Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord ~ Jesus saving us still

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Good Friday April 2, 2021

Like a sapling he grew in front of us,
Like a root in arid ground…
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering ….
And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings in peace
and through his wound we were healed
–excerpts from Isaiah 53.

Well here we are at Good Friday once again and life seems so surreal for all of us still in the midst of this Coronavirus crisis. For our Jewish neighbors Passover last Sunday without the possibility for most of them to celebrate according to law and custom by family gatherings. It must have been really hard for them. And the same thing will hit a lot of us Christians two days from now on Easter Sunday when most of us cannot gather with family either!

However, it is possible for us to have a good Good Friday and that’s the point of this blog. I selected some material that really helped me  when I read it. It’s an article from my favorite Lent / Easter spiritual reading companion that now has a broken spine like an old man called Bread and Wine, It’s an article entitled Naked Pride by the Rev. John Stott, a distinguished Anglican priest and theologian. So, as we wait this crisis out, let’s put our fears and anxieties aside and open ourselves for some deeper prayer and learning this most sacred of days, would you so? Here we go . .

The essence of sin is human beings substituting themselves for God while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us all. Humans claim prerogatives that belong to God alone while God accepts penalties that God should not have to endure—only humans.

As you and I gaze upon the cross this Good Friday— either one in your home or the one at the end of your rosary or just the one printed in this blog if you have no other—we can gain a clear view both of God and ourselves. Instead of inflicting on us the judgment we deserved, God in Christ endured that sentence in our place. Hell is the only alternative. This is the “scandal”; i.e. the stumbling block of the cross.

For our proud hearts rebel against it. We cannot bear to acknowledge either the seriousness of our sin or our utter indebtedness to the cross. Surely there must be something we can do to make amends? If not, we give the impression we’d rather suffer our own punishment rather than of seeing God through Christ bear it in our place.

Our author tells the story of a play by George Bernard Shaw entitled Major Barbara (1905) about an incident at the alleged West Ham shelter in which Bill Walker, “a rough customer” arrives one cold January morning drunk. He gets himself into trouble there and seizes a girl by the hair and strikes her, cutting her lip. He’s mocked by the other residents because he didn’t have the courage to take on the “bloke” that he’s jealous about. Bill’s conscience and pride nag him until he can no longer bear the insult. He decides, in a kinda cockney accent, to spit in the guy’s eye, or if not, “git me aown fice beshed.”

But his opponent refuses to cooperate, so Bill returns shamefaced. He comes back to the group and lies, telling everybody, he spit in his eye to which one of the girls calls out, ‘Glory Allelloolier!”

The girl who was injured tells Bill that she’s sorry and he didn’t really hurt her, which makes him angrier still. “Aw down’t want to be forgiven by you or by anybody. Wot I did Aw’ll pay for.

He tries another ruse. He offers to pay a fine that one of his mates just incurred and produces a sovereign.

“Eahs the manney. Take it; and let’s ev no more o your forgivin and pryin and your Mijor jawrin me. Let wot Aw dan be dan and pid for; and let there be and end of it. This bloomin forgivin and neggin and jawrin mike a menn thet sore that iz lawf’s a burden to im. Aw won’t ev it. Aw tell yer. Avve offered to py. Aw can do more. Tike it or leave it. There it is.”—and he throws the sovereign down.

And so, our author sums up . . .

The proud human heart is thus revealed. We insist on paying for what we’ve done. We cannot stand the humiliation of acknowledging our bankruptcy and allowing somebody else to pay for us. The notion that that somebody else should be God himself is just too much to take for some people. We would rather perish than repent, rather lose ourselves than humble ourselves.

Rev. Stott, an Anglican priest, and renowned theologian, states that only the gospel demands such a self-humbling on our part. No other religion or philosophy deals with the problem of guilt apart from the intervention of God, and therefore, they come to a “cheap” conclusion. In them, you and I would be spared the final humiliation of knowing that the Mediator has borne the punishment instead of us! We would not have to be stripped absolutely naked.

But . . . but we cannot escape the embarrassment of standing absolutely naked before God.

Think about that for a moment. You and I will have to take off our shoes and socks. Our shirts and pants or our dresses.

Our undershirts or our bra.

Our skivvies. And stand absolutely naked with your private parts and all.

Rev. Stott continues: It’s no use trying to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our attempts at self-justification are as ineffectual as their fig-leaves. We have to acknowledge our nakedness and gaze on the Lord wearing our filthy rags instead of us.

And then . . . and then allow him to clothe us with his own righteousness and light.

Nobody has ever put it better than Augustus Toplady in his immortal hymn Rock of Ages . . . .

 

Nothing in my hand I bring

Simply to your Cross I cling

Naked, come to for dress

Helpless, look to you for grace

Fool, I to the fountain fly

Wash, Savior, or I die.

And now here’s my prayer . . . .

Dear God, We give you thanks for sending your Son to us.

He has lived among us ~ become one with us ~ borne our griefs.

He became obedient unto death to bear our sins and pay our debts.

Yet we were ungrateful and turned our backs to goodness and love.

Forgive us, Lord for the hardness of our hearts.

Turn us back to you to accept you love and forgiveness.

And please, Lord, guide us through this terrible plague!

Be especially with those who are sick

and those who courageously care for them.

And let us once again share in the joy of your Risen Life!

We ask this as we ask all things through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Amen!

And now, before you go, here’s the hymn from Bach’s Passion “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” ~ Click here

Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

John Stott Naked Pride In Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter Plough Publishing co. pp. 217-221. From “The Cross of Christ” by John R. W. Stott Copyright 1986 John R.W. Stott. Interunivarsity Press P. O. Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515

 

  1. 217-221.

 

From “The Cross of Christ” by John R. W. Stott Copyright 1986 John R.W. Stott. Interunivarsity Press P. O. Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515

 

Monday of Holy Week ~ Love’s extravagance

MONDAY OF HOLY WEEK ~ March 29, 2021

“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. “~ John 12:1-3

Yesterday we found Jesus mobbed but probably exhilarated by the crowds as he made his entry into the great holy city of Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

This day, Monday, weary from all the excitement and eager once again to be welcomed by his beloved friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus, he makes the short trip to Bethany with his disciples.

Apparently he was expected; a dinner party had been arranged and Jesus was to have quite an intimate surprise ~ right there in front of God and everybody. Martha and Mary were sisters; Martha was the practical one; she was always busy in the kitchen preparing the meals. Mary loved Jesus in a special way; she was often at his feet listening to his wonderful words.

This day, in front of the guests, she got down, washed Jesus’ dusty, tired, bare feet and massaged them–all the while, soothing them and caressing them.

Suddenly she got up, went to a nearby shelf and got a beautiful alabaster bottle filled with the finest aromatic spikenard.   She broke it open! and the whole house was instantly transformed by its wonderful aroma!

She poured it liberally over the Master’s feet. (And as we know Judas objected strenuously ~ but let’s not go there for the moment.

(Permit me this Ignatian-style reflection ~ a bit R-rated.)

A sensual woman caresses a 33-year old man with perfumed oil. The oil squishes down between his toes; it soothes his weary feet. She rubs it in circular motions around the ankles.

Then Mary teases him dripping some, drop ~ drop ~ drop on his shins, watching the glistening oil slither down his feet.

She leans back on her haunches and waits to get his reaction.

He grins, and raises his eyeballs toward the ceiling.

Then she pounces on him and rubs his feet firmly and furiously and backs away again, then just looks at him and smiles.

He returns the gaze, obviously, very pleased, very delighted, very relaxed.

Then she leans forward and begins to dry his feet with her hair!

This process takes a long time.

Oil takes a long time to come out, just being dried by hair, as lovely as Mary’s is.

Now, dear friends, you can’t get more sensuous than that!

I wonder.

I wonder what the Lord of the universe might have been thinking and feeling during this most intimate of male / female encounters? Would this most unusual, very creative experience be as intimate, as soul-connecting as intercourse itself?

I wouldn’t even dare to imagine. Take a moment of silence right now and ponder those thoughts and let him have his own thoughts and feelings in your own mind and heart.  (That is what Ignatian imaginative Scriptural prayer is: You reflect on the Scripture in your imagination and see how the Lord speaks to you; try reading this passage again and see what turns up for you.)

The sacred text doesn’t say, but we can intimate from what we already know that Jesus is already very comfortable with Mary who used to sit gaga-eyed at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42.)

Was it sexual? No. But it sure as h- was sensual!

Did he enjoy the experience?

You bet he did!

Jesus was a whole, integrated man.

Was he embarrassed to have that happen in front of the others? Quite sure not.

He was with people he could “let his hair down” with, although Mary probably got a good talkin’ to by her sister in the bedroom later! Jesus, unlike many of us, was not afraid to be himself, in every circumstance

That Monday of that of Holy Week two Millennia ago was a day of relaxation for our Lord. He seemed to have the ability to be able to make the present moment a sacrament as he put aside concern about the events that lie ahead.

In William Barclay’s commentary on this passage, he has a series of little character sketches.

First, Martha. She loved Jesus, but she was a practical woman and the only way she could show her love was by working with her hands by cooking and serving. She always gave what she could.

Then there’s Mary.  We see three things about her love in this story. We see love’s extravagance. She took the most precious thing she possessed and spent it all on Jesus. We see love’s humility.It was a sign of honor to anoint someone’s head, but she anointed Jesus’ feet.  And then we see love’s unselfconsciousness.  Mary wiped his feet with her hair. In Palestine no woman would appear in public with her hair unbound.  That was a sign of an immoral woman.Mary never even thought of that. Mary loved Jesus so much that it was nothing to her what the guests might have thought.

But there’s something else here. The house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.  Many Fathers of the Church have seen a double meaning here. That the whole Church was filled with the sweet memory of Mary’s action.

Then there’s the character of Judas. We see Jesus’ trust in Judas. As early as John 6:70, John shows us Jesus was well aware that there was a traitor within the ranks.  It may be that he tried to touch Judas’ heart by making him treasurer.   And here, in the house of Jesus’ friends, he had just seen an action of surpassing loveliness and he called it extravagant waste. Judas was an embittered man and took the embittered view of things.

And the scene ends with the mob coming to see Lazarus and the chief priests plotting to kill Jesus.

But Barclay doesn’t end here. He tells us that there’s one great truth about life here. Some things we can do almost any time, but some things we will never do, unless we grasp the chance when it comes. We are seized with something that seems important to do, but if we put it off, we say, Oh I’ll do it tomorrow and it never gets done.

This Holy Week resolve to do something that you have put off doing for someone~ an act of kindness or forgiveness, or asking for forgiveness.

Lord Jesus,

help us, too, to live in the present moment as Jesus did

~ not thinking about what comes next.  

Help us to fully give ourselves to the moment we are in,

embracing it, with eyes and ears wide open to it,

putting all other concerns aside.  

For that moment is where life happens;

we may not get another!

And now before you go, here’s the song “Said Judas to Mary. Click here.

And here are today’s Mass readings:  Click here

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of John – Volume 2  Revised Edition / Westminster Press / Philadelphia Pa 1975 / pp. 108-112.

You might like to know that the sourceof spikenard is Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas. It is a source of a type of intensely aromatic amber-colored essential oil, spikenard.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of Jesus ~ He emptied himself becoming utterly poor for us!

Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

March 28, 2021

Dear Friends,

All is ready now for the final days of our Lenten journey with Jesus.   The drama of the Paschal Mystery will  be re-enacted  once again in  parishes throughout the world ~ with limited attendance because  of the Pandemic but people can pick up their blessed palms at some other time, and I’m sure many others will be watching streamed Masses from home as they’ve become accustomed to this past year.

I have loved the liturgy of Holy Week since I was a boy and in this blog I hope I can share that love with you.    We’ll go deep here.  Please take time to reflect.  Come with me now, won’t you?

Jesus entered the holy city Jerusalem on a humble beast of burden ~ himself burdened with the sins of the world.  Here’s the gospel story according to Mark . . .

When Jesus and his disciples drew near to Jerusalem,
to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives,
he sent two of his disciples and said to them,
“Go into the village opposite you,
and immediately on entering it,
you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat.
Untie it and bring it here.
If anyone should say to you,
‘Why are you doing this?’ reply,
‘The Master has need of it
and will send it back here at once.'”
So they went off
and found a colt tethered at a gate outside on the street,
and they untied it.
Some of the bystanders said to them,
“What are you doing, untying the colt?”
They answered them just as Jesus had told them to,
and they permitted them to do it.
So they brought the colt to Jesus
and put their cloaks over it.
And he sat on it.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road,
and others spread leafy branches
that they had cut from the fields.
Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out:
“Hosanna!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!
Hosanna in the highest!” 
 (Mark 11:1-10)

As William Barclay notes, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar I’ve been referencing, what Jesus was about to do was a deliberate, planned action on his part, this would begin the last act in the drama of his life.  The whole city of Jerusalem was awash with visitors in preparation for the Passover.

lambtop

Barclay also notes that thirty years later a Roman governor had taken a census of the number of lambs slain for Passover and noted that number to be about a quarter of a million. Now, Passover regulation stated that a party of a minimum of ten are required for each lamb which meant that there were about two and a half million people in Jerusalem at the time Jesus entered the holy city!

The crowd receives Jesus like a king.  They spread their cloaks in front of him.  They cut down and waved palm branches (and that is why we bless and distribute palms and this day is known universally as Palm Sunday.)

Barclay notes they greeted him as they would a pilgrim, “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.” 

They  shouted, “Hosanna!”  The word means, “Save now!”  as well as “praise.” and that was a cry that a people addressed to their king or their god.   (Interesting ~ I wasn’t aware of that.)

So, we see that Jesus action here was planned and deliberate, similar to those of the prophets of old who would put their message into a dramatic act  that people could not fail  to see or understand.  Jesus action here was clearly a Messianic claim, or at least when a few days later he would be the cleanser of the Temple, an even more dramatic act in which he was to rid the Temple of the abuses that defiled it and its worship.

To conclude, then, Barclay had made three points about this story . . .

+  It shows Jesus’ courage.  He knew he was entering a hostile city.  All through his last days, in his every action is there is a “magnificent and sublime defiance”~”a flinging down the gauntlet.”   

+  It shows us his claim to be God’s Messiah, God’s Anointed One. And the cleanser of the temple.  

+  It shows us his appeal ~ not a kingship of the throne, but a kingship of the heart.

In today’s liturgy, when the procession reaches the altar inside the church, and the people settle into the pews, the mood of the liturgy radically changes . It becomes somber as the ministers at the altar and the congregation prepare for the solemn reading of the long reading of the Passion ~ this year from the Gospel of Mark, that’s usually proclaimed with several voices.  But I’d like to reflect a moment on the New Testament reading from Philippians 2:1-11 that precedes it:

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Johannes Metz wrote a little book Poverty of  Spirit, in which he says . . . 

Have we really understood the impoverishment that Christ endured?

Everything was taken from him during the passion, even the love that drove him to the cross . . .

His heart gave out and a feeling of utter helplessness came over him. Truly he emptied himself . . . He became utterly poor. [Thus] he accepted our humanity, he took on and endured our lot, he stepped down from his divinity.

He came to us where we really are ~ with all our broken dreams and lost hopes, with the meaning of existence slipping through our fingers. He came and stood with us, struggling with his whole heart to have us say ‘yes’ to our innate poverty. [God’s faithfulness] to us is what gives us the courage to be true to ourselves. And the legacy of God’s total commitment to humankind, the proof of God’s fidelity to our poverty, is the Cross.

[The Cross is the sacrament, the sign] that one human being remained true to his own humanity, that he accepted it in full obedience.”

Thus each of us has the opportunity to embrace our poverty, or as I have been saying in Arise for the past two years we have the opportunity to accept whatever brokenness shows up in our own lives and find the treasure buried within. But this goes against the grain for us in American life. We are told to keep up with the Jones’s. And so we strive for power, prestige, possessions.

“Poverty of spirit is the meeting point of heaven and earth,                                                                                                     the mysterious place where God and humanity encounter each other,                                                                               the point where infinite mystery meets concrete existence.”  

And here is my prayer . . . .

 Lord Jesus, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week once again.

We raise our palms,

Lord Jesus, here we are, once again, singing our Hosannas!

We listen to the story of your sacred passion and death.

And now we learn that You really meant it!  

You weren’t just pretending to be human;

You immersed Yourself in our misery,

You got down in the muck with us

~ accepting it all, even death on a cross.  

Jesus, help us to embrace our humility,

our poverty, our brokenness, our share in Your cross.  

May this Holy Week truly be holy for us

so that we too will rise again with You to new life

 the Spirit.  

To You, Lord Jesus, be glory and honor forever! Amen.

 

Before you go, dear friends, here is a section of Handel’s Messiah appropriate for this day “He was despis-ed.”  Click here.  Have a fruitful Holy Week.  I will publish again throughout the week. 

Here are the today’s Mass readings.  Click here. I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire passion story according to Mark.  

Acknowledgements  Johannes Baptist Metz Poverty of Spirit / Translated by John Drury / Paulist Press / New York / Mahwah, NJ / 1968, 1998

William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Mark/ The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

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He became utterly poor for us!

Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ  April 5th, 2020

Dear Friends,

All is ready now for the final days of our Lenten journey with Jesus.   The drama of the Paschal Mystery will  be re-enacted  once again in  parishes throughout the world.  I have loved the liturgy of Holy Week since I was a boy and in this blog I hope I can share that love with you.    We’ll go deep here.  Please take time to reflect.  Come with me now, won’t you? But STOP!

The coronavirus, has nearly brought to a halt the wonder and enjoyment we have always had with Holy Week liturgies. Gone are are the Palm Sunday processions. Gone is the Washing of the Feet at the Solemn Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. Gone is the Veneration of the Holy Cross on Good Friday. Gone is the Blessing of the new fire and procession with the new Easter Candle and the singing of the Exultet on Holy Saturday night. And the baptisms and the welcoming of new candidates into the Church will have to wait until “the All Clear Signal” is promulgated, whenever that will be (and you’ll get your palms then too ~ never fear!) This is all unprecedented, maybe since Wartime or even the Plagues of the Middle Ages and it’s world-wide. Nevertheless, we still have the events, in Jesus’ life to commemorate and this is what this blog is about.

So please join me reverently here and enter into Jesus’s last days as best we can  . . . .

Jesus entered the holy city Jerusalem on a humble beast of burden ~ himself burdened with the sins of the world, Here’s the Gospel story (from Matthew 21:1-11) that (normally precedes the blessing of palms and the procession into the church . . . .

When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem
and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, 
Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, 
“Go into the village opposite you, 
and immediately you will find an ass tethered,
and a colt with her.
Untie them and bring them here to me.
And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, 
‘The master has need of them.’
Then he will send them at once.”
This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet 
might be fulfilled:
Say to daughter Zion,
“Behold, your king comes to you,
meek and riding on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them.
They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, 
and he sat upon them.
The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, 
while others cut branches from the trees 
and strewed them on the road.
The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
And when he entered Jerusalem 
the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?”
And the crowds replied,
“This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

William Barclay, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar I’ve been referencing, notes, what Jesus was about to do was a deliberate, planned action on his part:  this would begin the last act in the drama of his life.

This was not a spur of the moment decision. He had told his disciples exactly where to find the ass and the colt; they were waiting for him.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem. He was to be acknowledged as king. He came humbly riding on an ass. Barclay says we must be careful to see the real meaning of this. In western lands the ass is a despised beast; but in the east the ass could be a noble animal. Often a king came riding into his city upon an ass, indicating that he came in peace. The horse was the mount of war. Jesus showed that he came not to destroy, but to love; not to condemn, but to help, not in the might of arms, but in the strength of love.

The whole city of Jerusalem was awash with visitors in preparation for the Passover at this moment.  Barclay also notes that thirty years later a Roman governor had taken a census of the number of lambs slain for Passover and found the number to be about a quarter of a million. Now, Passover regulations stated that a party with a minimum of ten people were required for each lamb which meant that there were about two and a half million people in Jerusalem at the time Jesus entered the holy city!

The crowd receives Jesus like a king.  They spread their cloaks in front of him.  They cut down and waved palm branches (and that is why we bless and distribute palms and this day is known universally as Palm Sunday.)

They greeted him as they would a pilgrim, Barclay notes: “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.”

They shouted, “Hosanna!”  The word means, “Save now!” and that was a cry that a people addressed to their king or their god.   (Interesting ~ I didn’t know that!)

So, we see that Jesus action here was planned and deliberate, similar to those of the prophets of old who would put their message into a dramatic act that people could not fail to see or understand.  Jesus action here was clearly a Messianic claim, or at least when a few days later he would be the cleanser of the Temple, an even more dramatic act in which he was to rid the Temple of the abuses that defiled it and its worship.

To conclude, then, Barclay had made three points about this story . . .

+  It shows Jesus’ courage.  He knew he was entering a hostile city.  All through his last days, in his every action is there is a “magnificent and sublime defiance” –“a flinging down the gauntlet.”

+  It shows us his claim to be God’s Messiah, God’s Anointed One. And the cleanser of the temple.

+  It shows us his appeal–not a kingship of the throne, but a kingship of the heart.

In today’s liturgy, when the procession reaches the altar inside the church, and the people settle into the pews, the mood of the liturgy radically changes dramatically. It becomes somber as the ministers at the altar and the congregation prepare for the solemn reading of the Passion—this  year from the Gospel of Matthew, that’s usually proclaimed with several voices.  But I’d like to reflect a moment on the New Testament reading from Philippians 2:1-11 that precedes it because it captures the essence of the meaning of this day . . . .

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Johannes Metz wrote a little book Poverty of Spirit, in which he says . . .

Have we really understood the impoverishment that Christ endured?

Everything was taken from him during the passion, even the love that drove him to the cross . . .

His heart gave out and a feeling of utter helplessness came over him. Truly he emptied himself . . . He became utterly poor. [Thus] he accepted our humanity, he took on and endured our lot, he stepped down from his divinity.

He came to us where we really are ~ with all our broken dreams and lost hopes, with the meaning of existence slipping through our fingers. He came and stood with us, struggling with his whole heart to have us say ‘yes’ to our innate poverty. [God’s faithfulness] to us is what gives us the courage to be true to ourselves. And the legacy of God’s total commitment to humankind, the proof of God’s fidelity to our poverty, is the Cross.

[The Cross is the sacrament, the sign] that one human being remained true to his own humanity, that he accepted it in full obedience.”

Thus each of us has the opportunity to embrace our own poverty, or as I have been saying in Arise for the past two years we have the opportunity to accept whatever brokenness shows up in our own lives and find the treasure buried within. But this goes against the grain for us in American life. We are told to keep up with the Joneses. And so we strive for power, prestige, possessions.

“Poverty of spirit is the meeting point of heaven and earth,

the mysterious place where God and humanity encounter each other,

the point where infinite mystery meets concrete existence.”

And now, here’s my prayer . . . .

Lord Jesus, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week once again.

We can’t raise  our palms this year,

But we’re here, trying to be faithful to you as best we can.

We will try to read the story of your sacred passion and death so that we can understand and accept more fully how much you loved us

And now we learn that You really meant it!  

You weren’t just pretending to be human;

You immersed Yourself in our misery,

You got down in the muck with us

~ accepting it all, even death on a cross.  

Jesus, help us to embrace our humility,

our poverty, our brokenness, our share in Your cross.  

May this Holy Week truly be holy for us even if we can’t be there in church this year but  that we too will rise again with You to new life

and receive anew the gift of the Spirit.  

To You, Lord Jesus, be glory and honor forever! Amen.

Before you go, dear friends, here is a beautiful song, The Power of the Cross. Click Here. Be sure to enter full screen. 

Have a fruitful Holy Week.  I will publish again throughout the week. 

Here are the today’s Mass readings. Click here. To get back to this page, go to the top left corner of your computer screen, click on  the  < back arrow, and you’ll be right back here. I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire passion story according to Matthew.  I have also provided you a commentary on this gospel (and also the other readings), if you’d like to reflect on them further. Click here.

Acknowledgements  Johannes Baptist Metz Poverty of Spirit / Translated by John Drury / Paulist Press / New York / Mahwah, NJ / 1968, 1998

William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Matthew- Volume 2          The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 238 – 243.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

My God, why have you forsaken me!!!

Like a sapling he grew in front of us,
Like a root in arid ground…
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering ….
And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings in peace
and through his wound we were healed
–excerpted from Isaiah 53.

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion ~

March 29, 2018

I was blown away by an article I pondered in the volume of Lenten readings that sustain me every year called Bread and Wine. This one is by a German theologian Jurgen Moltmann who was a prisoner of war in WWII. It’s entitled Prisoner of Hope . . . .

The night before the Romans arrested him, Jesus went into the garden of Gethsemane, taking only three of his closest friends with him and “became greatly distressed and troubled” as Mark writes. “My soul is very sorrowful even to death,” he said, and begged his friends to stay awake with him.

Often, Jesus would withdraw at night to pray alone in order to be united with God whom he so intimately called “my Father.” Here, for the first time he doesn’t want to be alone with God. He seeks protection among his friends. Protection from whom?

And then comes the prayer that sounds like a demand, “Father, all things are possible to you, remove this cup from me.”   (Mark 14:16)—spare me this suffering.

Christ’s request is not granted. God, his Father, rejected it. Elsewhere, we are always told “I and the Father are one.” But here Christ’s communion with God breaks down. Christ’s true passion begins with the prayer in Gethsemane that was not heard.

Of course, there was the simple human fear of pain, But Moltmann believes it was a quite different fear that the only begotten Son could be “forsaken’, “rejected”, even “cursed’ by the Father. He’s not afraid for his life. He’s afraid for God and the Father’s kingdom whose joy he had proclaimed to the poor.

This suffering from God himself is the real torment of Christ’s passion. Martin Buber called it the eclipse of God. Who cannot be paralyzed by it? His friends were protected from it by a profound sleep.

Moltmann says the Luther bible heads this chapter with the title The Struggle in Gethsemane. The struggle with whom? Christ’s struggle with himself? His struggle with death? It’s the struggle with God. This was the real agony. He overcame it through his self-surrender.

That was his victory—and our hope.

At the end of Christ’s Passion, on Golgotha, the place of execution, we hear a despairing cry to God . . .

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice ‘Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani

            MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!’”

For three hours he hung nailed to the cross, apparently in silence, locked in agony and waiting for death. And then with this cry, that expresses the most profound abandonment by the God on whom he pinned all his hopes and for whom he was hanging on the cross.

What Christ was afraid of, what he wrestled with in Gethsemane, what he implored the Father to save him from, was not spared him. It happened on the cross. The Father forsook ~ abandoned the Son and “God is silent!” The Son was forsaken by the Father, rejected and cursed, as Professor Moltmann suggests in this article. He bore the judgment in that everyone is alone and in that no one can stand.

(If you’re getting bored with this reasoning—please hang in there! I think you’ll be astonished how it will apply to you personally!)

Is there an answer to why God abandoned him? Is there an answer to the agonizing questionings and disappointment of death: “My God, Why? Why?”

As a priest I know that a real answer to that question cannot be a theoretical answer beginning with the word “Because . . .”. It has to be a practical answer—an answer from experience.

At the center of the Christian faith is the history of Christ’s passion. At the center of the passion is the experience of God endured by the godforsaken Christ. Is this the end of all human and religious hope?

Or is it the beginning of the true hope, because it is the beginning of a life that has death behind it and for which hell is no longer feared!

At the point where men and women lose hope, where they become powerless and can do nothing more, the lonely, assailed and forsaken Christ waits for them and gives them a share in his passion.

The passionately loving Christ, the persecuted Christ, the lonely Christ, the Christ despairing over God’s silence, the Christ who in dying so totally abandoned—for us and for our sakes—is like the brother or friend to whom we can confide, because he knows everything and has suffered everything that can happen to us—and more.

In our hopes about life, in our love in living and our activity, we participate in his passion for the kingdom of freedom

Our disappointments, our loneliness, and defeats don’t separate us from him; they draw us more deeply into communion with him. And with the final unanswered cry, “Why, my God, why?” we join in his death cry and await the resurrection.

This—is what faith really is: believing, not with head or lips or out of habit, but believing with one’s whole life.

Good Friday is the most comprehensive and most profound expression of Christ’s fellowship with every human being.

In him the despair that oppresses us becomes free to hope. The arrogance with which we hinder ourselves and other people melts away, and we become open as vulnerable as he was.

What seemed so meaningless and irreconcilable—our hope and Christ’s cross—belong together as a single whole, just as do the passionate hope for life and the readiness for disappointment, pain and death.

Beneath the cross of Christ hope is born again out of the depths. The person who has once sensed this is never afraid of any depths again. His hope. Has become firm and unconquerable: “Lord, I am a prisoner—a prisoner of hope!”

As I said when I introduced this article, I was blown away by it, and I hope you have been nourished by it as well. It has changed my whole perspective on Good Friday and my own understanding of Christ’s passion and my own participation in it. I will help to deepen your faith.

And now my prayer .  .  .

Dearest Lord,

Today everywhere in the world there are people

who are forsaken, abandoned, alone, afraid, dying, mourning the loss of loved ones. 

And we cry: “Why, God, Why?”   Be with them, Lord. Help us to help them.

And this Good Friday I feel closer to you because of what I’ve read, Lord. 

May it deepen our to faith and strengthen our solidarity with my sisters and brothers. 

Thank you, Lord, because you’ve  did it! It’s done! You saved us. Thank you ever so much!!!  

And now, before you go, here’s the hymn from Bach’s Passion “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” ~ Click here. 

Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are the readings from today’s service of the Word, including the Passion story according to St. John. Click here.

Jurgen Moltmann / “Prisoner of Hope” / Bread and Wine – Readings for Lent and Easter                                                                          Plough Publishing House /  Walden NY / 2003 

 

 

The Sorrowful Mothers of the World

The Sorrowful Mother (The Pieta) – Michelangelo –

In the millennial year of 1500 when he was 24 years old

HOLY WEEK 2018

While I was on my retreat the first week of Lent 2009,  one of my prayer assignments was to sit before a statue of the sorrowful mother.  I have always had a devotion to Mary, the mother of the Lord,  and on that balmy afternoon against the background of the cypress swamp I reflected on all the mothers I have tried to console throughout the forty years of my priesthood.  I record for you now  the prayer which was my journal note for Father Don the next day.  Several of those women mentioned in the prayer are still in my life today.  I dedicate this blog as I remember them with love.

Be sure to read the commentary about the 24-year-old Michelangelo and his first sculpture which follows.  He chiseled his understanding of human grief, tap by tap,  for two years.  It is a magnificent meditation.  Ponder it yourself.  And unite your own prayer to our Lady to his this Holy Week.  There is also a very different image of grief below that I photographed from a book.

Dearest Lady,
mother of Jesus, whose tender love
brought Love Itself into our world,
may those who have never known
the tender embrace
of their own mother’s love
receive the same tender care and  love you wish for each of them. . .
for each of us . . .
as you offered the stern, yet tender love of a Jewish mother upon
Jesus, the Son of God
who was nourished at your tender breasts,
cradled in your arms,
bounced upon your knee;
whose booboo was kissed by your lovely mouth,
whose dead body you received come down from the Cross:
You were the one from whom
Jesus learned the joys of human love.

Dearest Lady,
Simeon said, holding your little Child in his arms,
that a sword would pierce your soul.

Did you have any idea what he meant?
Did you follow Jesus throughout his ministry?
Where you among the women who took care of him
and the others?
If so, where did you stay?
Or did you stay at home in Nazareth?
Did you go out to visit him when you could?
To listen to him preach?

Were you in the midst of the crowds
who pressed around him?
Did you have a chance to be alone with him for a while?
Did you give him any motherly advice?
Did you wash his clothes,
fix his favorite meal when he was on the road?

Did you gain a sense of foreboding as you listened
to the murmurings of hostility beginning to grow toward him?
What did you do with that concern?

I think perhaps you knew.                                                                                                                                                               You could see  where this was going to end,
because you kept all those foreboding things Simeon told you
in your heart.
Sorrow and sadness must have entered your heart
long before that fateful Friday.
But probably not much worry or anxiety because
I think you must have said over and over:
Be it done unto me according to Your word.
Be it done.
Thy will be done.

A mother can never be prepared to lose her son.

Fran, whose son Jimmy died at the hands of a drunk driver;

Chris who loved two children within her belly.

Dearest Lady, I think of  mothers I have known

who’ve watched their children die.

My cousin, Lynda, whose beautiful child Robbie
who bore her father’s and my name
died in a fire at age three.
I don’t think his mother ever got over that sadness.
I think of Marie whose paralyzed son was in prison
who couldn’t find a priest to console her after his wrongful death.

I think, dear Lady, that you unite yourself with other mothers who suffer at the bedside of a sick child.

I think of Monica whose son Andrew died of AIDS;
Rosemarie, whose very popular high school senior John died of a brain tumor,                                                                                                         and wrote a book to work out her grief;
Florence, the mother of my best priest-buddy Phil who died suddenly at age 47.
“What a dirty trick!” she wailed at God;
the woman whose name I have long forgot whose surfer-son drowned in a storm in my first week of priestly ministry;                                                                                                                                                    mothers I’ve known whose sons who couldn’t escape from addiction;                                                                                               Monique whose son despaired and ended his life, leaving his children.

How can any of us really know what a mother must feel
who must outlive her child?

What of all the mothers of the kids shot at Marjory Stoneman High School?

Or the darling little children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut before that? Or at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado twenty years ago next month?

Or the mothers of many black men  who are violated by police like Stephon Clark in Sacramento shot 20 times in his own back yard with only a cell phone in his hand, 

And I think of all the mothers of the world who are condemned to watch their children die of malnutrition.

And the mothers who are being deported by the Trump administration, leaving behind their American-born children.

And terrified mothers try to comfort their children  caught in war-torn countries, especially in Syria.

Dearest Lady,

I have loved you since my boyhood.
I brought you flowers in springtime
to express my devotion.  Still do.
Today, I contemplated the sorrowful image
a sculptor captured in white marble.
When I gazed into the eyes of that chiseled image
for just a moment, I knew what you must have felt,
what my friends must have felt,                                                                                                                                                        what these other mothers must be feeling even now.                                                                                                                 And that moment was gift.
A gift I will always remember.

Dearest Lady,
as you yourself shared in Jesus’ passion,
I ask you to be with all those whose hearts are
broken in sorrow.

Receive today

all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters

on this planet,
born and unborn.
Draw us all into that one great mystery of divine~human love
which is the glory of our Christian faith:
the birth, suffering, death and resurrection
of the son of a young beautiful woman,
Son of God,
our Brother,
our Redeemer.
Our Friend,
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

+ + + + + + +
From: ‘Guide to Saint Peter’s Basilica ‘
This is probably the world’s most famous sculpture of a religious subject.

Michelangelo carved it when he was 24 years old, and it is the only one he ever signed. The beauty of its lines and expression leaves a lasting impression on everyone.

With this magnificent statue Michelangelo has given us a highly spiritual and Christian view of human suffering. Artists before and after Michelangelo always depicted the Virgin with the dead Christ in her arms as grief-stricken, almost on the verge of desperation. Michelangelo, on the other hand, created a highly supernatural feeling.

As she holds Jesus’ lifeless body on her lap, the Virgin’s face emanates sweetness, serenity and a majestic acceptance of this immense sorrow, combined with her faith in the Redeemer. It seems almost as if Jesus is about to reawaken from a tranquil sleep and that after so much suffering and thorns, the rose of resurrection is about to bloom. As we contemplate the Pieta which conveys peace and tranquility, we can feel that the great sufferings of life and its pain can be mitigated.

Here, many Christians recall the price of their redemption and pray in silence. The words may be those of the “Salve Regina” or “Sub tuum presidium” or another prayer. After Peter’s Tomb, the Pieta Chapel is the most frequently visited and silent place in the entire basilica.

It is said that Michelangelo had been criticized for having portrayed the Virgin Mary as too young since she actually must have been around 45-50 years old when Jesus died. He answered that he did so deliberately because the effects of time could not mar the virginal features of this, the most blessed of women. He also said that he was thinking of his own mother’s face, he was only five when she died: the mother’s face is a symbol of eternal youth.

Before you go, here’s the Stabat Mater,  the traditional mourning song to Our Lady. Click Here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. The translation of some of the verses follows.

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.

Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother’s pain untold?

For the sins of His own nation,
She saw Jesus wracked with torment,
All with scourges rent:

She beheld her tender Child,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with thine accord:

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord. 

With Love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

What wondrous love is this?

calvaryHoly Thursday / Good Friday 2017

Dear Friends,

I share with you one of my finest homilies given to the people of St. Bartholomew’s Parish, Miramar, Florida on Good Friday 1992. . . .

(Though this is a long text, it deals with the issue of how to deal with personal pain as well as our faith, so you may find it worth your attention.) 

The Heart of Jesus
(Jesus the Tremendous Lover)

Like a sapling he grew in front of us,
Like a root in arid ground…
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering ….
And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings in peace
and through his wound we were healed
–excerpts from Isaiah 53.

“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this, O my soul?

Jesus is the one who is our tremendous Lover.
He came to live among us to reveal to us, his sisters and brothers, that we have a Father/God who loves us with a Love that is once a passionate, unconditional love and yet gentle, always inviting, never coercing.  Jesus came among us to be our Love, to show the human race how to use the supreme power which God could give us:  the intimate, infinite Love which is ours, if only we would claim it and model our lives after Jesus, who is Love itself.

Jesus was to be for us the model of Love because he was willing to experience in his heart the depths of human emotion.  He risked time and again to embrace the sorrow, the agony, the unfreedom, the need of those who came  to him to be healed.  He risked being burdened by the needs of others.  He risked being disheartened by those who would take from him and not even say thanks.  He risked being misunderstood and rejected  by the authorities of the day and even his neighbors in his hometown.  He risked the pain of realizing that even his closest disciples and friends had narrow vision and missed the main point of his message.

He risked all, and realized that, in spite of the pain and sorrow, in his heart, the soft Voice of the Father within him was asking him to keep going, to risk even more.  To go deeper into his heart and to carve out still more and more places for those he would touch and heal, until one day there would be room in his heart for the whole world.

I doubt that Jesus ever forgot a single individual that he encountered, not even those who oppressed him.  He kept them all in his great heart, remembering them, praying for them, hoping that they would open their hearts to the One who Loved them with a passionate Love — the Father/God of all.  He must have realized how important it was to see and feel the tragedy of the corruption he witnessed among the religious and political leaders of the day, to keep even these things in his heart.   As painful as it was, he hoped that by keeping them there some of the great evil he saw would be disarmed and tamed.

That’s all he could do, after all — absorb the tragedy, the struggle, the sin, the failures in Love of the human race in his great, great heart.  Yes, he healed a few sick and gave the gift of sight to some, but most of all he Loved:  He let people into his heart (that’s the definition of Love, after all:  to let someone into one’s heart)  there to be comforted, if just for a moment. For one brief moment in the heart of the Lord Jesus is enough for any of us.

He had room for young John and impetuous Peter.  And for Judas.  He had room for the outcasts of his day, Zacchaeus and Matthew and Mary Magdalen.  And he brought the outcasts in and seated them at his table  He had room for beggars and lepers and blind people.  And he had room for the Pharisees who broke his heart by their refusal to see and understand.

We remember that he was capable of deep emotion.  He wept profoundly when he saw in prophecy what would happen to Jerusalem because of the hardness of the people’s hearts.  And yet, even the gift of his tears and the greatness of his Love would not stop the destruction that would come because of Israel’s hardness of heart and lack of vigilance.

In the end, he wept in the garden.  I like to believe that his agony was not focused on the trauma he personally was about to endure but because the Father permitted him, in that moment, to experience to the depths the reality of evil and tragedy in the world.  He must have experienced some of the pain and loss that many of us feel when we encounter hardness of heart and misunderstanding.

Jesus embodied the compassion of God — the mercy, the tenderness, the Hesed of God  (to use the wonderful Hebrew word).  God wanted to be known as the Merciful One.  And we, likewise, are instructed to “Be compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate.”

Jesus became for us the “Man of Sorrows”, familiar with suffering” the suffering Servant of Yahweh.  He bore the weight of the world’s refusal to Love and even worse its refusal to be Loved  by the God of Love.  He allowed that evil, that senseless tragedy of the human race, to be absorbed, and thereby redeemed and purified, with his own blood.  In his own bloodstream the cosmic battle between the forces of Love and Hate was waged.  And “his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.”  In him the great cosmic battle was focused.  Our great compassionate God sent his Son to bear within his soul the brunt of that cosmic storm.

We are filled with awe at such overwhelming Love.  And so we honor this evening great, great heart.  But most importantly we should realize that he has become for us Love itself so that we will also might become Love.

The one essential ingredient of the Christian religion is to Love as Jesus has Loved us.  We are to become compassionate as Jesus is compassionate.  We, like Jesus, are called not to be afraid to embrace the suffering, the tragedy, the sin of the world, so that in Love we will join our hearts to his and, as St. Paul says, “to make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”

Perhaps we can say, therefore, that there are two kinds of people in the world — those who are willing to accept their own share of suffering in the world (and a bit more for Jesus’ sake) and those who cannot or will not bear even the suffering caused by their own failures and sins.  The compassionate ones do what they do out of Love, a seemingly foolish Love.  Some Love because they have been opened up to a mystical awareness that they, like Jesus, are making their own soul and body available as an arena for the cosmic drama of interaction between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

I do not pity those who suffer.  I rather pity those who are afraid to suffer.  Out of suffering comes understanding — a larger perspective of the world and with it a practical wisdom that tempers Law and Life with Mercy.  Out of suffering comes the ability to see the face of Christ in even a hardened criminal or a seemingly pitiful alcoholic.

The ability to see, to understand, the inner workings of people’s lives is a gift far greater than the suffering one must endure to attain it.  To-suffer-unto-understanding (a definition of compassion) is to be able to look upon the world as Jesus does as he invites us to do in the Beatitudes. (Of course, a person can suffer without  understanding — especially when we are angry about  and refuse to accept our lot of suffering.  But if we pray faithfully while we suffer, God will most assuredly gift us with  his own very special kind of understanding.)

Understanding is the goal of suffering for those who have eyes to see.  Understanding which sees through the eyes of Jesus.  Understanding allows us the courage to be with Jesus hanging on the Cross and to see what he saw from that perspective.  Understanding allows us the courage to go with Jesus into the bowels of the earth and descend into hell and to see what Jesus saw.  Then, too, understanding allows us to feel what Jesus felt when he was lifted from the grave.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have always had an inner sense that the fastest, most efficient way to handle a crisis was to face it head on — not to avoid it.  And so, I invite you to “go with” the suffering.  Explore it.  Allow yourself to experience the feelings, as painful and confused and frightening as they may be.  The more you fight it, the more you will suffer.  Ask Jesus the Light to lead you through the darkness.  Then have faith and confidence that he will.  (After all, the worst you will experience is what Jesus experienced, as long as you follow the will of God.  (Other persons have suffered more cruel deaths than crucifixion.)  And if you truly want  to follow the will of God and are praying daily, then be assured that God is  leading you.  Take his hand in the darkness and follow ~ even if you can barely see the ground in front of you!

The pain may feel unbearable , and the temptation is to avoid it as long as we can, and, of course, to worry about it.  (I have always found worry most bothersome, like walking around with a pebble in my shoe.  Far easier to bend down and take it out than to walk around with it for years!)  So, too, with suffering.  Even in one of my earlier bouts with emotional and mental suffering, I somehow found myself diving into it to seek its cause.

From what I can see there is always a cause of suffering.  Discovering the cause can often lead to alleviating the suffering.  In fact, the pain oftentimes will be transformed the moment the cause is recognized and diagnosed, so it is to the person’s advantage to stay with it and find out who or what the “bugger” is.  (Perhaps there is an analogy to the oyster who “suffers” an irritation that will eventually through which it may become a pearl of great price.)  If we see the larger picture of reality, seen through the eyes of Christ, some joy and satisfaction and relief will enter our soul.  We will thus be on our way to recovery and new life.

The easiest way through suffering is to stretch out our arms and allow ourselves to be nailed to our cross.  Don’t fight it.  Surrender to the will of God. 

Jesus in his agony on Thursday night saw through the nails in his hands and the crown of thorns on his head to the Resurrection.  He didn’t ignore the Cross; he saw it and the horizon beyond it.

Jesus didn’t focus on the pain.  The pain of the Cross was only a brief moment (which he knew he had the strength to endure) in the history of his lordship presiding over the business of the universe.  So you, too, should not focus on the painful aspects of our life.  Look instead for the cause of the pain.  Look for the reality — the truth!  And remember that Jesus said “the truth shall make you free!”   See as Jesus sees; that is, see and accept the truth.  And leap from your cross as a butterfly leaps from the cocoon and as Jesus leapt from the grave.

“Impossible!” you may say, especially if you have been suffering for years.

“Not so!” says Jesus and the whole company of prophets and martyrs and confessors and virgins.

Ask for strength and you will receive strength.

Ask for guidance and you will be led through the darkness to a point you will recognize.

Ask to understand and Jesus will let you see yourself through his eyes.

But remember! Don’t focus on the pain.  All those gory pictures of Jesus in agony and bloody crucifixes of the past generation, hopefully, are, hopefully, gone for good.

The Cross is the focal point in that we realize the great Love which Jesus has for us and what he personally has done for us.  But one must not forget to look at the horizon beyond the Cross.  The sky on that first Good Friday afternoon undoubtedly was an awesome sight to behold.  The cross, the pain that is our lot in life to endure, is there only to be transformed and transcended.  The cross is but a moment.

Suffering in life is only a means to greater life.   It is not our final lot.  Resurrection is! Glory is!  Triumph is!

Though the paradox is that we must accept our cross totally to be through with it.  We are invited to surrender to our Father in complete abandonment as Jesus did, as if we were to leap off a cliff and know that we will land in the Loving arms of our great God.

A further delusion of spirituality of the past generation is that our reward will not come until the next life.  What is delusional about that is that we fail to realize the kingdom is already inaugurated by Jesus in history by his triumph on the Cross.  Our lives are already illumined  by the light of the resurrection.  And there is no reason that we cannot triumph here and now — if we accept our cross.  And, in fact, I am convinced that it will be Christians bold enough to take up in their hand and in their minds the Cross of Jesus who will lead us in XXI and XXII Centuries, just as this has been true in every age of the Church.

And so, the question that we ponder this holy night is, once again:
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this, O my soul?

And the answer is:  “The great, great Love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who Loved us so much that he stretched out his arms in the most loving, indeed, the most-nonviolent act, the world has ever seen.  He stretched out his arms in the face of his enemies and said from his Cross:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Before I conclude, I’d like to add something I just read this evening by a favorite writer Brennan Manning.  He says this in an article entitled The Signature of Jesus . . . .

Over a hundred years ago in the Deep South a phrase commonplace in our Christian culture was seldom used ~ “Born again.”  Rather, the words used to describe the breakthrough into personal relationship with Jesus Christ were, I was seized by the power of great affection.”  It was a profoundly moving way to indicate both the initiative of almighty God and the explosion within the human heart when Jesus becomes Lord. Seized by the power of great affection was the visceral description of the phenomenon of Pentecost, authentic conversion, and the release of the Holy Spirit.  

Jesus came as the revealer of love. What was cloaked in mystery was revealed in Jesus ~ that God is love. No man or woman has ever loved like Jesus Christ. Therein lies his divinity for me.  

Jesus was seized by the power of great affection and experienced the love of his Father in a way that burst all boundaries of understanding. And it is this Jesus, the wounded Jesus, who provides the final revelation of God’s love. The crucified Christ is not an abstraction but the ultimate answer to how far love will go.

And so I say to you,dear friends and readers . . . .

Come, then adore the Lord who wants to be for us all our Beloved.  Come, then, adore the Lord, the tremendous Lover.  Renew your Love for him and know even more than ever before that it is by the holy Cross that we have been redeemed ~ and thus be seized by the power of great affection ~ the Love of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this?

Now, before you go, here’s Steve Green singing the wonderful Irish melody What Wondrous Love is this? Click Here. Turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

With Love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

The sorrowful mothers of the world

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The Sorrowful Mother (The Pieta) – Michelangelo – in the millennial year of 1500 when he was 24 years old

HOLY WEEK 2017

While I was on my retreat the first week of Lent 2009,  one of my prayer assignments was to sit before a statue of the sorrowful mother.  I have always had a devotion to Mary, the mother of the Lord,  and on that balmy afternoon against the background of the cypress swamp I reflected on all the mothers I have tried to console throughout the forty years of my priesthood.  I record for you now  the prayer which was my journal note for Father Don the next day.  Several of those women mentioned in the prayer are still in my life today.  I dedicate this blog as I remember them with love.

Be sure to read the commentary about the 24-year-old Michelangelo and his first sculpture which follows.  He chiseled his understanding of human grief, tap by tap,  for two years.  It is a magnificent meditation.  Ponder it yourself.  And unite your own prayer to our Lady to his this Holy Week.  There is also a very different image of grief below that I photographed from a book.

Dearest Lady,
mother of Jesus, whose tender love
brought Love Itself into our world,
may those who have never known
the tender embrace
of their own mother’s love
receive the same tender care and  love you wish for each of them. . .
for each of us . . .
as you offered the stern, yet tender love of a Jewish mother upon
Jesus, the Son of God
who was nourished at your tender breasts,
cradled in your arms,
bounced upon your knee;
whose booboo was kissed by your lovely mouth,
whose dead body you received come down from the Cross:
You were the one from whom
Jesus learned the joys of human love.

Dearest Lady,
Simeon said, holding your little Child in his arms,
that a sword would pierce your soul.

Did you have any idea what he meant?
Did you follow Jesus throughout his ministry?
Where you among the women who took care of him
and the others?
If so, where did you stay?
Or did you stay at home in Nazareth?
Did you go out to visit him when you could?
To listen to him preach?

Were you in the midst of the crowds
who pressed around him?
Did you have a chance to be alone with him for a while?
Did you give him any motherly advice?
Did you wash his clothes,
fix his favorite meal when he was on the road?

Did you gain a sense of foreboding as you listened
to the murmurings of hostility beginning to grow toward him?
What did you do with that concern?

I think perhaps you knew.                                                                                                                                                         You could see  where this was going to end,
because you kept all those foreboding things Simeon told you
in your heart.
Sorrow and sadness must have entered your heart
long before that fateful Friday.
But probably not much worry or anxiety because
I think you must have said over and over:
Be it done unto me according to Your word.
Be it done.
Thy will be done.

A mother can never be prepared to lose her son.

Fran, whose son Jimmy died at the hands of a drunk driver;

Chris who loved two children within her belly.

Dearest Lady, I think of  mothers I have known

who’ve watched their children die.

My cousin, Lynda, whose beautiful child Robbie
who bore her father’s and my name
died in a fire at age three.
I don’t think his mother ever got over that sadness.
I think of Marie whose paralyzed son was in prison
who couldn’t find a priest to console her after his wrongful death.

I think, dear Lady, that you unite yourself with other mothers who suffer at the bedside of a sick child.

I think of Monica whose son Andrew died of AIDS;
Rosemarie, whose very popular high school senior John died of a brain tumor,                                                     and wrote a book to work out her grief;
Florence, the mother of my best priest-buddy Phil who died suddenly at age 47.
“What a dirty trick!” she wailed at God;
the woman whose name I have long forgot whose surfer-son drowned in a storm in my first week of priestly ministry;                                                                                                                                                                                   mothers I’ve known whose sons who couldn’t escape from addiction;                                                                           Monique whose son despaired and ended his life, leaving his children.

How can any of us really know what a mother must feel
who must outlive her child?

And I think of all the mothers of the world who are condemned to watch their children die of malnutrition.

And the mothers who are being deported by the Trump administration, leaving behind their American-born children.

And terrified mothers try to comfort their children  caught in war-torn countries, especially in Syria.

Dearest Lady,

I have loved you since my boyhood.
I brought you flowers in springtime
to express my devotion.  Still do.
Today, I contemplated the sorrowful image
a sculptor captured in white marble.
When I gazed into the eyes of that chiseled image
for just a moment, I knew what you must have felt,
what my friends must have felt.
And that moment was gift.
A gift I will always remember.

Dearest Lady,
as you yourself shared in Jesus’ passion,
I ask you to be with all those whose hearts are
broken in sorrow.

Receive today

all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters

on this planet,
born and unborn.
Draw us all into that one great mystery of divine/human love
which is the glory of our Christian faith:
the birth, suffering, death and resurrection
of the son of a young beautiful woman,
Son of God,
our Brother,
our Redeemer.
Our Friend,
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

+ + + + + + +
From: ‘Guide to Saint Peter’s Basilica ‘
This is probably the world’s most famous sculpture of a religious subject.

Michelangelo carved it when he was 24 years old, and it is the only one he ever signed. The beauty of its lines and expression leaves a lasting impression on everyone.

With this magnificent statue Michelangelo has given us a highly spiritual and Christian view of human suffering. Artists before and after Michelangelo always depicted the Virgin with the dead Christ in her arms as grief-stricken, almost on the verge of desperation. Michelangelo, on the other hand, created a highly supernatural feeling.

As she holds Jesus’ lifeless body on her lap, the Virgin’s face emanates sweetness, serenity and a majestic acceptance of this immense sorrow, combined with her faith in the Redeemer. It seems almost as if Jesus is about to reawaken from a tranquil sleep and that after so much suffering and thorns, the rose of resurrection is about to bloom. As we contemplate the Pieta which conveys peace and tranquility, we can feel that the great sufferings of life and its pain can be mitigated.

Here, many Christians recall the price of their redemption and pray in silence. The words may be those of the “Salve Regina” or “Sub tuum presidium” or another prayer. After Peter’s Tomb, the Pieta Chapel is the most frequently visited and silent place in the entire basilica.

It is said that Michelangelo had been criticized for having portrayed the Virgin Mary as too young since she actually must have been around 45-50 years old when Jesus died. He answered that he did so deliberately because the effects of time could not mar the virginal features of this, the most blessed of women. He also said that he was thinking of his own mother’s face, he was only five when she died: the mother’s face is a symbol of eternal youth.

Before you go, here’s the Stabat Mater,  the traditional mourning song to Our Lady. Click Here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. The translation of some of the verses follows.

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.

Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother’s pain untold?

For the sins of His own nation,
She saw Jesus wracked with torment,
All with scourges rent:

She beheld her tender Child,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with thine accord:

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord. 

With Love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

Monday of Holy Week ~ Jesus and Mary’s extravagant love

Monday of Holy Week ~ April 10, 2017

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. ~  (John 12:1-3)

Yesterday we found Jesus mobbed but probably exhilarated by the crowds as he made his entry into the great city to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

This day, Monday, weary from all the excitement and eager once again to be welcomed by his beloved friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus, he makes the short trip to Bethany with his disciples.

Apparently he was expected; a quiet dinner had been arranged and Jesus was to have quite an intimate surprise ~ right there in front of God and everybody. Mary loved Jesus in a special way; Martha seemed to be jealous of her. She got down, washed Jesus dusty, tired, weary bare feet and massaged, soothed, and caressed them.

Suddenly she got up, went to a nearby shelf and got a beautiful alabaster bottle filled with the finest aromatic spikenard.   She broke it open! and the whole house was instantly transformed by its wonderful aroma.

She poured it liberally over the Master’s feet. (And as we know Judas objected strenuously ~ but let’s not bother with that.)

(Permit me this Ignatian-style reflection ~ a bit R-rated.)

3482180199_d2fc3fe367_sA sensual woman caresses a 33-year old man with perfumed oil. The oil squishes down between his toes; it soothes his weary feet. She rubs it in circular motions around the ankles.

Then Mary teases him dripping some, drop / drop on his shins, watching the glistening oil slither down to his feet.

She leans back on her haunches and waits to get his reaction.

He grins, and raises his eyeballs toward the ceiling.

Then she pounces on him and rubs his feet firmly and furiously and backs away again, then just looks at him and smiles.

He returns the gaze, obviously, very pleased, very delighted, very relaxed.

Then she leans forward and begins to dry his feet with her hair!

This process takes a long time.

Oil takes a long to come out, just being dried by hair, as lovely as Mary’s is.

Now, dear friends, you can’t get more sensuous than that!

I wonder.

I wonder what were the thoughts and feelings of the Lord of the universe’s during this most intimate of male ~ female encounters. Perhaps this most unusual, very creative experience might be even as intimate, as soul-connecting as intercourse itself.

I wouldn’t even dare to imagine. I would simply let him have his own thoughts and feelings

The sacred text doesn’t say, but we can intimate from what we already know that Jesus is already very comfortable with Mary who used to sit gaga-eyed at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42.)

Was it sexual? No. But it sure as h- was sensual!

Did he enjoy the experience?

I’m quite sure he did.

Jesus was a whole, integrated man.

Was he embarrassed to have that happen in front of the others? Quite sure not.

He was with people with whom he could “let this hair down,” although Mary probably got a good talkin’ to by her sister in the bedroom later! Jesus, unlike many of us, was not afraid to be himself in any and all circumstances.

That Monday of that of Holy Week two Millennia ago was a day of relaxation for our Lord. He was able to make it a sacrament of the present moment as he put aside concern about the events that lie ahead.

In William Barclay’s commentary on this passage, he has a series of little character sketches.

First, Martha. She loved Jesus, but she was a practical woman and the only way she could show her love was by working with her hands by cooking and serving. She always gave what she could.

Then there’s Mary.  We see three things about her love in this story. We see love’s extravagance. She took the most precious thing she possessed and spent it all on Jesus. We see love’s humility. It was a sign of honor to anoint someone’s head, but she anointed Jesus’ feet.  And then we see love’s unselfconsciousness.  Mary wiped his feet with her hair. In Palestine no woman would appear in public with her hair unbound But That was a sign of an immoral woman.Mary never even thought of that.

But there’s something else here. The house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.  Many Fathers of the Church have seen a double meaning here. That the whole Church was filled with the sweet memory of Mary’s action.

Then there’s the character of Judas. We see Jesus’ trust in Judas. As early as John 6:70, John shows us Jesus was well aware that there was a traitor  within the ranks.  It may be that he tried to touch Judas’ heart by making him treasurer.   And here, in the house of Jesus’ friends, he had just seen an action of surpassing loveliness and he called it extravagant waste. He was an embittered man and took the embittered view of things.

And the scene ends with the mob coming to see Lazarus and the chief priests plotting to kill Jesus.

Lord Jesus,

help us, too, to make our present moments a sacrament.  

Help us to fully give ourselves to the moment we are in,

embracing it, with eyes and ears wide open to it,

putting all other concerns aside.  

For that moment is where life happens.

We may not get another.

And now before you go, here’s the beautiful hymn, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” Click here. 

And here are today’s Mass readings: Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of John – Volume 2  Revised Edition / Westminster Press / Philadelphia Pa 1975 / pp. 108-112.

The King became utterly poor for you and me!

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Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

April 9, 2017

Dear Friends,

All is ready now for the final days of our Lenten journey with Jesus.   The drama of the Paschal Mystery will  be re-enacted  once again in  parishes throughout the world.  I have loved the liturgy of Holy Week since I was a boy and in this blog I hope I can share that love with you.    We’ll go deep here.  Please take time to reflect.  Come with me now, won’t you?

Jesus entered the holy city Jerusalem on a humble beast of burden ~ himself burdened with the sins of the world, Here’s the Gospel story that precedes the blessing of palms and the procession into the church . . . .

When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem
and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, 
Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, 
“Go into the village opposite you, 
and immediately you will find an ass tethered,
and a colt with her.
Untie them and bring them here to me.
And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, 
‘The master has need of them.’
Then he will send them at once.”
This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet 
might be fulfilled:
Say to daughter Zion,
“Behold, your king comes to you,
meek and riding on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them.
They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, 
and he sat upon them.
The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, 
while others cut branches from the trees 
and strewed them on the road.
The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
And when he entered Jerusalem 
the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?”
And the crowds replied, 
“This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

William Barclay, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar I’ve been referencing, notes, what Jesus was about to do was a deliberate, planned action on his part:  this would begin the last act in the drama of his life.

This was not a spur of the moment decision. He had told his disciples exactly where to find the ass and the colt; they were waiting for him.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem. He was to be acknowledged as king. He came humbly riding on an ass. Barclay says we must be careful to see the real meaning of this. In western lands the ass is a despised beast; but in the east the ass could be a noble animal. Often a king came riding into his city upon an ass, indicating that he came in peace. The horse was the mount of war. Jesus showed that he came not to destroy, but to love; not to condemn, but to help, not in the might of arms, but in the strength of love.

The whole city of Jerusalem was awash with visitors in preparation for the Passover at this moment.  Barclay also notes that thirty years later a Roman governor had taken a census of the number of lambs slain for Passover and found the number to be about a quarter of a million. Now, Passover regulations stated that a party with a minimum of ten people were required for each lamb which meant that there were about two and a half million people in Jerusalem at the time Jesus entered the holy city!

The crowd receives Jesus like a king.  They spread their cloaks in front of him.  They cut down and waved palm branches (and that is why we bless and distribute palms and this day is known universally as Palm Sunday.)

They greeted him as they would a pilgrim, Barclay notes: “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.” 

They shouted, “Hosanna!”  The word means, “Save now!” and that was a cry that a people addressed to their king or their god.   (Interesting ~ I didn’t know that!)

So, we see that Jesus action here was planned and deliberate, similar to those of the prophets of old who would put their message into a dramatic act that people could not fail to see or understand.  Jesus action here was clearly a Messianic claim, or at least when a few days later he would be the cleanser of the Temple, an even more dramatic act in which he was to rid the Temple of the abuses that defiled it and its worship.

To conclude, then, Barclay had made three points about this story . . .

+  It shows Jesus’ courage.  He knew he was entering a hostile city.  All through his last days, in his every action is there is a “magnificent and sublime defiance” –“a flinging down the gauntlet.”

+  It shows us his claim to be God’s Messiah, God’s Anointed One. And the cleanser of the temple.

+  It shows us his appeal–not a kingship of the throne, but a kingship of the heart.

In today’s liturgy, when the procession reaches the altar inside the church, and the people settle into the pews, the mood of the liturgy radically changes dramatically. It becomes somber as the ministers at the altar and the congregation prepare for the solemn reading of the Passion—this  year from the Gospel of Matthew, that’s usually proclaimed with several voices.  But I’d like to reflect a moment on the New Testament reading from Philippians 2:1-11 that precedes it because it captures the essence of the meaning of this day . . . .

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Johannes Metz wrote a little book Poverty of Spirit, in which he says . . .

Have we really understood the impoverishment that Christ endured?

Everything was taken from him during the passion, even the love that drove him to the cross . . .

His heart gave out and a feeling of utter helplessness came over him. Truly he emptied himself . . . He became utterly poor. [Thus] he accepted our humanity, he took on and endured our lot, he stepped down from his divinity.

He came to us where we really are ~ with all our broken dreams and lost hopes, with the meaning of existence slipping through our fingers. He came and stood with us, struggling with his whole heart to have us say ‘yes’ to our innate poverty. [God’s faithfulness] to us is what gives us the courage to be true to ourselves. And the legacy of God’s total commitment to humankind, the proof of God’s fidelity to our poverty, is the Cross.

[The Cross is the sacrament, the sign] that one human being remained true to his own humanity, that he accepted it in full obedience.”

Thus each of us has the opportunity to embrace our own poverty, or as I have been saying in Arise for the past two years we have the opportunity to accept whatever brokenness shows up in our own lives and find the treasure buried within. But this goes against the grain for us in American life. We are told to keep up with the Joneses. And so we strive for power, prestige, possessions.

“Poverty of spirit is the meeting point of heaven and earth,

the mysterious place where God and humanity encounter each other,

the point where infinite mystery meets concrete existence.”

And now, here’s my prayer . . . .

Lord Jesus, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week once again.

We raise our palms,

Lord Jesus, here we are, once again, singing our Hosannas!

We listen to the story of your sacred passion and death.

And now we learn that You really meant it!  

You weren’t just pretending to be human;

You immersed Yourself in our misery,

You got down in the muck with us

~ accepting it all, even death on a cross.  

Jesus, help us to embrace our humility,

our poverty, our brokenness, our share in Your cross.  

May this Holy Week truly be holy for us

so that we too will rise again with You to new life

and receive anew the gift of the Spirit.  

To You, Lord Jesus, be glory and honor forever! Amen.

Before you go, dear friends, here is a beautiful song, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Click here. Be sure to enter full screen. 

Have a fruitful Holy Week.  I will publish again throughout the week. 

Here are the today’s Mass readings. Click here. To get back to this page, go to the top left corner of your computer screen, click on  the  < back arrow, and you’ll be right back here. I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire passion story according to Luke.  I have also provided you a commentary on this gospel (and also the other readings), if you’d like to reflect on them further. Click here.

Acknowledgements  Johannes Baptist Metz Poverty of Spirit / Translated by John Drury / Paulist Press / New York / Mahwah, NJ / 1968, 1998

William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Matthew- Volume 2                                                                                 The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 238 – 243.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

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