pierced heart

“As the sun surpasses all the stars in luster,
so the sorrows of Mary surpass all the
tortures of the martyrs.”

St. Basil


(detail of Mary at the deposition of Christ by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden circa 1435)


“In this valley of tears, every man is born to weep, and all must suffer,
by enduring the evils that take place every day.
But how much greater would be the misery of life,
if we also knew the future evils that await us!
‘Unfortunate, indeed, would be the situation of someone who knows the future’,
says the pagan Roman philosopher Seneca; ‘he would have to suffer everything by anticipation’.
Our Lord shows us this mercy. He conceals the trials that await us so that,
whatever they may be, we may endure them only once.
But he didn’t show Mary this compassion.
God willed her to be the Queen of Sorrows, and in all things like his Son.
So she always had to see before her eyes, and continually to suffer,
all the torments that awaited her. And these were the sufferings of the passion
and death of her beloved Jesus.
For in the temple, St. Simeon, having received the divine Child in his arms,
foretold to her that her Son would be a sign for all the persecutions and oppositions of men. …
Jesus our King and his most holy mother didn’t refuse,
for love of us, to suffer such cruel pains throughout their lives.
So it’s reasonable that we, at least, should not complain if we have to suffer something.”

St. Alphonsus Liguori, p. 222
An Excerpt From
A Year with Mary

I’m still making my way slowly through the book The Divine Plan by Paul Kengor and Robert Orlando.
A book based on a seemingly oddly matched friendship and the ‘dramatic end
of the Cold War.’
The book is about the relationship between the Catholic Pope, John Paul II,
and the Protestant American President, Ronald Reagan and of their individual
journies toward that friendship that changed the course of history.

I’ve previously read many books recounting the work of this dynamic duo and the subsequent
dismantling of the USSR…books that recount the seemingly odd match Fate found in
two vastly different world stage players.
But this book’s authors, as do I, believe that this particular match was a match set in
motion long before there was ever an iron curtain,
a relationship that was formed by something much greater than mere Fate.

Hence the title, the Divine Plan…

But today’s post is not so much about that particular Divine match…
that post will come later…
Today’s post, rather, is actually a post about someone else whose life was
Divinely tapped to play a pivotal role in our collective human history.

A post inspired in part by something that I actually read in the book regarding
Pope John Paul II when he was but a young boy growing up in Poland and known
simply as Karol Wojtyla.
It’s what I read which actually lead me to today’s waxing and waning.

When the Pope, or rather young Karol, was 8 years old, his mother died after an
acute urinary tract infection, leaving an impressionable young boy to be raised
by his former military father.

Blessedly the elder Wojtyla was a very devout Christian man and was determined to raise his
young son under the direction of the Chruch.
And so he took a bereft young boy to one of the many shrines to the Madonna in order to pray
and to explain to Karol that the woman he saw in the shrine, that being Mary the mother
of Jesus, was to now be the mother to whom he must turn.

If you’ve ever read anything about Pope John Paul II then you know that he had a very
deep and very real relationship with the Virgin Mary—it is a relationship that reached back
to the void in the heart of an eight-year-old boy who had lost his earthly mother.
It was a relationship that would serve the Pope well throughout his entire life.

So it was this little tale about Mary that got me thinking.

Being raised as a Protestant, we don’t always fully grasp the relationship our Catholic kin
have with Mary.
In fact, we often look at the relationship sideways as if it were some sort of
obsessive oddity.

We scorn them for it.
We ridicule them over it.
And we’ve even accused them of idolatry over it.
And I think we have been unfair.

But this post is not about all of that, not today.

However, this post, on the other hand, is about my thoughts about the mother of Jesus,
the mother of our very own Lord and Savior.

I think history, theology, Christianity often gives Mary a bum rap.
And if it’s not a bum rap, it simply opts to gloss over her.

We tend to put her over in a corner someplace and move on.

And yes that is the role she readily accepted.

We think of her on or around Christmas eve as we recall her wandering the backroads of
a desert night, riding on the back of a donkey as she and her young husband look
for shelter as she is about to give birth…
and then, after Christmas, we don’t think much else about her, ever.

Many mothers accept such a role.
One of obscurity and the role of simply being put in a corner someplace as their child or
children shine in the limelight of whatever direction life should take them.

It’s kind of what mothers do.

And thus I write this post today in part because I have been, as I am currently,
a mother.
And in turn, I kind of get what it means being both mother and grandmother and what
that entails on an earthly level.

I get that it can be a deeply gut-wrenching, emotionally charged roller coaster
ride of life.
I get that it can be both physically, emotionally and spiritually exacting.

Just as it can literally break one’s heart.

Think of those women who have lost their children to illness, accidents, suicides or even
lost to war.

But for Mary, let’s imagine a woman who’s more than just a mother of a son,
but rather a woman who must also look to that son as an extension of her own God.

Who amongst us wouldn’t find that dichotomy utterly impossible to comprehend?

Your son being also your God…

This being the baby you carried for nine months.
Who you delivered through in pain and duress…
The baby who you had to flee town over.
The baby who kings came to visit.

Yet the same baby whose dirty diapers you changed.
Whose spit-up you cleaned up.
Whose hands you popped as they reached for danger…
The toddler whose hand you held when he took his first steps;
The child whose fever you prayed would go away; whose broken bones you willed to heal…
Whose broken heart, you wept over…

And then this same child grew to be an extension of the same God who had come to you
on a lonely night, telling you that He was taxing you with a seemingly impossible task.

Imagine the anguish you felt when, on a family trip, you thought this child of yours was
in the care of relatives…until you realized that no one really knew where he was.

This only child of yours was lost.

It had been three days when you realized he wasn’t with your family.
You had assumed and taken for granted and now he was gone.
How could you have let this happen?
You mentally begin to beat yourself to death.

You now realize he was left behind, alone, in an unforgiving town.
Who had him?
What had become of him?
Was he frightened?
Was he alone?
Was he hungry?
Was he dead?
Was he gone forever?

After frantically retracing your steps, desperately searching both day and night,
calling out his name, you miraculously finally find him.

He is at the Temple.

Your knee jerk reaction is to both cry out while taking him in your arms and then to simultaneously
yank him up by his ear, dragging him off back home all the while fussing as to the
sickening worry he has caused you.

And yet he meets you as if you’ve never met before.
You eerily sense an odd detachment.
He is subdued, calm, even passive…
An old soul now found in what should be a youthful, boisterous child.

Your brain struggles to make sense of what greets your eyes.
His now otherworldliness demeanor is puzzled by your own agitated level of angst.

He matter-of-factly tells you that he’d been in “his Father’s house,
about His father’s business. A simple matter of fact that should not have
you surprised or shocked.
It was as if he felt you should have known this all along.

You let go of him and stare while you try to wrap both your head and heart around what
you’re hearing.
Your anger and fear dissolve into resignation when you painfully recall the words
spoken to you years earlier…
“your heart, like his, will be pierced”…

In the movie, The Passion of the Christ, I was keenly stuck by one particularly
heartwrenching scene.

It was the scene of Jesus carrying the cross through the streets as
Mary ran alongside, pushing through the gathering crowd, watching from a distance
as tears filled her eyes while fear filled her heart.

Mother’s are prewired to feel the need, the urge, the necessity to race in when their
children are hurting.
Mothers desperately try, no matter the age of their children, to take them in their arms…
to caress their fevered brow, to kiss away their salty tears to rock their pain-filled body…

In the movie we see Mary watching as Jesus stumbles under the weight of the
cross–this after being brutally beaten.
She particularly gasps for air…willing her son to breathe in as well.
Her mind races back in time to when, as a young boy, Jesus falls and skins his knees.
He cries as the younger mother Mary, races to pick up her son and soothe his pain.

And just as suddenly, Mary is rudely jolted and catapulted mercilessly back to the current moment,
painfully realizing that she is now helpless to be there for her son.

Her heart is pierced.
As it will be pierced again as the nails are hammered into his flesh and he is hoisted
up in the air…left to die a slow and excruciating death of suffocation
while bones are pulled and dislocated.

And so yes, my thoughts today are on Mary.
A woman who taught us what it is to be a loving mother as well as an obedient woman…
obedient unto the piercing of a heart.

I would dare say that we still have so much to learn from her example.

Obedience seems to have very little in common with such things as abortions,
hashtags and feminism.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome.

1 John 5:3 ESV

Asking forgiveness, it’s never too late nor futile…Poland is such an example

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has
forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

C.S. Lewis

“Freedom is the capacity to assert one’s will against the willfulness of others.”
William of Ockham


Over the past weekend, I caught a lovely news story.

In between the nerve-racking updates about Hurricane Dorian here on the east coast—
the hurricane that just doesn’t want to go away—
to the sorrowful story coming out from the west coast about the tragic boat fire in the
Pacific claiming nearly 40 lives, to another sorrowful mass shooting…
finding a news story that read of hope, if not simply civility, was greatly welcomed.

Below, I’ve simply cut and paste the AT&T news story.
My take on it all follows…

Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has asked for Poland’s forgiveness
80 years after the start of World War II.

“I stand before you, those who have survived, before the descendants of the victims,
the old and the young residents of Wielun, I am humbled and grateful,”
Steinmeier said during a ceremony in the Polish city of Wielun,
the site of one of the first Nazi bombings in the country on September 1, 1939.

“I bow to the victims of the attack in Wielun,
I pay tribute to the Polish victims of German tyranny and I ask for forgiveness,” he said.

Nearly 6 million Poles died during World War II,
which remains the bloodiest conflict in history.

More than 50 million people were killed in the conflict overall,
including some 6 million Jews, half of whom were Polish.

At a ceremony in Warsaw, Polish President Andrzej Duda spoke of the atrocious history
suffered by Polish people during WWII and the “trauma” that they still carry today.

The Polish President remembered the fallen and thanked the soldiers
“who fought and sacrificed their lives for freedom.”

In an address on Sunday morning in Westerplatte, Gdansk,
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke of the huge material, spiritual, economic
and financial losses Poland suffered in the war.

“We have to talk, we have to remember about the losses we suffered,
we have to demand the truth, we have to demand compensation,” Morawiecki said.

War reparations remain a contentious issue in Poland —
since coming to power in 2015, the Law and Justice (PiS)
party has revived calls for compensation, Reuters reported.
Germany made the last payment on reparations in 2010.

US Vice President Mike Pence spoke in Warsaw on Sunday at the commemoration ceremony
to mark the 80th anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland.
Two days later, on September 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany.

“During the five decades of untold suffering and death that followed the outbreak of World War II,
the Polish people never lost hope, they never gave in to despair,
and they never let go of their thousand-year history,” Pence said.

“In the years that followed this day 80 years ago,
their light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” he added.

https://start.att.net/news/read/article/cnn-german_president_asks_for_forgiveness_80_years_aft-cnn2/category/news

The nation of Poland has a great deal to teach the rest of the world about perseverance
as well as the ability to forgive…just as it seems a German leader has a few things to teach
all of us about the never-ending ability to ask one who has been tragically wronged, to forgive.

But you’d need to understand a bit of history first to truly appreciate this story.

I’ve touched on Poland and her history before in a few previous posts,
but it seems the importance of revisiting has resurfaced.

Poland sits in a pivotal location geographically.

According to the renowned author and biographer, George Weigel, in his international bestseller
Witness to Hope / The biography of Pope John Paul II,
Poland’s location at the crossroads of Latin and Byzantine Europe, it’s geography,
and its repeated experience of invasion, occupation, resistance and
resurrection gave rise to a distinctive Polish way of looking at history.

Poland sits in the middle of Europe—in between the majority of Europe to the west
and Russia along with her broken minions to the east.
Poland has, down through the centuries, proven to be a historical bulwark.

She has literally been the defending line between tyranny and democracy for centuries.
And she has never complained about her pivotal lot.

I am reminded of the verse from the book of Luke:
“From everyone who has been given much,
much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much,
much more will be asked.

Luke 12:48

“Polish history is generally taken to begin with the baptism
of the Piast prince Mieszko I in 966. Mieszko’s choice for Latin Christianity
over Eastern Christianity, which had been formed in the orbit of Constantinople,
decisively shaped Poland’s history for more than a millennium.”

By Mieszko’s choice, a Slavic land and people would be oriented toward the Latin West.

These Roman Slavs were a bridge between Europe’s two cultural halves;
they could “speak the language of two spiritual worlds.”
Poland’s Catholicity and its geographic location led to a certain catholicity
of cultural temperament.

Tartars and Swedes had laid waste [to] the country; the Austrians had stripped the
Old Town of its fortifications and walls (Kraków); occupying powers of varying degrees of
ferocity had displaced the kings and queens of Poland from the royal castle,
atop the “Polish Zion.”
Now, on September 1, 1939, Wawel Cathedral was about to experience something beyond the
imagining of those who had worshiped beneath its gothic vault for centuries.

Poland, as a nation, has been erased numerous times from the known geographical
maps of human history.
Meaning, she was eliminated as a nation…
absorbed by her greedy neighbors on more than one occasion…
actually being erased for over 100 years from any historical map.
Yet the Polish people and their spirit as a unified people, has always remained.

Weigel notes “Poland is not always appreciated this way.
Indeed, the suspicion seems widespread that the Poles
must, for some reason or other, deserve their bad luck.
Yet Poland’s curse is neither in the stars nor in the Polish people.
It’s the neighborhood.”

“For more than a thousand years, the Polish people and their state have inhabited an enormous
flat plain bounded by large, aggressive, materially superior neighbors.
…The Germans were always to the west, and almost always aggressive.
German-Polish enmity followed and peaked in World War II,
when the Nazis sought to eradicate the Polish nation from history.

World War II, which the Poles sometimes describe as the war they lost twice,
was an unmitigated disaster for Poland.
Six million of its citizens our of a prewar population of 35 million,
were killed in combat or murdered– a mortality rate of eighteen percent.
The nation was physically decimated.
Poland became the site of the greatest slaughters of the Holocaust.
And, at the end, another totalitarian power seized control of Poland’s political future.

Karol Wojtyla, the future pope, would live under and eventually be formed by
these two occupying and oppressive regimes–two regimes that would each lend an
unknown hand to the building of a formidable world leader and in turn their own
nemesis and foe.

According to Wikipedia:
On 16 October 1978, Poland experienced what many Poles literally believed to
be a miracle.
Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, the archbishop of Kraków, was elected pope at the Vatican,
taking the name John Paul II. The election of a Polish Pope had an electrifying
effect on what was at that time one of the last idiosyncratically
Catholic countries in Europe.
When John Paul toured Poland in June 1979, half a million people came to welcome
him in Warsaw; in the next eight days, about ten million Poles attended the
many outdoor masses he celebrated.
John Paul clearly became the most important person in Poland, leaving the regime
not so much opposed as ignored. Rather than calling for rebellion,
John Paul encouraged the creation of an “alternative Poland” of social
institutions independent of the government, so that when the next crisis came,
the nation would present a united front.

On 27 October 1991, the first (since the 1920s) entirely free Polish parliamentary
election took place.
This completed Poland’s transition from a communist party rule to a Western-style liberal
democratic political system.

And so despite the centuries of war, siege, occupation, death, murder, and even obliteration…
Poland has remained…just as she continues to remain.

And so we are fortunate in that we, as a world, may watch as a one-time warring
and occupying nation sincerely offers a very humble and visceral apology.
Words that cannot erase the pain, suffering, loss or unfathomable human tragedy…
but words offered by a nation who can admit to the sins of her past…
which in turn now offer hope to a renewed future for us all.

Forgiveness, Hope and Healing—all offered to a very troubled and very needing world…

We continue to hold on to Hope…

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander,
along with every form of malice.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,
just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:31-32

losing my mind…

There is no antithesis between hope for heaven and loyalty to the earth,
since this hope is also hope for the earth.
While we hope for something greater and definitive,
we Christians may and must bring hope into that which is transitory,
into the world of our states
.
Joseph Ratzinger


(detail from Sainte Chapelle / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2018)

I mentioned the other day the irony that as we…we being anyone,
work toward pushing our way toward a Godly life, a Godly
mindset, a Godly perspective as to how we live our lives…
the harder we work toward such, Satan, in turn,
goes into overdrive trying desperately to thwart any and all efforts.

I know this.

Hence why I’m opting to just walk around with an umbrella over my head 24/7.

But more about all of that later.

One thing that I have noticed that isn’t helping…isn’t helping my mindset, my demeanor,
my outlook, is this country’s quagmire of division and hatred and the constant news
feeds… be they from a liberal progressive henny penny the sky is falling slant or from
the more conservative slant of ‘oh woe is us’ (of which I tend to be more of the ‘oh
woe is us’ camp) it is enough to be driving me absolutely nuts…
so much so that I dare turn on a television or click on news…
and Heaven’s help us, when I get the world breaking news alerts on my phone.

And so it was a bit serendipitous to stumble upon the following quote by
Joseph Ratzinger…aka Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Joseph Ratzinger, as Cardinal Ratzinger who worked under Pope John Paul II as the
Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
was known as God’s Rotweiller.

He headed a Vatican department responsible for enforcing doctrinal orthodoxy, and was
the successor to the Inquisition.
A tough-minded man who once said that “rock music was “the expression of basic passions”
And he described homosexuality as a “more or less strong tendency ordered toward
an intrinsic moral evil”.

He did not mince the words of Biblical truths.

The former Pope, who now lives a reclusive, prayerful and scholarly life in a small
apartment on the grounds of the Vatican, is German by birth.
Hence the Rottweiler reference as well as being known as the Panzer Cardinal.

However it was as a youthful boy, Ratzinger’s heart was set on being a priest.
But Hitler and his Nazi monster reign put that dream on hold.

The family was very anti-Nazi, anti-Hitler.
The Nazi regime’s politics ran counter to the Ratzinger’s Catholic Christian faith.
So much so that the senior Ratzinger moved his family multiple times in hopes of living a life
somewhat free from the growing madness.

However time eventually ran out and as required of all young German boys during this dark time
in mankind’s history, this future Pope was mandated to serve time as a member of Hitler’s
Youth Group. Should he opt not to participate, the family would face financial penalties
and most likely worse.

During the dark, chaotic days of Nazi Germany, Ratzinger witnessed first hand the
horrors of what life was like under Hitler’s spell.
Ratzinger had a younger cousin who had Down’s Syndrome—
Such individuals were considered to be defective….imperfect and impure.
It was the likes of Josef Mengele, the physician who performed countless “experiments” of such individuals-who viewed people like Ratzinger’s cousin as living guinea pigs, had those like
Ratzinger’s cousin rounded up and taken away.

And so his cousin was indeed “taken away” from the family by the local authorities.
A short time afterward the family was given word that the boy had been killed for being one of the “undesirables”—an individual considered to be a flaw…
a weak and unpure part of the Aryan gene pool.

During his time as a Hitler Youth, Ratzinger was miserable.

In Ratzinger’s book Salt of the Earth, Ratzinger says the following “…
Thank goodness, there was a very understanding mathematics teacher.
He himself was a Nazi but an honest man, who said to me,
‘Just go once and get the document so that we have it’ …
When he saw that I simply didn’t want to, he said, ‘I understand, I’ll take care of it’,
and so I was able to stay free of it.
(Wikipedia)

Later when he was of age, Ratzinger was drafted.
Three separate times his service was terminated, only to be reinstated and serving in various capacities
but never seeing active fighting on the front.

Eventually, he made the harrowing decision to desert.

Ratzinger has often stated that Heavenly angels watched over him and his family during those
frantic final days of Nazi Germany as there were multiple times when the authorities
discovered a young man of draft age who was oddly not enlisted—
and yet, his desertion was oddly never pursued.

As soon as the war was over, Ratzinger and his brother both entered seminary.

So if there is one who understands the attacks by Satan on those who attempt to pursue a
Godly life and of the role a political ethos plays in the lives of Christians
it would be Ratzinger…as well as Karol Woytjla, aka Pope John Paul II who
lived a life of labor, pain, and suffering in a Nazi-occupied Poland…

So may the following words of wisdom offered by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
speak to all of us today…those of us who are finding ourselves living
in these very uncertain and surreal political times…

True human objectivity involves humanity, and humanity involves God.

True human reason involves morality, which lives on God’s commandments.

This morality is not a private matter; it has public significance.

Without the good of being good and of good action, there can be no good politics.

What the persecuted Church prescribed for Christians as the core of their political
ethos must also be the core of an active Christian politics:
only where good is done and is recognized as good can people live together
well in a thriving community.

Demonstrating the practical importance of the moral dimension,
the dimension of God’s commandments—publicly as well—must be the center of responsible
political action.

Joseph Ratzinger