Thursday, September 14, 2017
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is a big feast in the Carmelite calendar. It is designated in the Rule of Carmel as the beginning of the "grand fast" "You are to fast everyday, except Sundays, from the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross until Easter Day, unless bodily sickness or feebleness, or some other good reason, demand a dispensation from the fast; for necessity overrides every law." (Rule, Chapter 16). In 1247, this article of the Rule was mitigated (or relaxed) because of the change in the lifestyle of Carmelites. When Carmelites returned to Europe from the Holy Land and began to have active ministries (mendicant lifestyle), the Pope at that time mitigated the Rule of Albert. The result is that not all communities of Carmel practice the grand fast although individual members may decide to practice it.
The article below was written by St. Edith Stein on September 14, 1941. The theme of her writing was directed to her fellow religious who were to renew their vows on the occasion of the Feast. Even though the thoughts and language pertain to religious life and the religious vows, it is very appropriate for meditation by any baptized person. We share a common baptism and common consecration. Religious consecration is the living to the full of our consecration at baptism. Therefore, I judged that this is a very worthy article to read during this great feast we celebrate. The call to obedience, poverty and chastity may be different in the lay-state, but we are all called to differing degrees to practice these counsels according to our state in life. Every time you read the word "vows", add to it the words "baptismal vows" and you will surely find out that these words were also meant for you. When St. Teresa Benedicta spoke about the "world is in flames," I couldn't help but reflect that she might as well be describing the times we live in!
"Hail Cross, our only hope!"- this is what Holy Church summoned us to exclaim during the time for contemplating the bitter suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. The jubilant exclamation of the Easter Alleluia silenced the serious song of the cross. But the sign of our salvation greeted us amid the time of Easter joy, since we were recalling the discovery of the One who passed from sight. At the end of the cycle of ecclesiastical feasts, the cross greets us through the heart of the Savior. And now, as the church year draws to an end, it is raised high before us and is to hold us spellbound until the Easter Alleluia summons as anew to forget the earth for a while and rejoice in the marriage of the Lamb.
Our holy Order has us begin our fast with the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. And it leads us to the foot of the cross to renew our holy vows. The Crucified One looks down on us and asks us whether we are still willing to honor what we promised in an hour of grace. And he certainly has reason to ask. More than ever the cross is a sign of contradiction. The followers of the Anti-Christ show it far more dishonor than did the Persians who stole it. They desecrate the image of the Cross, and they make every effort to tear the cross out of the hearts of Christians. All too often they have succeeded even with those, who like us, once vowed to bear Christ's cross after him. Therefore, the Savior today looks at us, solemnly probing us, and asks each one of us: Will you remain faithful to the Crucified? Consider carefully! The world is in flames, the battle between Christ and the Anti-Christ has broken into the open. If you decide for Christ, it could cost you your life. Carefully consider what you promise. Taking and renewing vows is a dreadfully serious business. You make a promise to the Lord of heaven and earth. If you are not deadly serious about your will to fulfill it, you fall into the hands of the living God.
Before you hangs the Savior on the Cross, because he became obedient unto death on the cross. He came into the world not to do his own will, but his Father's will. If you intend to be the bride of the Crucified, you too must completely renounce your own will and no longer have any desire except to fulfill God's will. He speaks to you in the holy Rule and Constitutions of the Order. He speaks to you through the mouth of the Superiors. He speaks to you in the gentle breath of the Holy Spirit in the depths of your heart. To remain true to your vow of obedience, you must listen to this voice day and night and follow its orders. However, this means daily and hourly crucifying your self-will and self-love.
The Savior hangs naked and destitute before you on the cross because he has chosen poverty. Those who want to follow him must renounce earthly goods. It is not enough that you once left everything out there and came to the monastery. You must be serious about it now as well. Gratefully receive what God's providence sends you. Joyfully do without what he may let you do without. Do not be concerned with your own body, with its trivial necessities and inclinations, but leave concern to those who are entrusted with it. Do not be concerned about the coming and the coming meal.
The Savior hangs before you with a pierced heart. He has spilled his heart's blood to win your heart. If you want to follow him in holy purity, your heart must be free of earthly desire. Jesus, the Crucified, is to be the only object of your longings, your wishes, your thoughts. Are you now alarmed by the immensity of what the holy vows require of you? You need not be alarmed. What you have promised is indeed beyond your own weak , human power. But it is not beyond the power of the Almighty. This power will become yours if you entrust yourself to him, if he accepts your pledge of troth. He does so on the day of your holy profession and will do it anew today. It is the loving heart of your Savior that invites you to follow. It demands your obedience because the human will is blind and weak. It cannot find its way until it surrenders itself entirely to the divine will. He demands poverty because hands must be empty of earth's goods to receive the goods of heaven. He demands chastity because only the heart detached from all earthly love is free for the love of God. The arms of the Crucified are spread out to draw you to his heart. He wants your life in order to give you his.
Ave Crux, Spes unica! The world is in flames. The conflagration can also reach our house. But high above all flames towers the cross. They cannot consume it. It is the path from earth to heaven. It will lift one who embraces it in faith, hope and love into the bosom of the Trinity.
The world is in flames. Are you impelled to put them out? Look at the cross. From the open heart gushes the blood of the Savior. This extinguishes the flames of hell. Make your heart free by the faithful fulfillment of your vows, then the flood of divine love will be poured into your heart until it overflows and becomes fruitful to all the ends of the earth. Do you hear the groans of the wounded on the battlefields in the west and the east? You are not a physician and not a nurse and cannot bind up the wounds. You are enclosed in a cell and cannot get to them. Do you hear the anguish of the dying? You would like to be a priest and comfort them. Does the lament of the widows and orphans distress you? You would like to be an angel of mercy and help them. Look at the Crucified. If you are nuptially bound to him by the faithful observance of your holy vows, your BEING is precious blood. Bound to him, you are omnipresent as he is. You cannot help here or there like the physician, the nurse, the priest. You can be at all fronts, wherever there is grief, in the power of the cross. Your compassionate love takes you everywhere, this love from the divine heart. Its precious blood is poured everywhere- soothing, healing, saving.
The eyes of the Crucified look down on you- asking, probing. Will you make your covenant with the Crucified anew in all seriousness? What will you answer him? "Lord, where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life?"
Ave Crux, Spes unica!
By Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)
"The Hidden Life"