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A Word on the Sacred Heart

As through the midnight shades I go,
Amid the dark I see a glow,
So bright, so warm, a wide window–
O Lord, is it Thy Heart?

I feel its warmth from where I stand,
Its sweetness ‘mid the barren land,
Reach from it, Lord, and take my hand–
Bring me into Thy Heart.

There shall I find all I could miss,
My every true love’s fullest bliss,
If Thou, dear Lord, but grant me this–
To keep me in Thy Heart.

The Necessity of the Resurrection

An interesting exchange took place at my family’s devotions the other evening. Like many Catholics, we pray the Divine Mercy Novena from Good Friday to Divine Mercy Sunday. This year, however, a long-held concern of my father’s and mine came to a head: namely, the incongruity of repeating “for the sake of His sorrowful Passion” 450 times during the height of the Easter celebration. Thus, we decided to insert the words “and His glorious Resurrection” to help us maintain the spirit of the season. It proved a helpful practice, I think; I for one intend to keep it up until Pentecost. One of my siblings, however, voiced an objection: how could we pray for mercy “for the sake of . . . His glorious Resurrection,” when it was the Cross that paid for our sins? In fact, said sibling opined, it would have been more of a sacrifice if Christ had died knowing that He would not subsequently rise in glory.

Responses to this came quickly to mind; my first thought was of the words of the liturgy: “Dying You destroyed our death; rising You restored our life.” Of course, the Church has always taught that the Resurrection is an essential part of the whole Paschal Mystery. Still, other Catholics seem to have assumptions like my above-mentioned sibling’s, even if they never consciously spell out their thoughts. The way we tend to speak and think about our Lord’s death and Resurrection sometimes implies that the former is really what brought about our redemption, while the latter is important to give the story a happy ending . . . but what does it directly have to do with salvation?

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The Easter Candles

 

Lights out! and all is dark throughout the nave;

Dim faces float like Hades’ ghosts all round,

Gazing out eagerly as from a grave

Toward a faint flicker and a subtle sound.

A voice resounding strong the stillness breaks,

And in our midst leaps up a starlike light;

The heavy night unto its splendor wakes,

Awakes from somberness to God’s delight.

For as the flame advances through our ranks,

Its glow is born afresh in all our hands;

The night turns beautiful as gladsome thanks

Rise from this Vigil, as our faith commands.

Then lights above once more break over all,

And lively bells the hour of triumph call.

 

So lay the weary world in thick of night,

In sin’s long shadow of mortality,

Straining its eyes toward the stupendous fight

Where Light died to flame up eternally.

A world of shades, that only dark’s reign knew,

Awoke and blinked and hailed its rising Sun,

And in His friends’ poor timid hearts there grew

A glow of joy, a fire of love, each one

Receiving these as candle flames from Him,

And passing them to whoso they could find;

So though the earth be wrapped in shadows grim,

Bright joy-flame marks the Risen Savior’s kind,

Who look on toward a day to end all night,

When dark shall flee before the conqu’ring Light.

 

Take then this deathless light He’s kindled here;

Receive it, all you souls who live in gloom;

Let it in all your thoughts and ways appear,

Inflame your heart, and all your world illume.

No longer can we live as men before;

Despair does not become believing hearts;

Our hymn of wond’ring gratitude must soar,

Aglow with love and finest craft of arts.

So though we still dwell on a darkened Earth,

In fairest light and trusting hope we’ll live,

Our souls the candles lit at our rebirth

With that blest fire that Jesus came to give–

Until the stand against the dark is past,

And Day to end all night breaks forth at last!

Wounds

Ugly, ragged things,

Red footprints of this sin-ridden Earth,

Red and gaping eyes all weeping forth

Streams of sufferings.

 

Open doors to dirt,

Foul invasion of rent flesh and heart,

Corruption growing in every part,

Each unguarded hurt.

 

Signs of Adam’s fall,

Dragging down his children farther still,

Paining, tempting, threatening to kill,

Bitter plague to all.

 

Then laid senselessly

Upon flesh that could not know such stain,

Letting sacred blood-streams out to drain

Over Calvary.

 

Horrors lifted high,

Smears of evil making Him downtrod

Who is all glory—gore ripped from God,

Blackening the sky!

 

Tearing a divide

Far below that bloody, barren height,

In the curtain grim that barred the light,

Blindingly divine, from human blight—

Split now, like His side.

 

Floodgates to the earth,

Gashes letting streams of healing in,

Founts of anguish through which, for our sin,

Seas of peace and comfort now have been

Won—His sorrow’s worth!

 

Darkened soon, and dry,

Then, in darkness, brilliantly inflamed

With a fire like dawn, with something claimed

That leaves death itself to be ashamed—

Eloi Adonai!

 

Blazing signs, now free

From the bitter shame and ugliness,

Burning sunlike through our hopelessness,

Challenging our feeble hearts to guess

What’s past Calvary.

 

Here, on us, our pain,

Ugly, shameful, most bitter to bear,

Our hope too, and when we follow there,

Likening us to His splendor fair,

Who was hurt and slain.

Leaves of Silver

Once again, my father’s persistence had overcome my mother’s anxieties, as well as my own ten-year-old objections. I had objected primarily because I did not want to be moved; as even slight movements pained my leg’s infected wound, I did not relish the prospect of a bumping wagon trip of at least a day and a half each way. My mother, too, was concerned about my condition; she also feared that the reputed healer of Lake Iumena, where Father wanted to take me, would prove an ignorant quack, and the trip only do me harm. “Miracle cures are always some sort of trick!” she had maintained. “Especially when one person claims to possess some unique power. Why won’t you just take him to a house of healing in the city, where he can get real treatment?”

But Father had been adamant. “You know what Tamona”—our village’s healer-woman—“told us about that. Their skill can do no more for this wound than hers could. If we take him to a house of healing, they’ll only cut off his leg, and he will spend the rest of his life with only one leg. Think about what that will mean for him.” Then he described at length all the sufferings of a one-legged man’s life, until I was so wracked with anxiety that I wanted to yell. I was relieved when he reached his conclusion: “Taking Anthan to Lake Iumena at least offers him a chance of recovery. Isn’t it worth a bit more effort, even risk, for the life and wholeness of our son?”

At this, I knew instinctively that he had won. Mother would not be proof against this appeal to her feelings. Her sigh and reluctant, “Well . . .” only confirmed my intuition.

By the next afternoon, all necessary arrangements were made. Leaving the household in the care of my oldest sister, my parents gathered such things as would be necessary for three days of traveling and set out with me in the wagon. That was how it came about that we went to Lake Iumena, where I found so much more than a cure that I have since come to consider it worth the wounded leg to have been there.

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Coming Home

in the same pattern as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “My Lost Youth”

 

Here, where in sacred silence reigns

The last King on hidden throne,

And colored glass the sunlight stains,

I hope that he may hear the pains

Of an exile all alone.

For a voice from within my heart

Is endlessly calling thus:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

Long, long ago I set out from the town

And the house of my first years,

Where my memories soaked through the ground

And the roots of my heart twined down and around,

And I glanced behind with tears.

And that voice like a piercing blade

Was tearing my spirit thus:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

As I walked a land that I knew not,

I would feel my exile keen,

And my pain of love grew deep and hot

As my thoughts rejoined each hallowed spot

Of the home where I had been.

And that voice like a wasteland wind

Was echoing bleakly thus:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

But the current of time poured a healing stream

On my aching, yearning heart,

And steady change like unthinking dream

Made all my world refashioned seem

And life made another start.

And that endless murmuring voice

Called now but mildly thus:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

In time, the life I’d newly found

Showed its beauties bright to me,

And my memories soaked into the ground,

And the roots of my heart twined down and around,

And I dwelt there happily.

And that voice sounding warm and sweet,

If I left, kept calling thus:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

But the current of time is never still,

Never knew a foe nor friend;

So it steals away both good and ill,

And empties where it once did fill,

So my new life had to end.

And that voice, like a mourning bell,

Was bitterly chiming thus:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

Once again the yawning gap of space

Spread between me and my home,

And as I left each well-known place

And turned in tears from each dear face,

I felt earth a spreading tomb.

And I heard that soft, sad voice

Like a grieved friend calling thus:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

Many moons would wax and wane before

I was free to heed that call.

But when I trod the old ground o’er

And saw my little land once more,

I found change come over all.

And that voice sounding pained and lost

Was persistently calling thus:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

O where can I go on the whole wide earth

Where that summons I may heed?

This cry that’s been with me from birth,

It grows near maddening for dearth

Of a sating for its need!

Blessed God, what shall I do?

For that voice is still calling me thus:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

O Thou far the mightiest, richest King,

Who hear all the crying poor,

Wilt Thy power infinite not bring

The lost one in his suffering

To a rest for spirits sore?

For so many hearts like mine

Are hearing the anguished call,

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

Now from a thin ray that falls like rain,

From a flame in crimson glass,

From a tiny image, dark and plain,

Of a figure stretched in mortal pain,

Like all men’s grief wrought in brass,

Now I seem to hear those words

From above me whispered thus:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

And the sculptures white that ring this hall

As around the square in Rome,

Now seem to look down, glad and tall,

As victors over sorrows all,

From their hard-won, well-loved home.

And they call their cheers to me,

Silent voices ringing thus:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

From these hallows into meadows green

Go I through a streaming breeze,

And the clouds all flame with glory keen,

Golden fire spread o’er the human scene,

Glowing through raindrops and trees.

And that voice like a horn of hope

Through it all is calling thus:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies; there is your peace.”

 

When the end of this wandering draws near,

Blessed King, o send Thy voice;

All my days for Thee I’ll labor here,

That the homeward summons I may hear

That makes weary hearts rejoice,

When that voice sounding glad at last

Shall call me for one more time:

“Child, come home, come home,

Yonder it lies;

Enter your peace.”

Displaced and Wandering

For once, Alyne’s mission to close the gate brought something different.

She expected no such thing on her way there, going to do the chore she had done a thousand times. In fact, she couldn’t help being a bit disappointed that nothing had changed today. Today was her birthday—her thirteenth birthday—a day when something, somehow, ought to be different.

I’m not grumbling, she thought insistently. I know it was a happy day, and I’m glad. Everyone had made her day special. Her brothers had all rushed to her, jumping and shouting, as soon as they saw she was awake. The whole family had sung her favorite songs for her. Her Mum had made honey cakes; her sister, Klea, had gathered a jumbled bouquet as big as her tiny fists could hold; Pa had even given Alyne a pretty new jacket, which meant that he must have gone to town—something he hardly ever did. Still, something about having to do this pointless chore yet again, leaving her siblings’ evening game to close a gate no one else ever used or saw, made Alyne feel as if nothing had really changed today.

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Synkatabasis

Staining streaks across my face,

Grief-blurred eyes to Thee I raise,

Lifting up my sickened moan

Toward Thy likeness carved in stone.

Looking up, I think I see,

In the dim light, suddenly–

Hardly dare I speak for fear–

On Thy cheek is that a tear?

 

Sick and sad, my soul leaves blood

Staining everywhere I’ve stood;

Silent crying for the thorn

Tearing at this heart forlorn.

Lonely, cut from human aid,

Gaze I up, worn out, afraid,

Lo! the Hand raised over me

Sheds blood more profusély.

 

Know’st Thou, then, a grief like mine?

What deep anguish has been Thine?

Dost Thou know the voidish night,

Hours of bitter, silent fight?

Hast Thou known the stabbing woe

Of betrayed poor hearts below?

Thou hast felt it, I can see,

For Thou now weepest with me.

Almighty God and His Hobbit Missionary

Since salvation history began, God’s way with souls—and His sense of humor—have not changed. He has always chosen the most seemingly unfit to accomplish His plan, from Moses, who pleaded that he was too “slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 4:10) to be God’s messenger, to St. Faustina Kowalska, who had no money, education or power, but was sent to bring the Divine Mercy message to the world. Most people are never called to do anything so great, but even in less significant cases, God often manifests His power through apparently unfit instruments. One such case was my spring break mission trip to Cuzco, Peru, during my sophomore year at Christendom College. The Holy Spirit moved in me, despite my many natural aversions to the experience, and used me on the trip to show His love.

When my parents first learned that I wanted to go on a mission trip, they were pleased but surprised, and with good reason. Whatever words might be used to describe me, “adventurous” would hardly be high on the list. It might not quite be true that I “never did anything unexpected or had any adventures,” but I might be compared to a hobbit, one of the little people who inhabit J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. I like a routine, familiar places and people, and a reasonable predictability in life. A year earlier, making the transition from home life to college had been a slow and excruciating process. How could I now elect to trade a visit home for a week in South America?

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A Door in the Gloom

The door swung open, releasing a wave of noise and strong odors. At this time of evening, the workingmen of the little town gathered in the tavern to relax and ease away the day’s toil. The air inside, warmed by the many bodies in it, was thick with the smells of sweat, smoke, and liquors, and the atmosphere vibrated with loud voices, laughter, gushing of drinks and clanking of glass. The young man who had just entered, though, contrasted significantly with the surrounding scene. His clothing, mostly covered with a brown cloak, was simple and poor but not dirty. His face, its expression alert but serene, glanced intently around the crowded space, searching. Suddenly his gaze halted, fixed on something across the smoky air, and his face lit up with interest. He began to make his way toward what he had seen.

As he strode between the tables, attentive observers might have noticed the rowdy congregation of workingmen taking heed of his passing. He did not look at them, but where he came near, men lowered their shouting voices, wiped the dribbling ale from their beards, and generally attempted to look somewhat civilized. One, less subdued than the others, waved his handful of cards and called with a grin, “Ho, have a game with us?”

“Not now, Marek,” the other replied, his tone friendly but sober. A moment later, this quiet visitor had passed all the tables and reached the great room’s far corner, dusty, dim and furnished only with a few sacks. On these lay a long, narrow lump, covered in a threadbare gray cloak—a lump in which the young man had recognized a human shape.

He knelt beside the lump and said, softly but clearly, “This is no place for you.”

The lump stirred slightly, then grunted, “Who says?”

A smile of deep relief broke over the man’s face. “Dominika, why don’t you come with me?”

At this name the lump jerked upright. From beneath the cloak, a lean hand and arm peeled away the hood, and out peered the pinched, dirty face of a young girl, not more than seventeen. As she saw her visitor, her face broke into surprise and a wonder that was almost joy. Her mouth fumbled for a moment, then managed to form a cry, “Matus!” as she flung her bony arms around him.

“Finally,” he murmured, tenderly embracing her back. “I looked all over.”

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