Monday in Holy Week

He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.
                               -Isaiah 42
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I am glad that something has gone haywire with my email account, at least for the moment. Because the email from Universalis with the daily Mass readings hasn’t arrived, I visited the site for Lauds and the Mass readings. A few lines into the Benedictus, I thought, this is a strange translation of the Benedictus. And then I remembered why I like this “strange” translation so much:
Through the bottomless mercy of our God,
  one born on high will visit us
to give light to those who walk in darkness,
  who live in the shadow of death;
  to lead our feet in the path of peace.
The heart of our salvation is this, “the bottomless mercy of our God,” whose coming among us we remember in a distinct way this week. God chose this bizarre way to save us, this way that seems so foolish and un-God-like. Gregory of Nyssa contended with those who thought the Incarnation and the Passion were wholly unworthy of God. But it shows God’s infinite mercy spectacularly. It is that “bottomless mercy” that inspires the way of the Lord’s coming to “visit us.”
“He does not break the crushed reed/nor quench the wavering flame.” Indeed not. Instead, God opts to be crushed, though Isaiah insists that “he will neither waver nor be crushed until true justice is established on the earth.” So the One who cannot be crushed is crushed (Isaiah 53), and so true justice is established on the earth; and we are not crushed, but saved. 
And so all of our Lenten practice comes down to this, this week, in which we remember that all our endeavors to join the Lord in his suffering serve not to crush us, but to prepare us to receive him once again in his mercy–bottomless mercy!–at Easter. 
 Deo gratias.
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Good Friday

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
                          (Isaiah 53: 4)
…my kingship is not from this world.
                           (John 18.36)
Abba Hyperichus said, “The watchful monk works night and day to pray continually: but if his heart is broken and lets tears flow, that calls God down from heaven to have mercy.”
*            *           *
That’s what today is about: he has “carried our sorrows.”  On the cross, Jesus takes on all the sorrows of the fallen creation, of fallen human creatures. And Mark’s gospel records Jesus’ call from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So cries the broken heart for the God who alone can heal. But Jesus’ broken heart calls God down from heaven to have mercy on us all. His heart is the one heart that can break for the whole world and so heal the whole world.
When we are broken hearted over our own sins, when we feel that grief, we participate in Jesus’ grief on the cross: he took our sorrows, our grief, and now we only experience it properly as we participate in him. 

Friday of the fifth week of Lent

In my distress I called upon the Lord,
and cried out to my God;
from his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.
Psalm 18 [17]: 7
 
Jesus said… “…the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” Then they tried again to arrest him, but he escaped from their power.
John 10
 
 
. . .
 
This is, perhaps, the most difficult of all aspects of asceticism: calling on God in the face of temptation. We want to overcome it easily, on our own, or to give in. To look temptation in the face and say, as Jeremiah does, “the Lord is with me like a mighty champion,” and to call on God for help, is slightly less attractive as an option. We then can claim no special achievement, as Amma Sarah testifies: “It is not I who overcame [lust], but the Lord Jesus”—nor can we enjoy the pleasure of succumbing to the temptation, however fleeting.
 
No, it is decidedly unheroic, unromantic, simply to say “help!” and find ourselves, like the monk in one of the sayings of the desert fathers, on the road back to the monastery. There are no brave stories then for us to tell our sisters and brothers. We can say no more than the psalmist who writes, “In my distress, I called upon the Lord…and my cry to him reached his ears.”
 
In theory—that is, in the moments in which we are not beset by temptation, this appears to be the best way. Praise God alone, of course, because the victory belongs to God and not to us. We know that it is God who protects us, God who assures us in the valley of the shadow of death, God who makes our way blameless, God who makes us rise up on wings like eagles. All this we know and we celebrate it. That is, after all, what the Mass is about: the victory of God in Christ over sin and death, closing the unbridgeable gap between God and God’s created image, humanity. We know that we did not, cannot, achieve victory over sin.
 
But when it confronts us, in all the small ways it confronts us in our daily lives, we forget to turn to the One who made us, in whom we live and move and have out beings and say, perhaps, ‘I believe; help my unbelief.’ Help me to resist this sin; help me to cling to Jesus; help me to walk in those good works you have prepared for me. For the Lord is with us like a mighty champion; our persecutors will stumble; they will not triumph.