September 21, 2015

To Do Good to Those who Hate Us

Christ Crucified is not embarrassed by our plight or disgusted by our failures when we find ourselves defenseless before those who despise us and what we believe as Christians. He is grieved by the numerous injustices that we suffer more than we can ever grieve for ourselves. He never allows those who despise us to have the final word. Just the opposite. He stands with us, unvanquished.  In standing with us through it all, He implicates those who hate our faith in His definitive victory of good over evil, giving us even greater reason for the hope we have inside.

There is an exquisite grace that the Lord yearns to grant, but He cannot as long as we close ourselves off to Him. He needs our trust for Him to accomplish His Will in us. He needs our vulnerability and our openness before the wonder of His presence. Yet, we cannot be open to wonder and we cannot find confidence in Him as long as we are more focused on ourselves than we are on Him.

When it comes to helping us see just how little we are really open to God, an enemy is like an angel from Heaven. It is true that such a person, especially when friend or family, knows what buttons to press. At the most inopportune time we find ourselves pushed to the brink. If you find yourself at just such a place, it is time to thank God. At brink of human existence, we open to God and God opens to us.

The brink is not a place of mere emotional insecurity but instead an intensely spiritual place of surrender. The harsh judgments to which the scorn or indifference of others incline us are only so many symptoms that our way of life remains out of harmony with the deeper truth written into the substance of our humanity.By faith, we do right to resist the impulse to retaliate and to submit these grievances to the Holy Spirit. Yet the more we love and try to serve those who hate us, the more we discover that deeper and more fundamental lack of confidence in God and His will for us. This interior state of affairs is known only through great suffering, but this knowledge provides the surest ground for the hope we have inside.

Whenever our enemy helps us repent of our distrust of God, the Risen One cuts new and unexpected facets of patience and gentleness in the soul.  It is a painful grace.  Cold stone is rendered into living flesh and the greatness of our Christian faith raises everything and everyone onto unfamiliar heights.
He Himself is the resounding Word that the Father subtly whispers into the depths of our broken existence, making all things new even as all our noble intentions and resolutions come tumbling down all around us. In such moments, He humbly waits for our invitation, and we know that He will not resist the humble contrite cry of love.

This solidarity of human suffering and divine love in such prayer converges on the Mystery of the Cross. When we follow in the footsteps of our crucified Master by such prayer, the scorn of an adversary or the betrayal by a friend can only lead us all the more to this supreme moment.  When we fix our gaze on the One who gazes on us with love, even as the urge to lash out swells, we find the freedom not to render evil for evil, but to do good to those who hate us.

September 9, 2015

What satisfies – by Father Raymond Gawronski, S.J., Professor of Theology, Saint Patrick's Seminary

“Our hearts are made for Thee O Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

St. Augustine’s famous words say it all: for we are made to know – and experience – God, and we will be restless until we come to that rest. Son of St. Ignatius, Balthasar would add: that “rest” is the acceptance of the mission God has for us, and that is a most active “rest.” But it is the “peace that the world cannot give,” and so not a philosophical repose, but rather an active “rightness” which comes from being in the will of God, however that may look.

Put differently, “what satisfies the soul?” What satisfies the deepest part of me? It is clear from all the “restless wanderings” of the people of the world that they are not finding that which satisfies. Half the people are terribly overweight – food does not satisfy. Many, maybe most, are engaged in some sort of driven sexual search – if only on the Internet. But the satisfaction there is momentary, leading to a period of exhaustion, and then a renewed hunt, more restless – more desperate – than before.

There are simpler satisfactions. The contemplation of nature, the immersion of our starved senses in the world God created, satisfies for awhile, and that in a healthy way. But nature is less than we, and so can only give a bit of respite, a bit of memory of Paradise. There are more sophisticated satisfactions. The world of the mind opens up. The satisfactions of intellectual sustenance, the pleasures of art – all these lift and feed the soul. For awhile. But in the end, they are only invitations, beautiful portals – to a reality beyond any of them.

And this reality can only be found in silence and darkness, for it is so totally different from all that is less than God, who is infinitely beyond us, that we must enter into the negation of all that we know, all our ways of knowing, in order to “know” in the “divine darkness.”

And so, calming all the senses, stilling our beings, we sit in the quiet – and await the working of the Holy Spirit of God. The very being there, the receiving of the invitation, the saying “yes” is itself a step into that “otherness” that begins to satisfy our souls, as nothing in this world can. We can – we must – bathe in these deep, dark waters, immerse ourselves, let ourselves drown in fact, that we may be lifted out of them.

We emerge to the greater satisfaction: that of love. No longer needy, no longer demanding. Rooted in that death which alone gives life,  in that silence from which alone satisfying sound emerges, we have found satisfaction, by renouncing all lesser satisfactions.  And we no longer demand that humans give us that which they cannot give: eternal life, perfect understanding, total acceptance and forgiveness.

This satisfaction has a name, for “it” is a person: His Name is Jesus, the “human face of God.” The Word that emerges from the Silence and invites us to that silence from which the only satisfying speech – the only real music – will emerge. From the heart of the Trinity.  May we be blessed to enter into this life-giving silence that alone stills our restless hearts, that alone satisfies. 

Father Raymond Gawronski, S.J. is a spiritual theologian and the author of Word and Silence: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter between East and West, Second Spring Books: 3rd Edition (2015). He helped launch the Spirituality Year at the founding of Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver where he served as professor, director of spiritual formation and retreat master, and most recently he started a similar program for Saint Patrick's Seminary where he also teaches and serves as a spiritual director.

September 6, 2015

Hidden Glory: beautiful birthplace of prayer

The glory of God shines though hidden in both the fleeting joys and the difficult exigencies of this life.  Divine immensity disguises itself in what seems small and inconsequential: the haunting glance of a despised and marginalized neighbor -- whether threatened by danger or death, whether in the public square or in the womb. Hidden here is God's self-disclosure in my neighbor.

In a single moment this mysterious glory can shake the heart from slumbering indifference.  In an instant, we are moved away from the temptation to simply pass by and into the overwhelming need to be implicated and inconvenienced by the plight before us - whether a young person aching to find some reason for their existence or someone disenchanted by the unrelenting cycle of this world's misery.

To know the warmth and radiance of heaven manifest in such heart breaking encounters is to discover a secret power breaking into our world. To be touched by the unfamiliar, subtle and delicate uncreated dynamism at work in these hidden moments tastes of the very purpose of life itself. Before this irrevocable dawning of Divine Glory onto our personal affairs, we see every other wonder, no matter how impressive or overwhelming, a passing shadow.

Even the slightest glimpse of this mystery fills the heart with such limitless fullness, nothing circumscribed by the merely visible and tangible can hold it.  Where we see and feel any lack of love, the light of this glory shines even now, in this very moment, with unperceived radiance, an aching paradox, a clashing of opposites. In the very face of fury and hostility, splendor concealed in mercy cries out always with love, to love, by love and for love. And this light shines unconquered everywhere and on everyone and in our own hearts, even as we attempt in vain to shut our eyes against it or with rage, to snuff it out.

If you want to put love where there is no love, unaided human industry is of no avail.  Whatever outcomes you attempt to control, the Living God cannot fit in these.   No method (no matter how difficult to master), no technique (regardless of how well practiced), and no program (how ever cleverly concocted) even begins to sound the depths of the inexhaustibly deep dug well of overflowing divine life and love.  No titanic exploit of human industry, whatever the dynamic psychic state or powerful social awareness it produces, even remotely attains the height of this divine humility. No purely natural evolution in human enlightenment will ever glimpse more than a vestige of the least shadow of this Uncreated Splendor.  We may rightly exhaust ourselves in our efforts to welcome Him in the distressing disguise of the poor, but the divine call to love is never exhausted and to ignore its unique claim over our hearts is to live nothing other than a diminished life.

To see this glory from above is to acknowledge at once that we are all beggars here below.  The glory of God is from above, completely beyond our power to grasp or manage. Before His overflowing torrents of life, the only proper response is surrendered vulnerability, humble obedience and selfless adoration.  From above, this eternal fire is sovereign over every matter, no matter how urgent, of this world and in our hearts. Nothing can force or prevent or impede this unquenchable river: it is over all and in all, sustaining everything and everyone in existence out of pure love, and all this inexhaustibly and unfathomably, for no other reason than for His own sake.  Even when ridiculed, rejected, despised and crucified - this glory rises again and abides forever, unconquered.

This is why, with the suddenness of lighting, this glory breaks forth in deepest darkness. When all seems most lost, an astonishing flash of divine gratuity discloses the limits of evil to eyes aching for truth. This is the fresh glory of an unanticipated new relation, of unexpected harmony in the heart and between hearts, of an unimagined joyed shared with God and with others, with expressions so tender and wonderful, this world's time and space are too small for them. Yet every moment of this life is pregnant with this uncreated splendor, which is always beginning and still in progress.

Not dis-incarnate, but an enfleshed, this beautiful presence of the Living God can only be shared face to face and heart to heart. This inexhaustible divine self-disclosure can be found in the secrecy of one's own home or in an anonymous encounter on the street, in a cup of water offered to a weary pilgrim or an ear that listens into the heart-ache of the distressed, in a kind smile of welcome for the stranger or a loving word of truth to a displaced soul searching for home.  This glory can even be the gentle glance at one's very enemy - the one whose wounds of betrayal and hatred you still bear - that dares to echo with that primordial divine judgment, a judgment renewed in those eyes that conquered death: "yes, it is very good that you exist."

This is the the hidden glory in which Christian prayer is born and by which such prayer reaches the very heart of God. For His part, God is always pleased to welcome this cry of the heart because He delights in how much this effort to embrace both sorrow and joy welcomes His glory -- in all its exquisite hiddenness and distressing disguises.  The Almighty carefully implicates His glory in these simple movements hidden in depths too secret for anyone to understand about themselves. In His tender compassion, He has chosen the limitations, the inadequacy, and the voids in which this prayer resounds to be raised in an eternal chorus of unvanquished love.

As for me, in my efforts to be a loving father, or a good husband, or a half decent teacher - my sin is before me always.  When I am tired of raging against the One who alone can heal and free me, I realize it is time again to humbly acknowledge my sin and to begin my journey home into His merciful embrace. When I want to open my eyes to see His face, I must humble myself and ask for the gift to praise Him again. He is Lord even over the hostility of my own heart, and only He can quiet those raging waters -- they cannot drown Him, for He has vanquished death itself.   Whenever I approach as His unworthy servant, His voice with unearthly jubilance echoes 'my son.' Here, I begin to learn to praise His glory.

July 31, 2015

Living by the Pace of Prayer

Living at the pace of prayer disposes our lives to the beatitudes of Christ Himself. What I mean by "the pace of prayer" great Catholic thinkers call "being recollected." A recollected life is the opposite of living dissipated or scattered by the many diversions that we can get sucked into.  It is also the opposite of being driven or obsessed.  Instead, it is the effort to be mindful of the presence of God, a mindfulness that requires a renewed act of faith in the Lord's presence throughout the whole day, every day, and then to live accordingly.

When we pace our lives around our awareness of the many ways the Lord discloses Himself to our faith, we discover the capacity not to over-react or to get caught up in activities that are beneath our dignity. This capacity for interior freedom in regards exterior circumstances also inclines us to be ready to recognize and act on the truth at stake in any situation, and to do so with love.  To live life at a prayerful pace in this way lifts us above the work-a-day world and relativizes the absolute demands of a demanding situation. Not in dreamy escapism or emotional distance, a prayerful life renders us intensely aware of our unfolding relationship with the Lord and, like God Himself, vulnerable to the needs of all those whom He entrusts to us.

Life then takes on the flavor of a conversation.  Living at the pace of prayer, we are always listening and waiting to recognize the presence of the Word of the Father who constantly reveals Himself anew, in the most subtle and delicate ways. When the Word became flesh, eternity broke into every moment of our lives, and is beginning all around us, in every concrete situation, no matter how humble the circumstance.  In fact, the more humble, the more wonderful His self-disclosure: always revealing the inexhaustible love of the Father and the hidden mystery of who we truly are to ourselves with unanticipated freshness.

To live with such newness and fullness is to reject intellectualizing our existence or emotional self-occupation.  Confident faith in the presence of the Risen Lord not only grounds us in reality but questions us about our whole way of life, our whole approach to everything.  When we discover His gaze of love shining at us through the circumstances of the present moment, we are free to say "yes" with the depths of our being, to welcome His astonishing presence with wonder and joy in our hearts, even when He is disguised in poverty, distress and rejection.

In this way, living at the pace of prayer, living recollected, opens us to the mystery of the Beatitudes. To be ready to show hospitality to the poor, hungry, thirsty, and meek Christ puts us on a pathway of purification, of mercy, of peacemaking, of being rejected and persecuted, just as was He.  And there is no greater beatitude than to welcome this mystery into our lives, because in this mystery, the glory of the Father, His exquisite and unvanquished love, is revealed when it is most needed, and what is most true about ourselves is, in so many unfathomable ways, at once purified and intensified.

In the 20th Century, we were blessed with many wonderful men and women of faith knew this truth not only with their mind but with their lives, from the depths of their own hearts. They chose to live by the pace of prayer when everyone around them feared to do so. One of these is Dietrich von Hildebrand, a convert to the faith who had the courage to publicly criticize Nazism even at great personal cost.

In 1938, he secretly met with a group of young adults in Florence.  He provided them conferences on how to live a transformed Christian existence even as their faith and way of life were under attack by military, political and cultural forces. The notes from these conferences were published in 1940. In English, this work is called Transformation in Christ

I have found that his words to those Christians then apply for those who endeavor to follow Christ now. In particular, his chapter on Recollection and Contemplation (see Sophia Institute Press, 1990, pp.  138-144) provides counsels that have helped me live at the pace of prayer. They might be summarized as follows:

1. Consecrate every day by a certain space of time to inward prayer.  (I have found that the beginning and end of the day are good for this -- I also like to take time before and after Mass, as well as a few minutes at 3:00pm - the Hour of Mercy.)

2. Interpolate free moments in the course of our day; moments in which we raise our eyes to God, forgetting everything for a second and experiencing his presence.

3. Resist being swallowed up by the immanent logic of our activities and of the diverse situations in which life places us. (Sometimes, the intensity of the workplace makes this more difficult, but this practice has helped me navigate difficult conversations.)

4. Shun everything that appeals to our craving for sensation.  We must guard against yielding to our idle curiosity, against cramming our mind with wanton things. (Today, our use of social media and other diversions technology makes available need to be carefully monitored and often renounced.)

5. Silence alone evokes inward calm.  Especially in important conversations, frequent intervals of silence allows "the things that have deeply impressed us" to "resound and grow in our soul, and strike root in our being."

6. Solitude is requisite from time to time because "a moment saturated with meaning, a valid 'now' requires a period of calm relaxation for taking effect." (This can be in the form of a periodic weekend retreat or even for longer periods as one's responsibilities allow).

7. Mental alertness needed for prayer requires a certain amount of sleep and simple recreation.  (In other words, we need to take care of our basic human needs or we will simply not have the energy to respond to God.)

July 16, 2015

The Aspen Catholic Institute August 14-16

I have been invited to provide a presentation at the inauguration of the Aspen Catholic Institute on the Future of Christianity at St. Mary's in Aspen.  As Fr. Hilton has been cycling across the United States this summer, Catholic Spiritual Direction  has been posting his updates and sharing his progress. Underlying his enormous efforts have been our efforts to bring the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation to Aspen.
In August, we’re honored to be part of the inaugural event, “The Future of Christianity?” We expect it to be lively and engaging for everyone involved.

The Schedule

Friday, August 14
  • 5:30 PM – Mass celebrated by Fr. John Hilton, pastor of St. Mary’s
  • Catered dinner
  • 7:30 PM – Presentation by Dan Burke
Saturday, August 15
  • 10:00 AM – Outdoor hike with Fr. Nathan Cromly
  • 11:30 AM – Presentation by Fr. Nathan Cromly at John Denver Sanctuary
  • 5:30 PM – Mass celebrated by Fr. Nathan Cromly
  • St. Mary annual feast day potluck dinner
  • 7:30 PM – Presentation by Dr. Anthony Lilles
Sunday, August 16
  • 7:30 AM – Mass celebrated by Fr. Nathan Cromly
  • 10:00 AM – Mass celebrated by Fr. Nathan Cromly
  • 11:00 AM – Roundtable wrap-up with Dan Burke, Dr. Anthony Lilles, and Fr. Nathan Cromly
  • Coffee and donuts
There will be child care available each day.
Register to attend by clicking HERE. For a one-page document listing hotels in and around Aspen, click here (link opens a PDF file).

The Speakers

Dan Burke
Dan Burke will reveal how God drew him out of despair, which came from the profound spiritual, physical, and psychological suffering of his youth, and how his life-changing encounter with God relates to the future of Christianity and how we can engage even in the face of growing hostility.
Fr. Nathan Cromly, CSJ
  • Member of the Community of St. John
  • Founder of Eagle Eye Formation Program
  • Responsible for many forms of evangelization and outreach to all age groups
  • Author and Speaker
Fr. Cromly will preach, and will base his comments on the Gospel readings of the day. He will the following thoughts in his reflections:
  1. The five aspects of the “missionary spirit” outlined by Pope Francis at the end of Evangelii Gaudium.
  2. The need for confidence in the Holy Spirit to proclaim the “newness of the Gospel with boldness” in the face of secularism.
  3. The response to secularism offered by the thought of Pope Benedict.
  4. The courageous witness to truth lived with a spirit of solidarity found in the preaching of Pope John Paul II.
Dr. Anthony Lilles
This’ talk will on “Missionary Discipleship in the Wisdom of the Saints.” The presentation will propose Sts. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Thérèse of Lisieux as witnesses to missionary discipleship that Pope Francis has asked the Church to embrace. These three doctors of the Church remind us by their witness and spiritual doctrine that such discipleship is only possible when we take time in our prayer to seek and enter into the mystery of God’s heart, opened for us by Christ Jesus. Just as each of these saints advocate this personal relationship in prayer, the future of Christianity requires Catholics to welcome and deepen this friendship with the Lord in new ways, not only for themselves, but also to provide the world the word of hope it needs to hear.

Register to attend by clicking HERE. For a one-page document listing hotels in and around Aspen, click here (link opens a PDF file).

Read more: