The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross ~ Can You “exalt” the crosses You carry?

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:24.)

Jesus had said this to his disciples shortly after his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

I’m thinking about the issue of Dying to Self these September days because we’re celebrating a favorite feast day of mine.  It’s the Exaltation of the Holy Cross; it’s special to me because as my long-time readers know, I had close affinity to Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia that’s nestled upon the western shore of the Shenandoah River and against the edge of the first mountain of the Blue Ridge chain until the two Abbots I knew well have now gone to the Lord.

Many of us might shudder and quake in our sneakers at the thought of Dying to Self. 

“My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection.” And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am powerless, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

It goes against everything our American culture often tells us we should do—Look Out For No. 1.  There had been talk about the “Me Generation” since the Seventies and a Time magazine had an issue in May 2013, “The ME ME ME Generation: Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents: Why they will save us all.”

Patricia Greenfield, a psychological scientist at the University of California in Los Angeles, used the Google Ngram Viewer to scan more than 1 million books. Her findings, which were published in Psychological Science, showed that there has been a distinct rise in more individualistic words such as “choose,” “get,” “feel,” “unique,” “individual” and “self” and a decrease in community-focused words such as “obliged,” “give,” “act,” “obedience,” “authority,” “pray” and “belong.”

No sign of Dying to Self here, it seems.  Let alone the Cross. 

I wonder what will happen to young people when they hit on hard times? If their climb toward success begins to crumble?

This is the Paschal Mystery.  The Pasch / Passover / Passage / Transition / Transformation / Change. The Dying and Rising of Jesus in our lives as it is celebrated throughout the liturgical year and in every Mass.  Think about how you have experienced—and continue to experience the Paschal Mystery in your own life.

If the girl that they’ve fallen head-over-heals in love with cruelly rejects them? Or as I just read in The Writer magazine, after five years of marriage, the successful screen-writer Brendan had grown tired of arguing with his wife, also a writer–insecure and jealous of her success, told her he’s moving out?

What happens to any of us when life does not turn out as we planned?  When we suddenly lose our job? Or are diagnosed with cancer?  

Now here you have three koans to mull over, dear friends, and to try to grasp:

Think about or name the trauma(s) that have altered your life over the years . . . How did you deal with them? How did they affect you?

And what about Dying to Self–For others?

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:24.)

Does this make sense to you?  For you?

In another place, Jesus says to his disciples . . . .

 If any wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?         (Luke 9:24-26 ~ NRSV)

Obviously, this is not the wisdom of the world with its emphasis on Power Prestige and Possessions.

A dear priest friend sent me a Christmas card a couple of years ago that I framed and placed on my dining room table —a quote of St. Paul’s:

“My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection.” And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am powerless, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Now here you have three koans to mull over, dear friends, and to try to grasp:

I / Unless a grain of wheat dies, it will not bear fruit.

II / Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

III / When I am powerless, then I am strong.

What is a koan, you might ask?

A koan is a Zen saying often used by Buddhist monks to teach their novices:

To meditate on a koan is to engage in an active process, like that we engage in when we try to solve a mathematical problem. As in mathematics, the solution will often come suddenly

So, rather than giving all your energy to the three P’s of the world–power, prestige and possessions–why not write these three Christian Scriptures on index cards and pull them out when you’re idly waiting for something else to happen? Try it! You just might be enlightened, as I sometimes have been!

In December 2010, the Arise issue I wrote was about Philippians 2:6-11, known as “The kenosis passage.”  Kenosismeaning here Jesus’ self-emptying . . .

And so, dear friends, I will bring this missive to a close by returning to the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and conclude with the wonderful words of the hymn Lift High the Cross.I remember when I first heard it. Trumpets and timpani sent shivers down my spine and goose bumps all over!

 Lift high the cross 
The love of Christ proclaim, 
Till all the world 
Adore His sacred name

Led on their way 
By this triumphant sign, The hosts of God 
In conquering ranks combine. 
Refrain: 

Each newborn servant 
Of the Crucified 
Bears on the brow 
The seal of Him who died. 
Refrain: 

O Lord, once lifted 
On the glorious tree, 
As Thou hast promised 
Draw the world to Thee. Refrain.
So shall our song 
Of triumph ever be: 
Praise to the Crucified 
For victory. 
Refrain: 

If you’d like to listen to a great YouTube version, copy this link into your browser . . .

This is my alma mater–Theological College of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

*  *  * *  *

Bob Traupman, 2014

904-315-526

arise7@me.com

www.spirit7.com

blog http://www.bobtraupman.com

With love,

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

Blessed is She who trusted and we who trust! ~ The Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Blessed is She who trusted and we who trust!

IMG_0495
        Our lady breast feeding Jesus ~ Shrine of our Lady of La Leche ~ St. Augustine, Florida                                                               (Image taken in March 2006 by Bob Traupman)

I ‘ve had a filial devotion to Mary all of my life, though it has gone through various stages. In my youth, devotion to Mary was more real for me than Jesus. I had a Marian altar in my room, often with fresh flowers. In the seminary, the image of a young knight devoted to his queen helped me relate to her in a charming way. It still does.

A few years into my priesthood, my relationship with our Lord Jesus developed; today, he is my elder Brother and my intimate companion. But Mary’s still there because she’s my best friend’s mother.  I celebrate Eucharist on the Marian feast days.  I have an icon of our Lady high upon my wall in my room, (the famous Vladimir icon) with fresh flowers and a votive candle.

As I reflect on the life of Mary from my present level of faith and theological understanding, Mary stands out as a model of discernment. 

(To discern is to judge well, to seek, for clarity and understand.)   Discernment is a method, a process by which we try to figure out whether or not we are moving towards a future which is in union with God’s will or plan for us.)  

I’d like to share with you my reflection on St. Luke’s story of the Annunciation (1:2-46) that uncovered for me some astonishing insights about Mary’s process of discernment.  It has profoundly influenced my life.

The story begins with the greeting of the angel: ‘Rejoice, 0 highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” Tradition has it that Mary was a young girl when she discovered her awesome vocation.

We might well ask how a teenager would receive such a message. Luke then tells us “She was deeply troubled by these words and wondered what his greeting meant.”

Put yourself in her place for a moment.  Think her thoughts and feel her feelings.  Consider what you might think or feel if you thought an angel was appearing to you! Surely you would be bewildered. Confused. Scared.  “Is this really happening?” you would ask. “Am I imagining this?”  “Am I crazy?” 

The fact that the angel appeared to Mary was probably not initially consoling to her. On the contrary, it brought on some weighty problems!  To be highly favored by the Lord does not mean that one is to be treated like a princess and to have a smooth, uncomplicated life. If we reflect on how the life of Mary unfolded with many sorrows, we can see that hers was anything but an easy life. But let us stick with our story.

The angel then announced, “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. You shall conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus.” Then Luke has Mary question the angel. Mary dares to question God: “How can this be since I do not know man?”

A pious spirituality would look upon daring to question God as blasphemy. Nevertheless to question even God himself is one of the rules of discernment that many of us overlook. We should never be too sure of visions or voices from within.   They do occur more frequently, I think, than we are led to believe. But every prompting should be tested. Mary is showing us that in this beloved story. In other words, the healthy thing to do is to question our sources of discernment; the unhealthy thing is to jump in and act too soon!

When I myself receive a prompting or an inspiration I delight in it for awhile, muse about it, yes, but then stuff it back down into my inner spirit to see if it surfaces again.

When it comes up a second time, I will test it to see if it is stronger than before and then I will stuff it down again—even a third or a fourth time. Those inspirations that have God as their source will be strengthened; those promptings that are not of God will be whittled away.

The story of the Annunciation tells us clearly that even for Mary, the mother of God’s only Son, discernment was not an easy thing. Every human being should exercise a certain amount of caution, doubt and distrust of one’s reasoning process. None of us has direct access to divine knowledge. This was true for Mary, as the story under consideration here suggests. It is also true for Jesus who emptied himself of his equality with God and became as human beings are(Phil: 2:6). So we cannot get away with saying “Mary is special.” Actually, she learned about God’s will for her in the same way that we do.

Confirming the message.

There is another characteristic of discernment we can learn from this story. The angel offered Mary a way to confirm the message. He suggested that she visit her cousin Elizabeth and there she would have his message verified.

So, too, with major inspirations we might have in life: We should look for confirmation. If we wait some weeks or months, oftentimes something will occur that confirms and reinforces the message we received. All this suggests that we need to be patient with the discernment process. It takes time – even years – for a prompting to unfold. In the meantime we need to be willing to live with ambiguity – to live with the questions. Back in 1980 I thought I was being called to be a writer. I had to abandon that idea for some years because of life circumstances. I only saw the confirmation of that initial prompting twelve years later in 1992.  I made a major career shift with all the risks involved to go back to school to get a Masters degree in writing.   It meant moving to Towson, Maryland and bringing my father with me.  Inspirations or promptings should be treated carefully and reverently – neither giving too much attention to them nor dismissing them outright, but keeping them in the back of our mind until they either clarify themselves or go away.

So what happens if you do confirm an inspiration or vision? What next? When the angel left Mary, she was left with a huge problem!   Though the angel also appeared to Joseph, the two of them were still left with the sticky wicket of what to tell their families.

Though God sometimes intervenes in our lives (with virginal conceptions, for example) he leaves it up to us to work out the details.

We can only imagine what it was like for Mary and Joseph during the months that intervened between her conceiving and giving birth to Jesus. We do get a glimpse of the problems that the couple had in the story of Jesus’ birth.  Mary had to make the uncomfortable journey on a donkey to Bethlehem towards the end of her pregnancy. We are told there was no room at the inn and the baby was born in a manger.  And Matthew tells us that the couple then became political refugees as they were forced to flee for their lives into Egypt.

In none of these circumstances are we told that the angel intervened directly.  They had to work out all these problems on their own. I do believe that there are ordinary promptings that do come from God. These, I’m sure were available to Mary and Joseph as well.  I’m usually prayerful and reflective about most small decisions as well as the big ones. I pray for discernment in the words I write and the topics I choose.  But there are decisions in which proper discernment may be critical.

For example, the process of selecting a doctor for major heart surgery may be very critical indeed. I recommend prayerful discernment for all major and minor decisions one has to make. Inserting prayer and reflection in our decision-making process allows God a chance to participate in our lives.  Thus, we seek God’s wisdom to help make the best decisions possible.

One step at a time. 

The point I glean from the Annunciation story is that God reveals his will to us one step at time. He does not give us a tour of the master plan. First Mary formulated her response to the angel. Then she went to visit Elizabeth.  Then she and Joseph had to figure out what to tell their families. Then they had to go to Bethlehem because of the census. God did not reveal any of these problems to them nor suggest their solutions.

And in this I find my greatest point of admiration for Mary. Luke puts it this way in the words of Elizabeth“Blest is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:45).  These beautiful words are the reason that I hold Mary in such great esteem today.  She was willing to trust.

How often am I not willing to trust!  How often am I not willing to risk. Mary took to heart the words of the angel, and when he was gone, she trusted. She trusted the words she heard him say.

How often do we fail to trust in the inspirations, the promptings, the dreams that break into our life every once in awhile?  Very often we don’t give them a chance. We don’t trust that they will come true. So, think of this young girl’s – young woman’s – courage.

Blest is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.  Blest are we who trust that the Lord’s words to us will be fulfilled.

To want to be a discerning person is to want the best for ourselves and for these whose lives touch ours. To want to be a discerning person is to trust that God still speaks to his people – to trust that God can and does speak to me. And that with my consent and cooperation, I can help God make a difference in our world. Without Mary’s trust in the words of an angel, the world would be a different place

I believe that God still gets involved with the affairs of his people. I believe he still shows glimpses of possibilities to us as he showed Mary a glimpse of what could happen when God and even one human person chooses to intertwine their wills. Remember that God could not have acted without Mary’s consent.

Blest is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled. Blest are we who trust that the Lord’s words to us will be fulfilled.

Advent is a time to Listen.  To ponder Mary’s story.  To say Yes to what we hear as she did so lovingly.  To let Jesus be born – this day – in our lives and our world.

To say with Mary:

“Yes! I am a servant of the Lord.

      Be it done unto me

            according to Your Word.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart  and try to love     the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Now, before you go, here’s the “Hail Mary” set to music. Click here.

With Love,

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

Labor Day 2022 ~ Remembering the gift of work

LABOR DAY 2022

This Labor Day, I’d like to reflect on the meaning of human work from a spiritual perspective.

Way back in the beginning of the bible you may remember that as God cast out Adam and Eve from the Paradise of the Garden of Eden, he told them . . .

“The ground is cursed because of you.

All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it

It grows thorns and thistles for you,

though you will eat of its grains,

By the sweat of your brow

until you return to the ground

from which you were made.

For you were made from dust,

and to dust you will return.”

Then Israel spent 400 years in hard toil in the flesh pots of Egypt in slavery to the Egyptians until the day came when God had Moses deliver them..

Then came Jesus who was raised in a home at Nazareth at the side of his father Joseph, a carpenter, a skilled tradesman, and Jesus learned that trade and stayed in that home until his adulthood.

St. Paul was also a tradesman, a tentmaker, and prided himself on making his own way as he travelled all over the coasts the Mediterranean.

Fast-forward now to American industry in the late Nineteenth Century. The steelmakers, meet packing, electrical, auto and food industries just gearing up. American workers were, however, not being treated justly or fairly. Events connected with the Industrial Revolution profoundly changed centuries-old societal structures, raising serious problems of justice and posing the first great social question — the labor question — prompted by the conflict between capital and labor. In this context, the Church felt the need to become involved and intervene in a new way . . . .

The Catholic Church’s American bishops had been on their side since so many of them immigrated to the U. S. decades before. Enter Pope Leo XIII and his encyclical Rerum Novarum—(Concerning New Things) on May 15, 1891 –the very first of many Catholic social encyclicals.

(An encyclical is an apostolic letter or document.)

Rerum Novarum lists errors that give rise to social ills, excludes socialism as a remedy and expounds with precision and in contemporary terms “the Catholic doctrine on work, the right to own property, the principle of collaboration instead of class struggle as the fundamental means for social change, the rights of the weak, the dignity of the poor and the obligations of the rich, the perfecting of justice through charity, on the right to form professional associations”. (By the way, listening to President Biden speak this evening as I’m writing this (Thursday, September 1st, 2022, about “the battle for the soul of the nation” in his address in Philadelphia at Independence Hall, well-read Catholic that he is, he pretty much reiterated the message or Rerum Novarum.

Following the Stock Market crash in 1929, Pope Pius XI again addressed the issue. At the beginning of the 1930s, following the grave economic crisis of 1929, Pope Pius XI published the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. The Pope reread the past in the light of the economic and social situation in which the expansion of the influence of financial groups, both nationally and internationally, was added to the effects of industrialization. It was the post-war period, during which totalitarian regimes were being imposed in Europe even as the class struggle was becoming more bitter. The Encyclical warns about the failure to respect the freedom to form associations and stresses the principles of solidarity and cooperation. The relationships between capital and labor must be characterized by cooperation.

Quadragesimo Anno confirms the principle that salaries should be proportional not only to the needs of the worker but also to those of the worker’s family. The State, in its relations with the private sector, should apply the principle of subsidiarity, a principle that will become a permanent element of the Church’s social doctrine.

The Magisterium recognizes the fundamental role played by labor unions, whose existence is connected with the right to form associations or unions to defend the vital interests of workers employed in the various professions.” Unions “grew up from the struggle of the workers — workers in general but especially the industrial workers — to protect their just rights vis-à-vis the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production”.[667] Such organizations, while pursuing their specific purpose with regard to the common good, are a positive influence for social order and solidarity, and are therefore an indispensable element of social life.”

The Church’s social doctrine recognizes the legitimacy of striking “when it cannot be avoided, or at least when it is necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit”,[663] when every other method for the resolution of disputes has been ineffectual.

That relationship between the Church and labor has been ongoing in America today. Richard Trunka the head of the AFL/CIO until his untimely death last year was a devout Catholic.

As we pause this weekend for the last holiday of the summer, may we reflect on the gift of work.

But we do so, conscious of all those suffering the loss of not only their jobs, their paychecks, but also their homes and almost everything dear to them as the result of this pandemic, and the natural disasters that have plagued our country in recent years–some as a result of climate change.

We pray in solidarity with them and reach out to them with love and with whatever support we can offer as we consider our own gift of work. And so, I invite you to pray with me . . . .

Good and gracious God,

the teachers who form our children’s minds.

We thank you, Lord, for the gifts and talents you have given us

We are interdependent in our  laboring, Lord.

We depend on the migrant workers who pick our lettuce and our strawberries,

you told us from the very beginning that we would earn our bread by the sweat of our brow.

the nurses’ aids who take our blood pressure,

that allow us to earn a living and contribute something positive to our world.

We pray, dear Lord, for those who are without work.

Sustain them — us — in your love.

Help us to realize that we have worth as human beings.

But that’s hard to get, Lord.

 Our society preaches to us that our worth comes from success,

of being better than the Jones’.

But our worth comes because You made us.  We are Your children, no matter what,

job or no job.

You love us and you call us to love and support each other.

We pray, Lord, for those who do the dirty work in our lives, Lord,

those who break their backs for us, those who are cheated out of even a minimum wage,

those who don’t have access to health care,

those who cannot afford to send their kids to college.

Help us to bind together, Lord, as a community, as a nation

because we depend on one another — the garbage men,

the police, the folks who stock our grocery stores,

the UPS driver, the airline pilot, the 7/11 clerk, the ticket-taker on the turnpike, 

the plumbers, the accountants, the bank tellers, the landscapers, the lifeguards,

those who clean our houses, the cooks, the waiters, the steel workers, the carpenters,

the scientists, , our doctors and nurses and yes, we, the writers.

Help us to realize this weekend how dependent we are on one another, Lord.

We are ONE!  We are family!  We need each other.

May we give thanks for each other this Labor Day weekend, Lord.

Help us to celebrate and give thanks for each other and appreciate the value, the dignity, the contribution

that each one makes to keep  our country, our cities, our lives going.

And in tough times, help us remember the words of Jesus. . . .

Come to me all you who labor

and are heavily burdened

and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you . . .

for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

(Matthew 11:28)

And, finally, this prayer of Cardinal Newman:

O Lord, support us all the day long

until the shadows  lengthen and the evening comes,

and the busy world is hushed,

and the fever of life is over,

and our work is done.

Then, Lord, in thy mercy,

grant us a safe lodging,

a holy rest, and peace at the last.

AMEN!

Finally, may I suggest this weekend that you might think about the people who’s work makes your life go better.

The next time you talk with them, tell them you appreciate them!

Two words have great power:  THANK YOU!

If only we would use them often, we would ease each other’s burden and energize each other.

and we would make trying times just a little bit easier for us all.

We call that: Love!

And before you go, here’s a spirited version of the great Celtic hymn “Lord of all Hopefulness” about the blessing of our work. Click here.Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

  Enjoy.  Have a great weekend! And please be safe!

With Love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer