January 2009

Dear Friend of Saint Francis:

May the Lord give you Peace!

Ego sum via, veritas et vita. This familiar verse rises like incense above the altar in Saint Dominque in a section of Paris known as the 14th arrondissement, just near the famed Latin Quarter, so-called for its Roman and scholarly roots. As I recall this image, I am still struck by its freshness, almost 20 years later. It urged me then to paint again, time permitting. It evoked in my imagination a triptych, which would depict the mystery of faith, hope and love against a paschal canvas of passion, death and resurrection. For me, this verse said all that needed to be said about abundant life.

I am the way, the truth, and the life, said Jesus.

I believe that the way is what Jesus re-discovered in the desert and re-confirmed in the long night of Gethsemane, just as we discover – against all human logic – the way, which leads to truth in anguish. I believe that truth is what Jesus revealed in the darkness of Golgotha, just as we find the truth about life in our losses. And, I believe that reallife is what Jesus was raised to on Easter morning, just as we are crowned with new life through faith, hope and love; through trust, confidence and solidarity; through simplicity, gratitude and generosity.

The way is the only way, which leads to fulfillment. The way is not an optional route, a scenic tour along a rugged coastline. The way is the only way. The word the stands as a sort of pedestal upon which we place that which is unique. The way is not a paved road. Along the way are countless difficulties and painful challenges. In Paradise Lost, the English poet John Milton wrote: “Long is the way and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” The way is the way of the tree of life, the way of the cross.

The truth is the only way, which leads to peace. The evangelist John tells us bluntly, “The truth shall make you free.” Only the truth can make you free. The 16th Century English poet Sir Walter Raleigh underscored this simple reality in his poem The Lie.

Go, Soul, thy body’s quest,
Upon a thankless errant:
Fear not to touch the best,
The truth shall be thy warrant.

Recognizing the fact that truth is vital to lasting inner peace is easy. Recognizing truth itself is not. Perhaps history’s most notable waffler was the Roman governor of Judah, Pontius Pilate, who asked philosophically “What is truth?”, and then shrank cowardly from a decisive moment in history because he lacked the wherewithal to discern truth from deception, life from death. Pity the man who cannot see truth. Truth is all that is truly beautiful and grand. Beauty inspired the English poet John Keats to affirm in Ode to a Grecian Urn:

“Beauty is truth and truth beauty”, — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Another poet, James Russell Lowell, reminds us that Providence dwells in truth.

Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne –
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

The life is the only way that leads to joy. Jesus said that he came so that we may enjoy life to the hilt.

Jesus did more than reveal the way, the truth and the life. Indeed, he embodied those realities—and still does today, in a mystical manner. Bonaventure certainly saw Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. In his book The Journey to the Mind of God, we read:

Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant and the mystery hidden from the ages. A man should turn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a pasch, that is, a passing over. Through the branches of the cross, he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulcher, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: Today you will be with me in paradise.

For this pass-over to be perfect we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. No one can comprehend it unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervor and glowing love. The fire is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem, fired by Christ in the ardor of his loving passion. Only he understood this who said: My soul chose hanging and my bones death. Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God, for it is certainly true that: No man can look upon me and live.

Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness, silencing our anxieties, our passions and all the fantasies of our imagination. Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that when the Father has shown himself to us, we can say with Philip: It is enough. We may say with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you; and we can rejoice with David, saying: My flesh and my heart fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my heritage forever. Blessed be the Lord forever, and let the people say: Amen. Amen!

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In our infancy, fantasy was a necessary shield to protect us against the harshness of naked truth. This protection came in such forms as stuffed animals with ascribed human qualities or imaginary friends. However, later in life, fantasy becomes a barrier to growth and development. Fantasy evolves and takes on colours that excite adult emotions and seemingly soothe aching spirits. Yet, the excitement and the relief are ephemeral. Sadly, fantasy only masks the symptoms of pain and is impotent against its underlying causes. It creates a cycle of dependency because it prolongs the recovery and postpones indefinitely the real healing that can only occur in Reality.

Fantasy is a detour from the life-giving way. It is the stealth siren that lures us onto fatal shoals. It is a prism that distorts misery and deflects it as pleasure. Fantasy is a false counsel that dignifies vice as virtue. Fantasy is the shroud that obscures the limits of desolation and consolation. Fantasy is the antithesis of truth. It is the chief instrument of the infamous Purveyor of Falsehood and Fear. Fantasy is the antithesis of Freedom. Fantasy is the antithesis of holiness, which invites us to wholesomeness and authenticity through presence and gratitude.

Fantasy is the enemy of life. It is a cowardly retreat from Reality. Fantasy is a gleaming veneer disguising ravaged timbers. It is a denial of eternity and an affirmation of defeat. On the other hand, as Scripture tells us clearly, the truth will set us free and give us a share in Jesus’ victory over death. In effect, we can have our cake and eat it too: truth and consequences. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord who is with us in the darkness and envelops us in the flame of love with warmth that only the heart can feel and a brilliance that only the soul can see.

Abundant life is a rose, so joyfully beautiful. It is a grace, so rich and delicious, that God gives to his friends. He is the way to abundant life; he is its truth.

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May God bless you and guide you throughout 2009 along the way to his kingdom on earth, a community of love. May he lead you along the path of truth. May he bless you with the boldness and joy of Life in the Spirit of Truth and Love in Christ Jesus.

Fraternally in joy and hope

richard

crib and cross Franciscan Ministries