What Do I See in the Mirror

Today the Catholic Church celebrates St. Clare, whose Church we spent some time in while we were visiting Assisi a few weeks ago.  Clare holds a special place in our hearts.

Although she was born into a wealthy family, Clare followed St. Francis in a life of poverty. She was the foundress and superior of the Poor Clares in Assisi. San Damiano, the church rebuilt by St. Francis, became Clare’s home and there she spent much time in contemplative prayer.

Clare encouraged her sisters to gaze into the “mirror” – by which she mean the crucifix. Describing what one would see in this mirror, she wrote in a letter to Agnes of Prague:

In this mirror you will find poverty in bright reflection. you will see humility and love beyond words. You will be able to see this clearly with the grace of God and to contemplate it in its fullness…
Gaze upon that mirror each day…and continually study your face within it.
… Look at the border of this mirror, that is, the poverty of Him Who was placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. O marvelous humility! O astonishing poverty! The King of angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger! Then, at the surface of the mirror, consider the holy humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labors and burdens that He endured for the redemption of the whole human race. Then, at the depth of this same mirror, contemplate the ineffable charity that led Him to suffer on the wood of the Cross and to die there the most shameful kind of death.

Perhaps a question to ask ourselves is: When I gaze prayerfully at the crucifix, what do I see in the mirror? And how does what I see lead me to conversion and to greater love and compassion?

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2 thoughts on “What Do I See in the Mirror

  1. Is Mary, the Mother of God’s, presence often shared with us in a more personal way?

    Is Her presence, through the Holy Spirit, manifested in ways unseen, though truly physically experienced, during our faith journey – a mother’s hand that guides? I believe, Perpetua has been there for me. . .

    Prayers offered prior, during and after Mass, and in church visits before the crucifix are innumerable. Although, I cannot recall a moment, before a crucifix, reflecting upon Christ’s suffering. Reflection upon His ‘Gift of Sacrifice’ inspires prayers of thanksgiving that are never ending, and welcomes moments He presents calling for our God given gifts be shared.

    In faith through Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection, death has been overcome, eternal life promised and the forgiveness of sins offered through the ‘Gift’ of His sacrifice – His sacrifice that was freely offered while ‘expecting’ nothing in return. . .

    Who believes Jesus wishes us to focus on His suffering (no matter how horrific) – His a single scourging that lasted at most ten minutes; His a singular ordeal of forced hard labor from the Praetorium to the traditional location of Golgotha [a linear distance of 0.2 miles (0.3 kilometers) and slightly further as no one knows the exact route followed] that with Simon of Cyrene’s help possibly took 30 minutes; and a crucifixion endured for six hours (many suffered a couple of days until ‘hypovolemic shock’ set in – a condition when the body has lost so much blood and fluid that the heart cannot continue to function.)

    “I solemnly assure you, the man who has faith in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these.” (John 14:12, New American Bible)

    Not only will many, “. . . do the works I do, and greater far than these. . .” Many have (and will continue to) suffer much more and for much longer duration than Jesus . . .

    Why must Christ’s message of “Love each other as I have loved you,” be continually embellished for effect? There is no need. . . His sacrifice, the greatest Gift we will ever receive, was of His (and His Father’s) will – freely given. Our free will is challenged in the Eucharist to transcend the ‘Memorial’ and the ‘Model’ concepts traditionally cited as the Sacrament’s Grace and Blessings. We are called to so much more. . .

    “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Tertullian), is much less responsible for the growth of, or the acceptance of, Christianity than the charitable acts of the early church. Eusebius’ writings of the Martyrs and even my dearest Perpetua’s martyrdom have often been embellished for effect. Perpetua’s death (like many Martyrs) was more by choice (unwilling to offer a sacrifice to placate the pagan gods) than part of any general ‘rounding up’ and execution of Christians.

    “In the second century B.C., as in our own day, many people began moving from the countryside to the city in search of jobs and amenities. Once in the cities, however, migrants found themselves living in tenement buildings lacking basic sanitary facilities. The support of family and village now gone, they eked out an often lonely urban existence. In the face of daily alienation or in times of trouble, they could expect no social support beyond occasional free grain and entertainment such as gladiatorial games (“bread and circuses”).

    Worse still, should they sicken, no clinics or hospitals existed to provide healing or even basic nursing care. True, one could find physicians. But their fees were too steep for most. Some towns did hire a public physician, but institutional health care was unheard of. So hoi polloi (commoners) were left to rely on folk healers and sellers of herbs, amulets, and quack remedies.

    In a world of gods not renowned for their compassion, Roman culture simply did not encourage a felt responsibility to assist the destitute, sick, or dying. Individuals were expected to care for their own health in any way they could. Many lacked even the safety net of family—discharged soldiers, peasants who had come into the city seeking work, or slaves who had been recently freed. Without a family, you simply had no support system: no one to take care of you when you were sick, no one to help with food or rent when you couldn’t work, and no one to bury you when you died.

    Destitute families lacking any resources to help sometimes even abandoned the chronically ill to die. In Rome, sick or elderly slaves were routinely left to waste away on Tiber Island. Unwanted children were often left to die of exposure. If a father decided that the family couldn’t afford to feed another child, that child would be abandoned on the steps of a temple or in the public square. Almost without exception defective newborns were exposed in this way.
    Female infants were exposed much more often than males because a girl not only added another mouth to feed, but she also couldn’t (according to Roman social customs) work to support the family. Besides, the father knew he would eventually have to bear the added burden of furnishing a dowry for each daughter’s marriage.

    The classical world possessed no religious or philosophical basis for the concept of the divine dignity of human persons, and without such support, the right to live was granted or withheld by family or society almost at a whim. As a result, the chronically ill could be seen everywhere in the streets, baths, and forums—many of them homeless and begging. Some turned to the temples of healing gods, such as Isis and Serapis, who were believed to heal supernaturally.

    Most famous of these gods was Asclepius, who was worshiped in hundreds of temples and shrines throughout the Roman Empire. The sick would come as pilgrims to the temples. Here they would offer a small sacrifice, so humble that even the poor could ¬afford it, then sleep overnight in the abaton, or sacred enclosure, where they believed that the god might appear to them, sometimes in a dream, to heal them. Those who most often sought help were either suffering from chronic or hopeless diseases or were very poor. Some were healed, according to temple inscriptions. By the second century A.D., physicians were available at some temples to offer advice on medical regimens. But pilgrims came for healing, not for long-term medical care, which was not provided. In fact, the dying were not allowed in the temple precincts, since their death would pollute the sanctuary.

    Christians responded by demonstrating Christ’s love to their brothers and sisters, who bore God’s image (John 13:34–35). The weaker and more helpless the neighbor, the greater the need to show them the compassion of Christ.

    Hence early Christians showed special concern for the protection of unborn and newborn life. This sort of practical morality departed radically from the social ethics of classical paganism and laid the foundation for Christian philanthropy.

    The pagan idea of philanthropia (“love of mankind”) not only did not provide an impulse for private charity, but actively discouraged it. In Greek and Roman society beneficence (providing assistance to the needy) existed only on the community level; civic philanthropy was exercised by rulers and the wealthy on behalf of the entire community, rich and poor alike. There was no particular reason to found charitable institutions. The stoic philosophy of many in the ruling class discouraged beneficence motivated by pity because it was based on emotion rather than on reason.

    By contrast, God’s love demanded from Christians a response that would demonstrate his love to others, especially the unlovely.

    Christian beneficence went further than Jewish charity, which required only that the Jewish community help its own.

    This new ethic also surpassed the Stoic concept of human brotherhood: it was compassionate love (agape), not to the deserving, but to the despised, indeed to enemies. God loved us while we were sinners: Jesus commanded his hearers to “go and do likewise.” (Christian History Institute, A New Era In Roman Healthcare.)

    “. . . go and do likewise.” In the Eucharist, did not Jesus request similar? “Do this in remembrance of me.”

    “By contrast, God’s love demanded from Christians a response that would demonstrate his love to others, especially the unlovely.”

    Have the edicts of Theodosius I (reigned 379-392) – who sealed the fate of the Pagans, who outlawed all Pagan religious festivals and ordered the destruction of all Pagan temples across the Empire, who ordered the burning of writings critical of Christian beliefs, who also banned the Olympic Games which were seen as a non-Christian celebration; and who initiated the process of destroying all of the last remnants of Paganism that took decades and resulted in riots and street fighting in many areas – survived in more subtle forms as the Roman Church today believes their religious freedom in under attack?

    When will we begin to reconcile in action, not word, congregational “Christian beneficence” which often remains at odds with doctrinal pronouncements?

    How has Jesus’ message of inclusion become more and more exclusive? How tragic that many a deacon and priest hold beliefs they cannot profess in public. . .

    While Perpetua and many like her were willing to give their lives to (for) Christ; why are so few willing today to give (lend) their voices more publically and “demonstrate his love to others, especially the unlovely?”

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