(Sorry I didn’t post yesterday; the Internet was out.)
To get deeper into the spirit of Holy Week, and to help you to do the same, I’ll be posting daily “soul boosts” containing the following: (1) a hymn tied to the liturgical day; (2) a timely Biblical text; (3) a beautiful piece of religious art; (4) a spiritual reflection; and (5) a Saint you should get to know (or get to know better).
Hymn: Vexilla Regis
This is an ancient Latin hymn, written by St. Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers, back in 569 A.D. You can listen to the beautiful Latin here, but if you’re wondering what they’re saying, here’s an English translation:
Forth comes the Standard of the King:
All hail, thou Mystery ador’d!
Hail, Cross! on which the Life Himself Died,
and by death our life restor’d!
On which our Saviour’s holy side
Rent open with a cruel spear
Of blood and water poured a stream,
To wash us from defilement clear.
O sacred wood! in Thee fulfill’d
Was holy David’s truthful lay!
Which told the world, that from a tree
The Lord should all the nations sway.
Most royally empurpled o’er,
How beauteously thy stem doth shine!
How glorious was its lot to touch
Those limbs so holy and divine!
Thrice blest, upon whose arms outstretched
The Saviour of the world reclined;
Balance sublime! upon whose beam
Was weighed the ransom of mankind.
Hail, Cross! thou only hope of man,
Hail, on this holy Passionday!
To saints increase the grace they have;
From sinners purge their guilt away.
Salvation’s spring, blest Trinity,
Be praise to Thee through earth and skies:
Thou through the Cross the victory
Dost give; oh, also give the prize!
Scripture: The Meaning of Suffering
Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross gives meaning to all of our suffering. Christ doesn’t come to remove our crosses, but to give those crosses meaning. That’s what St. Peter teaches us in 1 Peter 2:18-25,
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing. For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
We can endure suffering and injustice, and more than endure, by uniting it to the meritorious sufferings of Jesus Christ.
Religious Art: Antoni Gaudí’s Scourging of Christ at the Pillar (20th c.)
This is from the Stations of the Cross outside of La Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, designed by Servant of God Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). It’s the scourging of Christ at the pillar:
There’s a beautiful detail, easy to overlook: Jesus’ hands aren’t bound. He’s just holding on to the rope. Why present Him this way? To remind us that Jesus laid His life down willingly; no one took it from Him.
Spiritual Reading: Learning to Love the Cross
The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis’ (1380-1471), was one of the most famous spiritual works of the Middle Ages. In Chapter 11 of Part II of the book, Kempis describes how few people truly love Christ’s Cross:
JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus—love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!
Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing? Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all things. And who shall find a man so truly poor in spirit as to be free from every creature? His value is like that of things brought from the most distant lands.
If a man give all his wealth, it is nothing; if he do great penance, it is little; if he gain all knowledge, he is still far afield; if he have great virtue and much ardent devotion, he still lacks a great deal, and especially, the one thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one thing? That leaving all, he forsake himself, completely renounce himself, and give up all private affections. Then, when he has done all that he knows ought to be done, let him consider it as nothing, let him make little of what may be considered great; let him in all honesty call himself an unprofitable servant. For truth itself has said: “When you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: ‘we are unprofitable servants.’”
Then he will be truly poor and stripped in spirit, and with the prophet may say: “I am alone and poor.” No one, however, is more wealthy than such a man; no one is more powerful, no one freer than he who knows how to leave all things and think of himself as the least of all.
This process of giving up everything that hinders us in our quest for Christ is a lifelong one, but Kempis reminds us how worthy the task truly is.
Saint to Know: St. Peter Martyr
The fastest canonization in the history of the Church was for a Dominican Saint, Peter of Verona, better known as St. Peter Martyr. Although he’s believed to have grown up in a family sympathetic to the Cathar (or Manichean) heresy, Peter was drawn to Catholicism from a young age. At the age of 15, he met St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), and ended up joining his order. Peter became a powerful opponent of Catharism, and eventually, a group of Cathars in Milan hired an assassin, Carino of Balsamo. On April 6, 1252, Carino ambushed Peter and one of his companions. He partially decapitated Peter with an axe; the dying Peter responded by writing Credo in Unum Deum (“I believe in One God,” the opening line of the Nicene Creed) in his own blood before expiring.
Needless to say, it took the Church no time in confirming that Peter was a Saint and Martyr. He was officially declared a Saint on March 9, 1253, the fastest canonization in history. On the universal calendar, his feast day is the date of his entry into Heaven: April 6th.