Friday, March 31, 2017

Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Illumines. . . Lag Time 


Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. HEBREWS 11:1

 At Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. JOHN 4:46–50

 It was a director of religious education who introduced me to St. Therese of the Child Jesus. She was a little apologetic about it; we both had advanced degrees in theology, and people with advanced degrees in anything are inclined to be skeptics. However, she had witnessed a number of miracles that just could not be explained away easily. She explained the usual “routine” for petitioning St. Therese with a prayer request. First comes a novena, a simple prayer that is prayed for nine days, making a petition known to the saint. St. Therese, who said that she wanted to spend her time in heaven showering roses upon souls, then lets the petitioner know that she  has heard the prayer by sending the petitioner a sign—usually of roses. My friend shared that when she had prayed, she would inevitably receive a card with roses, or sometimes an actual bouquet.

 I needed a job. So I began praying a novena to St. Therese; three days into the prayer I received an ad for roses in the mail. The first time I threw it out, chalking it up to pure coincidence. I received the same ad again the next day. Therese has a good sense of humor. Miraculously, it seemed, a new job came— but then it didn’t work out. On the same day that I was thrown into an unemployment line, I was given a painting of St. Therese holding a bouquet of roses! The next few months were stressful as I sought a new job, but deep down I knew that St. Therese would not let me down. In the end I ended up exactly where God wanted me, although the journey to arrive there was nothing like anything I could ever have imagined.

Lag Time 

We have a tendency to think that because the miracles Jesus worked while he was on earth brought immediate results, our prayers should work instantaneously, too. When things don’t happen right away for us, our faith wanes and we start to look elsewhere for answers. However, if we look closely at the miracle stories found in the Gospels, we see many instances when Jesus “tests” a petitioner by giving him or her a task to complete before the miracle happens. For example, he instructs the blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam. He sends the royal official home. He tells Peter to cast his net on the other side. In each case, the petitioner is rewarded for carrying his or her cross a little further than he or she would have liked. The ultimate miracle in the Gospels—the resurrection of Jesus—doesn’t take place right away, either. Jesus dies on Good Friday, and then rests in the tomb for the entire Sabbath before rising on Easter Sunday. This “delay” should give us assurance: When we face a cross, we can trust that whether the period between promise and fulfillment is a few days or a few decades, God will respond at the appropriate time. This does not mean that the wait will be pleasant.

The royal official whose son was dying was desperate. Anyone facing similar circumstances knows, we want help and we want it immediately. Being told to go home could have sounded like a rejection, but the royal official had great faith in the power of Jesus to fulfill whatever he promised. To the man’s delight, his faith was rewarded; his son was healed at the exact moment that Jesus had told his father, “Your son will live.”

 Believing Against Appearances 

In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus is on the cross the passersby say to him, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40). That Jesus doesn’t come down is a mystery that we who follow him must internalize. We trust in him alone; not in appearances, not in immediate results, not according to the scenario we have set up in our own minds. Our Lord is faithful, on his terms and not ours. No matter what the situation, our job is to believe in him. Jesus commonly responded to those who immediately received their miracles, with no lag time, by telling them that  their faith had healed them. The cross illumines real faith, the dying of a controlling ego that corresponds to an act of perfect trust, especially when it seems all is lost. Sometimes the cross brings pain to us personally; other times it involves the pain and suffering of those we love. Faith is difficult precisely because it requires that we trust in God’s response before we can perceive anything being done. Once God acts, however, we have a sense that God was guiding us all along.

When our earthly life ceases, we will be welcomed into God’s kingdom to the degree that we made him the Lord of our lives. For many of us, that will mean some time along the purgative way, learning to release all of our demands upon God. God has found his rightful place in our hearts when we realize that whatever he wills is best for us. When we look back over our lives, we often find that every event is intricately interwoven with another, and then another, with bright spots of serendipity when we “just happened” to be in the right spot at the right time at key moments. This realization will deepen the mystery that is life; regardless how long or short our life, our mission and purpose is God’s. If he seems slow to respond, look to the cross of Christ, which illumines even the lag time between the promise and the fulfillment.

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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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Illumines. . . Blindness “

As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ And I answered ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.” Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go to Damascus, and you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.” ACTS 22:6–11 


Jesus said, “For Judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” JOHN 9:39–41 


The most unique Holy Saturday I ever experienced occurred when my wife and I decided to go to a monastery for Holy Week . Saturday was a rainy day and we decided to go to a nearby spot that was advertised up and down the interstate as the place to visit when you were passing through this part of the country— it was a cave. What better spot to spend Holy Saturday, I reasoned, than under the earth? After all, Jesus’ body had lain in a tomb on that first Holy Saturday.

 So we drove a few miles away from the monastery and joined a group of other travelers in an out-of-the-way location to descend into the earth and explore one of nature’s wonders. What I remember most about the tour of the cave had little to do with the stalactites or the stalagmites but something else that we experienced once we had gone deep into the cave. The tour guide asked us, “How many of you think you have experienced total darkness?” A few people raised their hands. He then told us that he was going to turn off the artificial lighting that illuminated the cave so that we could experience what the first people who had discovered this cave experienced when their light went out. There was nothing but total, pitch darkness. I held my hand in front of my face but could see absolutely nothing. I knew that it was there because I could sense it but I could see absolutely nothing, no shadow, no outline—just a horrible darkness. It was the closest that I have ever come to having some understanding of what it must be like to be totally blind.

 In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, in a chapter entitled “Seeing,” Annie Dillard wrote about people born blind whose sight was restored by a medical procedure. The reaction of those thus healed wasn’t what one might expect. Some wanted to go back to the darkness—they found the light too much. Others enjoyed the gift of vision, but to those who had been in darkness since birth it seemed to them that everything was made of light. Blinded by the Light In John’s Gospel, Jesus divides the world into two camps: those who encounter his light and have their sight restored, and those who encounter that light and are blinded. Jesus told Nicodemus, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

In John’s Gospel, Jesus heals a blind man, who has not only his physical sight restored but also comes to see that Jesus is worthy of worship. The Pharisees who question the blind man refuse to believe, no matter how much evidence is brought forward to prove that Jesus had healed him. Another Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, later persecuted the followers of Jesus. While setting out on one such mission, Saul was struck by a light from heaven, and heard the voice of Jesus, the suffering Christ. Saul was blinded on his way to Damascus, where a follower of Jesus healed him. Saul became St. Paul, one of the greatest followers of Christ. The preaching of Paul would focus on the crucified Christ, leading many artists to portray the scene of Paul’s conversion as an encounter with a cross of light.

None of the Pharisees, including Saul, thought that persecuting the followers of Christ was evil; in fact, they thought they were doing the will of God. We all risk falling into the same trap. How well do you and I truly see? Do we see everything made of light? Or do we only partially see reality as it is?

A World Made of Light 

There have been times in my life when I have called upon God to save or help me, and God has answered in dramatic ways. At
 first I gave thanks for God’s intervention in my life. But with time my inner Pharisee began to question the events: Was God really responsible? There are those who believe that we live in an age when miracles have ceased, but I know better. Miracles abound—we just don’t always recognize them. Those cured of physical blindness perceive the world to be made of light; the same is true of those cured of spiritual blindness. What seemed dark and hopeless suddenly becomes a path to glory. The psalmist reflects this spiritual vision when he prays in perhaps the best-known psalm, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4). Today there are eye surgeries that allow people to see clearly without corrective lenses. We need the “surgery of the cross” to restore our vision, allowing us to see the world as God sees it. The person filled with the Light perceives light, even in apparent total darkness. As we read in the Gospel of Matthew: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22–23). Lord Jesus, touch our eyes that we might see!


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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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel




The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . How We See Ourselves



 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 CORINTHIANS 6:9–11

 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified. LUKE 18:13–14 


William hit the road when he was twenty; hopping aboard his Harley and setting out on a journey that would take him down many sinful roads. He was living the “high life” of booze, drugs, and promiscuous sex. He worked infrequently; often he would hook up with a rock band and travel throughout the country until the band’s tour ended, making just enough money to support his lifestyle. Yet the wild life took its toll on him, and even Bill’s friends began to worry that he was on a suicidal path. It was when William hit bottom that he began, in his words, to be “haunted by the Holy Spirit.”

The Spirit would suggest a  pious thought to him, that he would react to violently, not wanting to hear it. But like a gentle breeze it would come back to him again and again. One night on a bus, a fellow traveler began to converse with William; in many ways the stranger’s life paralleled that of William. Like William, the stranger had also felt haunted by God’s Spirit. He produced a Bible from his knapsack and handed it to William, and told him to open it and read the first verse that caught his eye. With some reluctance, William did what his fellow traveler suggested, and opened the Bible to 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. As he read the verse out loud, he realized that he was among those St. Paul indicated were excluded from the kingdom of God. William closed the Bible and handed it back to the stranger. Then closing his eyes he silently prayed that God would wash him of all his sins and help him to live for God alone from that moment on. When he opened his eyes it was as if the entire world had been transformed. Everything seemed charged with light and energy. William never looked back. Within a year he was working on a reservation in Canada while studying in a Catholic seminary. Eventually he was ordained a priest in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and he remains faithful to his vocation to this day as a monk in a Canadian monastery. William’s prayer life now centers on the recitation of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Over and over he prays this prayer on a prayer rope. For him this is no empty exercise but a reminder of how destructive a sinful life is and how glorious the life of grace!

 Such Were Some of You 

Father William’s conversion was sparked by Paul’s warning to the Corinthians: “Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor  idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” To William’s dismay, this passage was a succinct description of the lifestyle of his friends and co-workers, and of the fallen world that he and his friends embraced.

When I taught ethics in a Catholic high school, my students would often argue with me that in order to be a successful person in the world, one had to do many of the very things that Paul lists as barring one from God’s kingdom. They were reflecting the “gospel” that had been preached to them every day by our culture, which has so often wrecked young lives. I suspect that many of us have been sold this bill of goods to one degree or another. We have fallen into sinful behavior in order to be a part of the crowd that we are hanging out with; we have sold our souls far too cheaply. Paul makes it clear that what saves us is being “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified” by Christ and the Spirit. In other words, dying to ourselves in Baptism, crucifying our flesh with Christ on the cross, and living by the Spirit. The self that dies in Baptism is a false self—the fallen self that seeks glory from others rather than from God. We are never truly happy when this fallen self rules our lives.

God’s Image 

We all have been created in the image of God. As long as we live apart from God’s grace, we will never be truly at peace. That is why alcohol and drugs are so much a part of the lives of those 122 The Power of the Cross Perhaps we need to hold up before us the image of sinful lives, the destruction done both to the individuals and to those around them to generate within us the horror that we should have for committing sin in our lives.

 Perhaps we need to hold up before us the image of sinful lives, the destruction done both to the individuals and to those around them to generate within us the horror that we should have for committing sin in our lives. If we are to be transformed into the image that God has created us in, we need to respond to his gospel and realize that in doing so we are rejecting the message preached by the world. This presents us with a cross, but a cross that liberates us from what others think we should be and frees us for the purpose for which God has created 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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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . Our Priorities


 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 JOHN 4:10–12 

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” MARK 12:32–34 

A young girl dying of cancer befriended a famous archbishop. The bishop had a soft spot in his heart for children like her; his own niece had been diagnosed and he knew firsthand the agony both the patient and her parents faced. The archbishop had extended a standing invitation to the Protestant chaplain of the children’s hospital: If any Catholic child in the cancer ward wanted to see a priest, he should be summoned. So it happened that the archbishop was called to accompany this young cancer patient, Lorraine, in her last months of life. In time Lorraine came to trust the archbishop, and she shared with him her greatest trial. Her parents were angry with God because of her illness. She had been diagnosed when she was five years old, and had not yet made her First Communion. Would it be possible, she asked her friend, to receive the Eucharist before she died? After consulting with the parents, the archbishop prepared her personally for her first reconciliation, then celebrated Mass in her hospital room, confirming her and giving her First Communion. She lived only a short while longer. The archbishop said she had great faith but her constant worry was her parents. No doubt she was now interceding for them, that they might come to know the love that she had experienced in her suffering, that same suffering that had become an obstacle of faith to them.

This is the obstacle of the cross—when Our Lord died on the cross, some left believing that he was the Son of God, others left in utter disbelief. Yet the Scriptures tell us that Jesus’ death on the cross was a sign of God’s love.

 Love of God 

When the Scriptures speak of love there are three different words used that are all translated in English as “love.” There is eros, which is a romantic love; sometimes this word is used for the love that we should have toward God and that God has toward us. There is philia, the love of friendship; again, this is used both for the love that God has for us and for the love we are to have for God. Yet the most common form of love, the type of love of which Jesus spoke when he said that we should “love the Lord with our whole being” is agape, a sacrificial  love—a tough love, a love that can almost feel like we are being crucified. In the spiritual life, there are times we find ourselves on a spiritual high, literally in love with God. There are other times we experience God as a trusting friend to whom we open our hearts, and with whom we feel solidarity on our life’s journey. Yet for all the other times, there is agape—sacrificial love! Agape love is tough. It’s how we love our children who are driving us nuts, how children love parents, or how spouses love each other, even when the other person doesn’t respond to every need. It’s the type of love we have for our enemies. It can even be the type of love we have for ourselves when we are immersed in feelings of despair and failure. It is the type of love we are to have for God all the time. Yet most of all, it is the type of love that God has for us. The kind of love that induced him to lower himself to our level, suffer at our hands, and love us through it all.

The School of the Cross 

The cross is the school of love. It transforms how we look at God, the world, and everyone around us. Nailed to the cross with Jesus, we sometimes have faith enough to hear him promise, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Others simply curse God for not taking them down off of the cross. If you are graced to be a student of the cross, it is your mission to pray with all of your strength for those who are truants of this school. The love of God compels us to love one another, 118 The Power of the Cross God has already lowered himself to our level, suffered at our hands, and loved us through it all. Jesus is the perfect example of being loved by God and loving God.

Realizing that God alone really matters is the first step to entering the kingdom of God. When that kingdom comes, everyone will acknowledge God’s priority. Until then, we live in a world where those who know must tell those who don’t, and oftentimes those who know best are the children. Fulton Sheen once said there will be only children in the kingdom, something that we adults might want to reflect upon from time to time.


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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Monday, March 27, 2017

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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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Lent


Jesus said to Nicodemus:“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have
eternal life.”For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.For
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed
in the name of the only Son of God.And this is the verdict,that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light,because their works were
evil.For everyone who does wicked things hates the lightand does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.


(Image from the ceiling of the Gesu in Rome of souls repelled by the name of Jesus and the Light plunging downward to their damnation)

Reflection


Since I'm fresh back from Rome, I cannot read this Sunday's Gospel without thinking of the ceiling of the Gesu in Rome. It is the triumph of the name of Jesus and it plays on the contrast between light and darkness...those who move toward the name are almost lost in the light, while those repelled by the name are in darkness and seem to be plunging downward and about to crash on those looking upward (one of the best 3-D images I've ever witnessed). And of course this image immediately impacts you the viewer..."am I drawn toward the name of Jesus or repelled by it"...now we all immediately might put ourselves in the "drawn towards" category, but don't be so quick to judge, but rather ask yourself "am I willing to die to myself and glorify the name of Jesus?"
Do I prefer the light that Jesus brings to the darkness of my intellect or do I prefer my thoughts to Jesus' teaching in the Gospel?

One of the best homilies I ever heard was on this Gospel and it also was one of the shortest homilies I ever heard. It was given by an old Jesuit in his 90's who read the Gospel in a halting voice and then preached these words in a tearful voice:

"'This is the judgment, the light came into the world but men preferred darkness.' What a tragedy!"

His simple "What a tragedy" gave me pause to think about the gravity of this choice and years later having witnessed the mother church of the Jesuits I can't help but think when he gave the homily that the image of the Gesu ceiling was in the back of his mind and those plunging souls falling to their own damnation because of their preference to darkness.

Last night I was reading a passage from a book on Monastic Practices, I believe written by a Cistercian and the passage was specifically about Vigils and keeping watch in the night. The monk talked about the deeds of darkness and how monks are called to watch and pray specifically for the Lord's coming in the midst of the night for all of those who may be plunging at that moment into the deeper darkness. Who knows how many souls have been saved because in some monastery at that "hour of darkness" monks were "watching and praying" per the Lord's command and light broke through and drew a soul toward the Name?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . Law and Love 

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in one sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. ROMANS 13:8–10

 “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. MATTHEW 5:17–18

 In Fort Myers, Florida, at the end of a beautiful street lined on either side with majestic royal palms is a small neon sign. It looks out of place; it is in front of home in a residential area. The simple sign is lit with green letters: GOD IS LOVE. The first time I saw this sign, I was visiting a classmate who lived next door to this home. “Is there a church here?” I asked. “No.” “Why is the sign there, then?”

He told me that the family who had lived in the house for the first half of the twentieth century had only one child, a boy. When World War II started, the boy was drafted into the military and soon was fighting in Europe. Back home in Fort Myers the man and his wife prayed constantly, asking God to protect their son and bring him back safely. Tragically, their son was killed in the war. Shortly after the young man’s body had been returned for burial, the father erected the sign in front of their home.

The next day as I was making my way back home, I passed the sign again: GOD IS LOVE. Why had that father erected the sign, when his prayer had not been answered as he had hoped? Had the man erected the sign in anger? Had he put it up to mock the love that God was supposed to have for us? I thought of other families I had known who had suffered similar losses, of parents who came home one day to find their child had been killed in an accident. Under such circumstances, I couldn’t imagine anyone erecting a sign with the proclamation GOD IS LOVE. The sign and its story haunted me, reflecting my own internal struggle.

 A week later, a thought struck me: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That father was not mocking God at all. Rather, he understood in a way that most of us can’t imagine what God had sacrificed, giving an only son so that others might live. Fulfilling God’s Law Jesus said that he had come not to abolish but to fulfill the law and the prophets. On the cross he said, “It is fulfilled” (John  19:30). Jesus said that there was no greater love than to lay one’s life down for a friend. That is exactly what the Son of God did, and what he asks of his followers as well.

St. Paul, who at a glance one might be tempted to think of as someone who was against the “law,” gives us the reason grace has supplanted the “law.” The love of God, which we experience in our lives as grace, flows into us. That love cannot be contained; it is so great that it spills out and must be spent on others. In love—God’s love—the law is fulfilled. The cross of Christ, which is the most eloquent expression of God’s love for us, is also the instrument by which we receive that love: We must die to ourselves so that Christ’s love might live within us. “Love one another,” Jesus commanded. It is a simple message but complex in practice. How should we express that love?


Love is so misused in our day that it almost has ceased to be a good word. Caritas, the Latin word for love, can also be translated as “charity.” In order to restore the true meaning of “love,” perhaps that is the way we should translate it. God showed charity to the world, through his Son. Jesus tells us to have charity to one another as he has had charity on us. The charity that we are to show to one another is not sentimental or self-serving. We do not expect those we love—whether ourselves, our parents, our spouses, or other people—to be allknowing and all-loving. First and foremost, we love other people by not making them “gods.” We honor those we love despite their human weaknesses and failings, always reserving a special place for God, who is the only perfect Being worthy of worship. The rest of us poor slobs deserve a fair amount of charity because we know only a little, and are limited in every conceivable way. So when we fail each other it is to be expected.

 Good Debt 

St. Paul says that the only thing we should owe anyone is love. In our “credit card economy,” such an idea is difficult to imagine, but perhaps that makes us better suited to grasp Paul’s message. We know all about owing others money, but how indebted are we when it comes to love? We should start by looking at how much we love God. The faith of the family that erected the GOD IS LOVE sign is remarkable. Most of us are quick to blame God for the horrible things that happen to us. Yet, if you really believe that God is up there just waiting to “get” you, how can you love such a supreme being? This is not the God Christ revealed to us, the God who suffers with us, who became one of us to rescue us from the powers of evil and destruction. In the Scriptures, death is portrayed as an angel; since death is the result of sin, one might presume a bad angel. The love of God, that is, God’s charity for us, is what rescues our loved ones from death and makes eternal life possible. God rescues us from sin and its destructive power. God can make good out of the evil others do and intend for us. This is why God is worthy of love and why God’s love enables us to love others in ways that would be impossible without God’s love. No matter what happens to us, we know that God is victorious. The psalmist says “O that today you would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7–8).


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


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Friday, March 24, 2017

Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . How We Forgive

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. EPHESIANS 4:32–5:2 

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


 A woman once shared with me that she had a problem accepting God’s forgiveness in her life. She was a merciful woman who willingly forgave others; she just could not believe that God could forgive her past sins. We met from time to time over the course of two years. After that long period of time, she was finally able to talk about what she had done, and why God couldn’t forgive her. What finally enabled her to reveal her sin was an experience she had that I would call a personal revelation. One night as she walked into her kitchen, stopping at the entrance, she witnessed
Jesus nailed to the cross. He raised his head and looked at her, then vanished from the room. That was it, no words, just a look. Yet that look conveyed love and forgiveness that flooded her heart.

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

Separation from God 

The consequence of all sin is spiritual death. We should hate all sin, but some sins can nearly destroy our earthly lives, or greatly alter the path God wishes for us to take. The woman that I mentioned at the beginning of this section had committed such a sin; it could have changed the course of her life and greatly hurt the people she loved. Yet by God’s grace, the sin never came to light to those who would have been most affected by it. Even so, her knowledge of that sin became a heavy cross that she carried for over forty years. In that sense, her sin did hurt those that she loved: Though they must have perceived the sadness in her soul, they were never able to relieve her inner pain. Catholics have always taught that there is a temporal punishment attached to sins, a punishment that remains even when God forgives that sin. In some cases it is easy to understand this  temporal punishment: If you rob a bank and get caught, even if God forgives you there will still be a price to pay. If you are caught in adultery and are sincerely sorry, God will forgive you but the damage done to your marriage will be real. Sin is evil because it does bad things to us; just as many physical behaviors can lead to the development of various cancers, so sin leads to our destruction. Eve looked at the forbidden fruit and it looked desirable, but partaking of that fruit made both Adam and Eve terminally ill. Relief Though confession alone does not remove the temporal penalty of sin, healing still is possible by God’s grace.
Prayer, reading the Scripture, giving alms, doing good works all are acts that have had indulgences attached to them by the Church. By obtaining an indulgence, the Christian receives healing from the temporal penalty of even the gravest sins, reducing or eliminating altogether the time of purification needed in purgatory (CCC 1471). Ideally, the Christian is motivated to perform these spiritual exercises not from fear of punishment but out of love for God. As we read in the preceding passage, St. Paul tells the Ephesians to offer themselves as a spiritual sacrifice with Christ, who has paid the debt of our sins. Seeing Christ on the cross and meditating on his love for us should help us to understand how much God loves us.

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

The Ignorance of Sin 

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


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


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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . How We See Jesus 


Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 PETER 2:4–5 

They rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away. LUKE 4:29–30 

A Benedictine monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey, Father Cyril Vrablic, always began his homilies with the following quip, “Someday, I’m going to write a book. I haven’t written any of the pages yet, but I do have a title and some of the chapters.” He would then list off the title and chapters of his mythical book. One title I can still remember some twenty years after first hearing it: “Saints in heaven have all the glory; saints on earth, that’s a different story.” This title got a lot of laughs because of its simple truth: While we admire people of great sanctity once they are no longer around, they can get on our nerves while they still live among us.

Jesus, Scriptures tell us, could work no miracles in his hometown because of the lack of faith he encountered among them. When he arose to preach in his local synagogue, the local folks saw only the carpenter’s son. They were impressed by his eloquence, but his other claims enraged them to the point that they wanted to kill him. Only then did he work a miracle of sorts, passing through their midst and leaving town.

I Call You Friends 

Where Father Cyril preached, there was a large image of Christ the Teacher. This image of Jesus appears lofty, severe, and royal. It is hardly the image of Jesus that most of us would have living in the twenty-first century. Since Vatican II, Jesus is most often presented—to both children and adults—as our friend. Jesus called his disciples friends (see John 15:13–15); they called him “Lord” and “Master.” I wonder if this isn’t what we ought to be doing. There is something about making Jesus our “friend” that seems to rob him of his divinity and robs us of the power of his presence.

We tend to compartmentalize our friends. When we need something, we tend to go to the friend that is most likely to be able to help us. By making Jesus our “friend,” the tendency would be for us to approach him in the same way, to invite him only into areas of our lives that we deem “spiritual.” The trouble is, most of us equate “spirituality” with angels and church, not with everyday life. So it is no wonder that, as with the people of Nazareth, the Lord doesn’t work any miracles in our midst; we have no trust in him. Jesus taught his disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed (check your spice rack to see how small a mustard seed is) they could do great things. But it is very likely that our faith, our trust in Christ isn’t even that big. We think we know Jesus, when in reality we know only our own image of him.

 It saddens me when someone who has been raised a Christian without actually embracing the faith experiences the power of God as an adult through some other means, often through a different faith community that is not united with the Church that Christ established while he was here on earth. The first apostles turned the world upside down, healing and preaching and raising the dead in the name of Jesus Christ. How is it that the power of Christ is not so easily recognized in our churches today?

Power Transformed 

The Jesus that we encounter in the Gospels is amazing. Confronted with sickness, he heals the sick. Confronted with death, he raises the dead. Confronted with opposition, he silences his opponents. Then comes his Passion. Suddenly, with the exception of curing the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus reveals a different way of exercising his almighty power—through weakness! He accepts the cross, along with all the punishment and abuse thrown at him, until all is finished and he commends himself to the Father. After he rises from the dead, the only miracles recorded in the Scriptures are his ability to materialize and disappear from the midst of his disciples. What happened to the power Jesus exhibited during his ministry? He gave those powers to his disciples. Reading the Acts of the Apostles, you find the disciples of Jesus doing the very same things Jesus did in the Gospels, to the point of powerfully accepting death, exhibited in the stoning of Stephen. The history of the church is filled with examples of the power of Christ working through those who placed their belief in him. The stories that surround the saints tell of people being healed and of martyrs bravely facing death. Even in our own times, in the United States, there are shrines that exhibit crutches left behind after people were healed by the power of Christ.

Time of Unbelief

 Our present time is one of unbelief. The modern church has become like the town of Nazareth. We think we know Christ, and as a result he can work no miracles in our midst. It is time to admit our ignorance of Christ. We should ponder the words, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:42). Is the Jesus we believe in the same Divine Person revealed to us in Scripture, or have we created a “kinder, gentler” version? Jesus says to us, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me” (John 7:28–29). Do we worship the Son of God of Scripture, or a false imposter, a pseudo-Christ? The Jesus rejected by men is the cornerstone of our faith. Without the real Jesus our faith is weak and powerless; with Jesus the Christ, we are powerful in our weakness. We become living stones—animated by the power of Christ, the Son of the all-powerful God.


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


"michael Dubruiel"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Daily Lent Meditation

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . How We Worship 



Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in welldoing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. GALATIANS 6:7–9 

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. JOHN 4:23–24 

John struggled with a common sin of the flesh, and found himself in the confessional line every Saturday afternoon. One Saturday, he arrived after the priest had already left the confessional; an usher had to summon Father Will back to the reconciliation room, which evidently put the priest in a less-than-charitable mood. John confessed his sin, and the priest said to him, “You come here every week to confess the same sin. I wonder if you are truly sorry and repentant. I want you to think about what St. Paul told the Galatians, ‘God is not mocked.’” For over a year John thought again and again about the priest’s warning, and wondered if his struggle with this sin was  truly mocking God.

 When John told me about his situation, I encouraged him to read the rest of the passage in Galatians and to ask himself whether he was trying to overcome this failing by “sowing in the flesh” or by “sowing to the spirit.” When he had thought about it for a moment, John realized that all of his efforts to overcome this fault were totally focused on the flesh, on his own ego. In fact, it didn’t even seem “holy” to bring such a disgusting sin before God.

 John is not unique in his struggle; I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who isn’t in some battle with the flesh. But if we are guilty of mocking God, it is in the same way that the Roman soldiers who mocked Christ were guilty of “mocking” him. They dressed him up as a king with a crown of thorns, a rod for a scepter and a cloak of purple, then they spat upon him and struck him. When you and I call Jesus our King, then serve anything or anyone but him, we are mocking him.

 In our battles with the flesh, the question we must face is this: Who do we think can save us?

The Samaritan Woman 

When Jesus came to the Samaritan woman at the well, he asked her for a drink. When our Lord comes to us, he often asks something of us, too, even when he has an abundance to give us. The asking simply makes us recognize our inability to fulfill our own needs by any means other than him.

So when the Samaritan woman protested at his request, Jesus responded by offering her water that would satisfy all of her thirsts. After some debate, she asked Jesus to give her this water. “Call your husband,” he told the woman. “I have none,” she replied. In this exchange between Jesus and the woman, we find the theme again: God is not mocked. “You are right in saying, ‘I have  no husband,’” Jesus chided her. “For you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband.”

We may play games with others, or try to put on our public fa├žade, but God will not be mocked. He knows us. Startled by Jesus’ revelation, the woman changed the subject: Should she be worshipping in Samaria or Jerusalem? Neither, Jesus answered. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). In the Scriptures, “spirit” refers to a person’s entire being; it is the breath of God breathed into the clay of Adam, which animates the human person. It is God’s life within us that makes it possible to worship God who is spirit.

 Where is God?

 Those of us who were taught using the Baltimore Catechism learned on the opening page the response to the question, “Where is God?” “God is everywhere.” This question and answer were so familiar to us, we could reply to the question automatically. However, we didn’t act like we believed it. We tended to think of God being present only when we summoned him or in sacred places like churches and shrines.

At Christmastime a few years ago, a coworker gave me a plaque that reads, “Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit” (“Bidden or unbidden, God is present.”). Psalm 139 expresses this truth another way:  O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me! Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. . .. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? PSALM 139:1–3, 7

Worshipping in spirit and truth, which is the kind of worship that God seeks, involves an intimate dialogue, pouring out our hearts and minds to God at all times. The late Bishop John Sheets used to define the spiritual life as a “dialogic relationship,” a fancy way of saying that we are in conversation with God at every moment. Nothing we do is too trivial for God, nothing beneath his notice. If we truly believed this, our lives would be immediately transformed. Gone forever would be the idea that God doesn’t care what we do with our lives. There would be no area of our lives that would be off-limits to God. Because when we worship in spirit and truth, we realize that we live because God’s breath is within us, and we live best when we acknowledge the source of every breath we take.

 Since the time of early Christianity, there have been forms of prayer that use breathing as a cadence for prayer. The Jesus Prayer and the Rosary, along with various forms of contemplative prayer, are all variations of this type of prayer. The real prayer behind all of these methods is the prayer of surrender: “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” This was the prayer that Jesus prayed to the Father from the cross. As we surrender ourselves to God, we acknowledge him to be our source and ask him to animate our actions according to his will at every moment of every day. The inability to surrender  in this way, on the other hand, is often the root problem in our struggles in the spiritual life. When we put God anywhere but at the center of our lives, we deceive ourselves. Life is short and unpredictable, and completely beyond our control. By surrendering to God, we acknowledge where the control belongs, and place ourselves where we were created to be: In the loving hands of our Father, under his watchful eye




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"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Daily Lent Meditation

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


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

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

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

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

Judge Not 

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

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

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


A Friend of Sinners 



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

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

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


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


"michael Dubruiel"

Monday, March 20, 2017

Daily Lent Meditation

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



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

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


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

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


Missed Vocations


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dream that God Gives to Us


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


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


"michael Dubruiel"

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Third Sunday of Lent

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


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

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

 Near the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky is one of the strangest, yet most appropriate settings for a work of art. One has to search for it, and even then it can take some luck to find it. Unlike most art, which is displayed in famous galleries and museums, this work of the famous sculptor Walter Hancock is hidden deep in the Kentucky woods. A path across the street from the monastery takes you through fields full of wild turkeys that startle easily and fly away noisily, breaking the silence of the place. As you continue through wheat bent down from the wind, and on to a path up a wooded hillside, you have to know what you are looking for or you will likely miss it: a series of statues carved out of dark black stone.
The first is of three sleeping disciples, exhausted and asleep. About a stone’s throw from the first carving is another statue: Jesus in supplication. “Gethsemane” was sculpted to honor the memory of Jonathan Daniels. Jonathan Daniels was born in Keene, New Hampshire, in March 1939. By the time the civil rights movement was in full swing in the 1960s, he was a seminary student studying at the Episcopal Theological Seminary (now Episcopal Divinity Seminary) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When in the summer of 1965 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called upon divinity students from the north to join him in his march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, young Jonathan Daniels traveled south. Tragically, that decision cost him his life. He was shot to death by a deputy sheriff in Haynesville, Alabama. In 1994 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church officially recognized Jonathan Daniels as a martyr.

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

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

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


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

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


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


"michael Dubruiel"

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Daily Lent Meditation

The Cross of Christ Unites. . . In Liberty


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

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


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

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

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


Order of Redeemers 


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

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

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

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

 Freedom from Slavery 


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

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

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


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


"michael Dubruiel"

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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.


"michael Dubruiel"