Here is an excerpt from the beautiful, though not always easy, The Sadness of Christ, by St. Thomas More. In this passage, he is writing on the words Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me? found at John 18:11. I've reworked some of the trickier bits to add clarity.
Christ had long before shewed his apostles that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer much woe by the ancients and the scribes and the princes of the priests and in the end be slain and rise the third day again. And Peter, taking him aside, began to rebuke him in this wise: ‘God forbid, master, it should so fare with thee, there shall no such thing come to thee.’ [Christ] turned about unto Peter and said: ‘Get thee hence behind me, Satan, thou hast no taste in godly matters.’
Here lo! may ye see, how sharply Christ reproved Peter, to whom a little before, when he confessed him to be the Son of God, he had said: ‘Blessed art thou, Simon the son of John, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this to thee but my Father that is in heaven. And I say to thee that thou art a stone, and upon this stone shall I build my church, and hell gates shall not prevail against it. And unto thee will I give the keys of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall be bound likewise in heaven, etc.’
And here he casteth him off in a manner, and maketh him go behind him, and plainly sheweth him that he hindereth him in his purpose, and calleth him Satan, and telleth him that he favoureth not godly things but all worldly.
But why did he all this? Mary, because he discounselled him to take this death upon him, which he then told him that needs must he suffer… [so] that they should not only not let him [suffer], but also [so that they should not suffer]. ‘For whoso will come after me,’ saith he, ‘must forsake himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’
Reading The Last Letters of Thomas More gives the strong impression of a shrewd man, especially in the letters in which he recounts to his eldest daughter the rhetorical or logical traps laid for him by his interrogators. He deftly reverses each clever ploy and shows up his interrogators with a grace and poise that is only matched by his humility. His intelligence is not merely dexterous, though - it is also penetrating. We see his insight in passages like the one above.
St. Thomas More knew human nature. He knows the reason that St. Peter did not want our Lord to suffer: because St. Peter wanted neither to be parted from his Lord, nor to suffer with Him. In other words, can't the Kingdom of Heaven be a happy place?
This post was going to start out about the spirituality of fasting, as you may have guessed from the title. I hadn't put down the first words yet when I realized how pompous it would be to sit down to such a topic, that has graced the pens of sages and saints from St. Matthew to St. John Paul II. With these men of deep prayer and learning, who labored and loved the Lord, having doubtless spent thousands of hours and days learning about this subject the hard way, anything I can say in an abstract vein will be glib. I might as well talk about the ardors of child rearing.
Instead, I will leave it alone and note that while I am fasting, I feel the deep hunger in my soul, that the rest of the time I cover up with all sorts of things trivial or terrible. Fasting is sacramental in this way, that it makes physically manifest a spiritual reality.
The days I fast are long, and tiring, and usually more peaceful than the days in which I do not. That seems odd, in a sense, because things like hunger are supposed to add tension to the nerves. Maybe an added element is that when I fast, I lay my fast at the feet of Our Lady as often as I can remember to do so. She who prays for us now and at the hour of our death cannot help but notice my hunger and assuage it somewhat with her love.
Today is the anniversary of Bl. Pope John Paul II's amazing homily at Victory Square, Warsaw, delivered in 1979 on his first visit back to his native country after election to the Holy See.
Here are the first words of his homily on that occasion:
Together with you I wish to sing a hymn of praise to Divine Providence, which enables me to be here as a pilgrim.
We know that the recently deceased Paul VI, the first pilgrim Pope after so many centuries, ardently desired to set foot on the soil of Poland, especially at Jasna Gora (the Bright Mountain). To the end of his life he kept this desire in his heart, and with it he went to the grave. And we feel that this desire—a desire so potent and so deeply rooted that it goes beyond the span of a pontificate—is being realized today in a way that it would have been difficult to foresee. And so we thank Divine Providence for having given Paul VI so strong a desire. We thank it for the pattern of the pilgrim Pope that he began with the Second Vatican Council. At a time when the whole Church has become newly aware of being the People of God, a People sharing in the mission of Christ, a People that goes through history with that mission, a "pilgrim" People, the Pope could no longer remain a "prisoner of the Vatican". He had to become again the pilgrim Peter, like the first Peter, who from Jerusalem, through Antioch, reached Rome to give witness there to Christ and seal his witness with his blood.
Now, imagine yourself as the leader of a militantly and avowedly anti-Christian regime hearing those words. Praise Divine Providence. The whole Church has a mission. Sealed in blood. These are not words of cooperation and shared collaboration. These are a declaration of a spiritual warfare of love.
In place of the sham community offered by socialism to its adherents and imposed by them on a nation, the Church offers men and women authentic fraternity, love, charity, arranged by in free action and voluntary association, grounded in eternity. If you are not experiencing that in the Catholic Church, among your Catholic friends, rather than blame someone else, rather than blame the Church, maybe ask yourself if you are doing anything wrong. Am I settling for less? Am I building more community? Am I working through big schemes in my head, or little acts of love in daily practice?
Because we haven't heard from John Donne around here in a while, ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to share with you his "The Sun Rising," a pretty little love poem, kind of.
Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows and through curtains, call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late schoolboys and sour 'prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the King will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
Something entirely unexpected happened this morning. But before I tell you what that is (spoiler: the aforementioned spiritual boost) let me tell you why I needed it without knowing it when I got it.
My spiritual director, a simple and holy priest with immense responsibilities and patience, told me last week something unpleasant to hear. He basically said that I make ceasefires with sin. Sometimes they are little and last for fifteen minutes; sometimes they are long and last for fifteen weeks, or, God help me, fifteen months. In these times, I need a spiritual alarm clock, a spiritual boost.