other useful things like ramps, we find our way through the “getaways” to gain what we desire.  Everyone desires something different from vacation, whether it be physical relaxation, time to think, exciting thrills, wondrous sights, sensual delights, strengthening of relationships with fellow travelers, or gained knowledge and experiences.  For me, what I wanted was pilgrimage — without really knowing what that means.

So, we loaded into the minivan with our many bags and other things (you’d be amazed how much stuff a disabled person like me needs, it’s like traveling with a baby) and headed north for our first destination, my French-Canadian mother’s home town.  Along the way, whenever we would pass by a 2008-07-21_Old_Chapel_Hill_Cemetery_2cemetery, I would pray for God to have mercy upon the souls of those whose mortal remains were buried there.  And this put me in a disposition to think about the past, about ancestors and generations of families who live and die upon this green and blue earth, living their finite lives as best as they can.  Some, quite frankly, failing in their humanity, others excelling, and most somewhere in between the two states of being.  Some saw death as the transition to a new life in heaven, while others saw it only as the end.  How many human bodies have been buried beneath the shallow surface of the earth, or burned into smoke and bones?  Will they see a resurrection at the end of temporal time and be glorified by God?  And all of this while I listened to an audio book reading of Dante’s Purgatory — especially perfect as our road climbed through the notch in the White Mountains.

In the Great North Woods, we drove past a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary and prayed a “Hail, Mary” together aloud as we always do at this spot in the road — but this is the first time that we have done so since the Shrine closed.  The Religious Brothers who managed and maintained the Shrine have left, the gift shop is gone, and no more Masses are being celebrated on the beautiful grounds.  But the pathways and statues are still there — the stations of the Cross, the World Rosary, and the Blessed Mother looking lovingly upon all.  It’s as if to say, Yes, you have abandoned us here in our places of former honor, we who were such joy to you for generations — but we have not abandoned you.

Day Two, in Canada

After resting well in the converted country schoolhouse that would be our lodging for three nights, we awoke early in order to get to the church of St. Henri for the final Mass to be celebrated there.  This was the main reason for our journey: to attend the closing of my mother’s childhood parish, the parish where she and most of her 13 siblings were baptized, where she received her first Holy Communion at Midnight Mass, where she was Confirmed in the faith of her ancestors, receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  In this church, the funeral Masses of her parents were held — in fact, almost 40 years ago, her mother died in this church, suffering a stroke right after stepping through the open door for Mass and blessing herself with the holy water.  And, now, the door will not be opened for another Mass.  The Parish registers are complete.  The books, like the doors of St. Henri, have been closed.

DSCN6714           When she learned of the closing, my mother knew that she wanted to be there for the last Eucharistic celebration and my father and I expressed the same desire.  Though I needed four men to carry me and my wheelchair up the eight steps (one of the volunteers, unbeknownst to us, was 93, bless his heart) I was glad to be there.  Although I felt strange because I hadn’t attended the liturgy there since I was about six years old, being a fully practicing Catholic (devoted to attending the Sunday celebration every week that I am physically able) I did not feel out of place.  I did, however, I admit, look at the nearly full church and wonder how many who live nearby didn’t come to Mass at St. Henri.  There were only five regularly attending parishioners I’m told.  And, yes, I did think of my cousins in that very town — but it was with this thought: it’s our generation that’s closing churches.

Yes, it’s my generation that’s closing churches because we have lost something that our ancestors once had.  They knew something that we don’t anymore because the world has distracted us with so many other things to do and other places to be.  We have lost a treasure and we don’t even know it — a secret treasure, a sacred treasure that succeeding generations will have to struggle to find again.  I am grateful to God that, even though I was most thoroughly lost in darkness, He restored me to faith and to Faith.  I am a member of that lost generation responsible for closed doors.  But, by the grace of God, I have been pulled through the narrowest opening to the infinite space within… and now, I believe, God is calling me to shine some of the light that I have been given and to open minds, hearts, arms — doors.  This is what I believe… is it true, Lord?

Passages

Day Three, at rest

“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven…”.

In the beauty of the rolling Canadian countryside, my parents and I relaxed and enjoyed one another’s company and the wonders of God’s Creation.  Birds singing and fluttering in a grove of trees; leaves green and gold in the sunlight; chipmunks and red squirrels exploring grasses and tree limbs and gathering while they may; a gorgeous red fox quietly and swiftly crossing the road at dusk. Paysage de la paix, as they say in French.  The countryside in peace, and our bodies, hearts, and minds in peace.

DSCN6767            For, although there was sadness for the proceedings of the day before, there is also a knowledge in me of seasons and of God’s grace being always sufficient to fill every need.  Yes, the church of St. Henri had closed — a lowercase c church had come to the end of its season, having fulfilled a great need for the Gospel and the Sacraments and for parish community life when generations of people were desirous to be served.  But, the whole town has been going through a transition — the little general store closed, the restaurant closed, the small branch of the bank closed, and people are moving away to larger cities and houses aren’t being bought.  The closing of St. Henri is not only about a lost generation straying further generations off of the path, but also about the passage of a village into a rural/getaway place of isolation.  Yes, the church came to an end — but the Church has not.  The uppercase C Church continues through generations lost and found, through wars and peace, through plagues and prosperity, through darkness and light, as it has for 2000 years.  “Upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Day Four, finding a port

DSCN6830             We left our country retreat for the city of Québec, driving out of the fertile Coaticook Valley and through the flatland before crossing the St. Lawrence River and finding a way into the venerable walled city through one of its “ports”.  Many, many logistics again this day and beautiful things to see, including a spectacular view from our fancy hotel room, but allow me just to record one thought here.  While the bellman (yes, the bellman) was unloading our luggage from the minivan with my father, an invisible thief came by and took a briefcase from the open van door.  It’s theft was not noticed until later that evening.  Inside was my computer.  And my sensitive mouse that is the only kind I can use and very hard to find.  And two DVDs I rented from Netflix, with some other things as well.  For some reason I had been very smart and, before leaving home, had backed up my documents.  Thank you, God!  And I mean that.  I’m writing this on my old (read slow) computer.  The grace here is that I wasn’t upset.  I felt so bad for my father, who felt terrible.  But, although this is the first time I had ever been robbed, I felt completely at ease.  My only concern was that the thief would be malicious and mess around with the accounts for which I have stored passwords — but, I was totally willing to let God’s will be done.  Perhaps there was something for me to learn here.  And I think there was: forgiveness.  I named my thief René (or Renée, pronounced the same way) and began praying for him or her — and I don’t plan to stop.

The Open Door

Day Five, the Holy Door

This is the day that I was looking forward to the most — the day that we would step through the Holy Door.  A special grace and blessing has been promised by the Catholic Church (well, by God through the Church) to any one who undertakes a pilgrimage and passes through a semi-hidden door in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Québec.  This door has been proclaimed a Holy Door in honor of the Cathedral’s 350th anniversary and as a privilege, as it is considered the mother church of North America.  There are six other Holy Doors in the world — four  in Italy, two in Spain, one in France — a tradition that began when pilgrimages to the Holy Land of Jerusalem became too dangerous for pilgrims many centuries ago.  Since I’ll never be able to go to the others, I am grateful for the opening of this one and was very eager to go — this was the real impetus for my journey.

Before going up to enter the door, people are asked to walk through a meditation garden and pray. Holy Door meditations “Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe…Persevere in prayer… Love your enemies… Blessed are the peacemakers…”.  And, yes, I did think about René(e) with a special kind of love.  I had a hard time maneuvering my wheelchair on the path and kept coming off of it and needing help to get back on it.  I said to my father, “This is emblematic of my spiritual journey — I keep straying off of the path.” Later, I thought of this truly in terms of pilgrimage, the pilgrimage of our lives here on earth, the pilgrim Church… we live and pray and climb on our way on earth up to the Holy Door of Paradise — may we all enter through.

I admit that I wanted to “feel” changed after crossing the threshold.  But, I didn’t.  I thought about my father taking my picture and I even thought to smile for it, since I don’t like pictures of me when I’m not smiling.  I had brought my collection of rosaries with me in my bag so that they could enter through the Door with me, and even thought that the clothes I would be wearing would be changed for me.  No, I did not believe that anything magical would happen.  But, I do believe in God’s grace and I do believe in blessings.

I do believe that God is calling each and every one of us to a particular path in life — that there is a unique passage that each and every one of us is invited to cross through.  The Holy Door was not only symbolic of all of this for me, and for others who faithfully enter through it, but it is also a real transformation that is being offered to us by God through His Church.  We are being invited to pass through the sacred portal different than we were on the other side — purer and stronger in our willingness to love.  This transformation cannot take place unless we are willing to receive the Grace that makes it possible.

Holy Door           And, yes, Christ is the Door.  To one side of the Cathedral, a small, but thick and heavy metal door has a person sized bas-relief of Christ holding out his hand to the pilgrim.  All of our passages of grace are in, with, and through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior of the World.

Day Six, being sent forth

I had many wonderful experiences while in the City of Québec, which is definitely one of my favorite places on earth.  The last moment to share, however, takes place in Beaupré, in the Basilica of Ste. Anne.  None of us wanted to go to this enormous early 20th-century church as a distinct destination — but we did not want to leave the area without going there.  Truthfully, to derive the full benefit of this site, you have to spend at least a full day visiting everything that is to be seen and praying everywhere you go.  We planned only one hour.  It was the last few minutes that meant the most to me.

I will only mention two moments here.  The first is with the most wonderful statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that I have ever seen.  Near the front right apse, he is life-sized, on a pedestal, with votive DSCN6967candles to be lighted beneath his feet.  The church is very dim, so I couldn’t see his eye color or complexion, but he had a dark brown beard and hair.  He has a white and red robe, his heart on the outside of his chest, his arms upraised and forward reaching, as though opening his hands to you, hands which show the bleeding wounds of the nails.  And, yes, he is beautiful.  And, as he’s reaching out, his eyes are gazing forward.  I knew that if I stood in just the right spot, it would seem as though the statue was looking at me.  So, I did it.  And I really felt like Jesus was gazing intently, lovingly and tenderly upon me, his eyes in mine.  Part of me would like to be able to say that I had a great thought or an epiphany at this moment — but I didn’t, really.  It was more like… like being loved… like the warm, cared for peace of being loved.  I had prepared to say some of the Consecration to the Sacred Heart prayer when there, “in his sight” — but in that moment all that I could think was “I take Thee as the object of my love and my secure refuge at the hour of my death.”  All the rest was Christ loving me — loving me always and everywhere, but allowing me to “feel” and experience in a visceral way the profound reality of that love in that spot.

As I said, the church’s stained-glass windows are many but small and filled with dark colors, so the 2014 Camada 376interior of the church is rather dark.  When it was time to go, I turned away from the altar and started down the center path.  The doorway was small at the far end in front of me, but it was bright with the light outside.  As I progressed closer, the lights became brighter and brighter, hurting my eyes so that I had to squint or look slightly aside.  I drew nearer and nearer to the door and it grew larger to receive me, until, almost overcome by the light, I crossed over the threshold into the day.  And I had thought, along this progress, that perhaps this is what it was like to be born..

First Friday

And, so, on the First Friday in the month of September, I took the Holy Door as my facilitator.  How many times do we pass through doorways and over thresholds?  We open closed doors, we enter and exit tunnels, and, of course, we transition through many passages in our lives.  What if each one were considered holy to us?  What if, everywhere that we turned, we were aware of passing through sacred portals, from the mundane to the mysterious, from the earthly to the divine?  For God is perpetually pouring His Grace upon us, His Mercy and His Love, His Peace and His Joy, and every moment is a unique opportunity, a special privilege, to receive this Grace — to enter into the Fullness of Life.

(Note:

As part of the Holy Door Pilgrimage, I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, doing so once home, on Saturday.  On crossing back through the doorway of the confessional, I felt refreshed, renewed — reborn.  I have heard of people feeling this way after being absolved, but I have never before experienced such a sense of cleanness and lightness — newness of life.)

Prayer

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I know that you love me —

help me to live always in your love,

help me always to be willing to enter into mercy,

to enter into goodness, generosity, and hope;

Help me, Lord, to keep to the path that you have laid out for me,

and when I stray, to regain my step,

and when I falter, to rest upon your strength;

May I be renewed in my faith, in my life,

whenever I enter through a passage…

for you are the Door… and you are the Way,

the Truth, and the Life.

Amen.

The Human Body and First Friday Observation

“I sing the body electric…”     

One Particular Body

Have you ever looked at your fingers? I mean, have you seriously looked at your fingers to really see them? Intricate workings of flesh – fiber, sinew, nerve, muscle, blood, and bone – delicate and strong, with the sensitivity of touch and the power to press and to grasp…

fingers praying

I don’t remember the last time that my fingers grasped anything. So small and light are they… with only enough strength of movement still to press an easily triggered mouse button – though, as always, the sense of touch alive and electric, DSCN6403but what I touch now must come to me… for the muscle of my arm can no longer reach my fingers out to the surface of skin or petal that I desire, of wood, fur, liquid, stone, or glass. The weakness of my hands cause my fingers to tremble in motion, like the new and uncertain legs of a fawn. And, so, it is with a kind of sad affection that I gaze upon my fingers… and, thus gazing, marvel at what lies beneath and what lies beyond…

The Marvel of the Human

The human body is amazing – wondrous are all lifeforms of flora and fauna, soul animated and alive, quivering with quickness like the hummingbird and dragonfly, ponderous in muscularity like the whale and rhinoceros, bare slowness of movement like the sunflower and grass. But, the human body quivers and ponders as well in the bare workings of mind – brain and body alive with a conscious presence that is Mystery and Spirit. And the far-flung galaxies and twinklings of other worlds, within and without, are as much home to our hearts as hearth and bed bower.

I am a human being. And my body is weakened and deformed by tiny lapses of cells – and yet I am wonderful. In just such human form as mine, God was pleased to dwell… though in prime of life rendered physically debilitated and immobile…

For humans are the special love of God, our forms sanctified….

The Soul and the Body As One Person

Gravity and electromagnetism, forces weak and strong, have gathered and coalesced stardust and chemistry into my particular form under the direction of the Divine Composer and Maestro, who breathes my life into me. My life is a gift of Creation: material body and spiritual soul united as one person in the unfolding of Divine Will. My body would not be my body without the divine gift of my soul – and my soul would not be my soul without the divine gift of my body. My soul is of spirit and spirit is eternal, but my one, unique and particular soul only came to be this one, unique and particular soul in the animation of my body. The human body needs the soul and the human soul needs the body. There is only paradise, pure and perfect bliss, when one is transformed in immortality and the other fulfilled in eternity, one never ailing the other, transcending stardust and chemistry and the limitations of the mind.

My body is not a prison for my soul to escape. Neither is my body a meaningless shell with which I can do whatever I please. My body is part of the universe, belonging to the Creator and Master of the universe, alive, real, essential, and hereme. Every breath I take is the Will of God. Every movement I make is within the cosmic dance, sometimes misaligned, sometimes in accord. And within accord, within harmony, is the reason for suns burning and waters churning and the spinning of every planet, meteor, seed pod, and bee. And every apple, egg, and nut that I have eaten, every grain of wheat and slice of meat ground up and consumed, is the making of me. I am formed and sustained, body and soul, with every story heard, song sung, and gentle kiss felt; with every moon-rising seen, flower smelled, and syrup tasted. No cheek that I’ve caressed, though long ago, is wasted; the water drunk, the laughter shared, the tears shed, the wound received, and the prayer expressed shape me and become me, and the air, and ground, and people around me likewise impress and are impressed.

Humans, more than any other of the divinely created animals, are responsive to the cosmic song in the Unmoved Mover – even when we choose less than responsibly. Because we have the capacity for freely chosen and unconditionally willed love, if we don’t muck it up and fill that capacity in with the dense lead of finite and selfish concerns, then the breath of God will fill us eternally with the divine gift of life – body and soul, now and forever.

 Catholic Dogma

For this reason, a human person, a woman named Mary, who was the mother of Jesus – the mother of God – was received, body and soul, into the immortal realm beyond finite space and time, so that she would never cease to be what she was most wonderfully: human. Catholic and Orthodox Churches proclaim this in doctrine and dogma and feast days of joy, hope, and gratitude, so that every human being may acknowledge and remember that the human body is sacred and that we are most fully ourselves, who God created us to be, when we are truly human – fully united in body and soul. And, so, I contemplate the sanctity of the human body on this First Friday of the month of August, the month in which we commemorate and celebrate, in the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this profound truth: matter matters to God, Who loves humankind and sees, in its loved and fulfilled entirety, divine good without ceasing…

Prayer:

Lord of All,

help me to remember and to celebrate

the sanctity of my body

and the fullness of who you created me to be,

body and soul.

I am yours…

 fully,

the dense and the electric, the strong and the weak.

Help me also to better believe

in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.

 

(This is part of the First Friday Facilitators Series. For more about this series, please read the introductory post. You may also like the other posts in this series: April   May   June  July )

© 2014 Christina Chase

First Friday and The Revolution

Who is the head of your life?

I want to be revolutionized. WatchFireworks-iStockI want my failures and ineptitude, my procrastination, sloth, pride, and fear to be things of the past – and my present to be full of strength and talent, courage and action, grace and active wisdom. Freed from the chains of yesterday, I want to project firmly into the future everything good and beautiful – and necessary – about me. I need something to transpire that will transform me completely into who I was created to be.

Let us be revolutionary.

Around 30 AD, a coarsely dressed, wild man of the desert proclaimed an uprising. With sharp clarity, he laid bare the corruption and tyranny of those in authority and relentlessly sliced deeper into the conscience of every man and woman. “Metanoia!” he shouted at the people. “Change! Be converted! Be revolutionized!” This man, named John, prepared the way for an absolute rebellion – not against a ruler of a nation or even an institution or government, but against the very darkness that lurks in the hearts of human beings. This darkness that seeps into the mind and soul, dividing one person from another, obfuscating the fullness of reality, and obliterating the human drive for sanctity – this darkness John saw as a slave master, locking the chains of selfishness upon people for generation after generation.

The tyranny of greed and conceit must be vanquished from the hearts of human beings if anyone is ever to be truly free. And the Light of the World must be allowed to tear down the walls of division, invade the plains of blind apathy, and create an insurgency of real love in the human heart. This is our destiny, this is our reason for being, our identity, the point of our lives. No longer will we be dependent upon the fleeting pleasures of the flesh and fickle accolades of the crowd – we will be independent beings, standing boldly in the truth of who we are, giving full allegiance only to the image in which we are created.

“Live free or die.”

John was not afraid to fire the first shot in this revolution. He fought for change and saw it coming – not the kind of change that politicians talk about and promise, but real change that is a total change of heart and will. In the greatest of rebellions, what John and his followers sought was a mutiny in every person’s soul: throw out the corrupting limitations of self-centered thinking and usher in the dominion of holiness, of grace, of loving kindness and true beauty. No earthly king or queen, no bed of silk or bag of gold should rule the human heart – only the Maker of the human heart should rule, so that every human being can live freely in the ways of truth and fulfillment, undaunted by suffering or darkness and guided by eternal power.

The zealous man, now known as St. John the Baptist, had the courage to rally the people in this uprising and stare down the caravaggio-salome-receives-head-saint-john-baptist-NG6389-fmenemy even as it bore down on him in his own heart. He never gave up. He never surrendered. And he lost his head for it. But, he was willing to suffer the loss of his head because he knew who the true Head is, who the ineffable and pure leader is. And he would rather die than suffer the enslavement of untruth.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

I am taking St. John the Baptist as my facilitator for this First Friday of July – which is the Fourth of July, Independence Day. On this day, the US celebrates the signing of a document – a document that could be said to have revolutionized the world. In 1776 AD, the ordinary citizens of the British colonies in America elected representatives to get together and tell off the tyrannical King of England. What those chosen officials did was make and sign a Declaration of Independence – and start a revolution. In remembrance of that day, we claim to celebrate freedom. But do we? We enjoy picnics and cookouts with lots of hot dogs and ice cream. But, on the next day, are we allowing our neighbors to starve from want of food or care? We shoot off brilliant fireworks, exploding in the night sky. But do we light up the darkness of our intellects, of our souls? We celebrate a change of leaders in the governing of our nation – but have we had a leadership conversion in our own personal lives?

Who is the leader of my life? Is it my self-indulgence, my apathy, and my vanity that is telling me what to do?

Who do I say that I am? My self-centeredness, my greed and my pride must decrease – and my reason for being, my will for my true destiny, my love and my light must increase. Who is my light? The Light of the World.

A man named John was sent from God.

He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world,

and the world came to be through him,

but the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own,

but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name,

who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.

And the Word became flesh

and made his dwelling among us,

and we saw his glory,

the glory as of the Father’s only Son,

full of grace and truth.

John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” (John 1:6-15.)

St. John the Baptist testified to the Light and he was revolutionized, receiving grace upon grace.The-Baptism-Of-Christ

Will I?

Promise and Prayer

 

The one thing that I know I will do is participate in the Sacred Liturgy of the Mass this First Friday, the Fourth of July. The secular world thinks that freedom and independence cannot be gained through religion – but they are still slaves in the darkness of the old order, while I am being called out into the Light.

Lord,

start an uprising in my heart

today and every day.

Make a rebel out of me

so that I will

be radical and do something daring:

loving the unlovable,

teaching the unteachable,

forgiving the unforgivable,

and  believe the unbelievable  –

for you are the Head, and your Light is my life.

© Christina Chase 2014

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