From the Seven Last Words

JMJ

This was a meditation was part of the Good Friday Seven Last Words at St Dominic’s Catholic Church in San Francisco. As a result of the current crisis, the meditations were recorded and posted on YouTube rather than preached from the pulpit. The video is shared at the end of this post.

I thirst.

Many of us as children have woken up at night and asked for a glass of water.

Maybe as a parent our child wakes up and asks: Mommy, can I have a glass of water? 

These words of our Lord, “I thirst” sound like that same cry. 

We wake at night, in the dark, alone, afraid: and we really want Mommy. But “I’m thirsty” is what we say: it makes sense, it’s the feeling we have… dry mouth… must be thirsty. But what causes it, in the middle of the night.

Is fear.

Just as if you were suddenly afraid for your life you would be suddenly dry mouthed. 

But no adult says, at that point, “Mommy, can I have some water?”

I thirst.

The eternal, Triune God, in the Second Person in Human Flesh, is crying out because of a dry mouth, part of the whole Flight or Fight thing that the same God built into us for our protection.

Here… it betrays him: it’s human weakness.

The God who made water. Who made mouths. Who made the nervous system. This God is afraid. This God is thirsty. This God… is about to die.

My heart breaks… this is love.

Was one of the first words ever taught to the Baby, the Word learning words, “yisemeh” – the Aramaic for “Thirsty”?  

His mother, standing there at the foot of the cross, hears her own baby again crying out “yisemeh”.  Can her heart not break remembering everything at that moment: from his first cry, to his first words, to the first time he woke up afraid, depicted in the icon of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” where his sandal is flopping loose.

Eemma…Mommy… Yisemeh!

Brothers and Sisters. This is love.

In this time of danger.

In this time of death.

In this time of fear.

God knows… we are all thirsty. We cannot have the chalice. We cannot even come to mass. We cannot touch to hug, to hold or shake hands.

Some do this for safety, but we do not do this out of fear: rather it is out of love for our neighbor, for those who are weakest among us, for those who are most vulnerable.

Our priests, our Bishops, our Holy Father also feel this pain as they cannot do for us what they have been ordained and sacramentally ordered to do. 

Our hands are held back, our heart breaks, our love restrains us. Touch – when touch is most needed…

We thirst! We cry out to our mother, the Church who stands by watching and weeping for us.

Our God knows and understands: this is love.

In this time of danger.

In this time of death.

In this time of fear.

Christ our God has been here before us. Become of love, he has faced in mortal flesh, fear and death. 

And Jesus has the victory.

We thirst with him today…

He will make us victorious with him.

A Devotion on the Symbols of the Passion

JMJ

From A Book of the Love of Jesus, A Collection of Ancient English Devotions in Prose and Verse, compiled and Edited by Fr Robert Hugh Benson (1915). Retrieved from the Archive, here. I’ve not edited the text at all so some of the words may include off-puttings, odd-spellings, or punctuations.

O VERNACLE I honour him and thee,
That thee made through his privity;
The cloth he set upon his ſace,
The print he left there, of his grace,
His mouth, his nose, his eyen too,
His beard, his hair, he did also ;
Shield me for all that in my life
That I have sinned with senses five,
Namely, with mouth of slandering,
Of false oaths and of backbiting,
And made boast with tongue also,
Of all the sins committed too,
Lord of heaven, forgive them me,
Through sight of the figure that I here see.

This knife betokeneth circumcision;
Thus he destroyed sin, all and some,
Of our forefather old Adam
Through whom we nature took of man.
From temptation of lechery
Be my succour when I shall die.

The pelican his blood did bleed
Therewith his nestlings for to feed :
This betokeneth on the rood
How our Lord fed us with his blood,
When he us ransomed out of hell
In joy and bliss with him to dwell,
And be our father and our food,
And we his children meek and good.

The pence also that Judas told,
For which Lord Jesu Christ was sold,
Shield us from treason and avarice
Therein to perish in no wise.

The lantern where they bare the light
When Christ was taken in the night ;
May it light me from nightly sin
That I never be seized therein.

Swords and staven that they bare
Jesu Christ therewith to fear;
From fiends, good Lord, do thou keep me,
Of them afraid that I not be.

Christ was stricken with a reed,
With it the Jews did break his head ;
With good cheer and mildest mood,
All he suffered and still he stood.
When I wrong any, or any me,
Be it forgiven for that pity !

The hand, O Lord, that tare thy hair,
And the hand that clapped thee on the ear,
May that pain be my succour there
That I have sinned with pride of ear ;
And of all other sins also
That with mine ears have I hearkened to !

The Jew that spat in God’s own face;
For that he suffered, give us grace,
What I have reviled, or any me,
For that despite, forgiven it be !

The cloth before thine eyen too
To buffet thee they knit it so;
May it preserve me from vengeance,
Of childhood and of ignorance
And of other sins also,
That I have with mine eyes done too,
And with my nostrils sins of smell
That I have done when sick or well !

The garment white that had seam none,
The purple they laid lot upon,
Be they my succour and my keeping,
For my body’s use of soft clothing !

With great reeds thou wert sorely dashed,
With scourges painful sorely lashed;
May that pain rid me of sins these,
Namely, of sloth and idleness !

The crown of thorn, on thine head thrust,
That tare thine hair, and thy skin buist,
Shield me from hell-pit’s agony
That I deserve through my folly !

To the pillar, Lord, also
With a rope they bound thee too;
The sinews from the bones did burst
So hard ’twas drawn and strainéd fast;
That bond release me and unbind
Of that I’ve trespassed and been unkind. !

The cross behind on his backbone,
That he suffered death upon,
Give me grace while yet I live
Clean of sin me for to shrive,
And thereto give true penitence,
And to fulfil here my penance !

Thou bare the cross and took thy gait
Out of Jerusalem’s city-gate;
All thy footsteps sweet and good
Were seen through shedding of thy blood;
Thou met with women of Bethlehem
And also of Jerusalem,
And all wept for thine agony;
To them thou saidest openly :
Now weep ye not for this my woe,
But for your children weep also ;
For them ye may lament full sore.
And your salt tears for them down pour;
For they shall have great torment hard
An hundred winters here-afterward.
Those steps of thine give us pardon
When forth we go with devotion
On pilgrimage on horse or foot,
Of all our sins be they our boot* !

*help

The nails through feet and hands also,
Help they me out of sin and woe
That I have here in my life done,
With hands handled, or on feet gone !

The hammer, Lord, both stern and great,
That drove the nails through hands and feet,
Be it my succour in my life
If any smite me with staff or knife !

The vessel with vinegar and gall
May it keep me from the sins all
That to the soul are venom dread,
That thereby I be not poisoned !

Though thou thirsted sore withal
They gave thee vinegar and gall;
From what I have drunken in gluttony
May it save me when I shall die;
That, Lord, now I pray to thee
For that grievance thou suffered for me !

Lord, that spear so sharply ground,
Within thy heart which made a wound,
Quench the sin that I have wrought,
Or in my heart have evil thought,
And of my stout pride thereto,
And mine unbuxomness also !

The ladder set up by occasion
When thou wert dead to be taken down,
When I am dead in any sin
Take me that I die not therein !

The tongs that drew the sharp nails out
Of feet and hands and all about,
And loosed thy body from the tree,
Of all my sins may they loose me !

The sepulchre wherein was laid H
is blessed body all be-bled,
May he send me ere that I die
Sorrow of heart and tear or eye,
Clear and cleanséd that I be,
Ere to my grave I betake me !
So that I may on the Doomsday
To judgment come without dismay,
And wend to bliss in company
Wherein a man shall never die,
But dwell in joy with our Lord right;
There is aye day and never night,
That ever lasts withouten end :—
Now jesu Christ us thither send ! Amen.

Holy Week Sonnets: Interlude

The actors all are here in place, our play
is set! The curtain ready rises now:
Apostles, Traitor, Priests, & King all bow.
Let us kneel down to watch the passion fray.

Here Pharisees assembled make a vow.
Here Judas strides with kiss through garden’s night.
Here Pilate waits for judging by his light.
Here Christ the Lamb of God all disavow.

Foul Clergy here will mock & slay a blight.
Confus’d Apostles here lost to a man.
Great Romans here made tools in God’s own plan.
Poor Women here will, mourning, get it right.

Tiz God’s victor’ous Coronation Day
when death itself our God by death shall slay!

Sonnet V Judas


Now Judas thief & liar, devil, friend
Here come I carefully to you: for pot
& kettle are both black & we are not
That far I think each from the other’s end.

The Priceless One you sold for not a lot:
the price of one escapéd slave. Yet I
just any petty lust or care will buy
with love I owe to him; his love forgot.

Dear Judas, priests through you the Christ did buy
I understand & pity for I fear
That I your course can eas’ly find quite near:
Your steps for hunger’s slake I trod & die.

Lord Christ forbid that I my feet will wend
on damning ways that Satan to me sends.

Sonnet IV The Harlot


When trapp’d in sins the night without a moon
is dark: no hope nor freedom found in lust
that fills this moment’s craving only. Trust
Alone in God can make his lovers swoon.

To Christ so now she comes. As come she must
for rest, to whom men come for passions’ fall.
So she whose empt’ing man can’t fill can call
to him whose emptying salvation thrust

to hell and every time of Terra’s ball.
His feet that soundéd first in Eden’s glen
she bathes in tears. She dries with hair & then
anointing them: her love repairs her fall.

Yet Judas fails to see this grace who soon
is damnt as dances she to Jesus’ tune.

Sonnet III – Pharisees

Ye scribes & lawyers, hypocrites ye brood
of vipers: pharisees who twirl the law
to lure a proselyte into your maw
then spit out worse; within your precepts stewed!

The Torah’s words from out your crooked craw
draw obligations far too hard to bear.
Our God’s Revealéd words for making fair
you twist in ways that Moses never saw.

But turn ye now from that corrupted fare
& belly up to God’s reforming grace
Which calls the people of another race
to make both one in his redeeming care

The Jews & Gentiles both hath God pursu’d
Would at his table both by Christ include.

Sonnet II Palm Sunday

All glory laud & honor children sing:
to thee hosanna, Lord, hosanna! Praise
we thee with them, our olive branches raise.
Thy train in triumph through the gate we bring

With garments strewn the road to glory lays:
what ails the crowd that soon they’ll turn away?
Here where we hear hosanna cried today
great hearts will fail as darkness on them preys.

O Lord prevent our hearts that make essay
of crowning Thee as Israel’s King & God
from dancing to temptation’s tunes that prod
like cattle us, thine image thus to slay.

Let us not join them as thy hands they sting
with nails & in our name they kill their king.

Sonnet I Lazarus Saturday

Tiz better to have lov’d & lost: so said
the Bard when speaking of the heart’s romance.
What would he say if God & man did dance
As friends til mortal man is stoppéd dead?

Then God can weeping fall in mourner’s trance
While sisters, neighbors, pharisees, & all
will wonder at his healing advent’s stall:
when but one touch restor’d the blind man’s glance.

But God has come prophetic’ly to fall
the gates of death. Our Lover’s voice will part
hell’s ramparts! Raising Laz’rus by God’s art:
The tyrant soon will rule an empty hall.

Here he whom four days dead in darkness tread
Rejoices now and rests in his own bed

Prelude. Holy Week Sonnets

JMJ

I try to get through a little more every year. So, once again, I will try to make the Holy Week Sonnet Cycle complete.

Prelude
My Lord, always majestic is thy name.
No man may sing thy praises worthily
& mould’ring – wanting words to hear & see
is often in believers’ hearts thy fame.
Still yet we try with prose & harmony
to render mysteries in physic’s space:
depicting love as icons show thy face
to offer latria enfleshedly.
If Donne like saints, though sleeping, lend his grace
unlettered, I make done with pages ink’d
to build in classic form of couplets link’d
& structured verses, thus thy praises trace.
Lest Onan’s songs on formless pride I frame
Creator God the Word my words enflame.

The days of Holy Week have traditional associations in the Byzantine and Western Liturgical traditions. I’ve parsed the Sonnets out according to a hybrid to make the pattern: Saturday before Palm Sunday is Lazarus Saturday in the East. Then Palm Sunday, Holy Monday lectionary in the East is about the Pharisees, then the Harlot who washes Jesus’ Feet on Tuesday. Spy Wednesday in the West is assigned to Judas, and the the Holy Triduum begins with an Interlude, and multiple sonnets for Thursday and Friday. I have finally gotten the sketches of a first Sonnet for Saturday. Three or four are needed! And also a bucket full for Sunday. And one for Thomas Sunday.


Who knows? I might get it done this year. Maybe.

The American Way: Something about the Reaping…

JMJ
The Readings for Tuesday 1 Advent (Year 2):

Quod abscondisti hæc a sapientibus et prudentibus, et revelasti ea parvulis. 
Thou hast hidden all this from the wise and the prudent, and revealed it to little children.
Monty Pythons, Meaning of Life, Part VII, Death. Death walks into a rural English cottage and claims the souls of two Brits and two Americans. Death calls all the Brits pompous. Then the American Man tries to Mansplain his way out of the scary place. And this happens:

Katzenberg:       Let me tell you something, Mr Death…
Grim Reaper:    You do not understand!
Katzenberg:       Just one moment. I would like to express on behalf of everyone here, what a really unique experience this is…
Jeremy:               Hear hear.
Angela:                Yes, we’re so delighted that you dropped in, Mr Death…
Katzenberg:       Can I finish please…
Debbie:                Mr Death… is there an after-life?
Katzenberg:       Dear, if you could just wait please a moment…
Angela:                Are you sure you wouldn’t like some sherry?
Katzenberg:       Angela, I’d like just to say at this time…
Grim Reaper:    Be quiet!
Katzenberg:       Can I just say this at this time, please…
Grim Reaper:    Silence!!! I have come for you.
[Pause as this sinks in. Sidelong glance. A stifled fart.]
Angela:                … You mean to…
Grim Reaper:    … Take you away. That is my purpose. I am Death.
Geoffrey:            Well that’s cast rather a gloom over the evening hasn’t it?
Katzenberg:       I don’t see it that way, Geoff. Let me tell you what I think we’re dealing with here, a potentially positive learning experience…
Grim Reaper:    Shut up! Shut up you American. You always talk, you Americans, you talk and you talk and say ‘Let me tell you something’ and ‘I just wanna say this’, Well you’re dead now, so shut up.

Frank Sinatra’s My Way always made me terribly uncomfortable, even as a child. I mean, yes, it’s  Frank’s world and the rest of us only live in it, and yes, the mere mention of his name did once rescue Seamus and I from an otherwise normal B&B Breakfast in Scotland, but even as I child, I felt there was something horribly horribly wrong with screaming (at Death), yeah, I did it wrong, but it was my wrong, damn it.

Those, brothers and sisters, are the words of Satan. And today’s reading calls us on it.

Where the Latin has “sapientibus et prudentibus” the Greek has σοφῶν καὶ συνετῶν sophon kai syneton. Knox, the KJV, and the Douay both have “wise and prudent” (which does render the Latin really well) but the Greek syneton has this extra layer, according to Strongs:

4908 synetós (an adjective, derived from 4920 /syníēmi, “to understand by synthesizing”) – properly, “personal” understanding that results from correlating facts (concepts), i.e. as understanding works in keeping with one’s own perspective.
“Personal comprehension” (4908 /synetós) however is only sound when it follows God’s word. 4908 /synetós (“understanding”) apart from faith (“God’s inbirthed persuasions”) simply expresses the limitations (biases) of the thinker – which is the usual (negative) connotation of this term in the NT. See: Mt 11:25; Lk 10:21; 1 Cor 1:19. See 4920 (syníēmi).
[The other occasion of 4908 (synetós) in the NT, Ac 13:7, is more neutral. But even here it doesn’t reflect the prudence (intelligence) that comes directly from the Holy Spirit.]

It’s personal knowledge. Stuff i worked out on my own. Don’t bother me. I know what I’m doing. I’m convinced I’m right. I’m gonna do this my way durn it all, back off. My truth. Or: welcome to the modern world. Those are the words of Satan and Jesus says we’re wrong.

We don’t, actually, get to make up whatever we want. God’s got a say in it. In fact, God laid down some rules, some guidelines. I usually think it’s wise to consult the owner’s manual first. Only very unimportant things like websites and TV shows come without instruction manuals. More important things: Marriages, Childrearing, Jobs, these all come with instruction manuals. It’s only the silly that ignore them.

Children know this, sorta, until we school it out of them: there are rules. Some things are fair. Somethings are bad. We use the same skills to teach them otherwise that a child molester uses in grooming victims: Yes, Mommy just told a lie about your age to get a free ticket on the plane. But don’t tell anyone it’s ok. Yes, we’re cheat on our taxes, but they were stealing from us first, and we can buy you more presents. Yes, there is a Santa Claus would Daddy lie to you? It’s ok, i didn’t mean to hurt them, but they deserved it. You have to learn to punch back. You can have anything you want. Sure, you can watch TV. Don’t bother me kid, until I need you… Before you know it the kids are real citizens of the world, schooled in lies, covert action, coy betrayal, and manipulation. They’ll do it their way as well.

When we stumble around going everyone to his own way, we are breaking communion, not only with God, but with each other. The Church defines us a persons in communion with God through our communion with each other. We’re not persons without that. We are merely, to borrow Cicero’s word, a bunch of homunculi: automatons. Highly efficient, as far as the state’s control is concerned, but failing to live up to the God given personhood we each are called to be.

As an homunculus, “My way” is always just like everyone else’s. We are, as far as “my way” goes, as unique as penguins. But we close our eyes to that fact because it burns us, my precious. If you watch the Godfather, even Frankie had to do it someone else’s way.

So, Jesus calls us to the minds of Little Children, instead of stunted individuals. Lay aside the selfish ideas of “I know I’m right anyway” and open up to the reality of revelation. Take up the humbling and yet highly obligated throne of human responsibility. Lay down your paper crowns before the King of Kings and learn that to serve is to reign.

.