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Learning to Draw from a Deeper Spring

by Fr. David May

On September 14th each year, the Church celebrates a great feast: the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The particular date recalls the rescue from the Persians in the 7th century, by the Byzantine emperor, of the Cross on which Christ died.

In Madonna House, we’ve celebrated this feast in both the Roman and Byzantine rites. In the latter, it is so great a commemoration that both the Sunday before and the Sunday after respectively prepare for and continue the celebration of the mystery.

Of course, it is during the liturgy that the mysteries of our holy Faith shine forth most clearly, most beautifully. At least they do if we approach the celebration with expectation and right understanding.

Gradually, one receives from the celebration of this feast a tremendous gift: a sense of the triumph Christ achieved on the Cross.

What appeared as a disastrous defeat was, as the Resurrection of Our Lord confirms, actually a tremendous triumph of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation of humanity with the Father.

Out of the utter depths of abandonment and dereliction, the Lord Jesus drew forth the wellsprings of salvation and mercy for all who come to him seeking help.

The light of revelation shining in the liturgy thus points out what is the deeper meaning of our lives. As if it is saying to us: “This is the road your thoughts must take if you are to be a true follower of Christ. Pray! Listen well! Then walk (live)!”

Sound promising to you? Do you already attend Mass and follow the annual liturgical cycle because your life desperately requires the mysteries of Christ if you are to persevere in carrying out life’s demands?

Do you listen with a thirsty heart to the Word of God in the hope of better understanding the meaning of and finding strength to bear the troubles that come your way? Do you still actually hope the weekly homily might help to throw light on all this? I do, especially when it’s my turn to preach!

Lately, the light of the Holy Cross seems to be shining on a difficult matter in my own life: dealing with a chronic illness (Parkinson’s disease).

The Lord seems to be saying to me: “Learn from me to go deeper. Don’t stop at the limitations and worries sickness imposes; don’t be satisfied to be angry about what you can no longer do, or at least do as easily and effortlessly as you once did. Rather, learn from Me to draw from a deeper spring of understanding flowing from my glorious Cross.”

I’m a slow learner. When I was first diagnosed five years ago, the doctor, not a Christian, told me to live my life to the full right to the end, like Pope John Paul II. I appreciated his thought and resolved to live my life not as a “sick person” who is a priest, but as a priest who has an illness and is called to pour himself out for others.

That was not so difficult at first, but gradually the disease takes its toll in energy and on old resolutions. Something more is needed than determination.

This is when the light of Christ’s mercy flowing from the Cross is such a gift. For all the times I’ve read in St Paul that when I am weak then I am strong (2 Cor 12:10), I have discovered that in many ways I loathe weakness and that I fight it day and night.

It is only by the grace of God that I can even begin to accept diminishment and the failing strength that illness and aging bring.

And while it is good not to give in to a kind of despairing resignation on the one hand, on the other, there is also a grace of acceptance that truly brings peace, joy, and even a renewed sense of humor about life’s quirks.

These last I have more time to notice now as I walk amongst and with the community and watch the younger ones rush by, bent on purposeful goals and the desire to live by bells and clocks as a sign of doing little things exceedingly well out of love for Christ.

I have time to admire them as they zoom along, and I say a little prayer for them that they notice the One who carries us all as if resting in the palm of his hand.

How peaceful it is there! How still with the very stillness and strength of the Father! One can find rest for one’s soul and renewed strength for the heat of the day.

While ambling along, I also notice the birds are busily singing God’s praises; this year for the first time, I heard a blue bird singing away not far from the Main House.

The clouds are bent, like us, on purposeful movement, but they soar with joy, too, or so it seems to me and my overactive imagination. I hope we are “soaring” with joy, too, in the goodness of the Lord.

Above all, it’s people that I am beginning to see anew in the ever newer light of the Lord and his Cross. How burdened so many are! Not only with the cares of life, but with the far heavier weight of self-rejection.

Some have been raised to believe that “there is something wrong with me, no matter what I do.” Others are sure they are condemned for their sins, failings, weaknesses, and that they have already reached the dread “cut-off point” of God’s mercy. Others worry they are not accepted by the community for one reason or another.

I hear all this and more nearly every day. As I do so, the radiance of mercy shining from the Lord on the Cross seems to illumine my eyes.

And I behold such goodness in people, as if the Lord himself gives me a tiny glimpse of the beauty he sees in full in each one—deeper than the sins, the failings, the weaknesses.

His heart is filled with compassion for each one, and truly even a few drops of that divine compassion move the heart to overflow with tears for all the hidden sufferings of God’s people everywhere.

“Call forth that beauty, that goodness, in my Name,” he seems to say, “and I in them will overcome all the rest.” So I do that in whatever ways I can: prayer, a smile, or a gentle teasing remark as a clumsy way to say without saying it: “All shall be well!”

Is this what my own situation is meant to teach me, Lord? To learn to look beneath the surface of things, to draw on deeper springs of understanding than simply what eyes can see or ears can hear?

If so, I need to remember that first of all for myself, because I easily lose sight of You when the next symptom appears, aggravating my plans for the day!

Truly, the depth of Your love outpoured on the Cross is beyond all measure!

***

O Precious Cross of the Lord … you are the pride of the faithful, the strength of those who struggle. You are the beauty of the apostles, the courage of the just and the salvation of all the saints.

Wherefore, at the sight of your elevation, the whole creation rejoices and exults and glorifies Christ whose goodness tied all things together into one. [Byzantine vespers hymn, Feast of the Holy Cross]

***

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

For you placed the salvation of the human race on the wood of the Cross, so that, where death arose, life might again spring forth, and the evil one, who conquered on a tree, might likewise on a tree be conquered through Christ our Lord. [Preface, Roman Rite, Exaltation of the Holy Cross]