Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Author: Circle of Hope (Page 2 of 631)

April 5, 2023 — Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus

This week we’re exploring the Stations of the Cross, inspired by Marko Ivan Rupnik’s Contemplating the Face of Christ, and Henri Nouwen’s Walk with Jesus. Meditating on the way of the cross invites us to identify with Jesus’s suffering and death that leads to resurrection. His final hours were full of all the choices, temptations, and invitations we face today. It was Love that took him through; Love that changes everything. 

 

Today’s Bible reading

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”).  — Mark 15:21-22

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. — Isaiah 53:4-5

 

More thoughts for meditation

For many people, the cross remains a symbol that is impersonal and distant. That is what we try to do with pain and suffering, too. But precisely in the process of defending ourselves from pain, we add more and the cross becomes heavier.

A man named Simon, who was visiting Jerusalem for the festival during Jesus’s crucifixion, didn’t have the “luxury” of distance. He was made to help Jesus carry the cross. He was made to come up close and feel the pain, to help Jesus. Jesus was presumably too weak to fulfill his mission alone! How ironic is it that the work of salvation involves God becoming dependent on human beings? Yet that vulnerability and trust is The Way to our mutuality and togetherness. It is the Way to our union with God and each other. Henri Nouwen writes about the essentiality and challenge of being that vulnerable:

“I feel within me a strong desire to live my life on my own. In fact, society praises the self-made people who are in control of their destinies, set their own goals, fulfill their own aspirations, and build their own kingdoms. It is very hard for me to truly believe that spiritual maturity is a willingness to let others guide me and “lead me where I would rather not go.” (John 21:18). And still, every time I am willing to break out of my false need for self-sufficiency and dare to ask for help, a new community emerges — a fellowship of the weak — strong in trust that together we can be a people of hope for a broken world. Simon of Cyrene discovered a new communion. Everyone whom I allow to touch me in my weakness and help me to be faithful to my journey to God’s home will come to realize that he or she has a gift to offer that may have remained hidden for a very long time. To receive help, support, guidance, affection, and care may well be a greater call than that of giving all these things because in receiving I reveal the gift to the givers and a new life together can begin.”

 

Suggestions for action

Ask someone to help you on your journey with Jesus today. You have a part in fulfilling Jesus’s mission, and you can’t do it alone .

April 4, 2023 — Jesus meets his mother and the women of Jerusalem weep

This week we’re exploring the Stations of the Cross, inspired by Marko Ivan Rupnik’s Contemplating the Face of Christ, and Henri Nouwen’s Walk with Jesus. Meditating on the way of the cross invites us to identify with Jesus’s suffering and death that leads to new life. His final hours were full of all the choices, temptations, and invitations we face today. It was Love that took him through and Love that changes everything. 

Today’s Bible reading

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” — Luke 2:33-35

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves…  — Zechariah 12:10-12

More thoughts for meditation

Zechariah’s prophecy came true. Many women of Jerusalem followed Jesus to Golgotha, beating their breasts and wailing. Jesus tells the women not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children, because their generation has closed itself to God’s love. Jesus is thinking about their suffering, and the suffering of all of humanity.

The women can remind us that tears are not a sign of weakness. Love allows us to see a situation as God does. Things are not really OK yet. Weeping can be a recognition of truth, and a way of resistance. The violent empires of the world are not built on vulnerability; the powers-that-be need people to be stoic, sterile, and to stay in line. Imperial “peace” is maintained by state-directed control, and these women are doing something different. Their tears are a longing for revolution, for the indwelling of a new kingdom that is yet to come.

Jesus’s mother, Mary, reminds us to stand in our pain. She stayed with him even though it must have been excruciating to watch him bleed and struggle for breath. With Jesus we can stay with our pain and the pain of others. We don’t have to avoid it because we know it is going somewhere. It will not last forever.

Henri Nouwen writes, “As I look at Mary and all the mothers of sorrow, a question rises up from the center of my being: Can you remain standing in your pain and keep forgiving from your heart?” I am wounded, wounded by experiences of betrayal and abandonment, wounded by my own self-rejection, wounded too by my inability to reach out to those around me, whether near or far away, and take away their pain. But I am constantly tempted to escape it all — to hide away in complaints or accusations, to become a victim of despair or a prophet of doom. My true call is to look the suffering Jesus in the eyes and not be crushed by his pain, but to receive it in my heart and let it bear the fruit of compassion. I know that the longer I live, the more suffering I will see and that the more suffering I see, the more sorrow I will be asked to live. But it is in this deep human sorrow that unites my wounded heart with the heart of humanity. It is in this mystery of union in suffering that hope is hidden. The way of Jesus is the way into the heart of human suffering. It is the way Mary chose and many Marys continue to choose. Wars come and go, and come again. Oppressors come and go, and come again. My heart knows this even when I do whatever I can to resist the oppressor and struggle for peace. In the midst of it all, I have to keep choosing the ever-narrowing path, the path of sorrow, the path of hope.”

The path of sorrow is the path of hope through forgiveness and love. Mary’s heart was pierced by love, and by the letting go it requires, and no doubt many unanswerable questions. Jesus loves her back; it’s a mutual love, and he provides for her even as he suffers by giving her a new son, his beloved disciple, John. Mary no doubt gets many new sons and daughters in the movement after Jesus’s ascension. It does not un-pierce her heart, but love has a way of transforming pain into more love.

Suggestions for action

What has pierced your heart on this journey with Jesus? How is God providing for you in the pain? Would it be helpful to let some tears flow in this season of “feeling it?”

Write down some answers in a journal that you can pull out on Easter Sunday.

If you resist tears as a sign of weakness or ingratitude, remember that Jesus wept. Our grief can connect us to all those who suffer, and lead us to the heart of God who wept and bled for our world.

April 3, 2023 — Jesus picks up his cross and struggles to carry it

This week we are exploring the Stations of the Cross, inspired by Marko Ivan Rupnik’s Contemplating the Face of Christ, and Henri Nouwen’s Walk with Jesus. Meditating on the way of the cross invites us to identify with Jesus’s suffering and death that leads to resurrection. His final hours were full of all the choices, temptations, and invitations we face today. May you encounter the Love that took him through — Love that changes everything! 

Image result for tissot jesus falls

James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). Simon the Cyrenian Compelled to Carry the Cross with Jesus (Simon de Cyrène contraint de porter la Croix avec Jésus), 1886-1894

Today’s Bible reading

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.  — John 19:16b-17

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.
— Psalm 69:1-3

More thoughts for meditation

Here we see Jesus wrapping his arms around the instrument of torture and death as if embracing all of the evil and pain in the world. It is remarkable how close he is to it, perhaps with his face pressed against the wood, his freshly scourged shoulders bearing the full weight of it. If the cross is the symbol of wounded humanity, it is getting all of God’s attention and care as he physically carries it.

Marko Rupnik writes, “We no longer have to go back and look for our sins in the place where we committed them or search our memory; instead we find them in the cross upon Christ’s shoulders. As sinners, we begin to heal when we feel the tenderness of the Savior’s hands on our wounds and aching flesh, when we fix our gaze on Him who has taken our sin upon Himself. We are freed from sin when our eyes are fixed on the Savior and His cross.”

The traditional stations involve Jesus stumbling and falling under the weight of the cross not once, but three times. Sin and pain almost crushed him. He was beaten to the brink of death, so we know it must have been very difficult to maintain the burden all the way to Golgotha. This could signify how hard it is to stay on our journey even after we have “picked up our cross.” We stumble and fall, too. We need help getting to the end.

Henri Nouwen writes about how Jesus carried the pain of all those around the world who are acted upon by the powers and cannot advocate for themselves, just as Jesus was acted upon in his passion. Nouwen loved to speak for the exploited, but he admits “there is an even harder task: to carry my own cross, the cross of loneliness and isolation, the cross of the rejections I experience, the cross of my depression and inner anguish. As long as I agonize over the pain of others far away but cannot carry the pain that is uniquely mine, I may become an activist, even a defender of humanity, but not yet a follower of Jesus. Somehow my bond with those who suffer oppression is made real through my willingness to suffer my loneliness. It is a burden I try to avoid, sometimes, by worrying about others. But Jesus says, ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.’” (Matt 11:28)

Suggestions for action

Find a chair or a spot on the floor and let yourself “fall” for 5 minutes. Consider the inner burdens that you try to avoid. What have you been carrying? Imagine Jesus picking them up tenderly and placing them on his wounded back. Imagine he falls, like in Tissot’s painting, and lies there listening to your pain and the groaning of all of creation, as his blood mixes with the dust of the earth. Leave your burden on his back for now, and pray:

Lord, give me pause and courage to keep trusting you with my burdens, so you can turn them into something new.

April 2, 2023 — Jesus is condemned

This week we will explore the Stations of the Cross, inspired by Marko Ivan Rupnik’s Contemplating the Face of Christ, and Henri Nouwen’s Walk with Jesus. Meditating on the way of the cross invites us to identify with Jesus’s suffering and death that leads to resurrection. His final hours were full of all the choices, temptations, and invitations we face today. It was Love that took him through and takes us through — Love that changes everything. 

James Jacques Tissot (French painter and illustrator, 1836-1902), “The Morning Judgment (Le jugement du matin),” (1884-1896)

Today’s Bible reading

Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “You have said so.” When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.  — Matthew 27:11-14

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by humankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. — Isaiah 53:2b,3, 6-7

More thoughts for meditation

The irony and injustice of this scene is striking. The murderous criminal Barabas is released, while the sinless One is detained and condemned. He refuses to bail himself out with words, even though he is the Word. He won’t rat anyone out; he even takes the lashes for his accusers and abusers. No wonder he told us to love our enemies.

The Roman Governor, and the Jewish High Priest who sentence Jesus to death demonstrate how God is often hidden and unrecognizable to those who aren’t looking for him. Pilot and Caiaphas are blinded by their selfish ambition, their interpretations of the law and religion. They don’t recognize Jesus as God because they are looking for theories and doctrine and the power of reason. But God is love and love is personal. It has a face. Jesuit brother and artist Marko Ivan Rupnik says, “This meek face of Christ becomes a place of encounter for those who are judged and condemned. In it they welcome the meekness and compassion of the One who was judged unjustly. Since judgment belongs to God alone, those who judge separate themselves from God. But if they contemplate this meek and good face, the gaze of the Judged One will embrace them too. He takes upon Himself even their condemnation.”

Jesus is still judged and silenced today when the poor and powerless are incarcerated, fenced in, walled off, and neglected, and He invites us into relationship with him there. Precisely where the world hates us, where we are not taken seriously by the powers that be, where we are pushed aside, laughed at and made marginal, there is Jesus, calling us into communion with God.

Suggestions for action

Pray

We are surrounded by mockers who do not notice your goodness and beauty.
Teach us to see You in the hidden and neglected places, to honor and care for You.
Be with all those who are falsely accused and incarcerated and detained today.
Let them know You identify with them. Show them the way through.
When we are accused, give us wisdom and courage and love.
Be our defense, by the power of your Spirit.
Thank You for winning our true freedom, freedom to know You and live with You forever.
May we use our freedom to suffer with You, where You still do.

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