May 19, 2015

A Missionary Disciple and the Gift of God

The disciples of the Risen Lord are missionary.  They are sent out by Him into the world to be messengers of Divine Mercy, and their teaching is not their own. They know that they have been entrusted with a pearl beyond price, the mustard seed, the one thing that does not fail when all else fails around them. They declare what they have heard because what they hear has turned their whole world upside down and given them ground on which to stand, rock on which to build, "If you knew the Gift of God."

They are sent out because the One sent to them commands them.  Raised from their sight, and at the same time, always mysteriously present in new and surprising ways, they follow in the footsteps of their Crucified Master.  Their mission is to reveal His love in the face of alienation and hostility, to bring action filled words of hope into hopeless situations, to propose and re-propose faith for eyes yet unable to glimpse the glory of God. In all this and so much more, they long to satisfy the great thirst by which Christ cries out, "If you knew the Gift of God."

The One who conquered death asks the Father to send Tongues of Fire to these disciples whom He has sent. Thus, this Mysterious Breath from the Heart of Father and Son breathes in them, sealing the deepest interior of their hearts with the freedom to offer their lives in love. The Father and the Son have always delighted in this excess of joy because in sovereign freedom They forever seal their own love with this Consuming Fire.  Now in pure jubilation, because the Risen Lord has asked it and because all things are given Him, the frailest creature can also know this Uncreated Gift until one's whole being echoes, "If you knew the Gift of God."

Missionary disciples live by breathing in the Holy Spirit's animating presence through which with great delicacy He lavishes on them spiritual gifts of every kind. New and unfamiliar wonders bathe these souls as their whole existence aches with both the exultation of heavenly canticles and the heart-piercing cry of the most vulnerable, the very same music resounding in the depths of God. In this symphony of truth, the true disciple discovers how to rest in the tenderness of God and, even more, how to be so tender with God that He might rest in them, "If you knew the Gift of God."

The intensity with which the Fire of God's Love burns in them is the same intensity that propels them out into the most painful of life's problems.  Into the dangerous peripheries of society and into the troubled heart of a family, for the sake of both friends and enemies alike, the missionary disciple is not afraid to enter with the peace of Christ. Animated by the Spirit, these disciples breathe forth a hidden fruitfulness so super-abundant, this life is too short and limited to hold it all.  Even in their dying breath, one can hear them sing, "If you knew the Gift of God."

A missionary disciple is a soul lit ablaze, a fiery icon of love and truth, a window through which the joy of heaven shines with life saving splendor. By making of their bodies a living sacrifice, true spiritual worship, such missionary souls offer divine warmth, light and life to a cold, dark and dying world. Through these generous souls, even when brutally rejected and scorned unto death, the joy from on high is revealed here below, especially where it is most needed.  Because they have sung sealed with the Holy Spirit, others now sing "If you know the Gift of God." 

May 3, 2015

The Risen Lord Waits for Us to Call on Him

Jesus, the Risen Lord, is truly present in this moment. In the midst of difficulty or rest, sorrow or joy, He is with us, fully alive, more real than all the rest of reality combined.  He is present with great humility and respect: asking as if He were a starving beggar, seeking as if He were the one who had lost something and knocking as if He had no right to enter.  He is here, in this moment and in every moment, above all space and time, over all circumstance and trial, waiting for us to open the door.

The Victor once and for all, He has been raised and set apart to judge the living and the dead, not in the distant future, but now in the present moment. Only those who are pierced to the heart by love can accept the judgment of His justice and truth, and how I long for my own heart to be pierced so that at last I might know that freedom of love that He alone can give.

Spiritual freedom flows from His touch and even now He holds out His hands towards us.  Those who believe in Him find forgiveness. Even as we confess our sins and repent of our rash judgments, He silences the voice of condemnation that cries against us.

He has suffered death and passed through hell to restore peace to our troubled consciences because He did not create us for self torment.  He has come Himself because He alone has the power and authority to liberate us from such a hellish burden.  In Him, we discover that the power of misery is not absolute and that evil does not have the last word.  Darkness vanishes before His light.  He reigns unconquered and invites us to join Him.

Who will separate us from His love?  Who can prevent us from living the life that He has come to give?  Worldly powers could not silence Him. Suffering could not diminish Him.  Death could not contain Him.  Every knee is bent before Him and every head is bowed in His presence.  He rules forever at the right hand of the Father.

Against all falsehood, he shines forth forever true. Though winds of false teachings and all kinds of myths seem to hold sway, He is a sure anchor, a safe-harbor in the storm.  In the midst of a changing sea of confusion, He stands as the sure reference point of life and every decision.  In the midst of rancor and contention, whether within our hearts or in our communities, He is the only true source of peace.

The Word of the Father is the Love that is stronger than death.  He is Truth unvanquiahed.  He is the living waters of the deep dug well of salvation. He calls in whispers that thunder in our hearts. He gazes on us with love though we have done nothing to deserve it. He hopes in us and rejoices when we raise our eyes to Him if only for a moment.  The Lord of Life longs for us to share our hearts with Him freely and to share His heart with us completely in that moment which will have no end. 

April 3, 2015

Holy Fear and the Shadow of the Cross

Today, the Church takes us under the shadow of Calvary to behold our salvation and to approach this sacred place requires a reverence and awe that are not of this world. The Man of Sorrows gives Himself for our salvation, lays down His life that we might live. We come here today because of the burden of guilt that we have carried for far too long, the reality of death that we cannot avoid, and the desire to be understood and loved, to be connected to Someone who can relieve the sense of alienation that we suffer, to the only One who can fulfill at last the desires of our hearts. We dare to call out to Him "remember me" because of the heart-piercing gifts by which the Holy Spirit moves our hearts.

Saint Hildegard von Bingen describes this supernatural grace that she discovered when she entered into this shadow of God's immensity. Fascinated and astounded, she has discovered awe in the presence of a reality greater and more real than is she. Tested, challenged, and tried, this gift from above makes her dare to approach nonetheless, and to stand humble, attentive, and ready to act. The tedium that can sometimes overcome a soul in prayer has no power over her now. Completely alert, this profound reverence prevents her from losing her focus, gives her the courage to stand firm, to behold, to listen, to adore. She personifies this astonishing super human gift, describing a mysterious figure covered with eyes, a creature who never loses sight of the immensity of Divine Justice, a being of merciful contemplation whom she identifies as “the Fear of the Lord.”

We, frail though we are, are all called to stand before the immensity of God’s justice and truth just like Saint Hildegard. The gift of fear of the Lord remains meaningless if we do not ponder the great mystery of human weakness and divine power, the abyss between actual human achievement and the demands of divine justice, and this for even the most pious and holy among us. What is this mountain, this immensity of Divine Justice, but the very mountain on which the Father glorified His Son, the mountain on which stands that Cross around which the whole world, each one’s life and all of history turns?

Up against the price that He paid for us and the greatness of the salvation He won for us, no one who is unwilling to bend the knee and bow the head should ever dare approach this King of Glory. Christ crucified knows our presumption and pride, our capacity for self-delusion, our hypocrisy, all the ways we overestimate ourselves, and even more, the ways we hate and torment ourselves.  These spiritual diseases are not acceptable to Him but for love of us, each one, He accepted their consequences unto death on the Cross. So He offered His last wordless cry, the prayer that still echoes between heaven and earth, a cry that death could not silence, that hell could not contain, this prayer from a heart that our cowardice and lust for power rent open.  This cry of love is the last word concerning all things human, the fullness of everything the Father has yearned for us to know, the voice that is heard the immensity of Divine glory. We dare not listen without the reverence this supreme act is owed.

If we are to stand before the mystery of the Suffering Servant who, raised on the Cross, revealed the unity of divine justice and mercy at the price of His own blood, then we need the Holy Spirit to protect us from our own cowardice and mediocrity. If we ask with humility, He gives us the same hope-filled fear that He breathed into the good thief and that He sent to stand with Saint Hildegard. If we will persevere in Calvary’s shadow, the Holy Spirit will move us with humble awe and wonder to renounce all the evil and mistaken judgements we have made about God, ourselves and neighbors.

When we tremble before the love, justice and mercy revealed on the Cross, holy fear makes us know that our Crucified God does not intend his admonishments to crush us but to prepare us, to make us humble and vulnerable enough to carry out His work in the world.  Holy fear will prevent us from losing heart. Today, Saint Hildegard’s vision of Divine Justice and Holy Fear gives us the courage to stand before the righteousness of God, to beg "remember me", to confess his sovereignty, to bow our heads and to kiss his feet. 

March 28, 2015

Saint Teresa of Avila's Way - on the Quincentennial of her Birth

"When our actions and our words are one, the Lord will unfailingly fulfil our petitions.  He will give us His kingdom and help us by means of supernatural gifts...which the Lord bestows on our feeble efforts." Teresa of Avila, Way of Perfection, Chapter 37

Today, Saturday, March 28, is a great day of rejoicing for Carmelites everywhere and for the whole Church.   Five hundred years ago the daughter of Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda and Beatriz de Ahumada y Cuevas, in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula, in the province of Avila, in the small town of Gotarrendura, she became a pioneer in the renewal of contemplative prayer that swept through Spain in the 16th Century.  In her work, Way of Perfection, she offers a meditation on the Lord's Prayer.  For her, this prayer aims towards the heights of mystical contemplation, but starts in the simplicity of a humble petition.

Teresa is convinced that the prayer that Christ commanded us to say demands the same humble movement of faith whether from the simple minded or else the most genius, the most disciplined or the least. Only as the disciplined realize the insufficiency of their own efforts do they glimpse the spiritual logic that she contemplates in this Gospel message. Only as a great mind humbly bows down in wonder can it begin to explore the pathway to perfection that she sees in these seven petitions entrusted to us by the Lord.

The pathway to the progress that she sees in this prayer revealed by the Word of the Father is the way of authenticity, the alignment of what we say with what we do.  We are so out of harmony with ourselves, with each other and with God that only God Himself can bring us back into tune.  She herself knew from first hand experience how His saving intervention comes in the nature of a gift that we welcome by humble efforts informed by living faith. Her encounter with the Man of Sorrows in her convent in Avila helped her understand that this saving gift is the heart piercing realization of how much He loves us, a consuming desire to contemplate the suffering love by which He contemplates us.

She suggests in so many ways that the Lord is never indifferent to even the most tepid efforts of devotion if only we will trust Him and not lose heart.  What starts as a spark becomes a consuming fire.  What seems to take so much effort at first soon washes over the soul like a refreshing rain.  The silken cocoon of good works we make by God's grace but with great difficulty becomes a transforming place of new spiritual freedom.  She describes a quietness of soul filled with the fulness of God, a sacred stillness exploding like a fountain of living water.  Although bringing the way we live into harmony with those noble intentions the Holy Spirit has stirred in our hearts may seem impossible, she insists every act of devotion exposes us to these splendors of heaven...provided we keep our hearts fixed on His great love.

What amazes me is her confidence in God.  She is acutely aware of human weakness and our capacity for self-deception. She knows how given we are to self-torment.  She is no stranger to the host of irrational anxieties that can assail a soul. She is even more aware, however, of the astonishing immensity of God's love.

On this great day in the life of the Church, Teresa helps us consider how the Lord permits himself to be bound by our love.  It is love that makes our prayer authentic, God's love at work in us that brings into harmony what we say and what we do.  If however our efforts to repeat what the Lord has told us to say move in our hearts in even the most subtle of ways, it is only because the Holy Spirit used our frail efforts to blow new life in us.  This is the Kingdom of Heaven that the wisdom of Saint Teresa of Avila sees coming, and today, on the threshold of Holy Week, may we all come to see it too!

For more on this Doctor of the Church, I recently published a book with Dan Burke that provides meditations on a selection of Teresa of Avila's letters, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila through Emmaus Publishing. 

March 5, 2015

The Gravity of the Father's Love in Heaven and on Earth

The Lord taught us to call on our heavenly Father not because God is distant or inaccessible, but because the Father is awaiting for us with love. This means that heaven is near and dawning on us even now.   This means that we are the objects of a particular joy, a special and un-repeatable delight that has lived in the Heart of God from the beginning. He respects our freedom but no power from above or below can thwart the hidden purpose of His exceeding love. He is making His will on Earth as it is in Heaven.

The Lord's prayer reveals that the Father Himself is not passive or absent, that heaven itself is not indifferent to our struggles here below. Similarly, the Lord's prayer has nothing to do with spiritualizing away the painful ambiguity of life.  Even when overwhelmed with crushing hardships and painful sorrows, even when our dreams are dashed to pieces and we feel left in total darkness, it is not escapism to remember that our present problems do not have an ultimate claim on us. Instead, we see our hardships in a broader context, a difficult but brief moment in a beautiful story that is raising us on high.

What most defines our existence is the specific gravity of the Father's love.  To turn to this love is to choose to confront what is most essential in reality, what is most painful in our existence. Here we know the mystery of the Cross. All longing and disappointment, all guilt and injury, and death itself fall in prostrate silence before this threshold of Heaven. Following in the footsteps of our Crucified Master into this great mystery, we discover the dynamism of the Father's love as an unvanquished force even when disguised by the obscurity of great suffering.  

His heart is pierced by our plight. He watches for us eagerly even when we are still a long way off.  He is ready to rush to us as soon as He sees us turning home.  He cries out with His Eternal Word and by His Holy Spirit implicates Himself in our lives to welcome us home.  His Love aims for nothing less.

This new presence of the Father working through the Word and Spirit cried with love into our hearts makes our spirits increasingly more heavenly.  This beautiful presence is is in the form of a celebration, filled with the joy of banquet, a feast too wonderful for this world to contain,

If the Father cries out to us in love and truth, how can we do anything other than cry out to Him in faith and confidence? We must never be afraid to allow Him to welcome us home.  Faith and confidence are the most beautiful way of welcoming God and showing hospitality to the one who rushes to us.  The more we makes space and welcome this heavenly reality, the more powerfully this divine indwelling moves us to cry out with trust "on earth as it is in heaven."