Friday, November 20, 2015

Soul of Christ - Anima Christi - A Commentary

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.
From the malignant enemy, defend me.
In the hour of my death, call me.
And bid me come to Thee.
That with Thy saints I may praise Thee
Forever and ever. Amen

Anima Christi, sanctifica me.
Corpus Christi, salva me.
Sanguis Christi, inebria me.
Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.
Passio Christi, conforta me.
O bone Jesu, exaudi me.
Intra tua vulnera absconde me.
Ne permittas me separari a te.
Ab hoste maligno defende me.
In hora mortis meae voca me.
Et iube me venire ad te,
Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te.
In saecula saeculorum. Amen

This ancient prayer has long been one of my favorite devotional poems, and while its author is unknown it appears in various documents around the end of the fourteenth century.  You will notice just by casual observation that the original Latin form has both a poetic form and rhythm not captured by the English translation, yet the English translation carries well enough the power and inspiration of the original prayer.

Soul of Christ, save me.  Anima Christi, sanctifica me. Do you think in terms of Christ Jesus having a soul?  Of course He does, we’re just not very analytical when we think of Him.  The soul is the interior core of our nature that responds to God, even as Christ Jesus responded to his Father and exulted in the Holy Spirit.  The Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. confesses that Jesus Christ is “at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body.”  He is God through and through, and man through and through, He is truly God and He is truly man, and He has a reasonable soul and a body.  If He didn’t He wouldn’t truly be man.  When we pray “Soul of Christ, save me,” we are acknowledging that His suffering on our behalf was not just a suffering of the exterior body, but an agony and dying of the inner man. What an awesome thing He has done for us in giving Himself, soul, blood and body, that we might be reconciled to God.

Body of Christ, save me. Corpus Christi, salva me.  We are now on more familiar terms. The body is a precious thing to us.  I mean our own bodies, and when we suffer in the body it affects not only the physical realm but also the interior person.  He gave His body to be nailed to the tree.  A late medieval poem, the Holy Rood, is written as a memoir of the Cross itself as it recalls the horrifying events:

                                                                        I saw the Lord of the world
                        Boldly rushing to climb upon me
                        And I could neither bend, nor break
                        The word of God. I saw the ground
                        Trembling. I could have crushed them all,
                        And yet I kept myself erect.
                                    The young Hero God/
                                                                        Himself, threw off his garments,
                        Determined and brave. Proud/           
                                                                        in the sight of men He mounted
                        The meanest gallows, to make/          
                                                                        men’s souls eternally free.
                        I trembled as His arms went round me./
                                                                        And still I could not bend,
                        Crash to earth, but had/
                                                                to bear the body of God.[i]

What is captured here is the utter willingness of Jesus Christ the Hero God to die for you and for me.  O, how He loves us so.

Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Sanguis Christi, inebria me. Christ Jesus says to those who would follow him, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”(John 6:56).  Many of his earlier followers said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60b).  But what Jesus is referring to is that deep koinonia, fellowship, intense intimacy between Himself and those who love him and are one with Him.  “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (I Corinthians 10:16-17).  That is why it is such a grievous thing to break the unity of the body of Christ.  John, the beloved disciple testifies, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).  There is in this loving union with the Father and the Son an intense intimacy, and intoxication of love priceless beyond all measure.  Drink deeply and be intoxicated with the love of Him who died for you.

Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Aqua lateris Christi, lava me. It was embarrassing for Peter and perhaps for some of the other Apostles to have Jesus lay aside His outer garments, take a towel and tie it around his waste, and begin to wash his disciples feet and dry them with the towel.  Peter cries out, “You shall never wash my feet” (John 13:8).  Jesus responds, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”  Surrender yourself and stand under the cleansing stream water and of blood that flows copiously down from the side of the crucified Lover of your soul.  Humble yourself.  Be cleansed.  But not all whose feet are washed are automatically cleansed.  To be washed by the water from the side of Christ is to be truly penitent, surrendered, and aware of both who you are, and Who He is.  It is the Lord God Jesus Christ who seeks to wash you.

Passion of Christ, strengthen me. Passio Christi, conforta me. Let the testimony of St. Paul be your testimony, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live . It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  By faith we acknowledge that we have been crucified with Christ and our life is hid with him in God (Colossians 3:3).  Only in the strength of that can we take seriously to heart the exhortation of James, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).  I have discovered the fundamental spiritual truth, that I am shut in so that I cannot escape, that I am a man who has no strength, and that I am helpless.  Initially no-one really wants to go there, but lay your hands to the wood and be one with Him.  After you have died once, or twice, or a dozen times or more, you will discover what a relief it is not to have to control everything.  Carry the yoke with him, His yoke is easy.  His burden is light.  That is when you will say with the Psalmist, “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased” (Psalm 138:3).  Strength is given only to the surrendered heart.

O good Jesus, hear me. O bone Jesu, exaudi me. The petition is warm and personal.  This Christ who surrenders His soul, whose Body was broken, whose Blood was shed, is after all my Jesus.  My friend and my familiar companion.  He has sworn His love to me, and I trust His words, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).  He who died for me is alive, He has taken His place at the right hand of the Father and through the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit, He is with me always.  I am not berift or alone.  He is the Vine, and I am a branch.  O good Jesus, none is good but God alone, and You are my God.  I know that You hear me!

Within Thy wounds hide me. Intra tua vulnera absconde me.  Why should we pray to be hidden within the wounds of Jesus the Christ?  There are three reasons that immediately come to mind; and the first is perhaps the most important.  It is the heart’s desire of the lover of God to see His face, indeed we are commanded to do so.  “You have said, "Seek my face." My heart says to you, "Your face, LORD, do I seek." But like Moses we are faced with a very real obstacle.  Moses says to the Lord, “Please show me your glory,” the Lord replies, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  But, "behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen" (Exodus 33:18-23). 

We have lost the sense of reverent awe before the Sovereign and Holy God.  The simple truth is, that in our flesh, we cannot see God, save for being hidden in the cleft of the Rock.  That leads to the second reason; we desire to be hidden in the wounds of Christ Jesus that our sins may be covered, indeed for that purpose he died so that we may be forgiven and reconciled to the Father of Lights.  The third reason has to do with a very simple safety factor.  There is an enemy that pursues our souls (Psalm 143:3) who seeks our very life.  He is a liar and a murderer and desires nothing better than the death of our peace, the death of our joy, the very death of our souls.  Within Thy wounds hide me. Intra tua vulnera absconde me.

Suffer me not to be separated from Thee. Ne permittas me separari a te.  We are in great need to be kept close to our Jesus in these troubled times, From the malignant enemy, defend me. Ab hoste maligno defende me. There was a time when “the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:9). “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!" (Revelation 12:12  ).  There is a reason to be hidden within the wounds of the Christ.  There is a reason to put on our Holy armour.  There is an Adversary, an Accuser. and that wily one is a schemer, a trickster who never tells the truth except to turn it into a lie. The enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8).  You just might be his favorite meal. Stay close to the side of Jesus who is our shield and defender.

In Days of Death and Poetry and Awe[ii]

In days of death and poetry and awe,           
Not in the flesh but in the soul I saw
A scaly thing clutch the dying as he fell
With shrieking curse, midst stench and brimstone smell.
It’s course was rudely stopped by golden wing.
The man sprang free and soaring rose on high.
The roaring demon fell earthward with a cry,
The man released from bonds began to sing.
Christ’s blood had interposed and set him free,
That gracious blood was shed for you and me.
Released from shadowlands we will be,
To stand in light beside a golden sea,
And walk in flesh upon a golden shore,
And with our King rejoice for evermore.

In the hour of my death, call me. In hora mortis meae voca me. There will come a time for each of us when the race will draw close to the goal.  Not only are we called to die now to self-centeredness, we will eventually be called die to our bodies also.  We will take nothing from this life to the next that has not been founded upon the Rock.  At the hour of my, death call me.  And bid me come to Thee. Et iube me venire ad te.  I long to come to Thee.  All the days of my life I have longed to come to Thee.  Before I knew Thee, even when I fled from Thee, I longed to come to Thee.  “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides Thee” (Psalm 73:25).  But there is more that You give to us, more than we could have dreamed.

That with Thy saints I may praise Thee. Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te. So often we have a limited idea of whom we will see in heaven.  Certainly there are some saints of our own from our faithful families and friends who have gone on before. Beyond that a few of the saints from the history of the Church may come to mind. But the roll call of the blessed is more glorious than we could ever imagine.  A hint of the awesome prospect ahead is given in the Letter to the Hebrews, You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).  
Forever and ever. Amen. In saecula saeculorum. Amen.  There we will dwell with blessed for endless ages.  Forever and ever hardly brings into the focus the endless ages rolling down through eternal time.  There we will see “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  There He will dwell with us, and we will be his people, and God himself will be with us and be our God.  There He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away, and there love and joy will abide forevermore (Rev. 21:2-4).

Amen. Amen. So be it. So be it.

Dom Anselm+ Obl. OSB

[i] Caedmon? 7th C, “The Holy Rood”, trans. Burton Raffel, Poems and Prose from the Old English, (Yale University Press, 1998), p. 56-57
[ii] Dom Anselm, Sonnets

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Morning Lectio Divina

From time to time in my morning Lectio Divina I write a reflection on the Scriptures I have been reading. Lectio Divina has four parts: Read the passage, Reflect on its meaning, Respond to God, and Rest in His presence. My Response this morning is to humbly give thanks for the riches of His grace.

It is God our Father who says to us, “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you” [Isaiah 43:4], “even when we were dead in our trespasses” [Ephesians 2:4]. We were loved at the very lowest point of our lives. It is there that He finds us. Those who will admit no need cannot be found. That is true of me, and it is true of all of us.”

 “By grace you have been saved,” occurs in verse 5 and is repeated in verse 8. We are saved by grace, God’s unmerited favor, not by faith. It important to realize that faith is not another work, but is a response on our part to God’s grace which initiates our salvation. Faith is essential, but without God’s initiating grace it has nothing to hang its hat on.

What is said of Isaiah is true for each of us, “The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name” [Isaiah 49:1]. Paul repeats the same theme in Romans 8:29 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” And note that we are individually foreknown and predestined to be part of the family of God, not to stand alone.

The focus is on God, and his work, not on us and our faith. Grace is God’s loving kindness towards us; the unmerited favour which he extends toward us. Our faith is only the connecting link, the channel through which grace flows. There is an important theological paradigm at work here: God initiates, Man responds. God’s steadfast love has been extended to you from the moment you were conceived. That is why St. Paul emphasizes that, “this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”


Ephesians 2:4-10  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved -  6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Where Be All the Splinters of Bone?

Do you believe in the resurrection of the body? Sometimes an old classic like the following from John Donne is helpful. Donne, [22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631] is known by many for his poems but as the Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London his sermons are illuminating.

Where Be All the Splinters of Bone?

Where be all the splinters of that bone, which a shot hath shivered and scattered in the air?  Where be all the atoms of that flesh, which a corrosive hath eat away, or a consumption hath breathed, and exhaled away from our arms, and other limbs?  In what wrinkle, in what furrow, in what bowel of earth, lie all the grains of the ashes of a body burnt a thousand years since?  In what corner, in what ventricle of the sea, lies all the jelly of a body drowned in the general flood? 

What coherence, what sympathy, what dependence maintains any relation, any correspondence, between that arm that was lost in Europe, and that leg that was lost in Afrique or Asia, scores of years between?  … all dies, and all dries, and moulders into dust, and that dust is blown into the river, and that puddled water tumbled into the sea, and that ebbs and flows in infinite revolutions, and still, still God knows in what cabinet every seed-pearl lives, in what part of the world every grain of a man’s dust lies; and … he whispers, he hisses, he beckons for the bodies of his saints, and in the twinkling of an eye, that body that was scattered over all the elements is sat down at the
right hand of God, in glorious resurrection.

   – John Donne, The Resurrection of the Body, Sermon, 19 November, 1627

Monday, November 2, 2015

ACCIDIE: An Unrecognized Spiritual Ailment

One of the least recognized spiritual ailments is Accidie. To us today Accidie appears as depression and its resulting sluggishness. It is can also be a form of spiritual oppression.  That can happen when the Accuser is playing havoc with our guilts and self-doubt.  One of the Western Desert Fathers, Abba Poeman says, “Accidie is there every time one begins something, and there is no worse passion, but if a man recognizes it for what it is, he will gain peace.”[i] In later times Accidie was too simplistically regarded as laziness or sloth, but its original meaning was closer to the way it was used by the Desert Fathers.

Ultimately whether or not Accidie is regarded as despondency and listlessness, or as laziness, the cure for it rests in taking action; not on the basis of sudden inspiration, but in taking action as a fulfillment of a Rule of Life that springs from the discipline our Oblation. There are three types of Grace; Initiatory Grace the first flush of the Presence of God that often, but not always, comes with the beginning of life with Christ; Infused Grace which is the Grace that we experience at special moments of renewal, at retreats, or conferences, worship services, or at other occasions; and finally, Acquired Grace which is the slow building up of an awareness of the Presence of God that is the fruit of spiritual discipline.

Very simply, that means praying the Daily Office and reading the Rule of St. Benedict on a regular basis.

In making an Oblation of our lives in the context of our Monastery, the Oblation (a gentle vow) gives us freedom from ourselves, from distractions, from emotional ups and downs, and from unbalanced fervor and dryness.  There is a natural rhythm of undulation in our lives, both physically and emotionally, and also spiritually. Having ups and downs is a normal part of our experience.  The “downs” become Accidie when the rhythm is dominantly on the down side.

We make our Oblation in the context of a specific community but also in the context of our state of life, married, single, employed, or retired; or in whatever state of life we are in.  That state of life affects the pattern of spirituality that develops, but my own observation is that our state of life should not determine the pattern of our spirituality.  The Rule of Life that springs from our Oblation calls us out of the limitations of our state of life into the Presence of God.

What St. Benedict says is, “At the hour for Divine Office, as soon as the signal is heard, let them abandon whatever they may have in hand and hasten (to prayer) with greatest speed, yet with seriousness, so that there is no excuse for levity.  Let nothing be put before the Work of God.”[ii]

            It is very difficult to drop everything “when the bell rings.”  What is often called into question by the Rule is our priorities.  Work is hard to set aside, but so also is accidie - that mingling of despondency and listlessness so clearly identified in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

The late medieval mystic Van Ruysbroek reminds us that "love cannot be lazy"3[iii] The antidote for accidie, whether it is despondency and listlessness or sloth and laziness, is action. 

St. Benedict himself says, “Idleness is the enemy of the soul.”[iv] Part of the state in which all of us find ourselves is enmeshed in the dynamic principle of the second law of thermodynamics, “heat flows from a higher to a lower temperature but that it does not do the reverse.”  In a spiritual context that means that, when you are a week away from a retreat, spiritual energy tends to cool off unless it is sustained by the balance provided by a Rule of Life.  The Rule of Life builds in us Acquired Grace. The Rule of Life should be strong enough to provide an adequate challenge, but not so strong as to be unattainable.  As St. Benedict says, “that the strong may have something to strive for and the weak nothing to run from.”[v]

I also note that it seems to be a spiritual principle that God expects us to do more than we expect ourselves to do.  That has a direct application to our Oblation.  In my experience He is always right.
From the online dictionaries:

sloth; spiritual torpor or indifference; apathy. [1600–10; < Late Latin acēdia < Greek akḗdeia]                                                                    
 "Such was the deadly sin of accidiethe name of which is forgotten today, though the   thing itself is with us still." Medieval English 

[i] 2Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975), p. 188
[ii][ii] The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 43.
[iii] Jan Van Ruysbroeck, The Sparkling Stone, The Library of Christian Classics, Late Medieval Mysticism, ed. Ray C. Petry, (PhiladelphiaL The Westminster Press, 1957), 308
[iv] Rule, Ch. 48. 
[v] Rule, Ch. 64.