Monday, July 6, 2020

FOLLOW THE REDEEMER


         Follow me

It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done
To be so in love with you and so alone

 Follow me where I go
 what I do and who I know
 Make it part of you
 to be a part of me
 Follow me up and down
 all the way and all around
 Take my hand
 and say you’ll follow me

 It’s long been on my mind
 You know it’s been a long, long time
 I’ve tried to find the way that I can make
 you understand
 The way I feel about you and just how
 much I need you
 To be there where I can talk to you
 When there’s no one else around

 Follow me where I go what I do and
 who I know
 Make it part of you to be a part of me
 Follow me up and down all the way and
 all around
 Take my hand and say you’ll follow me

 You see I’d like to share my life with you
 And show you things I’ve seen
 Places that I’m going to places where
 I’ve been
 To have you there beside me and never
 be alone
 And all the time that you’re with me
 We will be at home

 Follow me where I go what I do and
 who I know
 Make it part of you to be a part of me
 Follow me up and down all the way
 Take my hand and I will follow you

John Denver

The Third Sunday of July is the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer: the official title of the Order of the Redemptoristines and the Congregation of the Redemptorists.  It is always a day of celebration.  And music is always part of the celebration. Recently I heard the John Denver song, ‘Follow Me’ on the radio. I love that song. It took me back to my younger days.  I found myself humming it the next few days.  When I reflected on why it touched me so, I realized the refrain of the song: ‘Follow me, where I go, what I do, and who I know, make it part of you to be a part of me. Follow me up and down all the way and all around.  Take my hand and say you’ll follow me,’ was an invitation to follow Jesus. 

Also touching is the introduction to that song.  He sings, ‘It is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to be so in love with you and so alone.’  I always thought he was saying, ‘for so long.’     But either way it gave me pause because it speaks to me of the call to fidelity in life.   When I reflected on the song as a whole it seemed it could be a dialogue between two lovers. Which one is ‘so alone’? 

To me, it sounds like both; it is hard for each one to be in love and longing for the other, wanting to ‘make it part of you to be a part of me’ and trying to figure out how, despite difficulties, to find a way to be together. The last line of the song resolves the situation by one surrendering to the other.  Before, one was saying to the other ‘take my hand and say you’ll follow me’ but now the one says, ‘Take my hand and I will follow you. 

The invitation to follow in any relationship, including our relationship with God, always comes with a call to surrender.  Even Jesus, the Man-God, surrendered his life to the Father – think of Jesus in the Garden saying, ‘Not as I will but as you will.’ Lk 22: 42   Jesus gave his all for love – love for God and love for you and me. 


Being visual person, an image came to my mind to illustrate this invitation to follow Jesus.   The statue in front of our monastery in Foggia, Italy is entitled, ‘The Wayfarer;’ one of Blessed Celeste’s favorite titles for our Holy Redeemer.  The statue of the Wayfarer portrays Jesus standing there with arms outstretched.  What does his stance say to me, to you?

To me it looks like he is about to place his hands around my shoulder, and on the shoulder of who ever is on the other side: you, you, you…each one of you. That made me think of a yoke; as in Jesus saying, ‘Come to me all who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest, take up my yoke and learn for me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.’  Mt. 11:28   Earlier in July we heard this Gospel read on Sunday.  From it I heard an invitation.

I reflected on the image of the yoke. I’ve only seen pictures of a yoke of oxen. The yoke is a curved piece of wood that fits over the shoulders of two draft animals so they can work together.  That is what Jesus is like: He is the yoke that holds us together and guides our lives in a gentle manner; not by force but by love and an invitation to go with him, follow him.

Jesus, the Wayfarer was the love of Celeste’s life! She followed him in her own time and place. Our call, as Redemptoristine Nuns, and yours, is the same.  Our constitutions say, ‘The more we strive to live the love of Christ, the more the thoughts and feelings of Christ will fill our spirit and our heart, the more we will become His faithful images and the more also we will be able to be true witnesses of the love of Him who is our Beginning and our End, our Way and our Life.’  (Associate Constitutions #5)

Like Celeste, let us each be a ‘Viva Memoria,’ the living memory of Jesus the Wayfarer/ the Redeemer to be a participant in God’s loving plan of redemption.
Do you hear the invitation?
Follow me where I go
What I do and who I know;
Make it part of you to be a part of me.
Follow me up and down all the way
Take my hand and I will follow you.

Monday, March 9, 2020

CHRIST'S TRANSFIGURATION IS OUR TRANSFORMATION


Every year, a version of the Transfiguration Gospel is read on the Second Sunday of Lent.  This year it is from St. Matthew.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.  And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.  Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”  When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”  And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.  Matt 17:1-9

This Gospel happens just six days after Jesus told his disciples to ‘Take up your cross, and follow me.’ and ‘You will see the Son of Man come in the glory of His Father.’   I always want to know what the disciples were thinking during those six days.  I wonder if the disciples ever really understood what Jesus told them was going to happen to him as they were bumbling toward Jerusalem.   Because they were thick headed, God had to pull out all the stops and show the disciples who Jesus really is.  
Jesus appears all resplendent, glorious in appearance.   It dawns on the disciples that this Jesus whom they have been following, is not just any ordinary man, despite all the healings and the multiplication of loaves and fishes.  

And Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah!  How can they explain that? 
Is Jesus from all eternity?

Then a Voice spoke from the cloud. Seeing Jesus bright and shiny wasn’t enough.  Imagine the disciples awe at first seeing a glorified Jesus and the prophets, and then the terror of a voice thundering from the bright cloud enveloping them.  It must have seemed that God, enthroned on his cloud of glory, came down to tell them, ‘You guys just aren’t getting it.’   “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

This is the second time Matthew writes this saying, the first time being at the Baptism of the Lord, but this second time God adds, “Listen to him.”     

The glory of the transfigured Jesus: face like the sun, clothes white as light; and a Voice in the bright enveloping cloud would sure make me believe that Jesus is One with the Father from all eternity.  
Then there is the little bit at the end where it says, ‘…they saw no one, but Jesus alone.’  This reminds me of Bl. Celeste who says, ‘…fix your gaze on this God-made-Man...’

Then the Gospel ends with, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’  Thank goodness that’s over.  Everything is back to normal.   But is it?

What is Transfiguration?  Transfiguration is a complete change of form or appearance into a more resplendent state.  In Jesus’ case, his transfiguration shows his glorious, resurrected state and Oneness with the Father.

What, then, is transformation?  Transformation is a process of change of appearance or character. 

Where do we come in all of this?

Jesus’ transfiguration happened in an instant. The veil between heaven and earth parted for a moment revealing the Son of God.
Our transformation takes a little longer.  We are all a work in progress.   My sister, Theresa, and I were joking that we were both late bloomers.  I said, “I still have a lot of blooming to do.”  I think we all feel that way at times simply because life is a process. 

But what do we want to become?  Be transformed into what?  And why do we want to be transformed?

I dug around Blessed Maria Celeste’s writing and found some advice. 
Warning: For our purpose, I changed pronouns and edited Bl. Celeste writings, arranging her thoughts for us to better understand her meaning.  As I’ve said before at other times, Celeste can be quite verbose.

Simply put Celeste says, “So that you might enable Jesus to be reborn to the world in the souls of all his dear ones.”    Clearly, this means that our transformation is not for our sake only, but for the salvation of our sisters and brothers.

How can this happen?  We sound like Mary questioning Gabrielle at the Annunciation.

God tells Celeste, “I have given you, out of immense love, my Only Begotten Son, and by Him I have given you my divine Spirit to make you divine in life…  The Spirit transforms us and changes us into a new creature in God by stamping on your spirit the features, the virtues of Christ’s life.”

Then Celeste shares mystical experiences that helped her transform into her Beloved.  She says, “The phrase recited at the Creed of the Mass, ‘consubstantial with the Father,’ was pronounced in the center of my soul, and I understood that God-Man’s virtues should regulate all the actions of my life.

“Of all the times of my life, the most precious were the sacramental communions... At Holy Communion the Lord caused me to feel transformed into Jesus: in a divine light, I felt with utmost joy, all the virtues of the holy Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ stamped upon my soul.   All my feelings and passions became sanctified by Jesus and were transformed into his feelings.”

Celeste goes on to advise us, “Unite yourself with Him and be transformed into God.   By the irrevocable gift of the Eucharist, Christ made himself the real food in the Sacrament of the Altar.   
It gives us such a risen life in God that it transforms us into the eternal life of God, as we await the dawning of that new day.” 

What is this new day?   How do we arrive at it?

Again God instructs Celeste, “You must desire to see yourself on Calvary with my
Son, your God, transformed in a true union and a true likeness in a purity of love where all your passions are purged. There you will find true liberty, true peace and true glory, where like a queen you shall be in possession of the Kingdom of your King.”
This is the very thing Jesus had been telling his disciples six days before the Transfiguration, ‘Take up your cross and follow me,” and, “You will see My Father’s glory.”

So, that was what Bl. Celeste said helped her: her faith and understanding in living out the virtues of the God-Man by purging her passions; the enlightenment and nourishment she received from the real food of the Sacrament of the Altar; and union with her Beloved on the cross.   This is the meaning of the Viva Memoria charism: with eyes fixed on Christ in all we think, feel and do, Jesus lives and works his salvation for the world in and through us. 

But how do we follow Christ and become transformed in our own day?  Let us turn to your Constitutions for some insight.

The love of Christ the Redeemer which constitutes the spirit of our Association implies that we will gradually be transformed in Him and therefore that we will gradually die to ourselves to the extent that we may be able to say with the apostle Paul..."I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me."     Gal 2:20   #9



Baptism is the beginning of our transformation in Jesus Christ.  It marks our first and fundamental consecration as children of God.  We are called to continue this transformation in order to become both personally and together, a Living Memory of the Paschal Mystery of the Redeemer.  #12

The more we progress in this transformation of ourselves in Him, the more we will be able to be a living witness of His charity.  It is through the revelation of this charity that our brothers and sisters will discover in Jesus Christ the one Truth and the one Hope.    #14

It is fitting for us who must be transformed in Him throughout our lives to act as He did in His most holy life.  #15

"God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of His Son crying: Abba, Father."  The more we allow this Spirit to invade us with His transforming presence, the better will we exercise the priesthood of our baptism, by offering ourselves to the Father as a living eucharist for the world.  We find light and strength in the Word of God and in the sacraments so that we can, following the example of Christ, make of our whole life a sacrifice of praise to the glory of the Father. #21

Love of the cross is essentially love and imitation of Jesus Christ.  Jesus has freed the world by embracing our painful death so as to transform it into His redemptive death.  He passed from death to life, from the fragility of the flesh to the supreme glory of the resurrection.  "Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into His glory?" Lk 24:26   Such is the Paschal Mystery in which we are given a share.   #2

As we bumble about our daily lives this Lent, we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, recalling Christ’s Transfiguration as our transformation slowly takes shape.   Just like in prayer, we get off course by distractions: your family is driving you up a wall, those pesky people at work bother you, your friends don’t call, all the rain is making you blue…  Where’s the glory?  Like it or not, each person, each situation is a gift; an opportunity to see and listen to God.  Somewhere in that pesky person is a spark of Jesus.  With patience and in turning again to see Jesus alone, there is the invitation to see and hear Jesus in that person.  By seeing and hearing and loving that person as Jesus does, we are transformed.  By nourishing ourselves and uniting ourselves with Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar, the transformation of our mind and heart, and hopefully theirs, will steadily grow and bloom.

St Paul says we are, “co-heirs with Christ: sharing in Christ’s sufferings and sharing in Christ’s glory.” Rm 8:17     Ultimately, in this sharing we find Christ’s Transfiguration is our transformation.

'STAINED GLASS' CROSSES
All these bits and pieces glued together look a bit of a mess, but when you turn it around and hold it up to the light it is transformed into something beautiful.