I receive many letters over the course of a month. I have to admit most of them are sad. Good people tell me their problems—loss of a job, serious illness, divorce. The list goes on. Inevitably, there’s always a reference to carrying one’s cross. It seems part of the human condition that at some time in life we will all carry a cross just as Jesus did. But I ask you to remember that even Jesus had someone helping Him carry His cross, and He will help us carry ours. I do not know what kind of cross you carry now. I do know, that whether it be pain of body or spirit, disappointments, the death of a loved one, the insecurities of youth and the trembling of old age, the cross touches all of us. The cross hangs over all of our lives and with all my years of Theology, I still do not know why. We all shudder a little when Christ warns us that life can get tough, and that we have to face up to it. None of us likes cross carrying. Yet, there is no human pain that cannot be touched to the cross of Christ. The only thing that can help us carry the crosses that are so much a part of life is our relationship with God. And through this relationship you will love Him because you have touched Him and He has touched you. The questions of why suffering, why pain, why do bad things happen to good people, those questions will not wear away. Still, we don’t have to be like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Remember them? They were walking away from Jerusalem after Christ’s death, away from the suffering, away from the cross, when the resurrected Christ joined them on the road. They did not recognize Him. They tell Him of all their disappointment and frustration of seeing their Savior crucified. And when He told them they were foolish for leaving, they did not recognize Him—because they had missed the Resurrection. We need not run away from our problems, pain and suffering. Just as your Gethsemane is His garden, and your Calvary is also His cross, when you carry your cross, He is there, you are touching Him and His love. And through His love you will be sharing in His Resurrection.
In honor of Independence Day, I thought I would share a story that was shared with me several years ago of a soldier who passed away during the Vietnam War and the unconditional love of a father and son that reminds us of the sacrifice Christ made for our eternal life. I hope you enjoy this beautiful story and have a safe and healthy summer. A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael. They would often sit together and admire the great works of art. When the Vietnam conflict broke out, the son went to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son. About a month later, just before Christmas, there was a knock on the door. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands. He said, “Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly…He often talked about you, and your love for art.” The young man held out this package. “I know this isn’t much. I’m not really a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this.” The father opened the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son in the painting. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture. “Oh, no sir, I could never repay what your son did for me. It’s a gift.” The father hung the portrait over his mantle. Every time visitors came to his home he took them to see the portrait of his son before he showed them any of the other great works he had collected. The man died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people gathered, excited over seeing the great paintings and having an opportunity to purchase one for their collection. On the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?” There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted, “We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one.” But the auctioneer persisted, “Will somebody bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding? $100, $200?” Another voice angrily. “We didn’t come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Goghs, the Rembrandts. Get on with the real bids!” But still the auctioneer continued. “The son! The son! Who’ll take the son?” Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. “I’ll give you $10 for the painting…” Being a poor man, it was all he could afford. “We have $10, who will bid $20?” “Give it to him for $10. Let’s see the masters.” The crowd was becoming angry. They didn’t want the picture of the son. They wanted the more worthy investments for their collections. The auctioneer pounded the gavel. “Going once, twice, sold for $10!” A man sitting on the second row shouted, “Now let’s get on with the collection!” The auctioneer laid down his gavel. “I’m sorry, the auction is over.” “What about the paintings?” “I’m sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The man who took the son gets everything!” God gave His son over 2,000 years ago to die on the cross. Much like the auctioneer, His message today is: “The Son, the Son, who’ll take the Son?” Because, you see, whoever takes the Son gets everything. FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, WHO SO EVER BELIEVETH, SHALL HAVE ETERNAL LIFE…THAT’S LOVE.
It is June here at Graymoor and we are preparing for the Feast of St. Anthony, a saint that is venerated by so many people. Over the years that I have been at Graymoor, I have witnessed thousands of people who have come to give thanks or ask for favors through the intercession of St. Anthony. Some people come carrying photographs of sick relatives, some bring flowers and others just pray for their family’s needs. I see many of the same people year after year because of the faith they have in St. Anthony’s intercession. St. Anthony has long been recognized as the finder of lost articles. He is called the “Miracle Worker” and that is because he seems to hear so many requests. He is also the patron saint of Haiti and thousands of Haitians flock to Graymoor to celebrate his feast each year. You may have called upon St. Anthony yourself when you were at your wits end. And I am more than sure he probably came through. St. Anthony is not only the patron saint of finding lost articles. He is also a Doctor of the Church and recognized as a great preacher. He reached out and worked with the poor and those who did not yet believe in the Lord Jesus. As such, he serves as a model to the Friars of the type of men we strive to be. St. Anthony has a special place in the hearts of the Friars. We have always referred to him as our “Big Brother.” This inspirational Franciscan Friar who lived eight centuries ago continues to be the spiritual comfort to millions and the guiding light to all who seek his prayerful intercession. In the words of St. Bonaventure— “Saint Anthony possessed the science of the angels, the faith of the patriarchs, the foreknowledge of the prophets, the zeal of the apostles, and the heroism of martyrs.”
The month of May is like a gentle pause between spring and summer. Traditionally, it has been called “Mary’s Month,” and what a wonderful time to dedicate to our Blessed Mother. Everything is in full bloom. At Graymoor, the trees are green again and for a time all the problems of our troubled world can take a backseat as we honor the Mother of our Savior. We, Friars, have so much to be grateful for. During the month of May, we also thank God in a special way for this Holy Mountain—Graymoor. It was on the third of May 1900 that our founder, Father Paul Wattson, received $300.00 from friends in England to purchase the top of this mountain. Then, on the 24th of May, he received the deed to the twenty-four acres, and the Friars and Sisters climbed to the top and gave thanks to Almighty God. For the first time the Friars and Sisters had a permanent home. The original acreage has grown over the years as we built the first St. Christopher’s Inn, our homeless and drug alcohol rehabilitation center, and started to expand our ministries. So, if you are driving along US Route 9 in Putnam County, New York, and you see a large crucifix and shrine, drive in, stay awhile—become a pilgrim. Once you’ve enjoyed God’s masterpiece in nature that we call the Holy Mountain, I think you will find refreshment for the soul; perhaps, even healing.
During Holy Week and, especially, during Good Friday, our minds focus on the cross. It appeared that Jesus had been ultimately, finally and forever defeated. But the church has refused to see it that way. We call His death a victory and have adopted the cross as our symbol. We Christians have a strange vocabulary. Some of us become overwhelmed by life’s contradictions. The pain and injustice that they see on every side cause them to lose all faith in God and in life. That could have happened to Jesus. No one ever felt the world’s great agony more deeply than He did. When people were cold or hungry, or sick or in pain, He experienced their pain as if it was His very own. And no one was ever treated more unfairly than He was. You want to talk about injustice, look at Calvary. You want to talk about human suffering, look at Calvary. You want to see religious hypocrisy and political corruption at their very worst, look at Calvary. You want to wonder where God is and why He does not do something, look at Calvary… If there was a person who had the right to doubt God and to despair of the human race and to become cynical about life, that person was Jesus. But listen to Him as He says to God—Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit. Without striking a blow, He has conquered more hearts and changed more minds than Caesar’s soldiers ever dreamed. Jesus showed us that the cross really is a symbol of victory. Love is stronger than hate; faith really is more valid than cynicism. Non-violence really is more powerful than brute force… The question for us is—do we dare to believe it? Do we dare to try it?
We are in the Lenten season, which will lead us to Holy Week. It is strange that we call it that because it is seven days of political corruption, moral cowardice, and physical violence. In the middle of all this is Jesus, the Lord who points us in other directions. On Holy Thursday, the night before He dies, He gives us His greatest gift, His very self, under the form of bread and wine. Then He does something unbelievable. He takes a towel and water and washes the feet of His disciples. And He tells them, if I your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. In other words, care for each other right here and now, where we meet to eat this meal. Many of us have problems. Some of us are hurting because of addictions, because of loss of family or jobs, because of illness, because of old age, or because we feel unloved or unlovable. Some are hurting because they feel they have hurt so many. Do you think for a moment you are unique, alone on a cross? For one, we all hurt because we are men and women fashioned of fragile flesh and sensitive spirit, all needing to be loved. But when we come together and share the Eucharist, we become united with Christ and with each other. You become one with those around you, and the Lord asks us to care about each other. Remember His words. I have given you an example. Do this in memory of me.