Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Silent Anchorite of the Tabernacle and the Crosses We Bear

"Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you."

O beautiful words of consolation, than which none more beautiful were ever spoken at a bed of suffering!  Every word is full of jubilation and carries the joy of the Resurrection into the hearts of men.

These words of consolation Jesus made a reality throughout His life.  Who could enumerate the miracles which He has worked for the salvation of men, for relief of the sick and possessed, who could estimate the blessings which He poured forth upon the human race?  Never, during the thirty three years of His earthly pilgrimage, did any sorely tried being appeal in vain to him for help!  Were even one such case on record, we might rouse the silent Anchorite in the tabernacle from His calm and say to Him: "You are not faithful to your beautiful promises.  Were not all and sundry invited to Your door to receive the alms of consolation?  Yet You abandoned this man to his sorrow and grief!"  However, no such abandoned sufferer is to be found.

On the contrary, we read how His soul was deeply moved by the sight of the poor widow on the street of Nain, because she brought her only son to the churchyard.  By the grace of His dear friend Lazarus He shuddered with grief for his poor sisters.  And when He thought of the destruction that threatened Jerusalem His eyes were filled with tears, and sighs laden with love and a cry of lamentation to His lips.

O heart of my Redeemer, Thou seemest formed of sheer goodness, sheer love, sheer compassion, and infinite pity, - a true Samaritan's heart, pure gold of love without dross!

This same Heart, also beats in the tabernacle  Therefore, I may cry out with greater confidence than before: You cross-bears of the world, raise up your heads and hope!  Your Redemption is at hand.  The Anchorite here in the tabernacle has an arm which conquers every sorrow and a heart which is always ready to help.  Cry out to Him in your need.  He will surely help you.

Yet, what do I see?  Many a cross-bearer knits his brow and shakes his head, as if he could not believe my words.  I heard thousands disputing and complaining.  "Go to the tabernacle and pray for relief?" they ask.  "Better save ourselves the trouble.  It is no use.  How long have I not dragged my cross; how often have I not appealed to Jesus in the tabernacle - yet always there is the old sorrow and old worry!"

A beautiful task here falls to my lot.  I am privileged to defend the loving Son of God.  How often have I not wished that I had lived 2000 years ago, when they haled Jesus into court, and produced false witnesses against Him!  I would have pleaded for Him until my tongue cleaved to my mouth.  Unfortunately I did not exist at that time; but now I am alive and able to plead for You, O kind Redeemer, and it is an easy task to clear You from the reproach just made.

They assert that You did not relieve them of their cross.  Did you promise that?  The Apocalypse holds out the certain prospect of relief, but only for that triumphant Easter morning, when we shall shake the dust of the earth from our feet and be allowed to enter the Heavenly Jerusalem: "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away" (Apoc. 21,4).  Not until that blessed hour will the bells ring out the eternal Sabbath, when every care will cease and every cross will be lifted.

The silent Anchorite in the tabernacle only wishes to refresh, to console, and to strengthen, not to remove the cross and its burden entirely from our shoulders.  Everlasting praise and thanks be to Him for willing to do only this!  For this "less" is "more," nay "considerably more," seeing that one joy of Heaven outweighs a thousand sighs on earth.

How would things have shaped themselves if the Eternal Father had granted the fervent petition of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, to spare Him the bitter chalice of sorrow?  Humanity would have been kept forever in filth and sorrow of sin; Heaven would still be barred, while hell would drag down into its fiery abyss far more victims than before.  Instead the Father sent an angel to console and strengthen the agonizing Savior, thus enabling Him to drink the chalice to the dregs.  And as a reward He is enthroned forever for all eternity on the right hand of the Father, as conqueror over death and hell, and sees redeemed mankind marching in a long procession to Heaven.

A skillful gardener acts the same way when the weight of the fruit of July threatens to break down a tree.  He does not pluck the green apples before they are ripe, but props the branches with strong poles, to enable the tree to go on bearing its fruit until it becomes ripe.

The Redeemer in the tabernacle desires only to refresh those who turn to Him for help, but He will not completely relieve them of the cross which they bear.  Some day when death takes the cross from their shoulders, and harvest time is arrived, and they behold the many full baskets of merits which they have gathered by patiently carrying the cross, they will turn to the tabernacle and give fervent thanks to Jesus, that he has refreshed them, but not taken away the cross.

This is one of the great laws which God has made with reference to the sanctification of men.  St. Catherine has formulated it as follows in her 78th letter: "From the beginning to the end of the world God never wills that anything great should be accomplished except through great suffering."  And in the Apocalypse, when one of the ancients asks in pious curiosity: "These that are clothed in white robes, who are they and whence came they?" the answer comes: "These are they who are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth the throne, shall dwell over them.  They shall no more hunger or thirst, neither shall the sun fall on them, nor any heat.  For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall rule them, and shall lead them to the fountains of the waters of life." (Apocalypse. vii, 13 sqq.)

Now we know how the silent Anchorite in the tabernacle occupies His time. There are millions of cross-bearers who daily approach Him for comfort, strength and relief.  Truly, He has no idle hour, and boredom will never be His lot.

But is He adapted to the described task?  Has He an adequate comprehension of our needs?  Jesus son of Sirach asks: "What doth he know that hath not been tried?  He that hath learned many things shall show forth understanding" (Ecclus. 34,9).

It is difficult for one to comprehend the meaning of soul torments, earthly cares, and family troubles if he has never known anything but the sunny side of life.  To pour out one's heart to such a man is almost like addressing him in a strange language utterly unknown to him.  In order that the Redeemer should adequately fulfill His office of consoler, it is necessary that, besides His strong arm and compassionate heart, He should have a profound understanding of every kind of misery and affliction.

Now Christ is a Master in everything, including the comprehension of our troubles and the art of comforting the afflicted.  Did He not spend thirty three years in a veritable school of sorrow?  And does not St. Paul assure all cross bearers that "we have not a high priest who cannot have compassion on our infirmities, but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin"? (Heb. 4,15.) "Let us go therefore," he continues, "with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid" (Heb. 4,16).

We sigh over poverty and privation.  But did not our Blessed Redeemer lie as a new born babe on rough straw in a stable?  Had He not to flee to Egypt, and be satisfied for many years with the hard bread of banishment?  After such trials, should He not know poverty and privation?  Who does not know the touching confession made in His later life: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head"? (Matt. 8,20).

From early morning till late at night our shoulders are pressed by the heavy yoke of toil, and yet we eke out a miserable existence. If we complain of our hard lot to the Redeemer, will He be lacking in sympathy?  He who for eighteen years labored from early morning till dusk at a carpenter's bench, toiling and moiling to exhaustion?

Fate deals us violent blows, and often an accident destroys all our hopes, A sudden flash of lightning, and the edifice of our future is a blazing mass of cinders.  But was not the bloody sword of the executioner drawn at the very cradle of the silent Anchorite who now inhabits the tabernacle?  Was He not compelled to fly with haste under cover of darkness?  Did not death rob Him of a dear father and later of a true friend, Lazarus?  Surely He knows how roughly fate can deal with men.

You sit alone in your room at night, and your eyes are red with weeping.  A carefully reared son has gone astray, or a daughter has fallen.  Your heart is almost breaking. Oh, remember that in the nearby tabernacle dwells One who understands you as no one else!  Peter, whom He had surrounded with love and kindness, denied Him three times, and Judas betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver.  Therefore do not complain: "Great as the sea is thy destruction: who shall heal thee?" (Lam. 2, 13). In the tabernacle is One who understands and will comfort you.

You are persecuted, slandered, misunderstood.  Our Divine Savior was abused as a glutton and a drunkard, who associated with Beelzebub, the prince of devils.  His enemies wanted to stone Him and the Gerasenes shut their doors when He approached them with blessings and graces.  Open your heart to Him, He will comfort you.

You are oppressed by grief; your soul enveloped in darkness and storm. Was not the Redeemer sorrowful unto death?  And what a cry of lamentation came from His lips on Good Friday: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"  He knows what grief is.  With what love did He not go with the two disciples to Emmaus and fill their heavy hearts with joy and hope.  To you also, as to them, He will speak from the tabernacle and infuse your should with new courage.

You are ill, you suffer intense pain; could He, who was scourged, crowned with thorns, and nailed to the Cross, be deaf to your complaints?

The silent Anchorite is the best comforter in every earthly sorrow.  None other has His strong arm, His loving heart, and His wide experience.  Therefore I can never be sufficiently astonished at His saying: "Come to me all you that labor and are burdened!"  Does that not sound like a command and an impatient bidding?  Must He then compel the cross bears to come to Him?  It seems to me He should rather have said: "Do not storm my house so incessantly, you who labor and are burdened!"  How explain this riddle?

Man is three parts sense and passion, and his mind is chiefly concerned with the present.  Therefore, whoever flatters his sense and sweetness the bitterness of the passing moment, seems to him the ideal comforter.  It was always thus, otherwise the loud lament had never escaped the lips of God: "Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and yet gates thereof, be very desolate, for my people have done two evils.  They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water and have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jer. 2, 12).

From the heights of the tabernacle the Redeemer sees how many cross bearers hasten to invoke false comforters; therefore He literally commands us: "Come to me!  But beneath this apparently harsh tone is concealed a world of love.

The Anchorite in the Tabernacle
Rev. F.X Esser, S.J.