January 11, 2015

The Mystery of Christ's Baptism

To celebrate the Baptism of Christ is to participate in a salvific theophany. It is a surprising manifestation of hidden power.  The heavens are torn in a display of divine gentleness and piety. The Word that creates and sustains creation, enters into baptism to save. The mystery that brought forth the world is revealed as the mystery that the baptized existence of faith leads. Christ's baptism is the archetype of all Christian baptism, a saving mystery in which the mystery of Christian life is revealed.

The Eternal Word who transcends all time and space, and who as Alpha and Omega constantly fills every height and depth with eternal meaning, humbly embraces the limitations of our flesh in time and space, and desires to be plunged into the ambiguities of our existence.  He has entered into a world of relationships that He does not surmount but makes perfect by accepting and submitting Himself, leaving space for imperfect recognition and misunderstanding, but only to protect human dignity and freedom.  Into these earthly waters He obediently descends through the ministry of a reluctant prophet, not to be changed by them, but to purify and order them to heavenly things.

When He raises up from those waters that He sanctified, the Spirit of heaven descends, not in a display of overwhelming and sensational power, but with the surprising gentleness of a dove. The Love of Heaven is descending on earth through every baptism ever after, not only onto the fortunate soul that has said yes to this unfathomable grace, but through that soul onto the whole world.  All the such a soul needs to do for this to happen is to follow in the obedient footsteps of his crucified Master.  Every baptism is this beginning of creation, the birth of a new heaven and new earth in which the dignity and freedom of human existence is re-established in the God who is Love.

The voice of the Almighty echoes over this magnificence with exquisite tenderness. Not the voice of an angry deity impatient with a fallen world and not threatening to violently crush treacherous mankind in a display of hostility. It is not a voice of overbearing cultural and political power that is eager to put humanity under foot.  Instead, in a moment that is pregnant with hushed adoration, the Father voice rejoices in this revelation of His Son: the Word who sews obedience into the difficult uncertainties of life to make them holy, the only Begotten into whose eternal sonship we are plunged when we enter these same waters with faith, the promised One whose appearance surpasses the hopes and dreams of every prophet who has ever dared foretell and prepare for His coming. Up from these waters into which Divinity plunges itself, Humanity is implicated in the joy of the Father.

December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014

The Mystery of the Lord's coming is drawn near to us today and tonight we begin to celebrate Christmas. Christmas is a whole Octave of great joy even as it is also a solidarity with hearts in great sorrow.  Christmas is dwelling in the mystery of the hushed silence of an inexhaustible love. It is all about being vulnerable to divine wonder. To celebrate Christmas means the readiness to fall in adoration before the mystery of the Lord come into our very flesh, to be present in the midst of not only our joys but especially our trials.  

Prayer at Christmas is always a celebration of the victory of solidarity over alienation.  It is the decision to believe that God's love is greater than our own misery.  It is to choose to have joy over the fact that our mistakes do not define us, but God's mercy does.  

With this coming of God into human history, no one suffers alone in their personal history. He is with us, each and everyone, and all of us together.  Nothing can separate us from His love. Even in the face of catastrophic failure and overwhelming evil, He does not forsake or abandon, but remains through it all. Embracing our poverty (spiritual and physical), He dwells with us, vulnerable in our own vulnerability.

This is not a sentimental thought but a spiritual reality that makes all the difference. This abiding presence is what gives us the courage to pray. When the Living God learned to cry as an infant, we learned to cry to God.  Our sorrows became His, and His joys became ours.  Christmas is a mystery of great prayer -- where the prayer of God and the prayer of humanity coincide.

Prayer and action are joined in Christmas. We must bind our hearts with all those whose families were affected by the violent protests and senseless killings across the United States, and the many more families around the world who also have been robbed of any sense of security or safety. We cannot be indifferent to the Christians who do not have the freedom to celebrate Christmas in the open and who are refugees, homeless and hungry, who have suffered great distress, even loss of life.  During this Christmas, my own heart remembers a young mother and her child, parishioners of Saint James Parish in Redondo Beach who were killed coming out of Church after a Christmas pageant.  

Our Christian faith does not close its eyes to these sorrows -- it speaks a word of hope into them, even when that word can be nothing more than a cry of the heart. Our hearts are guided by a star when we dare to pray once again in a world filled with so much ambiguity and darkness. As our prayer searches the face of the child Jesus, we know it is the saving presence of God alone that gives the strength our faith requires.  

Light shines in the darkness as unvanquished now as it did in that stable in a backward village at the outer edges of the Roman Empire. This light shines for the poor, the lowly, the meek, the persecuted, the rejected, the abandoned, the naked, the homeless, the sorrowing, the hungry and the thirsty. In so far as we bind ourselves to such as these in a solidarity of love, friendship, and prayer, the joy of this light shines for us as well.  It is time for us to allow the divine light of Christ Jesus to shine in our union of love and prayer this Christmas to the wonderment of the world. It is time to find the courage to be joyful once again. It is time to begin to pray!

For those who visit this blog and find encouragement to pray, I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas for you and your families.  Thank you for making space for God in your lives and in your hearts.  Thank you for your dedication to prayer. To you it may seem insignificant, but the sacrifice of devotion that you offer is something beautiful and needed in the world today.  In some way, as the mystery of Christ's birth is announced again in the prayers of the Church, we also draw close to one another through prayer. Christ Jesus, Emmanuel, draws us and binds us through prayer in a web of grace, divine love and friendship. 

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 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.