Sunday, March 20, 2016

Stations of Mercy Part II

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.  This is the second half of her meditation.  The first half was posted last week.

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

VIII.       The eighth Station follows directly on this thought.  The image of the weeping women compassionating Christ.  From the Gospel of Saint Luke: A great number of people were following Him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for Him.  But Jesus turned to them and said: ‘daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  For the days are surely coming when they will say: blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.  Then they will begin to say to the mountains: fall on us; and to the hills: cover us.  For if they do this when the wood is green, what will they do when it is dry?  Of course there is a reference here to Isaiah and much can be said about that, but without presuming to give a commentary on these words, one notices a connection with the Vow of Chastity.  Jesus said that when the Bridegroom is taken away the children of the wedding feast will fast.  We are in that time now, a time of fasting and mourning and dry wood, are we not?  A wholesome sorrow and contrition is part and parcel of the Life of Penance.  But it turns out to be a blessing.  The Old Testament is full of images of a barren woman which God blesses with seven sons, and so forth, and the New Testament speaks of the last being first.  In fact, God’s solutions are far better than our own.  So at this Station we can think of how our apparent barrenness is a good sign that we are not being unfaithful to Him, and we can be sure that His merciful blessing of fruitfulness will be far better than anything we could achieve by ourselves, or by creatures.
IX.             The Ninth Station—Jesus’ Third Fall.  At this Station we might imagine that Our Lord was a miserable sight, covered in matted blood and gaping wounds and the dirt of the street… moreover, He was weak, and soon He would die.  Yet something about the Blood of Christ stirs our devotion and desire, almost as if the Blood Itself were love gushing out of Him.  Recall the Second Lesson for Good Friday by St. John Chrysostom: “As a woman feeds her child with her own blood and milk, so too Christ Himself continually feeds those whom He has begotten with His Own Blood.”  It is a beautiful Lesson, and it tells us something about ourselves.  By Chastity and the other vows we are entirely focused, but the desire is not extinguished.  It is a cause of suffering for us, but also a joy, because we know God has promised to satisfy our need for Him.  This Station is like a pause when we can remember how important He is to us, and how Merciful He is in giving Himself to us.
X.                The Tenth Station.  How does God give Himself to us?  There is, of course, a problem, and that problem is human sinfulness and perversity.  As Love’s Reply puts it, there is one thing which must not attract the servant of God, one thing he must thoroughly detest, and that is sin.  By sin he ceases to be the servant of God, and seeks to serve another master; by it the Kingdom of God is destroyed within him, and he is turned away from the ultimate goal of his life…(and later it says) whoever has abandoned the loving designs of God through sin and has strayed from the path of Christ must indeed be punished.  He has cut himself off from union with God and has become a son of the devil, whose works he does…by greed and desire of possessions he becomes the servant of the devil, a slave of self and of the powers of darkness which take possession of him.—The problem is that this is a reality that can’t be shrugged off, and the Crucified Christ testifies to that.  At this Station we can see Christ’s utter misery, nakedness, woundedness, and shame, as He stands before a mocking crowd stripped of everything and about to be nailed to a Cross in that condition.  We can see ourselves as the jeering crowd that has now been given access to Christ.  We have been given access to Him, and we can believe that He intends to continue giving Himself to us until we experience the full possession of Him in eternity.  Is there any greater evidence of Mercy?
XI.             This Station is the kiss where misery meets love.  Christ’s being fastened to a Cross for love, become totally vulnerable, totally given, is for us the dearest treasure and testimony of God’s Mercy.  But, to quote again from Love’s Reply, “The lover seeks to become like to the Beloved.  If she therefore lives with Christ and embraces Him, she will also desire to share His sufferings.  As His Love for us led Him to suffer and die, so does it expect to be answered in like zeal on our part.  To give answer to such a plea, Our Holy Father Saint Francis made his own a prayer which clearly expresses such readiness…Please, O Lord, let the fiery, honeyed force of your love lap up my spirit from everything there is under heaven: so that I may die for love of love for you, who deigned to die for love of love for me.”  Then it says that the Franciscan mysticism of virginity is centered primarily on death to self, the dying of the natural man, that Christ’s Love may live and flower in him: “Temptation overcome is the ring with which the Lord espouses the soul of his servant.” (quoting Celano)  This is difficult of course, but it is consoling to think that Christ did not nail Himself to the Cross, that is, He Himself did not wield the hammer.  In this Station, it seems, we are to have some assistance, channeled by our Holy Vows, Superiors, Rule, etc., in making that complete self-offering which will unite us to Him forever.
XII.          The most striking thing about Christ’s Death on the Cross is that it is the Consummation.  From the moment He came into the world He offered Himself as a living sacrifice to the Father’s Will.  There was no moment in His lifetime that He wasn’t fulfilling His intention of Sacrifice.  But it is interesting to think that, after the Agony in the Garden when He said “not my will, but Thine be done.” He never for a moment went back on His decision.  From that time on He was peaceful and strong, with a constant “yes” in His Heart, even during the worst moments.  He was so entirely composed and given up to the Father’s Will that He ceased to think of Himself, and thought instead of the well-being of those around Him, and of the purpose He had come to fulfill.  Perhaps we do not experience such a firm yes in our hearts, yet the wonderful thing truth is that Christ’s Death and Christ’s Merits are ours.  If we claim Him, we too can offer the Father a perfect “yes” at our death.  So great is Christ’s merciful gift to us, that He has not refused us anything, He even gives us His Own achievement, His Own merit, to present to His Father with Him. 
XIII.       I quote our Holy Father Saint Francis: “Now that we have left the world, we have nothing else to do, save to be solicitous to follow the Will of the Lord and to please Him.”  At this Station Christ’s Body is entirely vulnerable.  It is taken down by comparative strangers to be laid in a tomb.  It would have been possible at this time for anything to be done to it, and it would have protected itself now even less than it had before Christ had sent forth His Spirit, since then at least His Spirit would have been there to give it dignity.  It is the same with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  He is there for us to tend and care for, or to ignore… yet He has given the Gift permanently, and He keeps His Word: He will always come down at the words of the priest, no matter what will happen to Him then, no matter what kind of evil souls will come to claim Him.  We too can consider that our bodies are given to Christ.  When we die, they won’t be worth much until the Resurrection.  But now, while we live, they are worth very much, because we have the opportunity to use them to serve Him.  God has given us the immense and precious gift of life and time in a mortal body on this earth, and while we’ve got it, we can do like Christ is doing even now: give.
XIV.       Saint Colette speaks very movingly about the cloister being our Sepulcher of Stone, in which we can live forty years either more or less, and in which we will die.  This is consoling because, once Christ’s Body entered the Sepulcher, there was only one thing that happened next.  Saint Colette urged us to praise Him, love Him, serve Him worthily so as to be certain of unending life, as sure as those who are already in its full possession and who see God in the clear vision of His Sweetness and Infinite Goodness with supreme rejoicing and perfect security of the eternal possession of Him.  If by faith we possess the substance of the Beatific Vision even now, then we can see in this Station a monument to hope and confidence.  It is dark in a Sepulcher, and the Light of the Resurrection has not yet dawned, but by God’s Mercy we can have joy, because we have been redeemed.

XV.          As an aside… after reflections on the Stations of Mercy and the Life of Penance, another means of gaining access to Christ’s Mercy is through His Wounds.  By His Wounds we are healed, through His Wounds we dare to approach the Father, by possession of His Wounds, we can attain to the Divine Reality, even in our weak human condition.  If Mercy is defined by God’s Love meeting human misery, then as Fr. Larry Webber so well put it, the Cross is the Instrument of Mercy, and understanding the Passion of Christ is the key to understanding Mercy.  Fr. Tijo took it one step further: we too are called to open the wounds of mercy, to become vulnerable, so healing streams can flow from us to others.       

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