Reading: Letter III—Jesus: The Compassionate God (p. 23 to p. 36)
I know now in a completely new way that if I am to succeed
in fully living my life, in all its painful yet glorious
moments, I must remain united to Jesus. (p. 25)
We are grateful for the many personal and thoughtful comments that have made the first week of our Lenten journey together both fruitful and rewarding. Our reading this week—Letter III Jesus: The Compassionate God—was written four days after Letter II. I find it interesting that we are reading these letters over a time interval similar to when they were originally written, as if Henri was writing and sending these letters directly to us in the present day.
Henri opens this letter by telling Marc about his trip to Colmar the previous day to look at the Isenheimer Altar. He notes that he had while he already intended to “write about the suffering and resurrection of Christ. . . . I have a feeling that I had to see (emphasis added) it in order to find the words for the letter.” Deep contemplation of art was a spiritual discipline for Henri as is evident in his spiritual classic The Return of the Prodigal Son and his lesser known Behold the Beauty of the Lord—Praying with Icons, published the same year as Letters to Marc. For Henri, to really see an a piece of art is to allow it to “speak to the heart that searches for God.” (Behold, p. 24) Henri writes, “I remained at the Isenheimer Altar for more than three hours.” (p. 25). The insight that appears at the top of this post was among the fruits Henri harvested after seeing the altar.
In his reflections on the altar, Henri emphasizes, “The record of the suffering and resurrection of Jesus forms the kernel of the “good news” about Jesus. . . The gospel is, first and foremost, the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that story constitutes the core of the spiritual life” and that this is “the most far-reaching event ever to occur in the course of history.” Henri challenges Marc (and us) to allow the truth about Jesus to renew our hearts. Deo volente (or God willing), our discussion this week will help us to do just that.
This is a rich letter. Is the truth about Jesus a reality for you and how does that truth renew your heart? You are encouraged to reflect and share whatever touched your heart. Here are a few thoughts that may help get you started, but please don’t feel limited by them.
- To look suffering and death straight in the face and to go through them oneself in the hope of a new God-given life: that is the sign of Jesus and of every human being who wishes to lead a spiritual life in imitation of him. (p. 30)
We see this in a brutally graphic and violent way in Ukraine today. Yet this is a universal challenge. Reflect on the crosses and hopes in your life and share to the extent you are willing.
- God sent Jesus to make free persons of us. He has chosen compassion as the way to freedom. (p.31)
What is your understanding of the relationship between are freedom and compassion?
- Living for other people in solidarity with a compassionate Jesus: that’s what it means to live a spiritual life. In that way you too achieve freedom. (p. 34)
How has compassion for others in solidarity with Jesus led to you to freedom on your spiritual journey? What challenges do you face and what blessings were received? If possible, please share your story.
- In the end, my desire is just to get you to read the Bible and develop your spiritual life for yourself. My letters are only meant to spur you on a bit. (p. 36)
Henri shares his objective with Marc. So, how is he doing thus far? Is Henri spurring you on? What questions or inspirations have arisen for you? What actions might you take as a result?
We look forward to another great week of discussion. Thanks to each of you for joining us whether you are posting comments or following along silently.
May the Lord give you peace.