June 18, 2015

Pilgrimage and Prayer

The Lord blessed me with a pilgrimage just at the end of the academic year.  About thirty pilgrims from the Shrine of Saint Anne in Arvada together with others from a couple different parts of the country joined together for two weeks of walking in the footsteps of the saints of Spain.  Together with them I am praying for our families and loved ones, for deeper conversion, for a deeper faith in the One who walks with us.

These journeys are filled with beautiful moments of prayer and fellowship.  They also involve discovering treasures of culture and history, and thinking about the presence of the Lord in the midst of the shadows and bright spots of the Church in the world, walking with those who need a word of hope. In all of this there are glimpses of holiness, and there is the provocative witness of the saints we meet along the way.

Today, I am at Saint Michael's chapel above the Benedictine Monastery of Montserrat ... Where a spiritual revival began about the time Columbus brought the Gospel to America.   After the reform of contemplation Cisneros initiated to reform this sacred place, Saint Ignatius came here and discovered the great grace that spiritual exercises offer the Church.  He would develop his own spiritual exercises not far away, at Manresa.

The Society of Jesus Saint Ignatius founded would also be enriched through the tireless dedication to prayer, preaching and conversion of figures like Saint John of Avila who preceded and then supported him. Like Ignatius, the encountered the Risen Lord and their lives were transformed with devotion and the burning desire to bring the Gospel to that ends of the world.  The Spanish Jesuits in turn supported the great Carmelite Reformer, Teresa of Avila.  And, it is Teresa of Jesus and the 500th anniversary of her birth that moved me to take up this journey.  

Together all these Spanish saints, and so many more, helped the Church discover her heart in the 16th Century.  The heart of the Church is prayer, an exchange of love between Christ and His bride.  Every Eucharist reveals this reality anew, every act of repentance returns to its living source, every effort to begin to pray is already taken deep into the greatness of this mystery.  

This kind of prayer animates the mission of the Church.  Through rediscovering prayer countless more men and women found the courage to take up the work of evangelizing a new continent.  Junipero Serra, soon to be canonized, was caught in the wake of this great movement of contemplative prayer, even centuries later.  Whether they went to the far West or East, the heartbeat of God's love resounding in the heart of the Church at prayer moved them and strengthened them to face every trial.
The spiritual renewal continues in our day and propels us into mission too.  I do not doubt the indispensable role prayer must play in our new evangelization today.  True prayer is an encounter with Someone who awaits us with love.  He is waiting to entrust us with a exquisite work of love, to implicate us in His tender concern for families and marriages, for all those in need of a word of hope. In this way, prayer opens up new beginnings, a renewal of fidelity and joy that only an encounter with Christ can bring.


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June 8, 2015

Prayer and Beauty, Love and Work

John Paul II greatly admired a poet named Cyprian Norwid.  His poetry connected work, beauty and love with the task of being human, of living life to the full.  Through this poet, Saint John Paul came to appreciate how men and women are meant to build bridges, to connect to one another and to God. These insights permeate many of his social teachings. Lifting our hearts to see what is beautiful, to allowing beauty to move us into love, this is also a good way to begin to pray. 

Saint John Paul and the Poet Norwid were convinced that what makes something beautiful is the love it discloses. This love disclosed in the truly beautiful evokes the response of love, and not to love, when we see what is truly beautiful, is to fall short of the noble calling of our humanity.  Here, in the face of beauty, the holiness of marriage, the sacredness of society and the necessity of prayer converge.  We find them leading to and flowing from the work of love that beauty inspires deep in the heart.

The work of love and our need for God coincide before the dynamism of beauty.  When a word of hope is most needed, God answers in heart piercing ways. The face of a neighbor, whether stranger or friend, is an icon through which heaven gazes on us.  Whether hidden in poverty or distress, if we seek God's glory that He has given us through His Son, we find the splendour of his beauty shine out once again.  A single glimpse of this beauty makes the work of marriage, family, and society not only possible, but worthwhile for a life time. Prayer knocks at the door of love, and through its humble petition finds this threshold open to all that is truly great, noble and wonderful about human existence.

People who search for and find what is truly beautiful in prayer become committed to the work of connecting with God and with one another because they believe in what they see. They burn with love to share the love they know. They feel the need to give themselves. In the beautiful horizons of God's particular love, they behold their neighbor as a gift and a task, and they would not want it any other way. This burning adoration causes them to be invested in people and in God. In this contemplation, what is beautiful has captured their gaze and expanded their spirit: no sacrifice is too great or too small.  

This happens because love is that for which our hearts are made, that by which we exist at all. Whenever we see this ultimate purpose in the here and now, in this particular moment limited by these concrete circumstances, in the gift and task with which God entrusts us now, we are invited to cross a threshold, to pass through a doorway, to make an connection, to build a bridge. Our hearts; cannot be indifferent because the One who reveals the Beauty of the invisible God, the one who discloses the Father to us, He is the One who is present in such moments. If the bridge seems impossible, it is only because God is bulding it in a hidden way, and He needs our trust and our effort to make space for this beautiful work to be realized.

The bridge we feel ourselves compelled to build is like the one that God has fashioned to span the distance between our hearts and His. It is deeply established in the ground, rooted in the nitty gritty, and in this sense, radical in our basic human experience, our needs, drives, instincts, passions and desires. It reaches into heights, appealing to all that is noble and true, evoking a generous and great response. It extends out from our every effort to protect and makes space for what is more dear to us. Its expanse reaches across our fears and indifference, even our malice itself. One finds this pathway starting before our own past and racing ahead to a future that this life is too small to contain. This bridge from heaven to earth makes possible even on earth the things of heaven, even in the heart of men, the heart of God.

Those who glimpse this bridge, who gain a sense of the vast horizons love has opened before us, cannot settle for alienation or allow others to suffer loneliness, not without a word of hope. They must also build bridges to connect others with the beauty they have seen. To reach beyond their own humanity, they have seen, is what makes us human -- for what is humanity but a radiance of the beauty of God?

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.