Fervent Love

Fervent Love

The deepest poverty is the inability of joy.* The experience of acutely feeling the tediousness of life, which leads to the belief that life is absurd and even times contradictory. This poverty is widespread today. The inability of joy presupposes and produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, greed—all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world. This is why we are in need of a new evangelization – a new fervor for spreading the Gospel message and for teaching people the art of living.

In His providence, God has raised up saints in every generation. Men and women who are radically united to Jesus Christ out of love and who model for us what it means to live the Christian life. One of the most endearing and memorable saints of the last twenty centuries is St. Francis of Assisi. His compelling story of leaving behind all his possession and following Christ in poverty still deeply moves us. Yet for all his sacrifice St. Francis was a man filled with the joy that can only come from God. In the midst of the Last Supper, Jesus announced that all his words were meant to instill joy. He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” St. Francis took these words to heart; accepting his own cross, loving God with this whole mind, heart, and soul, treating his neighbors – the greatest and the least – as he would treat Christ himself. And, importantly, adoring Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

His first biographer wrote that St. Francis “burned with fervor to his very marrow, and with unbounded wonder of that loving condescension and condescending love” contained in the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic life of St. Francis was a a life rich in love, devotion, and ardour. He would repair damaged churches and sweep unclean ones. Whenever he spoke with priests he would remind them of the dignity of their office which brought them so close to the Eucharist. Speaking about Holy Mass to his fellow friars, St. Francis exclaimed, “Let everyone be struck with fear, let the whole world tremble, and let the heavens exalt when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest! The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread!.” The ardent love of St. Francis for Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist drove him often to spend entire nights near the tabernacle in prayer. Suffice it to say, devotion to the Eucharist was a hallmark of his spirituality and a cause for his joy. In this he is an excellent model for us.

As we recall and celebrate the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood on Holy Thursday, may our hearts burn with love for Jesus Christ. Having loved us to the very end, he willed that his sacrifice should be perpetuated on all the altars of the world until the end of time. So that the graces he won for us through his Redemption might be applied again and again through the ministry of priests. Jesus willed to leave us not only his blessed words contained in the Scriptures, but also his continuous presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament – love made visible – in every tabernacle, every monstrance, and at every Mass. “I am with you always” he told the disciples. This is indeed a great source of joy for us..

The Eucharist is – finally – transformative. We know this from the Divine words of Jesus in the Gospel of St. John, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” That is the meaning of Holy Communion – Jesus in me and I in Him. When we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Eucharistic presence of Jesus – like the apostles were at the last supper – we begin to look outward to the world as St. Francis did. To share what we have received and to love as we have been loved.

*Much of this paragraph is adapted from a talk delivered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2000.

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Humility and Love

Humility and Love

Humility was a consistent theme of Our Lord’s life and mission. It is expressed well in the words of St. Paul, “Christ Jesus…  emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… (Phil 2:7)” Why did Jesus love humility? St. Teresa of Avila once pondered this question and realized, “It is because God is Sovereign Truth and to be humble is to walk in truth.”

The humility of Jesus was evident from his birth. The Lord of Lords being born into a poor family staying in a poor shelter in the tiny village of Bethlehem. Thirty-three years later, at the conclusion of his life, he emptied himself even more. Riding in triumphantly with cheering crowds gathered round about into the city that would soon ask for his death. At the first part of the week, they cried “Hosanna to the Son of David” later they would yell “Let him be crucified!” The people offered palm branches and flowers then later, a cross and a crown woven with thorns. They laid their cloaks before Our Lord on Sunday and stripped him of his on Friday. This was the hour of his great self emptying.

On Holy Thursday Jesus instituted the Most Holy Eucharist – the greatest of all gifts – and in his humility he allowed Judas Iscariot to commit sacrilege and partake of this sacrament. Later that night he accepted the abuse of being betrayed by two of his closest friends, each in their own way.

The King of Kings submitted to the trial before the high priest Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin at night then Pontius Pilate the next day. The strength of Pilate, that grubby Roman Procurator, vacillated on that Friday we strangely call good. He was not convinced of Jesus’ guilt, yet he consented to his capital punishment even though he symbolically washed his hands of guilt.

Jesus freely accepted all of this. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting (Isa 50:6).” He also accepted the wood of the cross, the terrible march, the falls, the mockery of the crowd, and ultimately crucifixion between two criminals. And this happened, not in some backwater town, but in the Holy City Jerusalem, which was overcrowded with people visiting for the Passover feast. He allowed his humiliation to be seen by many. Even his burial expressed the humility of Our Lord. Early in his ministry, when a would be disciple came up to him, Jesus announced, “Foxes have dens, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Mt 8:20).” How true this was even to the end of his life! After he was taken down from the cross, Our Lord had to be laid in a borrowed tomb.

Such was the humility of Jesus. And this humility was motivated solely by his immense love.

May I suggest that we all consider the humility and love of Jesus this week? Perhaps it will help us leave the lonely tower of our self-centeredness and pride to join Our Lord on the path of self-emptying and love which leads to victory. And let us stay close to Mary as we contemplate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of her Son. We will not find a more privileged place.