Friday, March 30, 2007

The Comforting of Christ

By virtue of its publication date, a little gem of a book has found its way to the remote upper selves of our library, the place of repose for books rarely consulted. At least one of these deserves to be more readily at hand. The English spiritual writer, Caryll Houselander is most well remembered, if remembered at all, for the book Reed of God, a superb meditation on Mary, the Blessed Mother of us all. But it is her little book, The Comforting of Christ, that I am speaking of here. Published by The Catholic Book Club of London in 1947, it is the fruit of Houselander's deep prayer and meditation on the inhumanity and suffering of humankind she witnessed in England during World War II. From her contemplation emerged a very human treatise on the passion of Christ and how our own pain, hardships and catastrophes can be united with his and be directed to comforting the suffering Christ. Since childhood, I have known that my behavior, my wrong-headed choices, my sinfulness contribute to Christ's suffering, but the notion that I could set about consciously to comfort Jesus was a deeply touching revelation.

Toward the end of this small book, Houselander offers A Meditation on the Mass of Reparation. It is a lengthy and deep prayer of preparation for participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It seems especially meaningful during the Lenten season and particularly now as we enter Holy Week. It speaks so eloquently of the suffering world and of Christ who suffers in the midst of it all. Here is the section which meditates on the moment when a drop of water is added to the sacramental wine in the chalice before the Consecration:

Receive the tears of the world, in the drop of water in the Chalice; receive the tears of the old mothers who weep in the ruins of their homes, rifled nests of the little birds that were once their sons; receive the tears of the frightened children, of homesick children. Receive the privileged tears of those who can weep for contrition, receive the tears that are not shed, that are hard as salt-water frozen in hearts that can weep no more; that ache in the throats of those who have no more tears to shed. Receive, O God, from my hands, who am not worthy to breathe the air He breathes, the tears of Christ in the Chalice of our salvation, the tears of the Infant in Bethlehem, the tears of the little foreign Child in Egypt, the tears shed over Jerusalem, the tears shed over Lazarus...O God, we offer Thee the tears of Christ in the tears of the world: "We offer Thee the Chalice of Salvation, humbly begging Thy mercy that it may ascend to The for our salvation and for that of the whole world."

Hear in this small passage we so easily recognize that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Today, at that moment when the water, symbolizing our humanity, is added to the wine which speaks of the divinity of Jesus Christ I will marvel again at the mystery of the Incarnation, of Christ's total adoption of our human experience. At that moment I will pray with mothers in many countries whose children have died in Iraq; with orphaned, injured and displaced children; with the desparately addicted; with those who are sick in body, mind or spirit; with those who can make peace but will not; with those who no longer believe that they are the beloved of God.

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