by Fr. David May.
In the Church’s Office of Readings for Ash Wednesday, there is an excerpt from the letter of Pope St. Clement to the Corinthians.
The passage chosen begins as follows: “Let us fix our attention on the blood of Christ and recognize how precious it is to God his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to all the world.”
I wonder how those early believers in Corinth (Clement died around 99 a. d.) understood that exhortation to “fix our attention on the blood of Christ.”
Suppose your pastor or your bishop or even the pope exhorted you to do this today, in March 2006. How would you contextualize that statement? How would you even begin to try to do it in the midst of work responsibilities, terrorist threats, domestic worries, health problems, and Lenten resolutions for this year?
How does one fix one’s attention on the blood of Jesus while sending out e-mails, taking phone messages, listening to a CD, watching a DVD, or riding the subway to work?
Do we even have any idea in this new millennium what it means to fix our attention on anything whatsoever? It seems more accurate to say that our attention is so divided that it is never focused in one direction for any length of time with any noteworthy degree of concentration!
When the movie, The Passion of the Christ, came out a couple of years ago, it seemed that Mel Gibson, at least, had found a way to draw millions of people to fix their attention precisely on the blood and suffering poured out by Jesus Christ for their salvation.
That scene where the Mother of God lovingly wipes off the pavement the blood Jesus shed while being scourged, is one of the most dramatically moving attempts I know of to show how precious is the blood of our Savior.
But a movie is one thing, even one that succeeds in riveting our attention for a couple of hours. Everyday living is something else.
I have found myself wondering if any of the modern media helps us to have hearts that are truly fixed on the Lord or on truth or on any moral value of some worth.
The media asks nothing of us except a passive receptivity; we have only to watch it all unfold. Then, it seems to me, it draws us into itself, into the unreal, imaginary world of the reel or the DVD.
Alas, the presentation ends, and we troop back to the “real” world. But are we any better equipped to deal with that world for having watched an imaginary creation—even a great imaginary creation—on the screen?
I have, I must admit somewhat regretfully, come to the conclusion that we are not better equipped, but as a general rule, are further stripped of what it takes to fix our attention on what is real. Unless, that is, you yourself are fully committed to shedding blood for the truth.
I’ll never forget a rather difficult moment when my sister and I were young teenagers, and we were complaining about something or other to our mother. Finally, in exasperation, she said to us, “What do you want, blood?!”
Of course, that made us rather ashamed. It gave us a perspective on what we were asking, and we retracted some of our demands!
All the same, the truer answer might have been: “Yes! We want blood. We want to see a proof of love that is indisputable, a proof that goes all the way. How else will we know what our true value is?!” Fortunately, I didn’t think of that answer at the time!
Yes, we want to see blood! Not in the sadistic sense of what that phrase might imply, but in the sense that we want to see a living proof of a measureless love poured out to the very end—for me, for you.
In the New Millennium, this will be the only “proof” that will bear witness to the perennial validity of Christianity. Catherine Doherty put it this way in the Little Mandate of Madonna House: “Love, love, love, never counting the cost.”
You have to fix your attention on the blood of Jesus to live that way. There is no other known “technique,” and the very commitment to love someone else “to the end” is what helps fix one’s attention where it needs to be. And only the One who lived this offering fully can impart a grace to make it possible in some measure today.
I remember Catherine Doherty’s impassioned words exhorting her hearers to go forth to minister to the lonely and suffering Christ in their neighbors. For her, each person was Christ in a way that was sharp and clear. She burned with the desire to console him, to ease his pain.
She was haunted in the vigils of the night with his cry of anguish in the suffering poor all around the world, and in his bride, the Church, in a most particular way.
After listening to her anguished cry for 30 or 40 minutes, you either wanted to jump up quickly and do something, or shut it all out as too much, too heavy, too intense.
And, in any case, what was the something you could do? Hold a door open for the next person, perhaps listen sympathetically to someone’s problems, shovel a path of snow carefully for an elderly member?
Whatever it was, it never seemed to the measure of the breadth of heart she was articulating, as if she were totally fixated on the blood of Christ shed for us, and flowing yet in his body on earth.
I only began to understand gradually what she was trying to teach us, what the Lord, really, was saying through her.
And that was: Seek Me constantly in prayer, and love Me constantly in your brothers and sisters. Let this be your life! Seek no other life! Seek no other consolation! Then a new dimension, a divine horizon, will slowly opens its vistas to you.
To be honest, I still find myself fighting to escape this gift that the Lord was offering through Catherine. It has seemed and it still seems too focused, too narrow, too demanding, too intense.
But then a joy gradually starts to flood your worn and weary heart from deep within, like a spring bursting forth in a dry land. It is the joy of the Savior who poured out his blood for our salvation.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, this becomes a “fixation,” this offering of his. You long to drink from it again and again. You desire to share it with others in whatever humble ways the Lord reveals.
You discover that your life has not narrowed down after all, but is expanding instead to embrace an ever-widening horizon.
It is the horizon of his Heart. What you “see” there is infinitely greater than what any movie screen could ever contain. And it only beckons you to become more “real,” more given, more one with your Lord, and to recognize how precious this all is to God our Father.
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