People are sometimes described in terms that are material related. Has the term plastic ever been used in reference to someone in your acquaintance? Of course, this would be the opposite of regarding someone’s personality as golden. A person who has a will of steel would be the converse of one who has the backbone of a wet noodle. Our heroes and heroines always have some if not many ingredients that make them outstanding and worthy of admiration. This makeup inspires others to strive to achieve accomplishments they once believed to be beyond their reach, all because they recognized that they too have a capacity for “the right stuff”.
The empirical of perfection of qualities in one being has to be God. Just what is God made of? It seems like an impossible question for any mortal to answer with any authority; however there are some things both rational and revealed. Powerful, spiritual, universal and beyond imagination are some traits that few would question. From the Christian perspective, including the Jewish tradition, there is a wealth of revelation. From “In the beginning, God created” to the Ten Commandments to all laws given to the chosen people to the teachings of Jesus, God is transformation by the messages of conversion of heart.
Love begets more love. It is in this simple statement there is understanding that transcends the ages and many attempts of various cultures to define god or various gods and their purpose. In the person of Jesus, Christians believe we have an enigma sent to accomplish the most graphic demonstration of unfathomable consequence on a person by person basis. God sent an only beloved son, the Word made flesh, not just to talk, not just to lead but to act with self sacrifice and harnessed astounding power, by succumbing to gruesome torture and agonizing death by crucifixion to redeem and sanctify each one of us personally. We are not condemned but rather forgiven by the right stuff beyond measure.
St. Paul of the cross is often pictured cradling the crucifix almost as one would show an infant. In more than one depiction he is seen as rising up to Jesus on the cross with Jesus reaching down to welcome him up to share in His passion. At first glance, this idea of passing along suffering seems macabre, irrational and repulsive. Would Jesus really want any person to endure any part of His sufferings?
Empathy is one of the most desirable and respected human emotions. Responding to others in their time of need makes us not just an animal high up on the food chain, rather a form of life that acts with kindness and understanding. Taking this attitude to a higher level has been the motivation behind many selfless lives given without regard for personal gain or recognition. Sometimes the heart must be served first and foremost.
Compassion is connection. When someone we love is sick or hurting emotionally, our heart goes out to them. This “pulling at the heartstrings” can be powerful or faint depending upon how it is nurtured. When St. Paul of the Cross went on his forty day retreat, he immersed his whole being into the gift of Gods’ love through the passion, so much so that sharing in it would be pure ecstasy beyond any other pleasure possible. Jesus surrendered to the Father’s will in the most important act of sacrifice ever. Embracing the sufferings of Jesus Christ is to accept all that He offers just as we would welcome a newborn child.
Salvador Dali, a famous artist of the twentieth century, was generally known as an eccentric, surrealistic painter. His work was filled with strange and unexpected images not understood at first glance, however few would argue they were not thought provoking. The work was meant to convey a message that the observer could find for himself or herself out of a sometimes-bizarre scene laced with symbolism. One painting seems to make a departure from Dali’s typical style. He was originally inspired to paint this subject after seeing a sketch done by St. John of the Cross. The powerful image of Christ crucified is unusual in two ways but the message is overwhelming. The view of the crucifixion, floating over a seascape, is from above, as if from God’s eyes and Dali was a master of perspective. This painting is a very large, dramatic scene with Christ attached to the cross without nails. Intentionally, the whole body is a well-toned muscular man without any wounds, a perfect corpse. It is said the artist had a dream in which he was told to paint the beauty of Jesus. The point of view and the bloodless body are very different and that is exactly what makes us think. Why?
“Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness.” John 12:44-46
The Crucified Christ has to be looked through to see the scene of earth with its mountains, seas and people. The God of all creation sees all things by first seeing the eternal image of His only Son, a perfect, holy sacrifice for the forgiveness of all sin, slain but beautifully pure and spotless. We, in turn, are allowed to encounter God by accepting His Son. Artists of all disciplines oftentimes deviate from what is usually expected of them to display their versatility. The renowned surrealist painted the ultimate reality by this most precious message obviously depicted in his masterpiece. Reconciliation to our God by the atonement for sin is accomplished in the ultimate act of love made by the spotless Lamb of God. Certainly the suffering and bloody wounds are the actions of redemption that took place but this emphasis on the perfection of the sacrifice is extremely important. Dali himself describes the painting as “The very unity of the universe, the Christ”. The artist who sought to be outrageous has described the simplicity of the plan of salvation
“Christ entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9: 12-14)
It is always hard to convince young people how short life really is, but the older we get, any resistance fades into agreement. Our time on Earth may be short but who can honestly say that they have no regrets? David of the Old Testament was a man who loved God above all. A writer of psalms and king of Israel, he had failings and regrets. Peter, trusted friend of Jesus, failed to acknowledge the Lord when he feared for his life. As much as we strive to be perfect and try to control things, we are subject to the unexpected and the weakness of our nature. We are as different as the stars in the sky, however a need for union with God and each other is a common attraction. The way to keep this source of life viable is to partake of God’s gift of flesh and blood, bread and water, light and truth. As the fishermen below in the Dali painting, we must encounter God and the reality of creation by living life in light of the pure, chosen sacrifice the Son of God.
Oh! how easy it is to imagine God somewhere far away, in another dimension, another reality. Some religions teach how we should work our way closer to a divine consciousness by withdrawing from the world through meditation and self- purification. Jesus breaks down the barriers. He enables and empowers you and me to contact God here and now, just as we are. His words to us are inviting, welcoming and forgiving as He seeks our company. The notion of God is an abstract idea to some, so the Word became flesh and has dwelt among us. His strongest message is eternal, universal and personal. I love you.
The Passion and death of Jesus Christ is a plan of salvation that defies our reasoning, yet it is simple enough for a child. The question “Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?” has been asked many times and a child expects a simple answer. A good reply might be “to save us from our sins” with the understanding that the answer is accepted in childlike faith. As adults more complete reasoning is desired. The acceptance of the emotional, mental and physical devastation suffered by the Lamb of God is meant to be an act of magnificence that surpasses all understanding. God loves. The crucified Christ is the proof long ago, here and now and always for all who will accept the gift beyond comprehension.
Abha Dawesar may not look like a Passionist, but she sure does think and preach like one. In this TED talk she tells of her experience with hurricane Sandy. Half of New York City was in a blackout, and that’s where she found herself, living in a high rise with no electricity. Talk about a crisis. No elevators, no water, no light, no Internet. OMG—no Internet? How did she survive? Listen and then if you feel so moved, share your thoughts by clicking on “Comment” below.
I came by this Youtube video quite by accident, but then maybe not. I read an article entitled “Mourning for the Earth” by a Katharine M. Preston. Yes, she spells her name with an “a” (I believe it should be Katherine). I enjoyed the article so much I went online to see who she was. I found this Youtube Interview and was totally taken with it. Then I wondered if this was the same Katherine. I don’t think she is, at least I couldn’t corroborate that fact.
At any rate, Katherine would make a good Partner. She may never have heard of the Passionists, but she does know the value of taking up her cross daily and following Jesus. The video is quite long, twenty-six minutes, but if you are interested in seeing the Passion of Jesus being lived today, I think you will enjoy the video and think your time well-spent.
Today there seems to be a great battle going on between the mega rich and the average American. According to Wikipedia in 2007 “the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.”  I suspect that spread has widened greatly since 2007.
This is hardly a new battle. History is replete with example after example of this battle. Malcolm Gladwell in his book “David and Goliath” (2013) tells of some of these battles, starting with the title battle of his book. What is interesting to me is Gladwell chooses battles where the little guy, the underdog wins. He tells us how recognizing our weakness leads us to success even against the worst odds.
I believe “recognizing our weakness” is just another phrase for recognizing who we really are. All of us have weaknesses. All of us have disabilities. All of us are little people needing others in our lives to love us, to heal us and simply to be with us. Not all of us recognize this. Many of us think we are self-made heroes. Many of us think we are better than another person because of our economic standing, our education, or our position of authority over others (earned or bestowed).
Recognizing who we are is at the heart of Passionist spirituality, or any spirituality for that matter. Alcoholics’ Anonymous (AA) calls this step one: “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” St. Paul says: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 
I think Mr. Gladwell would make a good partner and on top of that he’s a good storyteller.
A couple weeks ago, Father Sebastian, C.P. wrote about suffering. He said: “The CPPs treasure the memory of the Sufferings of the Lord as the centerpiece of our lives. ” That post has elicited more comments than any other since the inception of our blog. Evidently, Father struck a chord with our followers.
Pico Iyer has written an opinion piece on suffering for the New York Times that you can read in it’s entirety by clicking on the link below. I think you’ll find it interesting, at least I did. I was especially struck by the following paragraph.
“As a boy, I’d learned that it’s the Latin, and maybe a Greek, word for “suffering” that gives rise to our word “passion.” Etymologically, the opposite of “suffering” is, therefore, “apathy”; the Passion of the Christ, say, is a reminder, even a proof, that suffering is something that a few high souls embrace to try to lessen the pains of others. Passion with the plight of others makes for ‘compassion.’”
I love his last statement above: “Passion with the plight of others makes for compassion.” I don’t think I would agree with Mr. Iyer that only a few high souls embrace suffering. I personally know many souls, i.e. teachers I’ve worked with, fellow Partners, family members, friends and people I read about in the news who seem to live their life with passion. Maybe I live in a bubble.
I’ll end with one more thought. It’s a quote from Robert Hutchins: “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” – Robert M. Hutchins at BrainyQuote
What do you think?
Pico Iyer is the author, most recently, of “The Man Within My Head,” and a distinguished presidential fellow at Chapman University.
The CPPs treasure the memory of the Sufferings of the Lord as the centerpiece of our lives. To onlookers, perhaps this orientation sounds somber and depressing. Who wants to embrace the thought of suffering as a focal point? Well, as a matter of fact, suffering is not the focal point but simply the consequence of what IS the focal point: the attainment of a goal or task one wishes to accomplish. For instance, if a prophet like Jeremiah badly wants to communicate the word of the Lord, he or she will suffer whatever consequences follow from announcing the message, should it be bad news to those hearing it. Or if one is engaged in a race, as St. Paul mentions, then one readily accepts the often tremendous effort, and exhaustion, needed to compete well. In these examples, suffering is a follow-up to what one badly wants, and so it proves acceptable. Christ died on the cross to save us all: He wanted this badly. So the CPPs treasure whatever suffering accompanies what they badly want. The secret here is: badly wanting something. And it is our faith that provides us a treasure-trove of things we should sincerely desire, and in view of which we are willing “to pay the price”.
All hail the mighty champion! So often we see a sports figure pictured embracing a prized golden or silver trophy, holding it on high, even endearing it with a kiss. Often times, the object is represented in the form of an elaborate cup. The Wimbledon cup in tennis, the Stanley cup in hockey, the Ryder cup in golf, the Americas cup in sailing are but a few examples. The investment of effort, talent, teamwork and commitment are undeniably essential to becoming the one who successfully overwhelms all opposition both from competition and inner struggles.
What are the ingredients that combine to separate the extraordinary from the mediocre, the elite from the extraordinary and a champion from the runner up? Some would argue that it is just luck but that doesn’t hold up with consistency. Work ethic, intelligence, preparation, determination, and sacrifice are required to meet ones full potential. Isaiah Thomas, maybe the best point guard ever, was asked once if he would still play in the National Basketball Finals with what turned out to be a fractured ankle. His response was adamantly yes. He said, “ I am playing. I am not dead yet.” Leadership, responsibility and courage dominated his attitude. There is always a steep price to pay to gain a cherished prize, to be the final victor, to kiss the cup.
If everyone knew the cost in terms of preparation and pain they would have to endure to even have a chance to become the one to take it all, they might agonize over their ability to persist and succeed. Putting their long term health at risk and doubts of how the odds are greatly against them would deter most of us. Spirits soar when the winner claims the prize but tears often come to the eyes of the defeated. There was a time when full knowledge of what was required to gain the most precious prize in history tortured the mind and human instincts of the only one able to complete the task.
“If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” These were the words of Jesus as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion. He even sweated blood with his doubts. Of the betrayal, arrest and injustice, he knew. Of the mockery, crown of thorns and severe lashing, he knew. Of the weight of the cross he carried, the nerve searing pain of the nails and the hours writhing on the cross, he knew. Of the sorrow in his mother’s heart, the lance in his side and the bitterness of those who were against him, he knew. All his life he knew what was coming and he not only accepted it, he embraced it. His sacrifice won our victory over sin and death. God’s love was outpoured in the person of Jesus. He was the Lamb of God, the only offering necessary. It was and is God’s plan. Jesus kissed the cup.