September 14, 2014

Pilgrim George

In the seventies, as a boy, I heard that a pilgrim from Pennsylvania had walked through California.  Many of my friends from Santa Cruz went to meet him.  They were young adults and what he witnessed to them changed their lives.

He told them how he made God the center of his life and allowed himself to be completely vulnerable to the Lord in prayer.  He claimed that living this way was the source of an abiding peace and that anyone who would live their lives loving God could know this peace too, not only in this life but also in the life to come.

Just by walking by foot where he believed God called him to walk, Pilgrim George helped us believe that God truly loves us and that loving God is the secret of happiness - this is a truth strong enough to build a whole life on.  As a result, some of my friends discovered the joy of doing something beautiful for the Lord with their lives.  Their response, in turn, had a ripple effect throughout our whole community.

Years later, when I was a student in Rome, some Jesuit priests had invited me to dinner and they began to talk about a foot pilgrim who was walking through India.  After a few questions, I learned it was the same pilgrim George who had influenced so many of my friends during my youth.  It was obvious that his witness to God's love was compelling to them as well.  So again, he helped me think about how I was living and how I ought to respond to the goodness of God.  

In these ways, Pilgrim George, even though I never met him, became an important influence on me, personally.   I have heard he had this impact on many other men and women around the world -- and in a world that has become increasingly hostile to God, this is something remarkable.

After over forty years of being a foot pilgrim, he is now devoting himself as a poustinik - a life of silence, solitude and contemplation, but also witness and service.  Click here to watch an interview he gave to Christ the Bridegroom Monastery in Ohio.

September 7, 2014

Monsignor Pope and the Act of Mercy called Correction

The Aggregator reports that Monsignor Pope has been teaching on the responsibility we have to address evil and to speak to those who are doing things that compromise their own dignity and the dignity of others.  (I had to correct this because I thought this was a homily by Pope Francis - sorry for the confusion!) 

We are all sinners and we all need each other to speak the truth when the truth is difficult to hear.  It takes humility and courage to hear the truth when it is inconvenient.  It takes great love and courage to speak to someone who does not realize their responsibility to the truth.   It takes even more courage when we are rejected and marginalized for speaking the truth when it is most needed.   Yet without the truth, not only our faith, but our humanity is in grave danger.  Today more than ever we Christians need the courage to hear and to speak the truth.  

September 1, 2014

Treasures of Divine Life

On September 6, 2014, Archbishop Aquila is hosting a special catechetical event to repropose the ancient order of the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.   The Catechetical Congress draws its name from a passage in the Catechism, "Treasure of Divine Life."  These are notes from a presentation in which we will consider how the signs used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist have a certain order in the Bible, and this order reveals the splendor of what it means to be fully human and fully alive.

"Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life" (CCC 1210).

Analogy between life and the spiritual life serves as a basis for understanding the order of the sacraments, including the order of initiation.   Yet to understand this analogy, it is not enough to appeal to the visible elements and gestures as we know them outside the logic of our faith.  It is true that the elements of water, oil, myrrh, bread and wine belong to the sphere human activity from ancient times.  Thus, when Christ and the Church raised them for use in the mystery of Christian initiation, they did so building on ancient meanings already deeply part of human experience.   Yet, to understand the wisdom of the Church, among the manifold of signification contained in these products of the earth and human industry, there are also those special meanings we find in the Holy Bible.   It is a contemplation of these special meanings that reveals a deep truth about the order of initiation in the life of the Church.

Because the salvific meaning there is not only inspired but inerrant, the Bible contains the deepest and most important meaning of these sacred signs.  The Word of God reveals the heart of the Sacraments.  The heart is a drama, a contest, a testing of love.   Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are three moments in this divine story - a story that is at once the story of all humanity and that has the possibility of being the story of each soul.  The story of the victory of good over evil, of the triumph of the Lamb over the powers of sin and death.

August 16, 2014

Transitions in Life and Prayer

Pope Francis suggests the writings of Anselm Gruen for spiritual readings.  Anselm Gruen is a Benedictine Monk familiar with Jungian psychology.  Although he appreciates the insights of psychology, he does not subordinate these to the truths of the faith.  

He does not propose that the trials of this life, like the mid-life crisis or other difficult moments of transition, are problems to be solved through self-realization and personal development.  Instead, Gruen presents them as moments in which God is to be glorified.  Psychology might help us appreciate new angles of the difficulties we face in our brief existence in this world, but it is not enough to content ourselves with simply mastering new life skills.  In fact, for the Christian, it is never enough to manage life circumstances.  Instead, we must discern the most appropriate way of serving the Lord in the midst of them.  

My verdict as I struggle with my own relocation to another state for another job: He is right!   The Lord stands in the midst of life's chaos, waiting to be discovered anew.   When I make time for prayer and when I renounce myself a little, just around the corner the glory of God begins to shine.   I cannot say that this is consoling.  But to live with this fulness of life even as waves of all kinds of uncertainties crash around us, this is to finally begin to thrive, to fully become what God made us to be.

Faith does not try to surmount life's challenges.  Nor does it seek an escape from the inevitable uncertainties and difficulties in which we find ourselves.  Faith is all about facing reality with humility and courage, and this especially when life's trials are the most challenging.  Every time life is turned upside down, faith propelled by God's love boldly enters into all the disturbing ambiguity and delights in a fuller and unique encounter with the living God manifest only there.   The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it -- this is not a static principle but a moment by moment mystery that is meant to explode into one's whole existence.

Making space in one's own life for this encounter requires prayer, fasting and asceticism, and this exactly at the moment when we want to run away and escape it all.  To this end, Father Anselm provides some good counsel in his work, Crisis and Opportunity in Midlife, Ligouri Press, (2006).
Thank you Pope Francis for recommending this spiritual writer.

July 6, 2014

Pilgrimage in Post-Christian Europe

Why are you on the way? This is a question I tried to ask and was frequently asked on the way.  The Europeans think that Americans are coming because of Martin Sheen.   It surprises them that I have come for traditional reasons-- to do penance for my sins and to pray for those I love.   Some of them then disclose that they are there for the same reasons...but only a very few.  

My favorite answer came from a small woman with a slow and painful limp from a far away and non-Christian country.  As her 500 mile trek of 35 days was coming to an end this morning, I caught up with her and asked her my question.  Annoyed at what should have been obvious to me, she retorted "Because it is there."

Like this woman, many on the way see the Camino as a physical feat like climbing a mountain.  Others enjoy meeting people from all over the world, even Americans like me. They are hungry for real connections.  There are also entertainment tourists, bon vivants, with an appetite for hedonistic pursuits.  Still others cannot or will not articulate what draws them... But something (or Someone) is.

I have wondered how to speak a word of truth, a true word of life into this.  It is more than a matter of knowing what to say and when to say it.   Sometimes, silence itself speaks more than any word conveys.  Early on, one pilgrim was annoyed when after rejecting my offer to help I told him he would be in my prayers.  Today when I saw him in the Cathedral, he spontaneously grabbed my hand and thanked me for my prayers.  Will there be moments like that in heaven?

There are moments of authenticity when a soul discloses itself.   These moments are more frequent on pilgrimage because it is demanding and we touch our poverty in the difficult situations that come up.   What reverence and respect is called for in these fleeting moments!   And yet the slightest gesture or simplest word plants a seed....a hope where it is most needed.

Pilgrimage in post-Christian Europe offers a moment of not only penance, but also evangelization.  Saint John Paul understood the importance of pilgrimage for the New Evangelization.  Pilgrimage to traditional holy places like the Cathedral of Santiago De Compostela reintroduces believers to their rich heritage of faith and opens up the soul to a deeper encounter with God.   At the same time, these traditional roads and places are filled with people drawn for reasons they do not know.  Some of my best conversations happened with these pilgrims.  I merely asked questions or offered to pray, but they disclosed a deep yearning and desire for answers for the questions of the heart.