Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fumbling Toward Heaven

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17

The other day I woke up with this phrase in mind, ‘fumbling toward heaven.’ It didn’t seem to be connected with a dream or anything – it just was there in my mind.

But it got me thinking about football. A fumble is when someone on the opposite team makes you drop the football and recovers it for their side. 

I am going to stretch this metaphor so run with me on this one. 

Jesus is the football we carry through life tucked under our arm close to our heart.  When we are advancing downfield through the game of life toward our goal; heaven, certain circumstances of everyday life dislodge Jesus from our heart and make us drop the ball. How do we get it back?  In the second letter to Timothy St. Paul writes, ‘God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but rather a spirit of power, and love and self-discipline.’ 2 Tim 1:7   
Relying on the Spirit of Jesus we gain the power of the practice of self-discipline to scoop up the ball of Love and continue to carry it to our final destination. If we are Jesus to each other, and the world, as is written in our Constitutions, it shouldn’t be so hard to stoop down to lift up Jesus, to lift up one another.

Sometimes, we feel like we drop the ball constantly but thank goodness we have fans to cheer us on whether we are in possession of the ball or not.  Who are our fans?  Family, friends, the Redemptorists, our Associates, the Sisters of the Metropolitan Association of Contemplative Communities and even the Communion of Saints and the Blessed Virgin are all our fans cheering us on!  Most of all, our team, the Redemptoristine community who offers up prayers and lends support to one another, especially when the everyday cares and set backs get us down. 

To all eyes, Jesus’ death on a cross seemed like the biggest fumble ever.  But those who gathered below his cross: his mother Mary, John and Magdalene, his biggest fans, believed in him and hoped for salvation; the eternal life Jesus promised us.  And we know their hope was not in vain. 
So, let us not be like Lucy who whips the football away just as Charlie Brown comes up to kick it.  Let us be like Charlie Brown who, even though he is timid, he always believes and hopes.  Let us never give up on one another.  Let us continue to fumble our way to heaven believing in Him who comes to save.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Wayfarer

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

                             Ven. Maria Celeste and the Wayfarer
Written July 10, 2010
Next Sunday is the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer: the Title of the Order of the Redemptoristines and the Congregation of the Redemptorists.  So when I was thinking about a topic for this month’s meeting, naturally, the Redeemer came to mind.  But what about him?   I got further inspiration for the topic last month when I heard the John Denver song, ‘Follow Me’ on the radio. I loved 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 (which I love) entitled, ‘The Wayfarer;’ one of 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 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 (When the image of the yoke came to me, I suddenly heard or read that Gospel passage over and over again. Synchronicity? A God-incidence?  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.

What is a Wayfarer?  A wayfarer is one who travels by foot.  Who is the Wayfarer?  Jesus, the Man-God is the Wayfarer: the one who traveled the road of life ahead of us; inviting us to follow him. In the Gospel of Luke we read:  “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’  And Jesus replied to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” Lk 9:57-58    That doesn’t sound very inviting.  Why would one want to follow a Wayfarer?  St. Paul writes about those who do follow Christ, ‘For here we have no lasting home, but are looking for the home that is to come.  Heb 13:14     Remember the Gospel story of the rich good man who wanted to inherit eternal life?  And Jesus told him, ‘You lack one thing: go sell what you own and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ And the man went away sad.   Mk 10:17-21    

This invitation to follow the Wayfarer didn’t intimidate our Foundress, Ven. Maria Celeste Crostarosa.  On the contrary, this aspect of Jesus as Wayfarer inspired Celeste to leave everything, to give her all, to follow the one she loved.

When did Maria Celeste Crostarosa first receive the invitation to follow Jesus?  In her autobiography Celeste tells us she was about five years old when Jesus first spoke to her heart.   Celeste was baptized Julia on All Saints Day, the day after her birth, October 31, 1696. She was the tenth child of an even dozen siblings in Naples, Italy.

From that early age on Julia enjoyed an interior dialogue with Jesus.  As she matured in years the urge to follow Jesus led her to religious life where she offered her whole being to her Beloved Spouse.  When she entered the Visitation monastery in Scala in the Kingdom of Naples at the age of 27 she was given the name Sr. Maria Celeste. 

As a novice Jesus continued to speak within her soul, particularly at Communion time.  It was then that he planted in her heart the idea of following the Wayfarer when she came to understand the words of scripture, ‘I am the way the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.’ Jn 14:6    Jesus ‘showed her the stupendous work which he accomplished by the union of his divine and human natures as the Man-God, while here on earth as a Wayfarer.’ And how ‘He becomes again a Wayfarer on earth with those who are united to Him through true union and through love, holy works and through the grace of the Holy Spirit.  (see MWR pg 24 *   MWR= The Mystic Who Remembered by Fr. Joseph Opptiz, CSsR)

Here is the principal element of Maria Celeste’s spiritual message, ‘Christ lives again, today, as a Wayfarer in His believers…where there is a transformation of self involved at the very level of being.’  (MWR pg 25)     From this Celeste developed her concept of being a Viva Memoria, a living image of Christ’s redemptive presence in this world. (MWR pg 67)

While still a novice Celeste received a ‘shattering revelation’ (MWR pg 26) on April 25, 1725, wherein Jesus made her understand that she was to be the instrument to bring about a new Institute ‘which would have for its laws and rules His very life.’ (MWR pg 27)    Can you imagine going to  your Novice Mistress, Prioress and ultimately the Bishop, with this astounding news?  But she did it.

After initial interest on the part of the community to a new Rule trouble began when Bishop Falcoia, the Spiritual Father of the Nuns in Scala, heard of this, he called Celeste ‘a dreamer, a mad-woman.’  (MWR pg 30)    

It wasn’t until about five years later, that after much wrangling and travails and heartache in regards to the new Rule, and to Celeste herself, one of which being Celeste being banished to the monastery attic for a time, of the arrival of St. Alphonsus Liguori to Scala. 

After interviewing all the Nuns and repeatedly examining Celeste and her revelations, Alphonsus recognized the ‘authenticity of the revelations and the feasibility of a new Rule and Institute.  Thanks to his powers of persuasion, all the Nuns finally agreed to accept the new Rule, and the Bishop of Scala’s good graces were won.’  (MWR pg 37)  So, on May 13, 1730 the Nuns began to live spirit of the new Rule.

But the heartache was not over because Celeste was still at odds with their Spiritual Father Falcoia over the letter of the Rule which, in turn, sent the whole community into turmoil.  Throughout this time, Celeste followed the Wayfarer in humility and surrender, renouncing all: her visions, failures, desires… putting everything in God’s hands.  Celeste says, ‘I shall follow him and glorify him, and he shall be content, and nothing that is his shall be taken away.’  (MWR pg 46)   She is asserting here that this new Rule, if it be God’s will, will come about not by any action on her part but of that of Jesus, whom she saw at that time transfixed on the cross.   He spoke to her, ‘... Listen to me on the Cathedral of the cross which I have placed in your heart so that I may live my life in you as a Pilgrim (Wayfarer) Crucified in this world. I shall bring this about in such a way that everything will be for you both a cross and peace. ... Gaze upon me with a look of the love Crucified in you. You shall always behold this sight for it is in this way that I give you my compassion.  (Florilegium pg 138)

In 1733.Celeste needed to feel this compassion; she and her two siblings who had entered with her found themselves true wayfarers after being expelled from the monastery in Scala.  It wasn’t until 1738 when ‘Celeste felt herself completely healed and restored of all the wounds of the Scala tortures (MWR pg 51) that she was able to start afresh founding a new monastery in Foggia where ‘she was able to put into practice the full, regular observance of the complete and original Rule’ (MWR pg 52) revealed to her by the Wayfarer.  It was there that she took her full name in religion, Sr. Maria Celeste of the Holy Redeemer. 

Here are a few examples of Maria Celeste’s understanding of the Wayfarer as found in her writings.   In the introduction to the new Rule Maria Celeste wrote the Intent of the Father, God’s Loving Plan of Redemption and its salvific intent by means of on-going redemption.   This is made possible by the continuing existence of Christ as Wayfarer in a real union between him and the soul.’  (MWR pg 67)   This explains why Celeste writes about Jesus in the present tense: He is dying, he is rising, he is continually ascending. By our participation-union with his very being Christ can say of us, his followers, ‘I live through them, with them and in them.’ (see MWR pg 68)

Celeste was a prolific writer, especially during her years in Foggia.  In the ‘Garden Enclosed’ she wrote out the three virtues the spiritual soul should exercise that ‘were the perpetual exercise of Jesus Christ, Man-God, while he was a Wayfarer on earth:
The first: to live among creatures only to help them to act well and to gain eternal salvation.
The second: to seek only the glory of God and the good of your neighbor in thought, word and deed
The third: to live only in God.’  (Florilegium #35)

That  third ‘perpetual exercise,’  ‘to live only in God,’ made me think of our conversations last month about Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth; letting go of ego, and Bro. Lawrence’s living in the now by ‘Practicing the Presence of God;’  to direct our entire mind, heart and will to doing what is loving in God’s sight.  Celeste let go of her ego and lived in the now because she realized it wasn’t about her, so she could remain, at a deep level, at peace, despite the heartache, knowing she was loved by God.  That was the fruit of her union with the Wayfarer.

In the Spiritual Exercises for December she wrote: ‘Everything my divine Providence has ordained for you, both adverse and favorable, should be loved and accepted by you with love while you repose like a babe in its mother care; sleeping peacefully without any worry or preoccupation about itself and its interests.

There is the Paradise of souls wayfaring on earth united by love to my beloved Son…  Because by ceasing to be led by your own will in everything, you will enjoy an anticipated Paradise…and will not be disturbed by sufferings and crosses.’   ( see Florilegium #68)

That all seems to me like a strange juxtaposition: sufferings and crosses and anticipated paradise.  But it reminded me of Good Luck Bad Luck!
The Chinese story of a farmer who used an old horse to till his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”
Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”
The next week, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck?   Who knows?
Did Celeste have good luck or bad luck in following the Wayfarer?  Both, to be sure; she was tremendously blest to have such an intimate relationship with her Redeemer throughout her life, yet it cost her dearly with all the struggle of implementing the new Rule and all the heartache that accompanied it in her attempt to follow the Wayfarer’s lead.  Yet, all this she surrendered.  In following the Wayfarer Celeste practiced the virtues of the Man-God ‘on his Pilgrim Way.’
God tells her, ‘All these (virtues of his) are transformed into your soul and become yours by your union with him; all your feelings and passions become sanctified by him and transformed into his feelings and your body transformed into his.’  (Florilegium #74. Spiritual Exercises for December, med. 18)

Think of the caterpillar being transformed into a butterfly and the metamorphosis that transpires; the surrender and dying to self that takes place throughout its life cycle.  When any of us follow the Wayfarer, as Celeste did, we surrender our very lives to be transformed into ‘new creatures in Christ.’ 2 Cor.5:17  ‘to form that perfect being who is Christ come to full stature.’  Eph 4:13   

Celeste tells us when we are at prayer it is a special time of union with the Wayfarer. She was instructed by Jesus that when you pray,  ‘… join that praise of yours to the Praises which I, while I was Wayfarer on earth, offered to God my Father, and live as though I, not you, lived in yourself. Thus all the graces, gifts, and spiritual consolations which you receive from my Love, receive them not in yourself but in me.’ (Florilegium pg 96 Garden Enclosed)

Celeste spent many hours in adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament and was always amazed at how the God-Man, with patience and mercy ‘stamped on himself’… ‘the humiliations and contempt of self’ which the Wayfarer displayed in not exalting his ‘divine perfections but kept them submerged’.  She continues, ‘He submerged his divine immensities beneath an admirable hidden silence while on earth as a Wayfaring Man, and not only that, but now while hiding – in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar beneath the accidents of bread – his divine grandeurs… to unite us with him and transform us into God, he has made himself the real food of man.’   (Florilegium pg 29) 

As followers of the Wayfarer we are called likewise to accept humiliations and have contempt for self.  What does this mean?  To me it means we are to be ‘living eucharists for the Church and for the world.’ (Associate Constitutions #6)   We are to humble ourselves just as Jesus ‘humbled himself, taking on the form of a slave, (to become) human like one of us’ (Phil 2:7) so we might follow his example and empty ourselves of our ego so that God can fill us with divinity that we may, by our union, participate in Christ’s on-going redemption in the here and now.
In Celeste’s Autobiography Jesus tells her, ‘You are my friend and my delight and, therefore, I keep you in my Kingdom of the Cross and of Glory, in the Kingdom of my Peace and Rest, in sufferings and afflictions, just the way I lived as a Wayfarer on this earth.

‘Do not be troubled, you already know how much you have to destroy the self so that this Work (namely, this Work that is totally mine) may be carried out.’ (Florilegium pg 135)

‘This Work’ that Jesus was referring to is the foundation of the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer – but he could well have been speaking to us about our life in him today.  We are the Works of His hands. Christ has no hands on this earth but ours, no voice on earth but ours, no heart but ours…  Therefore, we are his friends, his delight, at peace and rest in the Kingdom of the Cross and of Glory.  And in turn ‘he is the light of our faith, the strength of our charity and the source of our hope.’ (Associate Constitution #13) 

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 Associates, 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; a participant in God’s loving plan of redemption.  Do you hear the Wayfarer’s 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.

Questions for reflection:

Celeste was called at a young age. Do you remember when you were called to follow the Wayfarer?   

How are you following Jesus, the Wayfarer, today?

Have you ever felt deep peace in following the Wayfarer in times of humility and surrender?  

When have you experienced ‘Gook Luck’ being turned into ‘Bad Luck’, and vise versa, in your life?    What graces did you receive?

What has been ‘destroyed’ in you that a ‘new creation’ could be born for the on-going redemption of the world?

July 10, 2009