Sunday, March 13, 2016

Stations of Mercy Part I


During this year of Mercy, each Sister is taking a turn presenting a particular aspect of mercy to the community.  Below is the first half of one Sister’s presentation, the fruit of her prayer.  She has a special devotion to the Way of the Cross, and so it is not surprising that she would use the stations to illustrate her reflections on God’s mercy and our response.  The second half of her meditation will be posted next week.


Stations of Mercy
And the Life of Penance
(Love’s Reply and Other Sources)

Outline

  1. “It is better to fall into the hands of God…”
  2. The Life of Penance—Love’s Reply and a grateful response
  3. Metanoia
  4. Growth in Christ—Sharing the sentiments of Christ
  5. The Life of Penance—a healing solution
  6. The Face of Mercy—how focusing on Christ draws us into a good life
  7. Self-denial in the following of Christ
  8. Spiritual fruitfulness—blessed are the barren who wait for the Lord
  9. Chastity and God’s Promise
  10. Highest Poverty and the Mysteries of God
  11. Consecration and Sacrificial Offering in Christ
  12. Obedience and final perseverance
  13. Service and total dedication
  14. Darkness into darkness—the hope of Mercy.

It was not hatred or sin or the malice of men that Crucified Our Lord—it was love, love for the Will of the Father, and for us.  When confronted by the Prophet Gad after his sin, David said “Better for me to fall into the hands of God, for He is Merciful, than the hands of men.”  (2 Sam. 24:14) God’s Justice is Merciful, and the Cross is the standard of that Mercy.  The Way of the Cross is a precious gift the Mercy of God has given us and an outline of the Divine Remedy for sin.  God does not merely save us, He heals us, and our life of Penance patterned on the Passion of Christ is the context for that healing. 

I.                   At the first Station we see Jesus condemned to a shameful death.  In the Garden of Gethsemane He surrendered to the Will of His Father, and His Father gave His answer.  He teaches us not to fear the judgments of God, no matter how severe these judgments might seem, but to surrender ourselves into the Hands of God, knowing our Father in heaven has a greater good in mind than we or any human reason can fathom.  God knows us fully, entirely (I think here of psalm 139).  He does not excuse our faults, but knowing them He loves us fully for who we are.  Our Holy Father Saint Francis recognizes this Providence of God with a Canticle of Thanks, as Love’s Reply puts it: From the depths of his heart Francis renders thanks for the great Mercy of God, which begins with our creation through Christ, raises us up again after man’s sin through the Incarnation and our Redemption through Christ, and will reach its climax through the second coming of Christ in judgment…(and a bit later) It is not surprising that Francis should begin his compendium of the life of penance in this chapter of the early Rule with a prayer of thanksgiving.  The very-starting point of our life of penance is naught else than overflowing gratitude for the benefits which the mercy of the Father has bestowed on us in His true and holy love through our Lord Jesus Christ.
II.                As we move into the second Station, when Christ acts upon the express Will of His Father, we see a parallel in the response of a heart brimming with gratitude.  This is a quotation from Love’s Reply: ‘That one should undertake a life of penance does not depend on the will of man but on the action of God.  “There is question not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God showing mercy.” (Rom. 9, 16)  What God in His goodness and mercy has done for us and continues to do is the beginning and starting-point of any obligation on our part.  The Life of Penance, like the whole Christian Life, is thus the grateful answer of man to the call of grace, to God’s saving mercy toward us.  It is from this gratitude, to the degree that it is true and heartfelt, and not primarily from our will or desire, that there arises an obligation to lead a life of penance.’ Thus you can see that it is the Mercy of God which moves our hearts to begin our journey to deepest joy.  As we read in the book of Isaiah “I was found by those who sought me not…”  God is the Author even of our response to His Grace.
III.             The first fall of Christ.  God knows how weak we are, and He understands the confusion and limitations of our minds and perceptions.  We do not always see the whole picture.  Often times we are biased by our fears and personal reservations, and thus blinded to the whole truth.  But God provides an answer: He touches our misery intimately and thus enlarges our vision.  A few passages from Love’s Reply: ‘The Incarnation of the Son of God is an unfathomable gift of Divine Love to us.  This world is no longer the same since God became man in Christ.  No longer can man regard either the world or his fellow-man as though this wonder of love had never happened.  Whether we like it or not our lives must be radically different.  Since Christ came among us His Call to metanoia, to a life of penance, must be answered unreservedly by those who desire to seek God and truly find Him…the redeeming grace that streams to us from the Cross must effect in us a total change of life…It is under the sign of the Cross and by the power of the Cross that the transformation of the new man is to take place in the life of penance…This desire gave Francis an entirely new view of life.  He saw all things and circumstances in a new light that gave a new value and meaning to whatever he had known or loved.’  At this Station we find our first opportunity to begin to think the thoughts of Christ.
IV.             The fourth Station, Jesus meets His mother, is tender in character, but it also opens up vistas for a new kind of discipleship.  Mary understood Jesus and His mission so well, she is His Mother, and she is our Mother.  She can help us to understand and participate in the Mystery of Redemption as she did: that is, as a member of God’s own family.  By allowing her to form us in her own virtues and her unique perspective, we can live and work in this world as children of God and instruments of His Mercy.  At this Station the Life of Penance is already beginning to transform us.
V.                In a book entitled “The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality,” by Paul Murray, Meister Eckhart is quoted as saying that Jesus’ command to take up our cross is not merely a command as is commonly said and thought: it is a promise and Divine Prescription for a man to make all his sufferings, all his deeds, and all his life happy and joyful.  It is more a reward than a commandment.  For to whoever has abandoned self and completely gone forth from self nothing could be a cross or pain or suffering: it would all be joy.  It is not due to God’s Justice , or His severity, that he demands so much of us, rather it comes from His great bounty, for he wants the soul to be capacious so as to hold the largesse He is ready to bestow.  This teaching about the narrow path sounds hard, but when one has got into it no life is easier, more delightful, or lovelier.  The book goes on to quote St. Thomas who speaks of a joy which is nothing less than an expansion of the heart.  Thus at this Station we have an invitation to respond to God’s call to embark on the Life of Penance.  It is a good time to consider specific ways that we can do this, that we may become freer to share our Master’s joy.
VI.             Experience shows that the cross without Christ can be disastrous.   This Station refocuses us on the reason for the Life of Penance.  A quotation from Love’s Reply: “At the heart of the Franciscan Life of penance stands the figure of Jesus Christ.  His Life is to be our life, His Spirit our spirit, His Ways our ways.  The more we die to self in penance to live completely unto God according to the Gospel, the more must we be ready to follow the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ and become like Him in all things.  The life of Christ must penetrate, form and shape us, that we become wholly changed into Him.”  This is the goal of the life of penance: that we may become like the one we love.  At this Station we think of Veronica, whose gaze was fixed upon the Face and Person of Christ.  It is a moment when we can gaze on Him, consider Him, and contemplate Him, desiring to imitate Him.  We can think of what makes Him sweet, the Gospel life that He lived, how Good we know Him to be, and how we are to be like Him. 

VII.          The Seventh Station is the Second Fall of Christ.  The Life of Penance is arduous, it hurts, and sometimes it can seem to be destructive.  But Christ said “He who would save his life, will lose it, and he who loses his life for My Sake will save it.”  This Station is an opportunity to surrender, to let go, to deny self, to yield our will in some way so as to give God the opportunity to heal us.  A quotation from Love’s Reply: “Self-denial and mortification are means of removing whatever might hinder the action of God in us.  Because they make us truly poor, they help us submit unreservedly to the will of God in our regard.”  This is experienced most especially in the Grace of Obedience, which is a great Mercy, and the most sought after capital in the spiritual life.  Our Holy Father Saint Francis says “That man abandons all he possesses and loses his body (that is, himself) who yields his whole self to obedience in the hands of his superior.”  For such a one who is fully centered on God, and God alone, all things work together unto good—men, and things, and circumstances, no matter who or what they may be, help, not hinder him in loving God.  The Spirit of the Lord alone controls and guides his life because he has surrendered himself completely to the holy workings of that Spirit.  Here is a time to make some perhaps very small sacrifice that will enable that process to begin. 

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