Monday, December 14, 2009

Prayers: Nations, hear the message of the Lord, and make it known to the ends of the earth: Our Saviour is coming. Have no more fear. Jer 31:10; Is 35: 4

Lord, hear our voices raised in prayer. Let the light of the coming of your Son free us from the darkness of sin. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,...

St. John of the Cross (1541-1591)

John is a saint because his life was a heroic effort to live up to his name: “of the Cross.” The folly of the cross came to full realization in time. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34b) is the story of John’s life. The Paschal Mystery — through death to life — strongly marks John as reformer, mystic-poet and theologian-priest. Ordained a Carmelite priest at 25 (1567), John met Teresa of Jesus (Avila) and like her vowed himself to the primitive Rule of the Carmelites. As partner with Teresa and in his own right, John engaged in the work of reform, and came to experience the price of reform: increasing opposition, misunderstanding, persecution, imprisonment. He came to know the cross acutely—to experience the dying of Jesus—as he sat month after month in his dark, damp, narrow cell with only his God! Yet, the paradox! In this dying of imprisonment John came to life, uttering poetry. In the darkness of the dungeon, John’s spirit came into the Light. There are many mystics, many poets; John is unique as mystic-poet, expressing in his prison-cross the ecstasy of mystical union with God in the Spiritual Canticle. But as agony leads to ecstasy, so John had his Ascent to Mt. Carmel, as he named it in his prose masterpiece. As man-Christian-Carmelite, he experienced in himself this purifying ascent; as spiritual director, he sensed it in others; as psychologist-theologian, he described and analysed it in his prose writings. His prose works are outstanding in underscoring the cost of discipleship, the path of union with God: rigorous discipline, abandonment, purification. Uniquely and strongly John underlines the gospel paradox: The cross leads to resurrection, agony to ecstasy, darkness to light, abandonment to possession, denial to self to union with God. If you want to save your life, you must lose it. John is truly “of the Cross.” He died at 49 — a life short, but full.

John in his life and writings has a crucial word for us today. We tend to be rich, soft, comfortable. We shrink even from words like self-denial, mortification, purification, asceticism, discipline. We run from the cross. John’s message — like the gospel — is loud and clear: Don’t — if you really want to live!

Thomas Merton said of John: "Just as we can never separate asceticism from mysticism, so in St. John of the Cross we find darkness and light, suffering and joy, sacrifice and love united together so closely that they seem at times to be identified."
In John's words:

"Never was fount so clear,
undimmed and bright;
From it alone, I know proceeds all light
although 'tis night."

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (21.23-27)

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. By what authority are you doing these things? they asked. And who gave you this authority? Jesus replied, I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism— where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men? They discussed it among themselves and said, If we say, ‘From heaven’, he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’— we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, We don’t know. Then he said, Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

Christ’s Authority
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)

In our Gospel today a critical issue is raised: the authority of Jesus Christ. Our Lord enters the temple courts and begins to teach the people who were there awaiting him or who quickly gathered before him. The people accounted him a prophet and a great teacher, and for his part our Lord constantly displayed a sense of supreme personal authority in all the things of God. He pronounced decisively on matters in dispute among the religious experts. He took it upon himself to cleanse the temple of its commercial activity. He disregarded the cumbersome restrictions insisted upon in respect to the observance of the Sabbath, stating that he was no less than the Lord of the Sabbath. He even forgave sins on his own authority and proved his authority to do this by miracles. In every respect he exuded religious authority. But what gave to him his assurance? What was the source of his authority? And so the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him and asked him, By what authority are you doing these things? In response to the question as it appears in our Gospel text today, our Lord points to the prophet they all knew, John the Baptist. What was the source of his ministry — was he commissioned by heaven or by some human authority? That is to say, was he a true prophet or not? Perhaps the priests and elders had interrupted our Lord during his very teaching. As a result the people may have been in the presence of these authorities when our Lord counterposed his own question to them. If they denied that John was a prophet the people would have reacted with condemnation, and the leaders feared the people. But if they said he was, it meant that his testimony to Jesus as being the promised One would have to be accepted. Our Lord in effect is saying that his authority comes from his heavenly Father who sent him. His authority is supported by the witness of John. Indeed, our Lord stresses — especially with his disciples — that the entire prophetic tradition bore witness to him.

The Christian is profoundly convinced of the supreme authority of Jesus Christ. He is not just one of many religious authorities. One of the many benefits of studying the religions of man, especially the great world religions, is that it shows the religious yearnings of mankind. Man aspires to friendship with God to the extent that this is possible, and he wishes to live in such a way that God will not be displeased. Such a study will also show the distinctiveness of Christ. He claimed unique and full authority to teach man the way to union with God and how to live according to his will. He supported his claim by pointing to the witness of the prophets, to his miraculous activity which by its very character supported the revelation he was making, and by his incomparable teaching. Having risen from the dead and about to ascend to his heavenly Father, he told his disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him. He is the supreme authority in all that pertains to salvation and man’s relationship with God. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the Lord of all mankind and of every nation, including those who know little of him or who have repulsed him. There are countries whose governments are still communist, particularly in Asia and parts of Africa. They characteristically do not like religion and they particularly dislike Christianity. Christ is their Lord, though they do not know it. Because Christ is the universal King, he has entrusted his Church and her members with a universal mission: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. It is the will of God that Jesus Christ be recognized as having all authority in heaven and on earth, and that his teaching govern all of human life. The question of authority which the chief priests and the scribes raise in our Gospel today (Matthew 21: 23-27) is central to the person and mission of Jesus Christ. Christ has this authority, but he will not impose it. He invites all to accept it, for our salvation depends on its acceptance.

That foremost religious mind of the nineteenth century, Cardinal Newman, once wrote that religion is essentially a matter of authority and obedience. He did not mean to imply that a religion devoid of love was authentic religion, of course, but he was laying the stress on the recognition and acceptance of God’s authority, which the Christian knows is present in the person of Jesus Christ. We must accept the supreme authority of Christ and live our lives in obedience to him. Let us do this then, and let us by our witness manifest the lordship of Jesus Christ to the world.

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