"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

30-Day Lockdown Retreat Journey: Sacred Pain (DAY 21)

Saint Macarius of Ghent
Giving Aid to the Plague Victims
c. 1673 by Jacob van Oost the Elder
(This quote comes from the Jewish Publication Society, an excellent translation of the Old Testament.)

Today is Day 21 of the whole community retreat in light of the lockdown.

Point Of Departure: The Word Made Flesh A History of Christian Thought by Margaret R. Miles, Blackwell Publishing, 2005)

This day is Day of the Passion of Jesus, which is the heart of our Palm Sunday celebration. I would like to talk about "sacred pain" and its religious uses.

Ariel Glucklich's Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the sake of the Soul (2001) tells us that "sacred pain" is a cross-cultural phenomenon. According to him most modern Western societies have veered away from recognized "uses" of pain. The discovery of anesthetics and the medicalization of pain has taught modern humans to avoid and eradicate pain at all cost. This is an important theme to pray during a pandemic because no matter how advanced we have become in managing pain we realized we have not totally escaped pain. If other parts of creation go through pain and death, we humans being part of the ecosystem are not immune to pain and death. Glucklich writes that "sacred pain" or "good pain" is transformative rather than destructive. Let us draw strength from the mystics during the medieval period when they saw value in pain, e.g., self-flagellation, fasting, abstinence.

I recall a medieval saying which speaks of three books by which we are guided spiritually: the Book of books or the Bible, the book of nature and the book of the deep self. The most misunderstood mystic, Meister Eckhart, considers the third, the book of the deep self, as the most privileged access to God. During difficult times like a pandemic, this book opens before us and we can choose either to reckon with the self or not. What I have been feeling this past weeks of the lockdown is as if I am a newly born "self" that learns again the ways of a world with its new set of rules—like a computer that changed to an unfamiliar operating system. All the familiar activities have been either stripped off or restricted and I feel my cup has been emptied.
Do not imagine that God is like a carpenter who works or not, just as He pleases, suiting His own convenience. It is not so with God, for when He finds you ready, He must act... God may not leave you void. That is not God's nature. He could not bear it. (Sermon 4, Meister Eckhart)
Twenty-one-year-old Jorge Bergoglio had a severe pneumonia. He was diagnosed to have three cycts and when he recovered he underwent an operation to excise the upper part of his right lung. One advice that brought him peace and stuck with him was what Sr. Dolores (a nun who prepared him for First Communion) told him, "You are imitating Christ." After recalling his struggles between life and death, Pope Francis said, "Pain is not a virtue in itself, but you can be virtuous in the way you bear it. Our life's vocation is fulfilment and happiness, and pain is a limitation in that search. Therefore, one fully understands the meaning of pain through the pain of God made Christ." (Pope Francis His Life in His Own Words: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio by Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin, pp. 21-25.)

The coming weeks or months will be painful and agonizing precisely because of the stripping of all that is not our true selves. The dreaded virus has transformed a familiar world into a wilderness of sort—a wasteland. There is no exit. Dr. Bruce Aylward was part of a World Health Organization (WHO) team that went to China last January 2020 when the outbreak began. Let me quote what he answered when asked, "Will coronavirus ever go away?" He said,
"The virus is just going to sit you out, right? It will just circulate quietly among households, etc. And then you are going to let them all go again. There is no reason it shouldn't take off again, unless you are ready for it... That's nature. This is a biological process. They don't run like clockwork. There is great variability... This will end, you know, in humanity being victorious over yet another virus. There is no question about that. The question is how much and how fast we will take the measures necessary to minimize the damage that this thing can do... it is going to take great cooperation and patience from the general population to play their part."
Dr. Aylward turns the table towards all of humanity for at the end of the day the lot of this virus is up to our decisions and painful sacrifice. This reminds me of what Pope Francis said in Laudato Si' that, "There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself" (LS 118).

Grace To Beg For: To ask for what I desire. Here it will be for grief, deep feeling and confusion because it is for my sins that the Lord is going to his Passion.

Opening Song

Word Of God: (See full text below)

1. Matthew 27:11–54  (The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ)

Questions and Considerations To Ponder:

We start our spiritual exercise keeping in mind the grief and confusion that we may already have because of the current crisis. Our Lord is going to his Passion and chooses to do so because he loves us. Let us beg for the grace to continue following the Lord even if the path becomes harsher and darker. We find this in St. Ignatius' meditation on the Call of the Eternal King:

"Eternal Lord of all things, in the presence of Thy infinite goodness, and of Thy glorious mother, and of all the saints of Thy heavenly court, this is the offering of myself which I make with Thy favour and help. I protest that is my earnest desire and my deliberate choice, provided only it is for Thy greater service and praise to imitate thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life." (SE 98)

Every home is a Tabernacle in the wilderness: A place to "meet with God"

In the wilderness, Moses had been shown the pattern for the Tabernacle. There the people were to gather to "meet with God." And over it hovered the Presence of the cloud by day and the fire by night. At the center of this big tent complex was the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was placed. Above it resided the Presence. (A Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide: Reaching Out To God In The Lost Language Of Lament by Michael Card, NavPress 2005)

In this time of the pandemic, what part of yourself are you unable to offer to God in your meeting with Him?

How does this pandemic compare to being in the "wilderness"? List down what comes to you. Remember that this is your unique journey into the wilderness and to meet up with God there. Make a colloquy or a conversation with God about the reality of "pain" or suffering.

By custom, it's time to cover all statues, crosses, and icons with purple cloth (feel free to make adjustments). Think of doing this as a form of fasting, this time from sacred images. Their absence now makes their return on Easter Sunday a more powerful source of joy. (Meredith Gould: The Catholic Home Celebrations and Traditions for Holidays, Feast Days, and Every Day. p. 69)

The Jesus Prayer

I have been recommending to my retreatants to pray The Jesus Prayer when they find it hard to pray for in its simplicity it gives a profound effect. This prayer originated among the Desert Fathers, who went into the wilderness of Egypt sometime around the fifth century. St. Climacus recommended that we "glue" the name of Jesus to our breathing. I came across this prayer through The Way of a Pilgrim, which was written by an anonymous Russian author in his desperate search for God.

The prayer is done by breathing continually the words: "Lord Jesus Christ. Have mercy on me."

Inspiration: Breath in and utter very softly through your lips: "Lord Jesus Christ." Hold your breath for a few seconds.

Expiration: Breath out and similarly utter through your lips: "Have mercy on me." Hold for a few seconds and then repeat until the prayer runs on its own spontaneously as breath without voluntary effort on our part. Notice the calmness of your body and mind as you contemplate Jesus' Presence.

Prayer Requests:
You can email request for prayers for the dead (Name—RIP) using 8thworkermercy@bloggercom—there is a DOT between 8thworker and mercy. It is restricted so that only me as blog author can read it. Others will NOT be able to read any email; instead they will get a message stating that this is private. We will offer your intentions during our regular 6:30AM Masses in our community of Jesuit priests and novices.

P.S. Feel free also to include the names of all who are sick (Name—Get well soon).

Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

Matthew 27:11–54

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus stood before the governor, Pontius Pilate, who questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?” But he did not answer him one word, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
  Now on the occasion of the feast the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had assembled, Pilate said to them, “Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas, or Jesus called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed him over. While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him.” The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas but to destroy Jesus. The governor said to them in reply, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They answered, “Barabbas!” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” But he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” They only shouted the louder, “Let him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.” And the whole people said in reply, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified.
  Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.
  As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross.
  And when they came to a place called Golgotha —which means Place of the Skull—, they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall. But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink. After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And they placed over his head the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and the other on his left. Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, and come down from the cross!” Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing him in the same way.
  From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.” But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.
  Here all kneel and pause for a short time.
  And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”