Last year on retreat at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass, on my birthday, the monks sang this hymn, I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say, at Holy Mass. It was beautiful. So, yesterday I presented a reflection on this hymn at our Communion Breakfast. The video above is the hymn performed by Anthony Way. I think it is about the finest performance I've seen and heard. Below are some notes from my presentation - of course some words are missing as I always "ad lib."
“Come unto Me and rest; Lay down, thou weary one, lay down, thy head upon my breast.”
“Come and rest.” One of the basic necessities of life and a preoccupation of the world is to look for rest. We try to set aside at least one day every week to rest – all though that doesn’t always work. At the end of our work day we are so tired, we want to fall on the couch - and be rested. Some are lucky enough to enjoy a vacation once a year, some cannot. Every person needs to rest - we have been created that way. At the creation, even God rested on the seventh day. But the question is - does the rest we take really quiet our entire being – soul, mind and our body? Are we still restless after a night’s sleep?
The poetry of Psalm 131 describes the state of the heart that one has when in the presence of God, "But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother's breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul." (Psalm 131:2) - The pure satisfaction of a child - weaned and resting in his mother’s arms. God’s rest surpasses all – even this beautiful passage the Psalmist offers. Jesus says to us “leave behind those things that trouble you, leave behind your sin. I wish to have a “relationship” with you. Encounter “Me.” Only in Me will you find rest.
In the Missionary of Charity convent chapel in Newark there hangs on the wall a life size crucifix – it is an important reminder of why we are there to serve. To the right of the crucifix are the words “I Thirst.” These are the words Jesus spoke before giving up his life - for us - on the cross. Did Jesus thirst for water? I am sure – a man nailed, hanging and dying on a cross is craving for water - but remember, Jesus, is not only all man, he is all God – So, in His - divinity - he spoke of something more profound – His thirst for souls. He had poured out His living water on the earth. Now He thirsts – a thirst that is radical - beyond human. He wishes to draw all to Himself. His Thirst is His call. And the call goes out from the cross – and it demands a response.
Do you hear the call? There are many examples of how Jesus entered into the life of the people. Jesus sees Matthew at the custom post and says, follow me, and Matthew follows. While on a train, on the way to the north of India for a cool weather retreat, Mother Teresa heard the voice of Jesus say “Come, be my light.” Dorothy Day, with Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker Movement. She spoke of her own conversion – how many small realizations brought her closer and closer to Jesus and His Church. We could go on and on with these examples of conversion, for there are many ways of hearing the Lord – but there is only one way and the first way that is common to us all – it is “Desire”– placed by God into our hearts from the beginning - the call or invitation of God is heard first in that land called “desire.” It is tangible.
I am sure you have heard the words of St. Augustine “our heart is restless until it rests in you”? God is the only ONE who can satisfy our desire. Isn’t this so true? Are not all of our earthly desires unfulfilled?
The writer and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis said: “All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul - have been but hints of heaven—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear…If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world…Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” (The Problem of Pain, p. 134; Mere Christianity, p.120)
Desire – it is God’s voice calling to us - Pope Francis says "Desire moves us forward, toward the horizon, and for us Christians that horizon is an encounter with Jesus, who is our life, our joy, our happiness."
John Paul II said "An encounter is to have one’s life touched by Christ -that means “to see one’s own life and plans upset. Like the fisherman of Galilee who heard the call of Jesus, and brought their boats to the shore, they left everything to follow Jesus.” (Lk 5:11) So, when your heart is longing – for whatever you may think your heart is longing for - know that it is the Lord calling you, thirsting for you.
“Behold, I freely give, the living water; thirsty one, stoop down and drink and live.”
We all should go on retreat – at least once a year if possible. As they say, to get away from it all – to revitalize your spirit and rejuvenate your soul – and to read those books that you just never get to reading. I make my yearly retreat at St. Joseph’s Abbey, a Trappist monastery in the foothills of the Berkshires in Massachusetts - twenty three hundred acres of hills, forests and streams. Beyond the “enclosure fences” you notice hooded monks walking and praying on paths – When you trek over the abbey grounds – there is quiet - you hear whispers moving through the forest as air through a reed. The wind sings. Distant chimes ring out from the bell tower calling the monks to prayer. In the woods you hear streams – the rippling sound of moving water. When I come to a stream - I stop, “stoop down”, and place my hand in the cool running water – and I see it is full of life – I taste it.
Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman of the “living water” –a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” That “Living Water” that Grace, can be found – it is free for all of us to drink – but there is a natural condition to drinking the water from the well – one must “stoop down.” There must be movement involved – this movement towards the “Living Water” is “Discipleship.”
And what is Christian Discipleship?
1. To understand that there is no higher concern than Jesus and His Kingdom – all things – family, friends, and all activities we enjoy – all revolve around this fact. St. Augustine says “love God for His own sake, everything else for the sake of God.” Saint Augustine, The Four Books of St. Augustine on Christian Doctrine
2. Discipleship is “stooping down” to the “Living Water”, towards Christ -toward the Cross. Jesus always walks towards the cross. Christian Disciples follow Him on this road of love, forgiveness, mercy, healing, and non-violence, acceptance of suffering – always towards the cross. And in the world we live in today, the Christian, especially the Catholic Christian, will surly meet resistance, opposition and conflict. Are we ready to preach the Good News by our acts of love? To meet head-on the issues of our day? To “not be afraid” to preach the dignity and rights of the human person? To defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman? To defend conscience rights protection?
A wonderful example of discipleship is the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. – who walked the path of non-violence – facing constant opposition – knowing that his was a movement towards to the cross – towards his own martyrdom.
Dietrich Bohnoeffer, the Lutheran Minister who was hung in a concentration camp for taking part in an assassination attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler, said it plainly ““When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Are we ready to follow the Lord – to place Him in the central place of our lives? Are we ready to be called “Disciples?”
“I am this dark world’s Light; Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise, and all thy day be bright.
Juana Fernández y Solar was canonized by Blessed John Paul in 1993. Juana’s religious name is “Teresa of the Andes.” She was born in Santiago Chile, the year 1900, into a wealthy family. Early in her life she read the book “The Story of a Soul”, the well-known biography by “The Little Flower” St. Thérèse of Lisieux. This book had a profound effect on her life – wanting to give her life to God, and over-come her self-centered personality. A story very much like Therese herself. Receiving her First Communion was transforming. At the young age of 19 she entered the Discalced Carmelite order in Los Andes Chile. Her apostolate became letter-writing, sharing thoughts on the spiritual life. Within a few months of her admission, she contracted typhus – dying three months short of her twentieth birthday. Because Typhus was certainly fatal, Teresa was given permission to profess vows in “periculo mortis” (danger of death). She died as a professed nun of the Order on April 12, 1920.
John Paul II, in his canonization homily, called Teresa a “child of light”, a light of Christ for not only for the whole Chilean Church, but for the Universal Church as well. In her love for Christ she found the essence of the Christian message, to love, suffer, pray; serve – to love God above all things.
Each one of us is called to be a child of light. We responded to that call at our baptism – and our parents were called to guide us in that vocation. Now we are responsible – to be that flame of God’s love in our world. The world can be a very dark place. Souls need “Light” to see.
How can we be “Christ’s Light”? It sounds very difficult for a poor soul like me. But with God, nothing is impossible. Children of the Light take hate, injustice and return it with love. Children of the Light show by example a better way to live.
We must bring Christ’s Light into dark places – nursing homes, hospitals – where so many people are lonely. Blessed Teresa said the greatest poverty in the west is not hunger; there is plenty of food – the greatest poverty is being “unloved.” We must love our neighbor – Pope Francis says – we cannot just stay in in the parish – we have to go out into the streets and meet the darkness where it lies – go into the cities where so many souls are sleeping on the streets, in the parks – those who feel they have lost all dignity. Children of the Light preach the Good News – No - you are made in the image of God. You have dignity. Those who have fallen away from the Church – we must “love” them back home.
In one of her letters, St. Teresa of the Andes wrote about the sisters being “Co-redeemers of the world.”(Letter of September 1919).
As members of the rosary society, when you hear this title – co-redeemer, the first person who comes to mind is our Mother Mary – and rightfully so. Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, brought Christ into the world, raising Him from infancy, and offering Him up to the Father at the foot of the cross, so Mary participates uniquely in Christ’s salvation of the world, on account of which John Paul II titled her ‘Co-Redemptrix.’
My favorite Mass is the Easter Vigil, we are given candles – the altar server comes to us and lights our candle, then we turn and with our candle, light our neighbor’s candle. Children of the Light become Co-Redeemers when they spread the flame – lighting their neighbors candle by being the very face of Christ to others – we follow Jesus, becoming this Dark World’s Light.