Father Robert Elias, OCD: The truth of the cross

1 Cor: 15:54-58

Brothers and sisters:
When this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility
and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality,
then the word that is written shall come about:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters,
be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord,
knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Basilica grounds, Iria de Cova Fatima. Photo credit, The Speakroom

Saints John of the Cross and Saint Teresa loved the Gospel of John as the most contemplative gospel and as one written by a friend of the Lord who contemplated His life, and the mysteries he had experienced in his encounter with Christ.

St. John the evangelist is symbolically represented as the eagle, the bird that flies the highest and a most majestic creature. Eagles soar at the highest altitudes and can see the furthest. This is symbolic of St. John’s soul as the beloved, the divine, the theologian. He is not just someone who is smart, but someone who has a heart knowledge of God and has been enlightened to penetrate the understanding of God as God.

This knowledge comes, not just through intellectual reasoning, but through a deep love which prepares the way to revelation, and opens the gates for God’s glory to come upon us so that we can come to know God through the depths of our hearts.

This divine intimacy is true theology – St. John is a true spiritual master in his relationship with God through a life of hope, faith, and love.

In Luke Chapter 6, one of the themes was that no disciple is greater than the master. [“No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher”] (Luke 6: 40).

In this gospel, we see an iconography, as we see in the iconographies in the Eastern Churches, where it is difficult to distinguish Jesus from the apostles among the written images. Why? This shows that true friends of God begin to look like the Master and to radiate the Master because God has been en-fleshed in their lives.

St. Symeon the New Theologian [949-1022 AD] was a mystic of fire and light, of the Divine Word. The eternal Word of God became flesh through the ‘Yes’ of Mary and was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. St. Symeon points out that though the whole of creation and the world came into being through Christ, the Holy Spirit did not take on a humanity as Jesus did. However, the Holy Spirit’s manifestation becomes flesh, is incarnate, in the lives of the saints, who are the hypostasis [the fundamental reality and substance] of the Holy Spirit.

This is the mystical life of grace that St. John and St. Teresa talks about, which is best reflected in the Gospel of John. [In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be] (John 1:1-3).

In John 14-17, Jesus gives his Farewell Discourse to his disciples and tells them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me” (John 14:1) and “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Jesus is preparing his disciples for His departure and is building their spirits before they are to face seeing their Savior being crucified – in order to root them to be stable amidst the storm on the way. This final discourse is given in the context of The Last Supper.

Just before this, Jesus gives his Bread of Life Discourse, when He says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6: 35). Thus, the anchor of hope and strength for perseverance is found in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

John’s understanding of who Christ is has to be balanced with our experience of the cross in our lives, and the wisdom and power of God working through that cross. St. Paul boasts in the cross of Christ in Galatians 6:14 when he says, “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He again exclaims that the cross is the wisdom and power of God in First Corinthians, Chapter 1.

Archbishop Sheen has said that before we can have wine and bread at our altar, it had to first be found in the fields of grapes and wheat, which start off as seeds until they mature to bring about a new kind of life. The wheat and the grapes must then be crushed and destroyed before they can become bread and wine.  These external forms, regardless of a priests holiness or not, becomes Jesus present in the Sacrament – body, blood, soul, and divinity – in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

In the same way, interiorly we will feel crushed. But out of that, God brings transformation, something better than before. From death emerges new life, just as the grapes and wheat takes a new life, the life of Christ.

Death to self leads to conversion; in the midst of death is hidden a victory and that victory is that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and I couldn’t have accomplished this victory on my own. Only God could’ve done it, using external instruments to bring about the chiseling of a masterpiece from the marble. Only He can make a masterpiece out of the mess.

Life will emerge from the cross. We need to face this truth head-on and we will have to face the cross. Yet the cross is God’s instrument for metamorphosis, where the soul can become divine, and our humanity becomes united to Christ in the Holy Spirit. In today’s second reading in First Corinthians, Saint Paul says, ‘Oh death, where is your sting? O death where is your victory?’ This miracle of life despite death cannot happen without the cross.

The truth of the cross passes the test of time and experience. I have found tremendous consolation in this truth, which has helped me in the deserts and steep mountains that I have had to cross and climb. With each new difficulty, I remind myself of these truths and am able to draw vitality – like an umbilical cord, my source of life – from the heart of God, to be able to pick up my cross, knowing that Jesus makes all things new — and I am able to keep going.

There’s a lot of power when we profess the truth of God in our lives because the enemy will try to provoke fear and frustrations subtly to master our emotions. Once we realize that ‘I’m being worked on here by the enemy’ and that ‘He is attacking my woundedness to keep me stuck,’ once I realize this, I have to make a choice.

Stand on the rock foundation to squash the lies and renounce them in Jesus’s name, professing Christ’s truths – ‘I am with you always’ …‘Peace be with you’ – the words of Christ come from the Word made flesh, and His words are our inheritance

When you do this, something deep inside of you that wasn’t there before will grow and erupt because you made an act of faith. Truth is what strengthens faith – not feelings. That act of faith allows Jesus to manifest.

Only God can tell us who we are, and it is our prayer that throws light on previously unexamined parts of our souls. All falsehood becomes more apparent as we ground ourselves in the truth.

Sometimes, when we have been given enough tools of faith to face a challenge, it feels like we are alone to fend for ourselves, especially in the beginning, during the Purgative Way, and much later in our spiritual journey, during the Dark Night of the Spirit. In these times, we are aware only of our own capacity to sin, the rawness of our fallen condition, and how broken our humanity is.

This darkness exposes the roots of our condition for healing by the Divine Physician. He is healing us at our core – as we will the good despite what we feel, freeing us from attachments, all aspects of our false selves, our idols, and the chains that we weren’t even aware we relied on – all through prayer.

Contemplation is openness to God’s love, even though His ways come in ways that feel dark and we experience loneliness. Yet His transforming love is working.

John’s gospel and his other writings don’t wallow in suffering –they are victorious. Night is a truer guide than the day. God works His greatest miracles because of the cross and not through the periods of consolation.

The flame that once burned and cauterized will one day bring healing. Carmel testifies that God’s love is always present in the debris of life, and only faith can give us the eyes to see this.

SOURCE: March 2019, Secular Discalced Carmelite community meeting, Santa Clara, CA

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