November 26, 2014

Finding our Footing in Prayer

Today, many are concerned about confusion in the Church and a lack of confidence about how we are to live. Angry accusations fly back and forth like arrows poisoned and barbed. Violence rips at our communities and all kinds of aggression is unleashed in our homes. It is hard to bear with one another. We want peace but we lack the common ground we need to find it.  For all the technology and information at our fingertips, we lack, among other spiritual things, the gift of understanding.

Understanding is among the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, a characteristic of the Spirit of the Christ. The great Fathers and Doctors of the Church described this dynamic disposition of mind as perfecting the stand we take toward ultimate reality, God Himself.  The gift is a readiness to be grounded by the Holy Spirit, an interior receptivity to His promptings that we need if we are to find our footing in prayer.

The Gift of Understanding is a divinely inspired intellectual propensity to be purified concerning one's judgments about God and who He is.  In ways that no mental gymnastics carried out under the impulse of reason can manage, this gift protects the soul against all kinds of idolatry by rooting it in the mystery of God's presence in real life.  The Holy Spirit convinces us concerning sin and frees us to repent of it.

All kinds of self-contradiction are laid bare as the ear of the heart attends to the surprising freshness of the Holy Spirit's secret judgments, especially about those things with which we would rather not have to deal.  But the mind raised in love can no longer put things off. Dissipation and dulness recede before this unfamiliar radiance.

This movement of the Holy Spirit leaves the soul speechless because it has rendered the mind vulnerable to splendors so wonderful no word can express them.  All at once, this mysterious rectification of the mind sobers and inebriates, humbles and exalts, bows down and lifts up.  The mind under the influence of this movement of the Holy Spirit penetrates the deep things of God even to the point that one's whole life is intensified and a source of intensification for others.   Falling in adoration, one finds one's proper footing for prayer.    

The Gift of Understanding is about standing in the shadow of our crucified God.  It is about seeing the invincibility of the Father's love in the face of our sin at the foot of the Cross of Christ.   It is about drinking in the deep things of God flowing from the pierced heart of Christ.  This gift is about the freedom to be astonished and gripped by divine tenderness in all kinds of unexpected ways.   

October 30, 2014

You are invited on a Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of Teresa of Avila

Through Discerning Hearts, I invite you to join Father Giles Dimock O.P., Kris McGregor and me on a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Teresa of Avila.  Departing on March 27, we will arrive in Madrid on the 500th anniversary of her birth and celebrate Holy Week and Easter in the towns and cities where she encouraged a return to the practice of contemplative prayer.  Spain celebrates some of the most beautiful Holy Week liturgies in the world, and this is especially true in the medieval towns of Teresa of Avila's life to which we will travel, like Toledo and Avila.

With the preaching and teaching of the great Dominican spiritual and liturgical theologian, Father Dimock, as well as some reflections developed from my own research, we will take you in the footsteps of one of the great Doctors of the Church whose teaching provides an important light for our times.  There are a limited number of seats available for this once in a lifetime journey of faith and prayer, so please consider joining us in this Carmelite pilgrim celebration of Holy Week and Easter.  Click HERE for more information.

October 17, 2014

The Heart of the Father and the Gift of Freedom

God the Father delights in the freedom He created each soul to live in.    Every time anyone freely chooses to move toward this loving freedom, the Eternal Father savors the wonderful courage and generosity that such a solemn decision reflects.  Mercy and consolation are firmly established, even in great trials, because of what the Father contemplates when He beholds this glory.

This same reality delighted His heart when His only begotten Son animated his own human will with the possibility of such divine liberty.  The Father gloried in His Son announcing in this same freedom the fullness of love's saving truth even to His last wordless breath on the Cross - such is the magnitude of this inexhaustible gift! And now, by this very work of redemption, the Eternal Father rejoices with His Son to pour out the Spirit of Freedom in ways unimaginable, defying all calculation, exceeding every expectation.

At once Living Waters and Living Flame, the Father knows this wave of freedom fills everything with life, establishes relation and harmony, and flows through the unrepeatable circumstances of this present moment.  In a flash of hidden transformation, converting and subverting every principality and power, this Divine Breath submits under freedom's ideal law every psychological, social and physical force.  And when this jubilation is shared by someone who is vulnerable enough to be freely moved by such an excess of love - it is a mystery so beautiful that even heaven holds its breath, and this tired old world, completely caught by surprise, is lifted up by a sudden and invincible surge of pure glory.

September 25, 2014

Temple of the Holy Spirit Continued: Praise as the Music of the Soul

From October 2-4, 2014, the Society of Catholic Liturgy is meeting in Colorado Springs.  The theme for the conference is "The Temple Transformed."  To this end, I am giving a concurrent address on "The Temple of the Holy Spirit in the Writings of the Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity."  The last post and this one are some of my notes.

Blessed Elisabeth describes praising the glory of the Lord in terms of music.  The soul is a lyre.  Emotions, passions, thoughts and imaginings are the strings that must be tuned.  The Holy Spirit is the musician.  Such praise takes up the inner life, it constitutes the existance of the soul as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

She compares the praise offered by a soul with descriptions of heaven found in the Revelations.  This is an invitation to think about the analogy between the soul as a kind of heaven in faith and the heaven of glory that awaits us.  In each one there a chorus breaking out.  The inner sanctuary of one's very being, like heaven, is meant to be filled with wonder, adoration and the jubilation ceaseless praise.

Such joy is for her a divine harmony played on the strings of the heart.  She describes a secret canticle learned from Mary at the foot of the Cross, and at the same time a heavenly hymn which lifts the soul out of time and into eternity. Such praise clings to the glory of the Risen Lord in the midst of all of life's difficult questions because it discovers itself embraced by love.

Music involves harmony and rhythm, the resonance of deep movements of the heart with vast horizons of the world, a mediaton of beauty, of glory, a shining forth of what is good even when it is difficult to discern.  For the soul filled with the Holy Spirit, canticles of the heart offered to the Lord in praise are born not only in the midst of comfort, consolation and satisfaction, but especially in those piercing moments of personal inadequacy, failures and voids.  This divine music, music that Elizabeth describes as the Holy Spirit playing on the strings of the heart, is not an escape, but an expression of real life, of an existence open to the possibility of hope.

The divine indwelling establishes a center point for the heart. In this axis for the inner world, the power of God is made known even as the circumstances of life spin out of control.  Real life does not threaten the music or diminish such praise. The canticles of a soul animated by the Holy Spirit are born in between this divine reality in the depths of the soul and the earthly, created reality through which the soul is living and enduring.  The temple of the Holy Spirit, a Christian courageous enough to stand in this gap by choosing faith, by choosing joy, mediates grace in the real world through this kind of praise, and in this jubilation renders heaven and earth vulnerable to one another.

Faith accesses this center through what Blessed Elizabeth proposes as a simple loving movement toward God. This is a silent humble adoration of the One who is totally other than me but who loves me exceedingly, and it is this movement toward the personally present God who loves that reverberates and explodes into a praise that must be expressed: a song, a canticle, a hymn of love.  Those who have heard such canticles know that the human heart raised by grace to this true worship is unconquerable. In the midst of every trial and hardship, such a soul is become the praise of glory, a temple where the joy of the Holy Spirit overflows and fills the whole world around it.

September 23, 2014

The Temple of the Holy Spirit, Praise and Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity became aware of the indwelling presence of God at her First Communion.  This initial experience was satiating.  Whereas the other children were ready for the wonderful reception prepared for them after the liturgy, witnesses describe Elisabeth captivated by her encounter with the Lord.  She seemed to be filled with wonder over His new presence to her and teachable, open to new words of wisdom for her life.

Witnesses also describe the beginning of a new self-control.  This self-mastery was not all at once, but an unfolding reality whose roots go back to this moment of encounter, this experience of a love that fed her soul.  There is infact a correlation between the transformed life that amazed both friends and family and a growing awareness on her part of the loving presence of the Trinity in her soul.

Years later as a Carmelite she writes a powerful prayer that brings together the doctrine of the Divine Indwelling of the Holy Trinity and her experience of contemplation.   "O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore" is a petitionary prayer, a cry of the heart for the peace and stillness that only God's presence can establish in the soul.  It is a prayer that reaches out to the ultimate end of the divine economy while always remaining mindful of the difficult ambiguities besetting a soul that yearns for God.  This prayer confronts weaknesses, emptiness and inadequacy with hope.

It is important to note that this prayer describes the indwelling not as a completed fact, but as something unfolding, as a work that only God can bring to completion.  Blessed Elisabeth reveals the divine presence as intrinsically dynamic, a reality that raises human nature above itself.  As the presence of God establishes peace in the soul even in the midst of great difficulties, the Holy Spirit renders the Christian capable of participating fully with his own life in the Son's perfect offering to the Father.  In short, the Divine Indwelling dynamically perfects the spiritual worship that faith in Christ makes possible.

This is a theme we find also in the retreats she authored.  These spiritual reflections she wrote in the final stages of what was then a terminal disease.  She returns not only to the theme of the divine indwelling as a source of peace in the soul, but also elucidates the particular activity this heavenly peace makes possible: perfect praise.

One is struck by her conviction that to be the praise of glory is not simply a noble ideal to which she aspires, but her sacred name, her very identity, the secret purpose of her life before God. In her Last Retreat, she begins her reflections in a truly ecclesial voice, the voice of the Bride of Christ.

The song of the Bride for her Bridegroom she describes discloses this kind of praise in terms of a secret longing that Christ and the Church share.  What is more, she understands herself as personally participating in this love.  She sees herself as a kind of personification of the Bride of Christ, a Bride who sings to her Beloved a canticle of love and devotion, and this even as her own life plunges in its final agony.

Here, Blessed Elisabeth expands our understanding of the divine indwelling.   The presence of God in the soul is not only satisfying and morally transforming, it is not only psychologically therapeutic and an answer to difficult interior experiences, this divine presence is also the source of a whole new range of spiritual activity, an ecclesial existence that breaks out in true worship.   The soul filled with the presence of God is being transformed into a kind of heaven, fashioned as a dwelling place for the living God, built up as a temple, a particular and unrepeatable realization of the Church, where the glory of the Lord rests.  In the soul filled with God there is finally the freedom to sing His praise, not in some distant future, but in the vast horizons of the present moment.