Are you discouraged by the state of your world? The Cross of Christ stood for dread, discouragement, and death until souls were illumined and the lights stayed on.
When These Stone Walls underwent a redesign recently, it took awhile for printouts of its new appearance to get to me so I could see it. By that time, I had already heard from a few readers who were puzzled by the opening graphic of Saint Maximilian Kolbe when they logged onto the site. It was from a photograph of Saint Maximilian Kolbe with two younger Conventual Franciscan friars. The image seemed dark and foreboding, and something about it vaguely haunts me. This was a photograph of Father Maximilian taken just before his arrest and imprisonment at Auschwitz, a prison from which he never returned.
We have since changed that opening graphic for Holy Week. We may alternate Home Page graphics over time, but St Maximilian has become so much a part of my own imprisonment that it was difficult for me to lobby for a photo with a happier ending. As hauntingly sad as it is, that photograph is also hopeful, and for reasons I have already written in “Suffering and St Maximilian Kolbe Behind These Stone Walls.” It’s a mystery of grace that he has so interwoven his life into mine, and then so powerfully into Pornchai Maximilian Moontri’s and others.
Readers might remember Alexander Page, a young prisoner who once wrote a TSW guest post entitled “Turning a Page: A Long Lent Toward Easter Sunrise.” A few weeks ago, Alex and a dozen other New Hampshire prisoners began the “33 Days to Morning Glory” retreat, the third one presented in this prison. Alex, a recent convert to the Catholic faith, will conclude the retreat with his Consecration to Jesus through Mary.
Alex is one of the many prisoners here who became open to the work of Divine Mercy that transforms the dark turn of events in their lives into opportunities for grace and conversion. It is one of the great mysteries within the Paschal Mystery that suffering can contain within a hidden and powerful grace.
This is why I have written repeatedly in many Divine Mercy posts on These Stone Walls that “Great suffering requires great trust.” In his 2013 Marian Helper article, “Mary Is at Work Here,” Felix Carroll emphasized that quote.
One of the volunteer facilitators of the “33 Days to Morning Glory” retreat is Jim Preisendorfer. Jim was in the prison as the retreat began with Mass in the prison chapel a few weeks ago. After the Mass, he told me that he is reading the book, Christ in Dachau by John M. Lenz (Roman Catholic Books, 1960).
We only had a moment to speak, but when Jim told me of the book he looked at me for some sign of recognition that I knew of the depths of suffering it contains. I seemed a little wide-eyed because it was the third time in a week that this 1960 book had been mentioned to me.
It is a little known fact that many thousands of Catholic priests, brothers, and nuns lost their lives in the death camps of the Third Reich during World War II. This of course pales next to the deaths of six million Jews, a horror for Christians as well “for,” as Jesus instructed, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).
Dachau, located in southern Bavaria in Germany, and one of the most notorious among the death camps in the Nazi system, also housed the largest concentration of Catholic priests. Well over 2,400 priests from two dozen occupied regions were imprisoned there. The book, Christ in Dachau is subtitled, “Forgotten priests in a Nazi Hell hole.” More than one third of them were killed there by the time Dachau was liberated. For those who think that the Church or priesthood could be destroyed by a sex scandal, or by the Boston Globe, or “Spotlight,” these are nothing next to what happened at Dachau. A little perspective, please.
Father John Lenz was one of the survivors of Dachau. After the war, he was asked by his superiors to write an account of what he experienced and how he survived. Christ in Dachau was the result, and has since been translated and published worldwide in multiple languages.
THE HOUR OF JESUS
What has become clear to me in many of these accounts of great suffering imposed through the injustice of human corruption and sin is the equally great emphasis on the survival of faith. The writings of Father Lenz, of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, of Father Walter Ciszek, who spent twenty years in a Communist prison, and many others all seem to demonstrate my point – “Great suffering requires great trust.” And trusting in faith is as much a tool for survival as maintaining hope for freedom. Another truth also becomes clear in their suffering: The Hour of the Son of God does not end on the Cross.
What exactly is the “Hour” of Jesus? The first time we hear of it is early in the Gospel of John (2:4) at the wedding feast of Cana. Inexplicably present with His Mother at a wedding, she turned to Jesus and said matter of factly, “They have no wine.” It’s an oddity from the start. She injects herself as a sort of advocate in the embarrassing predicament of a wedding party that misjudged the guests’ consumption of wine. But the reply of Jesus seems equally strange. “Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
The scene is one of many in the Gospel of John that is told with echoes from the Hebrew Scriptures, our “Old Testament.” This particular scene is a reverse image of Genesis Chapter 3 in which Adam is prompted by Eve to defy the Lord and drag humanity into sin. In a prior post of mine, “I’ve Seen the Fall of Man: Advent East of Eden,” I described that scene:
“‘Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate’” (Genesis 3:11-12).
At the wedding feast of Cana, John’s Gospel draws a parallel that is that story in reverse. His Mother prompts Jesus to commence his mission of salvation. Even his reply addressing Mary as “Woman” recalls Genesis 3:15 in which Yahweh speaks of a woman whose son “will trample the devil underfoot.”
The question of Jesus, “What have you to do with me?” seems perplexing on its face, but it recalls several scenes from the Hebrew Scriptures in which the will of one party capitulates to the will of another. In 2 Kings (3:13) the Prophet Elisha said to the King of Israel, “What have I to do with you?” At the wedding feast, Mary seems completely confident that Jesus will comply with her concern, “Do whatever he tells you,” she instructs the servants.
The sole concern of Jesus, “My hour has not yet come,” is a repeated theme in John’s Gospel, and here it is a direct allusion to the very point at which his “hour” indeed begins: the Eucharistic feast at the Last Supper in which the Hour of Jesus is connected to the Liturgical Life of the Church in the pouring out of wine, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
After the Cana account – you might recall this from my post, “On the Road to Jericho: A Parable for the Year of Mercy” – the disciples of Jesus expressed surprise and concern that he would be seen talking to a Samaritan woman (John 4:21) to whom he said, “Woman, believe me the hour is coming when neither on this mountain [the Samaritans worshiped on Mt. Gerazim] nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.”
There are many other allusions to this “Hour.” In John 5:25 he said to the crowd, “Truly, truly, I say to you the hour is coming… .when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” Then in 7:30 John himself writes, “So they sought to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.” In 8:20, John again described, “These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the Temple; but no one arrested him because his hour had not yet come.”
O sacred head, surrounded
by crown of piercing thorn!
O bleeding head, so wounded,
reviled and put to scorn!
Our sins have marred the glory
of thy most holy face,
yet angel hosts adore thee
and tremble as they gaze
I see thy strength and vigor
all fading in the strife,
and death with cruel rigor,
bereaving thee of life;
O agony and dying!
O love to sinners free!
Jesus, all grace supplying,
O turn thy face on me.
In this thy bitter passion,
Good Shepherd, think of me
with thy most sweet compassion,
unworthy though I be:
beneath thy cross abiding
for ever would I rest,
in thy dear love confiding,
and with thy presence blest.
Words: Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877), 1861;
after Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153);
and Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)
LOVE TO THE END
In John 12:23 comes the first hint of what this “hour” will exact from him: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.” And John 12:27 – “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.” And his words at the Last Supper – “he loved them to the end” – are very much a part of the hour of Jesus in John as he concludes from the Cross – in John’s Greek, “tetélestai” – “It is finished” (John 19:30).
What is finished? Not the Hour of the Son of God for that has an inseparable sequel. What is finished is described by Pope Benedict XVI in his magisterial Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week:
“The hour of Jesus is the hour of the great stepping beyond, the hour of transformation… and here John anticipates the final word of the dying Jesus: “It is finished”. This end, this totality of self-giving, of remolding the whole of being – this is what it means to give oneself unto death.” (p. 55)
And from it’s earliest sources the Gospel makes no secret of the fact that Mary, too, has a part in the total self-giving of this hour: “and a sword will pierce your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). It’s interesting that in the Gospel of John, the most theologically nuanced of the accounts, Mary is never referred to by her personal name, but rather, “the Mother of Jesus” is used as a sort of title. I will never understand why this is a point of contention with some non-Catholic Christians. Mary is not worshiped. She is reverenced, and her position is clear: “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)
And the source of our reverence is her advocacy as a vessel of grace, the New Ark of the Covenant. From the start, the Archangel Gabriel approaches her with great reverence, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28).
To deny that clear Scriptural authority, “full of grace,” is to deny the truth of the Gospels. Standing at the foot of the Cross, Mary contemplates her son in his hour, and she shares in that hour of suffering. Repeating the address that began John’s Book of Signs, like a set of bookends, Jesus again addresses her in a manner that recalls Genesis: “Woman, behold your son!” and to his beloved disciple John – and to us – “Behold your Mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Among the many letters and messages I receive from readers, a sense of dread produced by the state of the world we live in is evident in almost all of them. I know what it’s like to feel that all is lost, that faith and hope are futile, and the world appears to easily trample upon them. It’s one of the most basic dreads of human nature that the world discounts much of anything beyond itself and the life we are living here. “Religion,” said Karl Marx, “is the opium of the people” – nothing but a fantasy concocted to calm our fear.
Don’t buy it! Do not waste your suffering, and its opportunities for amazing grace for you and for others, by allowing its meaning to be stripped from it by the Father of Lies and the masters of deceit he influences. Share your suffering as an offering of self-giving, a share in the suffering of Christ. In this self-offering, the Hour of the Cross becomes your hour as well, and the self-giving of your cross is an act of trust that Easter follows, that with the dawn comes rejoicing.
Editor’s Note: Spend some time this Holy Week and Easter behind These Stone Walls with the following Holy Week posts: