Spiritual Life: April 2009 Archives

Of all the parables this [one on the prodigal son, Matthew15:11-32] is the most popular, appealing more universally to the heart of man than any other. In fact, it contains the whole scope of the theology of God and the salvation of men. And to some extent it applies to all of us to some degree. Unless we have lived perfect lives, it is true we are called prodigal.

As Catholics, if we have done wrong, we go back to our Father. Christ is represented by a priest. We say, "Father, bless me for I have sinned." The priest gives a blessing. The penitent then says, "Father, it is so long since my last confession and I have sinned as follows." He expresses his sorrow and contrition for his sins. Then the words of absolution are pronounced over him. God sees in him one that has been redeemed by the blood of Christ.

Then he is led to the glorious Lamb of God, slain for us on Calvary, residing in the tabernacle, to be our food. The tabernacle door is opened. It contains these hosts, every one of which is the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Lamb of God, giving peace to you, and there is rejoicing among the angels.

There is told the story of an old French curate when a prodigal came to him. As he was making his confession in the sacristy, the priest smiled and the young man stopped and said, "Father, if you are going to laugh at me I won't go on with my confession." "My son,' said the priest, "You misunderstand. I was only thinking of what the Lord said, 'There is more rejoicing among the angels of heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety-nine just persons which need no repentance.'" That is the spirit of the mercy and love of God. God understands our weaknesses, our waywardness, infirmities, like sheep going astray. His love goes out, seeks us, so glad to have us come to Him. The very angels of God sing with God the Father, that we are back home again.

I hope that everybody, in the degree in which you are a prodigal, will take home the message of the love of Christ, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and won't keep away from it. Repent of your sins, feel his embrace, that joy of conscience after a good confession, after you have been forgiven. The Father's says, "I am well pleased with you now. You were lost and you are found." [See Luke 15:32]

(Father Paul Wattson, SA, Retreat at Hereford, Texas, June 1922)

Mercy...is Jesus' way

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Only mercy challenges our hard-headedness like no other reprimand. Jesus said that he who is forgiven much, loves much. Man is sensitive to no other gesture as he is to mercy. After all, it was the method Jesus used, as Saint Paul recalls, "When we were still sinners, Christ died for us.    ~Father Julian Carron

Christ has destroyed the root of evil, he still wants the assistance of men and women in every time and place who help him to affirm his victory using his own weapons: the weapons of justice and truth, mercy, forgiveness and love. ...Christ is looking for men and women who will help him to affirm his victory using his own weapons: the weapons of justice and truth, mercy, forgiveness and love.

Pope Benedict's 2009 Urbi et Orbi address

There was a day when Nietzsche was right: God was dead, the Word was not heard in the world, the body was interred and the tomb sealed up, the soul descended into the bottomless abyss of Sheol." This descent of Jesus into the kingdom of the dead "was part of his abasement even if (as St. John admits of the Cross) this supreme abasement is already surrounded by the thunderbolts of Easter night. In fact, did not the very descent to hell bring redemption to the souls there?" It prolonged in some manner the cry from the Cross: Why have you abandoned me? "Nobody could ever shout that cry from a deeper abyss than did he whose life was to be perpetually born of the Father."

Descent into Hell Duccio.jpgBut there remains the imitation of Christ. There is a participation, not only sacramental, but contemplative in his mystery. There is an experience of the abandonment on the Cross and the descent into hell, and experience of the poena damni. There is the crushing feeling of the "ever greater dissimilarity" of God in the resemblance, however great, between him and the creature; there is the passage through death and darkness, the stepping through "the somber door". In conformity to the mission he has received, the prayerful man then experiences the feeling that "God is dead for him". And this is a gift of Christian grace -- but one receives it unawares. The lived and felt faith, charity, and hope rise above the soul to an inaccessible place, to God. From then on it is "in nakedness, poverty and humiliation" that the soul cries out to him.

Those who have experienced such states afterwards, more often than not, in their humility, see nothing in them but a personal purification. True to his doctrine which refuses to separate charisms and gifts of the Holy Spirit, the ecclesial mission, and individual mysticism, von Balthasar discerns in it essentially this "Holy Saturday of contemplation" by which the Betrothed, in some chosen few of her members, is made to participate more closely in the redemption wrought by the Spouse. We have arrived at a time in history when human consciousness, enlarged and deepened by Christianity, inclines more and more to this interpretation.

The somber experience of Holy Saturday is the price to be paid for the dawn of the new spring of hope, this spring which has been "canonized in the rose garden of Lisieux": "is it not the beginning of a new creation? The magic of Holy Saturday ... Deep cave from which the water of life escapes."

Reading so many passages where this theme is taken up, we discern a distress, a solitude, a night -- of the quality, in fact, as that experienced by "the Heart of the world" -- and we understand that a work that communicates so full a joy must have been conceived in that sorrow.

Cardinal Henri de Lubac on the work of Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar

Go in the footsteps of Christ, He is your end, your way and also your prize. Life is a journey, certainly. But it is not an uncertain journey without a fixed destiny; it leads to Christ, the end of human life and history. On this journey you will meet with him who gave his life for love, and opens to you the doors of eternal life. (Pope Benedict XVI to the Madrid youth)

The 40 days of Lent is leading to a dramatic climax in our liturgical imagination: the prayer, fasting, almsgiving is pointing us directly to what we've been promised and hoped for--salvation. These days of Lent offered us an entrée into the Divine Mystery and yet I fear that a great many people, including myself--may not have heard Jesus' prophetic rebuke of the Pharisees and others for their errors and for their self-righteousness and have missed the essential purpose of our Lord's sharp words. Certainly hearing Peter deny Christ three times indicates that same tendency in us to stand back from that which is life-giving. In the Scriptures we heard at Mass and in the Divine Office we hear the Lord not condemning the people for love of God's Law but calling them to follow him more closely and in doing so enter more deeply into the spirit of the Law. Christ makes it clear that living in the Kingdom of God requires us to be sacrificial: to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel. Here is the certainty we have: to follow Christ entails self-denial and the acceptance of his cross as ours. No embrace of the cross, no life eternal.

In early February, I mentioned the notion, the desire, perhaps even the ministry women can do for the spiritual wellbeing of priests. It is an idea that is growing in the Church and yet its importance is not being recognized by many bishops. However, Bishop Edward Slattery, bishop of Tulsa, inaugurated a work of spiritual maternity for priests in the Tulsa diocese on March 24th. The good part of this work is the on-going formation. Father Mark Kirby writes about it on his blog.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.



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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Spiritual Life category from April 2009.

Spiritual Life: March 2009 is the previous archive.

Spiritual Life: May 2009 is the next archive.

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