February 4, 2015

The Lord's Prayer and its Structure of Hope

Those who pray the Lord's prayer with faith take up the effort to see our struggles with the light that is from above, the understanding that comes from God. That is why when it is prayed carefully with devotion, the unvanquished light of heaven shines through each syllable into the depths of one's life and current situation, if only we allow it to.  This is true in the very structure of the prayer Christ entrusted to the Church.

The structure of the Lord's Prayer proposes the primacy of heaven over all other earthly things in our existence, no matter how urgent and insurmountable they seem. Unmet needs (our daily bread), broken relationships (our need to be forgiven and to forgive), and all threats to our dignity and integrity (temptations and the power of evil); all this concerns our life in this world below. These visible realities are subordinated to what is more important, what is more spiritual, more immense, and more beautiful.  No matter how catastrophic or tragic the trial we endure, we must train our hearts that the holiness, the will, the kingdom of the Father all come first.

The beautiful truth in the sacred order Christ laid out for us is that nothing in this world can make absolute claim over our existence.   Our difficulties, failures and inadequacies do not ultimately define who we are or what we are about as people of faith. Something else, from the world above, where the Father dwells, has hold of us and draws us up. The structure of Christ's prayer turns our hearts to the Father, to heaven, even as we confront the difficulties and challenges of this life.

January 31, 2015

The Lord's Prayer and a New Solidarity for Humanity

Although rancor, contention and strife threaten our communities and households, it is not delusional to believe that enmity, alienation and futility are not the last words concerning all that is good, noble and true about humanity. This is as true for our cultures and societies as it is for each one of us individually.  Indeed, in the face of our broken sinful habits, the quiet murmuring of the Lord's prayer in the most forgotten alley in even the most heartless metropolis is a sign, like a flickering votive candle in a sanctuary, that misery is not limitless. Those words, "Our Father," even when they rattle out from trembling lips at life's final moment, declare an unvanquished hope that God Himself entrusted to the world.

The Lord's prayer is not a prayer we ever master by our own industry and cleverness. It is a gift from heaven we humbly learn from someone who has gone before us in the faith.  Just as the Father relies on Him for everything, the Word of the Father chose to rely on those who believed him to teach those who would come after them how to pray. He did this when He entrusted the first disciples with these holy words.  When he ascended into heaven, this prayer was part of the Good News He commanded them to go out and preach to the whole world.

In point of fact, what is taught in this prayer (our solidarity with the Father) and how it is taught (through solidarity with one another) safeguards the new solidarity Christ offers humanity through faith in Him. The Lord's prayer is passed on to each of us in the Church as a prayer uttered with Christ, in Christ and through Him. It is a prayer that the Risen Lord offers before the throne of the Father in the sanctuary of heaven itself and that animates His work in the world that continues even now.  It is the prayer that resounds from the very heart to the most extreme periphery of the Lord's Mystical Body, in the silence of the most secluded hermitage or forgotten hospice to the piercing cries of those tortured and publicly humiliated for His sake.

No one who utters this prayer with faith ever prays alone.  Whenever a Christian joins himself to Christ by faith and dares to utter these holy words, the Risen Lord animates this prayer with a love that is stronger than death. This love no power on the earth, or under it, can quench. It is a love that does not come from this world, but from the Father who is in heaven.  The divine love born on the words of this humble prayer binds the believer with every other believer, overcoming every form of alienation and enmity, establishing communion, giving birth to mission.

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.