United With Love:
With love in his eyes, we’ve reached the end of the aisle – our forty-day pilgrimage culminates with Holy Week, which, for Eastern Catholics, is celebrated as the Week of the Bridegroom. It’s the week in which the Church, fertile with longing, aches to receive the gift of redemption poured out from the heart of the Bridegroom who gives himself away, not in pleasure but in agony.
Like the grain of wheat that must be crushed first to become flour, or the grape that must be squeezed to become wine, Christ the Bridegroom leaves the upper room in the midst of the Passover Seder, and goes straight to the Garden of Gethsemane – named for the great olive press that was built there – in order that the precious oil of salvation might be pressed out of his heart for the life of the world. The New Adam returns to a garden to do what the first Adam refused to do – lay down his life for his Bride.
If you go to the Mount of Olives today, you’ll find the Basilica of the Agony known as the Church of all Nations. It is constructed over the ruins of a 4th Century Byzantine Church and enshrines as its centerpiece a section of exposed bedrock that, according to Tradition, Christ fell upon face-first in his agony. It wasn’t only the natural fear of pain that caused his suffering; rather, as the Bridegroom Messiah, he was suffering the agony of unrequited love, gazing into the hearts and lives of all those souls yet unborn who would refuse to receive his gift.
His agony was watching his own precious blood drip onto the cold, rocky surface of hearts, failing to soak in, watching the seed of redemption be spilt and given but not take root. For the Incarnate Lord is himself the seed cast out upon the Earth from the Heart of the Father.
As we come to the end of our Lenten pilgrimage, our forty-day walk up the desert aisle, we are not asked by the Lord to act, achieve, or accomplish anything. No, we are invited now to trust his loving mercy, to trust his voice, to trust his heart and his intentions, and to open ourselves to receive and conceive the gift of eternal life that gushes out from his heart. There is nothing that consoles the Bridegroom’s heart more than a heart that is porous, opened, and receptive to receive his gift.
The desire of the Bridegroom is to fill his Bride with life! And feeling so rejected, watching his blood, his precious blood drip out of his body and land onto the rock, I imagine Jesus must have thought about his Mama…he must have thought about how, in her – in her heart, in her life, in her womb – the gift of God was perfectly received – Let it be done unto me according to thy word! – and would always be perfectly received. “If nowhere else, I know that she receives, and will always, receives the gift of grace.”
The New Adam is consoled by the New Eve’s Fiat which gives birth to his own yes: Not my will, but thy will be done! He is the redeemer; she, the redeemed! For she is the perfect chalice that always receives the dew fall from heaven, the river of life that gushes out of the side of the Temple of her Son’s body! Mary is the field within which is hidden the buried treasure; she is the rich, fertile soil into which God plants his seed, his Son. She is the Bride made immaculate, united to the Bridegroom.
She is what we are all called to be and become not only this Lent and Holy Week, but all our days – receptive chalices before the heart of God, held aloft to the lanced and opened side of Christ, the source of love (Deus Caritas Est 7)!
But we are made of something far more precious than gold or silver – our receptivity is hammered out of human longing for the infinite one, and is made fertile by our poverty and need. Our hearts aren’t pretty; but they’re perfectly suited for his gift! At every mass, the priest exhorts the congregation to “Lift up your hearts,” to which they respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.” But what does this mean? The heart is my deepest core, the place of my encounter with God, and it is, fundamentally, the organ of receptivity in man. It is the only vessel man has at his disposal to hold up to the heavens to collect the rainfall in the midst of a drought!
This Holy Week, the Week of the Bridegroom, as we stand with him for whom our hearts long, let us realize that he aches to give us the gift of his love. His blood is being poured out, his life being drained drop by drop – This is my body, given up for you…This is my blood, poured out for you – and he begs us to receive his gift so as to be united with Him.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Word of God, divine seed of the Father, Bridegroom Messiah: you give yourself away in prodigal abundance, a reckless, uncalculating love scattering your seed recklessly upon the field of sinful humanity! Holy Spirit, Spouse of the Fiat, till the soil of our hearts to receive the Lord’s gift, and like Mary, conceive Him in the womb of our hearts. We lift up our hearts to you, O Lord, chalices poor, unimpressive, wounded and broken – but perfectly suited to hold you.
May we stand, spiritually naked before the naked Bridegroom, and receive his pledge of immortality.
Father Patrick Schultz is a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland and he currently serves as the Parochial Vicar of Communion of Saints Parish in Cleveland Heights, OH. He attended Theology of the Body I course in the fall of 2017, and hopes to attend other courses in the future.